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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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 Devil’s Mirror (1972)

devilsmirror_8The Devil’s Mirror [風雷魔鏡] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Lau Dan, Lee Ga-Sai, Wang Hsieh, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Ho, Chai No, Shum Lo, Law Hon, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Lei Lung

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. The Avenging Eagle is one of my favorite Shaw films, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of director Sun Chung in this review series.

threehalfstar


The Devil’s Mirror is a wuxia film that takes the supernatural roots of the genre, laces them with a heavy dollop of black magic and goes for broke. It is one of the most fun films I’ve seen yet on my chronological course through the Shaw Bros. martial arts catalog, but yet somehow it was not a success upon its initial release. I guess Hong Kong audiences weren’t ready for disfiguring curses caused by consuming corpse worm pills and an evil witch with a third eye as the main villain. Their loss.

The Devil’s Mirror opens with a large assembly of clans. These clans have pledged to disperse all evil in the land and uphold justice, but there is one major thorn in all of their sides: the Jiuxuan witch and her Bloody Ghouls clan. Many virtuous heroes have gone missing and her ultimate plan is to steal the Wind Magic Mirror and the Thunder Magic Mirror — which, according to their current owner, will cause “rays of cosmic power” when used together — so that she can open the Emperor’s tomb. There she will retrieve the Fish Intestines Sword and the Thousand Years Ganoderma and then no one will be able to defeat her! Now it’s up to couple of wily 20-something kids, Wen Jianfeng (Lau Dan) and Bai Xiaofeng (Shu Pei-Pei) to unravel the witch’s schemes and stop her before it’s too late!

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The Angry Guest (1972)

AngryGuest_1The Angry Guest [惡客] (1972)
AKA Kung Fu Killers, The Annoyed Guest

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chang Cheh, Ching Li, Kurata Yasuaki, Fong Yan-Ji, Chan Sing, Bolo Yeung, Woo Wai, Yau Ming

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

threestar


I imagine if you’re reading this you like Shaw Brothers movies. What I’m unsure of is your affection for Sean Connery-era James Bond films. If you happen to be one of those people who enjoys both, I think you’ll get quite the kick out of Chang Cheh’s The Angry Guest. The film is a direct sequel to 1971’s Duel of Fists, taking that film’s reunited brothers on another thrilling journey in an exotic country. Last time it was Bangkok, Thailand, as Fan Ke (David Chiang) was in search of the brother he never knew he had, Wen Lieh (Ti Lung), and this time we’re on our way to Tokyo, Japan.

But for fans of Duel of Fists‘ realistic approach to capturing Muay Thai boxing on-screen, don’t expect any of that to make it into the sequel (outside of a scant few moments during the training intro). After defeating the crime boss Chiang Ren (Chan Sing) and breaking his leg at the end of Duel of Fists, the brothers came back to Hong Kong. Fan Ke resumed his career as an architect that stands around Hong Kong construction sites and points at things, and Wen Lieh took to training the students at the family’s kung fu school. But when Chiang Ren escapes from prison, he hooks back up with his gang, murders Wen’s mother and friend, and takes his girlfriend (Ching Li) hostage. But Chiang Ren’s Japanese boss, Yamaguchi, isn’t satisfied with his performance against the brothers before, so he has the kidnapped girl brought to his base of operations in Tokyo.

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Duel of Fists (1971)

duel of fistsDuel of Fists [拳擊] (1971)
AKA Striking Fist, Duel of Fist

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Chan Sing, Ku Feng, Woo Wai, Parwarna Liu Lan-Ying, Wong Chung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yau Ming, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.

threestar


Duel of Fists is similar to The Anonymous Heroes in that it’s ultimately a minor Chang Cheh film, but that doesn’t stop it from being highly entertaining and interesting in its own right. Despite having a similar title to The Duel, the story in Duel of Fists is much more straightforward. But where Duel of Fists breaks ground and offers Chang Cheh another opportunity to step up his game is in its location shooting, taking the Shaw team on the road to Bangkok and offering up the exotic sights of 1970s Thailand to enthrall viewers. The film also explores the subculture surrounding the Muay Thai boxing circuit, becoming one of the first, if not the first, film to feature the style. I can’t find any information on any films prior to this that featured Muay Thai, but as info is hard to come by on these films I think it’s best to say it’s “one of the first” instead of making unfounded, broad claims.

The film opens at Songkran, the Thai New Year festival traditionally held from April 13th–15th and celebrated by throwing water on random strangers. We are given a taste of things to come, before being quickly whisked back to Hong Kong, where David Chiang plays a civil engineer. One day, his father confesses on his deathbed that he once had an affair with a Thai girl during one of his business trips, and he asks David to find his half-brother that he never knew he had. So off Chiang goes, and we go with him to experience the exotic culture and country, as well as a different breed of martial arts film.

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The Rescue (1971)

The Rescue-1971The Rescue [血酒天牢] (1971)

Starring Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Goo Man-Chung, Fang Mian, Ling Ling, Bolo Yeung, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Hung Sing-Chung, Yau Ming, Tang Ti, Lee Wan-Chung, Chen Feng-Chen

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful.

threestar


In 1279 AD, the Mongols invaded China and formed the Yuan Dynasty. Minister Wen Tien Hsiang led his army to resist, but was captured and imprisoned. The Emperor of Yuan asked him to surrender, but he refused and was finally sentenced. While he was in jail, he wrote a “Song of Uprightness” to show his loyalty and this song later inspired the Chinese people to rise up against any foreign invaders.

This picture tells the story of how some patriots fought desperately to get the song out of the dungeons…

So begins The Rescue, and if that isn’t a humdinger of a setup I don’t know what is. But in a lot of ways, The Rescue is the definition of a minor Shaw Brothers film: it’s short (79½ minutes), it’s fun, but it’s not exceptionally great. Don’t let that stop you, though, as The Rescue has a lot of entertainment under its hood. I don’t think any martial arts fan can argue with a movie that features Bolo Yeung ripping a prison cell door off of the wall and using it as a weapon to defend himself and kill multiple attackers.

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The Duel (1971)

theduel_posterThe Duel [大決鬥] (1971)
AKA Duel of the Iron Fists, Duel of the Iron Fist, Duel of the Shaolin Fist

Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Yue Wai, Wang Ping, Chuen Yuen, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yeung Chi Hing, Hung Lau, Wong Ching Ho, Hoh Ban, Lee Wan Chung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Lau Gong, Chiu Hung, Yau Ming

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

fourstar


The Duel is an incredible martial arts motion picture. It might not be the type of movie that will convince non-martial arts fans of the greatness of the genre, but it will definitely delight and entertain those already in love. The Duel features so much flat-out awesome action, while also telling a very succinct and morally charged revenge tale, it’s truly one of Chang Cheh’s best films. I’m tempted to say that The New One-Armed Swordsman is a better movie, but The Duel is clearly the more awesome of the two. There is never a dull moment in The Duel, and whenever you think there might be, a whole host of henchmen sneak around the corner and assault our heroes. It’s simply a joy to behold.

The basic story of The Duel is centered around a family. When the patriarch is murdered in a public place, the elder brothers send younger brother Ren Jie (Ti Lung) away so that he can take the fall for the crime. He vows to find the killer when he returns, but before his time away is up a bunch of henchmen show up to murder him. The funny thing is: he recognizes their leader as one of his family members. This sets Ren Jie on a path of retribution, uncovering a thick web of intrigue and betrayal. Also along for the ride is The Rambler (David Chiang), a hired fighter that helped Ren Jie’s family take out a rival family during the film’s incredible opening sequence.

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