Village of Tigers (1974)

villageoftigers_4Village of Tigers [惡虎村] (1974)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shu Pei-Pei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Tung Lam, Wang Hsieh, Tang Ti, Chan Shen, Ng Wai, Tung Li, Tong Tin-Hei, Chan Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Wan Chung-Shan

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Wong Ping

Expectations: Moderate, but I generally like Griffin Yueh Feng’s work.

twohalfstar


My chronological review series of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films enters 1974 not with a bang but a whimper. Well, whimper is probably a little strong. Village of Tigers is relatively entertaining, but a 79-minute movie should never feel as long as this one does. Its problems are myriad, its intrigue is slight; it’s the kind of wuxia to see when you’ve exhausted a lot of the better options. The finale is of markedly better quality than the rest of the movie, but even this is not enough to save this rather sedate wuxia from mediocrity.

The story’s lack of focus is one of its major issues, and I could easily describe most of the movie in an attempt to provide even a quick summary. Basically, the titular Village of Tigers is the home to a huge group of bandits who like to go around and pillage. On this particular day, they’re concerned with bumping off the Sword of the Southern Sky, Luo Hong-Xun (Yueh Hua). Meanwhile, Bao Ying Hua (Karen Yip Leng-Chi) is on her way to Wild Date Peak for her grandma’s birthday party, and 9th Miss (Shu Pei-Pei), Bao’s cousin, has discovered that her brother Ba Jie (Tung Li) is in league with the bandits holed up at the Village of Tigers.

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Call to Arms (1973)

CalltoArms+1973-47-bCall to Arms [盜兵符] (1973)

Starring Chung Wa, Ha Faan, Cheung Ban, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Wen-Chung, Teresa Ha Ping, Tung Li, Bolo Yeung, Cheng Miu, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Ho Wan-Tai, Tong Tin-Hei, Liu Wai

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderately high. Shen Chiang usually delivers something entertaining.

twohalfstar


Right before I started Call to Arms, I pulled up its page on the HKMDB. I often do this with these mid-tier Shaw Brothers films, as it helps me keep more accurate notes about the characters and actors. Anyway, when I did this I caught a glimpse of the film’s poster, which is about as exciting as a page of text from a history textbook. It’s not exactly the type of marketing I expect a martial arts film to have, and it was my first clue that Call to Arms would be a different type of Shaw film.

It’s a good thing that I had this clue going into the film, otherwise I might have been quite disappointed with what I got. Call to Arms is much more of a historical epic than it is a martial arts action picture, and it’s within this distinction that the film ends up being sorta mediocre. The story, while dense and filled with intrigue, isn’t the most interesting and it’s also fairly hard to follow. Thankfully, the fights are fun and exciting, but they aren’t fun or exciting enough to make up for the story. I would like to note that fans of Chinese history, who come to the film with a better understanding of the country’s warring states period, will more than likely get more out of the story than I did.

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Purple Darts (1969)

purpledarts_3Purple Darts [紫金鏢] (1969)

Starring Wang Ling, Tung Li, Ou Wei, Cho Kin, Li Kuan-Chang, Lee Fung, Cheung Sai-Sai, Chow Siu-Hing, Tai Leung, Cheung Ching-Fung

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Fairly low.

threehalfstar


It’s a shame that Purple Darts is one of the Shaw Brothers films that never received a DVD release from Celestial, because it’s a great wuxia full of fun characters and tense fights. Its story isn’t always the slickest, the characters’ motivations are usually somewhat cloudy and unexplained, there are “important” things that ultimately mean nothing, and the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but Purple Darts finds ways to make those discrepancies fly away like a slick wuxia hero. It’s by far the best film I’ve seen from Pan Lei, and I’m sad that his final martial arts film for the Shaw Brothers, 1971’s The Merciful Sword, is currently MIA. Maybe it’ll eventually turn up like Purple Darts.

Like many Shaw martial arts films from the 1960s, Purple Darts opens with an infant in peril. Her parents are under assault from four villainous figures of the martial world: Bai Feng the Butcher, Lu Dachao the Bull Demon, Gu Miaozhen the Seducer, and Wang Yizhou The Wind Waving Scholar. Together they seek the Great Mystery Scriptures, a kung fu manual with unexplained power and importance. The infant’s mother manages to smuggle her out through a hidden tunnel, and an old man takes the baby in. Cue the credits! And now, just as in a good majority of these ’60s wuxias, the credits end and the infant is now a 20-something adult in search of vengeance for the crimes against her parents!

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The Enchanted Chamber (1968)

EnchantedChamber+1968-1-bThe Enchanted Chamber [狐俠] (1968)

Starring Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Feng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Kwan, Goo Man-Chung, Pang Pang, Tung Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Fang Mian

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: High, for some reason. Probably because I couldn’t see this one for a long time and now its mystique is all built up.

threehalfstar


Wuxia films always contain some supernatural elements, but The Enchanted Chamber is a true supernatural wuxia. Powers and the spirit world inform nearly every scene in the film, creating a fantastically entertaining film that is a hybrid of wuxia, spooky horror and a tale of star-crossed lovers. Thinking about the other Shaw films from 1968, The Enchanted Chamber also feels quite unique in this regard, flawlessly blending genres together where other films of this era have a rough time presenting one genre as well.

