Ambush (1973)

Ambush+1973-1-bAmbush [埋伏] (1973)

Starring Li Ching, Chiu Hung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wang Hsieh, Dean Shek Tin, Kong Ling, Tung Lam, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Pang Pang, Unicorn Chan, Lee Man-Chow, Sa Au

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderate.

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Ambush is like a lot of the other martial arts films I’ve seen from director Ho Meng-Hua. It is a capable film, and it tells a good story, but it just doesn’t feel all that original or special. When you’re cranking out as many martial arts films as the Shaw Brothers were at this time, it makes sense that many of them might be like this, but a couple of things about Ambush help to differentiate it from previous mid-level Shaw films.

First, this was their first martial arts film of 1973, and by this point in their history the fight choreography is well beyond what you’d generally expect in something labeled “mid-range.” By modern standards it’s a little wonky, but regardless the fights of Ambush are plentiful and fun. Shaw veteran Simon Chui Yee-Ang handled the choreography himself this time and he does a great job of crafting quick-moving fights that showcase everything from fantastical wuxia feats, to basic swordplay, to the up-and-coming genre standard hand-to-hand work.

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The Way of the Dragon (1972)

wayofthedragon_1The Way of the Dragon [猛龍過江] (1972)
AKA Return of the Dragon, Revenge of the Dragon, Fury of the Dragon

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wong Chung-Shun, Gam Dai, Unicorn Chan, Lau Wing, Jon T. Benn, Chuck Norris, Whang In-Shik, Robert Wall, Malisa Longo, Robert Chan Law-Bat, Chen Fu-Ching

Directed by Bruce Lee

Expectations: High, it’s Bruce Lee!

threestar


With The Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee stepped into the role of writer/director along with the acting and choreography roles he had inhabited on his previous two Hong Kong films. As a result, The Way of the Dragon is much more reflective of Bruce Lee’s personality than his films under Lo Wei. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a good or bad thing. For me (someone who enjoys the work of Lo Wei far more than other kung fu fans seem to), it was somewhere in the middle. I have always thought this was the least of Bruce’s films, and today’s viewing only solidified that for me. But this time, I think I understood why I’ve always been somewhat disinterested with the film.

Taking this film as evidence, it would seem that Bruce Lee’s relationship with Lo Wei was somewhat similar to Lo’s later relationship with Jackie Chan. Both stars wished to express themselves through more than just the traditional notes of what a martial arts film was at the time. Both stars immediately integrated comedy and martial arts in their films away from Lo. Jackie was obviously the more successful in doing so — does anyone know Bruce for his comedy? — but both stars clearly wanted to push the genre beyond what their initial director wanted to let them.

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Duel for Gold (1971)

duelforgold_1Duel for Gold [火併] (1971)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Wang Ping, Chin Han, Lo Lieh, Richard Chan Chun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Pang-Fei, Chung Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wong Wai, Law Hon, Lee Siu-Chung, Lau Kwan, Unicorn Chan, Simon Chui Yee-Ang

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: I’m so excited.

threehalfstar


In his first film with the Shaw Brothers, director Chor Yuen emerges immediately as a new force in the genre, painting visual pictures and telling a thrilling story unlike anything seen yet in the Shaw Brothers catalog. Duel for Gold was by no means his first film (he had already made 67 films since starting directing in 1957), and his experience behind the camera elevates this wuxia heist yarn to excellent heights. It is held back by some average choreography throughout a good portion of the film, but you can’t win them all. I especially look forward to his next film, The Killer, which features Yuen Woo-Ping’s first choreography work for the Shaw Brothers (working alongside his brother Yuen Cheung-Yan, already a Shaw Brothers choreographer).

But before we get too deep into the fights, Duel for Gold‘s story is equally important to its success. Written by the ever dependable Ni Kuang, Duel for Gold is exactly what it sounds like, a duel among thieves and the security force of the Fu Lai Security Bureau for 100,000 taels of gold. The film opens as the credits come on-screen over slow-motion shots of battling heroes. But the focus is not on these warriors, instead the camera is focused on an incidental item in the foreground: a barren tree branch; a broken, bloody gravestone; the swaying grass. In between these shots are a bunch of quick cuts of the battle’s aftermath, of the carnage wrought by expertly handled swords and greed. And then the voice of a narrator directly addresses the audience, telling us that we’re right to assume the film is about men dying for money, and that what we’re seeing is the ending to the tale, but to indulge him as he tells us the story of how we got there.

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The Crimson Charm (1971)

936full-the-crimson-charm-posterThe Crimson Charm [血符門] (1971)

Starring Chang Yi, Ivy Ling Po, Shih Szu, Fang Mian, James Nam Gung-Fan, Ku Feng, Wang Hsieh, James Tin Jun, Chow Siu-Loi, Unicorn Chan, Hung Lau, Wong Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Wong Ching Ho

Directed by Huang Feng

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


The Crimson Charm starts out innocently enough. A father and daughter stop at an inn for the night and are enjoying a meal when a group of obviously bad individuals come looking for a different father and daughter who have done them wrong. They murder the father they’re looking for and then the leader tries to rape the daughter, and that’s when our first father/daughter duo step in. They can’t stand to see such villainy, and their altercation results in the death of the bandit leader who’s also the son of the chief of the Crimson Charm Gang. The Crimson Charm Chief vows to take revenge and murder the entire Chung Chow Sword School. Seems a bit extreme, but then that’s just how the Crimson Charm Gang rolls. But when the gang comes to take that revenge, they aren’t as thorough as they set out to be. They leave three survivors, and those survivors vow to take revenge on the Crimson Charm gang!

It might sound a little convoluted but it never feels that way during the movie, and for a wuxia film this is one of the more direct plots. The Crimson Charm is very much a transitional film between the complex early wuxias and the simple, paper-thin plots of later kung fu films, and it plays rather well as a combo of both. The film has a nice flow to it, naturally taking us through the chain of revenge before dropping us into the main struggle between the survivors of the massacre and the Crimson Charm Gang.

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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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