The Golden Seal (1971)

the golden sealThe Golden Seal [金印仇] (1971)

Starring Chung Wa, Wang Ping, Ku Feng, Yue Fung, Baak Liu, Chan Shen, Wong Ching Ho, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Teresa Ha Ping, Fang Mian

Directed by Tien Feng

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


If you’re a fan of the 1960s output of the Shaw Studios, and you’re looking for a later film with the same ideals and only slightly better fights, then look no further than The Golden Seal! Directed by veteran Shaw character actor Tien Feng, The Golden Seal is something of a throwback wuxia film that does as many things right as it does wrong. It’s still largely entertaining and enjoyable, it’s just that at this point in the Shaw series, films like this stand out as being much worse because of the films surrounding them. If this were made even a couple of years earlier, it would’ve been far more impressive.

The Golden Seal is not exactly about a golden seal like you might expect (and that’s an official seal for documents and such, not the animal that barks and balances things on their noses when humans throw them fish). It does kick itself off with the seal, though, as it is entrusted to its owner’s brother who is tasked with taking it and his nephew out of harm’s way. But that exact moment is when the devious Lei Zhentian (Ku Feng) busts in and starts tearin’ up the place, so the uncle and the boy sneak away in a cart. During the opening credits, said cart is driven off a dangerous cliff, but don’t worry, our heroic duo is safe. One cut later and 20 years have passed, with the boy all grown up (now played by Chung Wa) and just finishing his martial arts study under the grand tutelage of Tien Feng in a much-too-small cameo.

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The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung (1973)

cub tiger 150 dpiThe Cub Tiger from Kwangtung [廣東小老虎] (1973)
AKA Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Master with Cracked Fingers, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Chen Hung Lieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam

Directed by Ngai Hoi-Fung

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


So it begins. The long-awaited and exciting chronological review series of the films of Jackie Chan. Words cannot express how excited I am to finally do this, as Jackie Chan is simply one of the most important film figures to me as an audience member. He is single-handedly responsible for my Hong Kong movie obsession, stemming directly from the US release of Rumble in the Bronx, and his love and homage to Buster Keaton through his own crazy stunts led me to discover silent films and delve deep into classic cinema during my teenage years. I simply wouldn’t be the same person without Jackie Chan films (and Uncle Jasper’s friendship and well-established HK movie collection), so the series is loaded with a lot of emotion for me.

But much of that emotion will have to be held back until later films, as it took this Jacky a while to develop into the Jackie we know and love today. The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung was his first starring role, but it had something of a strange release. Filmed in 1971 when Jackie was a tender, stubble-faced 17-year-old, but held for release until 1973, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung did not light the world on fire. In fact, its release in 1973 was supposedly so small and limited that many never saw it and it is regarded as one of the rarer Jackie Chan films. After he became a sensation in the late ’70s, the film was re-cut with brand new, non-Jackie footage to create the “new” film, Master with Cracked Fingers, and that’s the version most Chan fans have likely seen of the film. God knows it’s been on too many budget-priced Jackie collections to count. But this review is for the original release version, unearthed and released to DVD a few years back in absolutely horrific print quality. Good thing I cut my teeth on equally dodgy HK bootlegs!

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The Secret of the Dirk (1970)

The Secret of the Dirk [大羅劍俠] (1970)

Starring Ching Li, Chang Yi, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Hsieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Wong Ching Ho, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low.


Hsu Cheng Hung apparently got with the program and finally delivered a compelling martial arts film! Throughout this series I’ve seen a number of his films (all of them up to this point, in fact), and just about every time I’ve been disappointed. As the genre slowly shifted focus from costume drama to action film, Hsu Cheng Hung films were generally throwbacks to the way martial arts films started, with songs and a general lack of excitement. He’s had a few moderately enjoyable movies, but The Secret of the Dirk is hands down the best film I’ve seen from him. It gives me hope that the films to follow will continue this forward momentum. If nothing else, I won’t start his next film with a resigned sigh and an, “OK, let’s get this over with” attitude.

I’m not going to break down the story beats here, because, like almost all wuxia films, it’s a needlessly complicated section of a larger narrative. The only things you really need to know is that 20 years ago some treasure was hidden and now the Black Tiger bandits want to find it. The people it rightfully belongs to are also on the hunt for it, as those who knew where it was are out of commission. This makes it sound like a true adventure film, which it isn’t, but that’s the basic narrative drive of the story. The storytelling gets a bit muddled during the first half because so many characters are thrown at you with little explanation, and I had a hard time keeping track of everyone. I thought one girl was a different character for about half the movie, and then when I figured out that she wasn’t, it also became clear that it didn’t matter.

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Brothers Five (1970)

Brothers Five [五虎屠龍] (1970)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Lo Lieh, Chang Yi, Yueh Hua, Chin Han, Kao Yuen, Tien Feng, Unicorn Chan, Wang Hsieh, Sammo Hung, Ku Feng, James Tin Jun, Lan Wei-Lieh, Chin Chun, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: High, Lo Wei’s been on a role.


As Lo Wei’s first film of the 1970s, Brothers Five comes off as the culmination of everything he had done prior. I said something similar about his previous film The Golden Sword, but this one seems to fit the bill even better. In terms of story, The Golden Sword struck the perfect balance between high-flying fights and martial intrigue, but Brothers Five sets its sights almost completely on delivering action-packed fight after action-packed fight. The film is chock full o’ fights, and while its story definitely suffers for it, no martial arts fan could deny the simple fun of watching a shitload of fights. And when those fights are choreographed by a young Sammo Hung finding his place in the martial arts film world, it’s even better.