Based on a tale from the classic Chinese collection Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, The Enchanted Chamber opens by introducing us to Chiang Wen-Tsui (Margaret Hsing Hui), a trickster fox fairy. We watch as she thwarts an adulterous couple mid-coitus, and a few minutes later she sings a wonderful song while providing pears for some hungry children in town. It would appear that she is to be our main character, but about 20 minutes in, the film takes a hard turn away from her story. While she does return to play a very important role in the film, her introduction also serves double duty by introducing us to the type of world we’re dealing with. This is a world where mischievous fairies are very much a real thing, and if someone says their house is haunted, you better not stick around.

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The Black Tavern (1972)

TheBlackTavern_1The Black Tavern [黑店] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Tung Li, Ku Feng, Kong Ling, Kwok Chuk-Hing, Barry Chan, Yeung Chi-Hing, Dean Shek Tin, Wang Hsieh, Yue Fung, Situ Lin, Law Hon, Lee Ho, Wu Ma, Yau Ming

Directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho

Expectations: Fairly high.

fourstar


I can’t say that I’ve seen any other martial arts film with a structure quite like The Black Tavern, and that’s exactly why you should see the film as clueless as possible if you want to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of it. Even knowing that the structure is something unique is probably tipping the film’s hand too much, but it would be hard to write a review without mentioning the very thing that makes it such a notable film. So if you’re a martial arts fan looking for a great under-the-radar gem, stop reading, track down The Black Tavern, and enjoy!

The film begins with its credits over shots of patrons sitting at tables in a small tavern. There’s no sound other than the music, so the diners’ calls for pots of wine or plates of beef noodles are left for us to imagine. Sound enters the picture via a song sung by a beggar monk who ambles around the room, presumably hoping for the charity of others. The tavern’s patrons don’t look too hospitable, though, and largely ignore him. But when the song’s lyrics begin to weave a tale of how the monk happened to see a traveling official’s trunk full of amazing treasures, and how easy it would be to rob this man, the unsavory characters in the restaurant begin to take notice. A pair of bandits leave to find this easy mark, and thus begins one of the great martial arts films of the era.

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The Imperial Swordsman (1972)

imperialswordsman_1The Imperial Swordsman [大內高手] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Chuen Yuen, Yue Wai, Cheng Miu, Tung Li, Lee Wan-Chung, Tang Ti, Wong Chung-Shun, Liu Wai, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Kam Kong, Woo Wai, Siu Wa, Ma Ying, Tong Tin-Hei

Directed by Lin Fu-Ti

Expectations: High.

threestar


The Imperial Swordsman is a seriously ambitious film, one that reaches so high that it would be almost impossible to achieve what it sets out to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shaws saw this film as something of a test run for more ambitious FX-filled films that would follow in its wake. As such, it showcases some excellent and beautiful model work that helps to broaden the scale of the film immensely, setting the scene with grand fortresses built atop mountain cliffs that tower above deep, flowing rivers.

Set during the Ming Dynasty, the emperor has learned that one of his own is working with the Mongolians in an attempt to invade China and take over the country. To stop this devious plot, the four imperial swordsmen (played by Shu Pei-Pei, Yue Wai, Lee Wan-Chung & Liu Wai) are deployed to recover evidence of the traitor and bring him to justice while he’s traveling. The Chief Imperial Inspector Yin Shu-Tang (Chuen Yuen) has already been working in the area, so they are to join up with him and thwart the traitor (who is hoping to hideout with his bandit buddies in their mountain fortress).

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Finger of Doom (1972)

FingerofDoom_1Finger of Doom [太陰指] (1972)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Chin Han, Chen Feng-Chen, Hung Sing-Chung, Park Ji-Hyeon, Yeung Chi-Hing, Tung Li, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Shum Lo, Lan Wei-Lieh

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Fairly high.

threestar


Finger of Doom gets points for being different. The film has all the usual trappings of the wuxia genre, but it is actually defined by the elements that make it closer to a horror film. While there have been many horror-themed swordplay films throughout the years, I’m not quite sure how many there were around this time, so Finger of Doom could be one of the first to blend the two genres. In any case, this aspect makes Finger of Doom unique and well-worth a look for any Shaw fan on the hunt for something a little different than the standard wuxia story.

Finger of Doom opens as the Four Heroes of Dragon Hill are tricked into an audience with an errant kung fu master, Kung Suen Mao Neong. Kung quickly subdues the heroes with a flick of her wrist that unleashes her Finger of Doom technique, or in layman’s terms: a small metal spike driven into the base of the victim’s neck. It causes the victim excruciating pain, but after taking a dose of Kung’s antidote the victim is left with no pain or fear of death. Oh, but they’re also under Kung’s control! They effectively become her zombie bodyguards, carrying Kung around in her red wooden coffin during the daytime to shield her from the sun. The kung fu is strong with this one indeed.

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