The Enchanting Ghost (1970)

The Enchanting Ghost [鬼屋麗人] (1970)

Starring Chang Mei-Yao, Yang Li-Hua, Lui Ming, Lam Ban, Lee Hung, Julie Lee Chi-Lun, Sha Lee-Man, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Tai Leung, Ko Hsiao-Pao, Ng Ho

Directed by Chou Hsu-Chiang

Expectations: Excited, I liked Chou’s The Bride from Hell.


Like last week’s film, The Ghost Story, The Enchanting Ghost falls into the category of Hong Kong horror with only minor elements of what usually defines a horror film. The Enchanting Ghost was also based on a story from Pu Songling’s 18th century collection of ghost stories and other assorted cautionary tales, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. This particular film is based on the story The Bookworm, for those interested in seeing how differently things play out in the two versions. As with most classic Hong Kong ghost films, your enjoyment of The Enchanting Ghost will depend on having properly set expectations for a slower pace and light supernatural elements. With that in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed The Enchanting Ghost from start to finish. It is a finely crafted film that definitely makes you wait for the ghostly happenings, but the journey towards them is also largely charming and entertaining.

Lang Yu Zhu (Yang Li-Hua, playing against gender as a male) is a scholar whose entire existence is consumed by his affection for learning and books. He doesn’t do much else, based in part on his particular love for a real-life poem by Emperor Zhenzong titled Quanxueshi (劝学诗). The poem is a love letter to studying, expressing that study can bring such things as fortunes, good harvests, and beautiful women. When we meet Lang, he is lovingly reciting these lines of the poem, and in a few short minutes he is given the chance to test the poem’s theories. Lang’s uncle covets his home, so he arranges with an official to seize it from Lang under the auspices of repaying the debt left by Lang’s father when he passed. Whether this debt is legitimate or not, Lang is thrown out into the street with nowhere to call home, so he decides to take up residence in the town’s derelict haunted house.

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Boxer Rebellion (1976)

Boxer Rebellion [八國聯軍] (1976)
AKA Spiritual Fists, Bloody Avengers

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Leung Kar-Yan, Jenny Tseng, Woo Gam, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Li Li-Hua, Sun Yueh, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Liu Wei-Bin, Richard Harrison, Henry Bolanas, Wong Cheong-Chi, Han Chiang, Someno Yukio, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Lam Fai, Chiang Tao

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.


Of all the films that Chang Cheh directed over his career, Boxer Rebellion was one that the director thought was among his most successful (in artistic terms). The film’s depiction of the Boxer Rebellion and its anti-foreigner sentiment did not agree with the British censors in Hong Kong, so the film was only released in a heavily truncated version (with something like 30–45 minutes edited out) and with the title changed to Spiritual Fists. The film failed miserably under these conditions and this angered Chang Cheh, because as the editor of his memoir notes, “he really poured his heart into Boxer Rebellion.” Later in the book, Chang expresses the wish that someone would rescue the film from a “musty closet” so that it may be seen as intended, if for no other reason than to pay tribute to the work of Fu Sheng held unseen within. Chang died in 2002, but if he had lived just another few years he’d have seen his dream realized when Celestial restored and finally released the full version of Chang’s epic film in 2005.

I have not seen the edited version of the film, but this restored, original vision is without a doubt one of Chang’s finest efforts as a director. He had previously made epic films that brought together large casts and told big, sprawling stories, but not a single one of them is anywhere close to the level of scale and scope seen in Boxer Rebellion. Chang talks in his memoir about tiring of making Shaolin pictures around this time, so once again he looked to craft something new for the Hong Kong market. He set his sights on the war picture, first shooting Seven Man Army (to less-than-satisfactory results, according to Chang), and then following it up with Boxer Rebellion, the highest budgeted Hong Kong film at the time. The resulting film shows a clear influence from its predecessors, with the scale of his epics like The Water Margin or The Heroic Ones, and the intimacy of his Shaolin films like Heroes Two or Disciples of Shaolin.

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Redbeard (1971)

Redbeard+1971-84-bRedbeard [紅鬍子] (1971)

Starring Lee Hung, Wang Yin, Chen Chiu, Chen Hung-Lieh, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Suen Yuet, Cheung Kwong-Chiu, Siu Gwong-Po, Lo Dik, Man Man, Wong Yu, Liu Chik, Chang I-Fei

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: High.

twostar


I apologize if this review turns out a little strange; I think it’s mostly going to be me trying to make sense of what I just watched. My confusion isn’t exactly the film’s fault; it’s more to do with the film’s presentation. As an extremely rare Shaw Brothers film, I was only able to track it down as a badly discolored VHS that’s gotta be at least 4th or 5th generation. I can usually deal just fine with this kind of ugliness, but Redbeard is an incredibly talky film, so when half the subtitles are cut off it makes it kinda hard to keep up. I don’t think a beautiful remastered version with full subtitles would fix all the film’s issues, but it would definitely make for a more pleasant experience.

The film opens with a group of people on horseback, led by Little White Snake (Lee Hung), chasing down a train. They assault the moving train in order to rescue their chief, Chow Tian-Hua (Wang Yin). While making their escape, Tian-Hua is wounded, but they make it out alive and to their hideout. From what I could gather, Tian-Hua and his rescuers are the redbeards of the title, although I don’t really have a clear understanding of what a redbeard is. It seems that Tian-hua and his redbeards are some kind of outlaws in opposition of the army, but as the redbeards seem to only want to take care of their own and farm their land, I’m not entirely sure what the conflict is about.

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From the Highway (1970)

FromtheHighway+1970-6-bFrom the Highway [路客與刀客] (1970)

Starring Peter Yang Kwan, Ingrid Hu Yin-Yin, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Suen Yuet, Lee Hung, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Lee Man-Tai

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: Fairly high.

threestar


From the Highway is an impressively produced film… if you can watch it without holding its legacy against it. The film is largely considered the first color hand-to-hand kung fu film, but the title is a misnomer in this case. From the Highway is only barely a martial arts film, let alone a hand-to-hand film. It’s actually a drama surrounded by some traditional martial arts traits. In this way it recalls director Chang Tseng-Chai’s later film The Casino, which is essentially a drama until the action-packed finale.

The lead character, He Tian (Peter Yang Kwan), is perhaps the genre’s first prominent unarmed character, though. If I remember right there are older Shaw Bros movies with hand-to-hand scenes, although I don’t remember other characters who only fight unarmed. I don’t know enough about martial arts film history to say definitively that he’s the first, but if nothing else he’s an unarmed fighter amidst a multitude of weapon-wielding contemporaries. But even if this character trait is notable, it only seems notable because of the film’s built-up legacy. As a viewer in 2015, I’m looking for the seeds of later films; I’m looking for the “birth” of the kung fu film. And it’s just not here. On the other hand, when I watched The Chinese Boxer under the same mindset, it lived up to the legacy of being “the first hand-to-hand kung fu film,” and was impressive for how much it actually resembled later films.

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