I say that the story is thin, and that it’s the weakest point of the film, but Brothers Five does weave a very fun web of intrigue. Five brothers were separated at birth when the evil lord of Flying Dragon Villa murdered their father. The children’s caretaker sliced the backs of their left hands so that they would be able to one day reunite and take their revenge on the evil lord played perfectly by Tien Feng. The majority of the film is the brothers slowly coming together — usually by running into one another when they each venture to make a foolhardy assault on Flying Dragon Villa by themselves — so this means that a good portion of the runtime is devoted to something of a repeating cycle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun cycle and it’s enjoyable as hell, but when you have multiple fights occurring at the same location, it does begin to run together a bit.

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The Winged Tiger (1970)

The Winged Tiger [插翅虎] (1970)

Starring Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Angela Yu Chien, Annette Sam Yuet-Ming, Fang Mian, Ngai Ping-Ngo, David Chiang, Law Hon, Tong Tin-Hei, Cheng Lui, Wong Tat-Wah, Cheng Miu, Yip Bo-Kam, Yeung Chak-Lam

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderate. I’m interested to see Chen Hung Lieh in a good guy role.


If you told me that five years after the genesis of the traditional martial arts genre with Temple of the Red Lotus that film’s screenwriter would finally get a chance at both writing and directing, I would have guessed it would be something of a train wreck. Looking at Shen Chiang’s previous scripts, they range from OK (The Thundering Sword) to a little better than OK (The Silver Fox). So imagine my surprise when I sat down with The Winged Tiger and found myself fully immersed in a world of martial intrigue and wuxia heroics. The Winged Tiger is a great film, and one that is sure to excite genre fans.

There are two martial arts manuals that together contain the power to create an unstoppable martial artist. The chiefs of the major clans have gotten together and decided that they must be stolen and destroyed, as one of them is in the hands of the King of Hades (Tien Feng), while the other resides with the Winged Tiger. As you might guess from his name, he dresses in bright orange and black clothes and can fly because his costume has underarm wings that recall visions of flying squirrels. Anyway, the clan chiefs ask the Flying Hero (Chen Hung Lieh in his first hero role) to get the manuals back at all costs (including tricking the King of Hades into thinking he’s the true Winged Tiger) to avert a major martial crisis.

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Raw Courage (1969)

Raw Courage [虎膽] (1969)
AKA Tiger’s Courage

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Ng Fung, Lo Wei, Tien Feng, Poon Oi-Lun, Yeung Chi Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Lee Kwan, Tong Jing, Lee Sau Kei, Go Ming, Goo Man-Chung, Hung Lau, Yee Kwan

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate. I have a bad feeling about this one.


My bad feelings were all for naught, as Lo Wei’s Raw Courage is a fun, rollicking little wuxia film. It’s not something that will create genre fans, nor is it anything truly substantial, but it is fantastic entertainment. Raw Courage tells the story of an emperor besieged by an army who entrusts his child to Lo Wei and his Black Dragon Clan. In virtually every other Shaw Brothers film from this period involving a baby, there’d be a twenty year jump in time and we’d pick up the story with the young martial artist out looking to find their destiny or avenge their fallen parents/master. In Raw Courage, the baby actually stays a baby as Cheng Pei-Pei and Ng Fung quickly find themselves in charge of taking the infant prince across the country to meet up with the White Dragon Clan. If trying to transport a baby through enemy checkpoints sounds like a good time, then Raw Courage is your barrel of monkeys.

There’s nothing too special about Raw Courage, other than its ability to rise above the standard wuxia storytelling and remain exciting and interesting throughout. There are loads of problems that contribute to the film being less than it should be, but honestly I only noticed after the film was over because I was having such a fun time with it. One of the major flaws is that the villains, while plentiful, aren’t nearly well-defined enough to make for compelling adversaries to our heroes. Tien Feng plays their leader, but basically sleepwalks through a role where his primary task is to walk from one place to another and say, “After them!” It’s hard to blame him. The villain introduced later in the film, a man with a blue-gray face known only as Old Monster, is awesome and really deserved more screen time too. It’s crazy villains like this that would later populate all kinds of wild and fantastic Hong Kong films, so I’m willing to forgive this one a bit just for including him.

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Twelve Deadly Coins (1969)

Twelve Deadly Coins [十二金錢鏢] (1969)

Starring Ching Li, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Jeng Man-Jing, Fang Mian, Wu Ma, Lau Kar-Leung, Chiu Hung, Tang Chia, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Ho, Lam Jing, Wong Ching Ho, Ho Ming-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low, not a big fan of Hsu Cheng Hung.


This one goes out to all the melodrama fans in the audience. If you can dig it thick and extravagant, then Twelve Deadly Coins is gonna hit you right in the sweet spot. If on the other hand you favor a Chang Cheh style, balls-out action picture, then you’re going to be disappointed. It’s important to know this going in, and because of this, I was able to set myself up accordingly and have a good time with it despite my distinct preference for the action side of things.

Lo Lieh and Ho Ming-Chung play students of Tien Feng and his twelve deadly coin technique. Ho is too cocky for his own good when his master gives him the task to transport 20,000 taels of gold across country to pay the county for something I didn’t quite catch. Lo Lieh tries to help steer him in the right direction, fearing an ambush hiding around the next corner. Sure enough, as soon as they take the path Lo Lieh advises Ho not to, dudes in black burst out of the ground and assault the convoy. This leads them to immediately suspect Lo Lieh of being a traitor, and the real drama and intrigue begins.

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