The Jade Faced Assassin (1971)

JadeFacedAssassin+1971-38-bThe Jade Faced Assassin [玉面俠] (1971)
AKA And the Twain Shall Meet

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kao Yuen, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Essie Lin Chia, Chai No, Yen Chun

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. The Iron Buddha was a lot of fun.

twohalfstar


The Jade Faced Assassin is a movie that knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to pretend like it’s an action film, it instead trades solely in wuxia betrayals and convoluted story beats. The Jade Faced Assassin is wuxia in the old tradition, except where a lot of those older films were clumsily told and altogether boring, The Jade Faced Assassin is pretty fun if you dig what it’s selling. That could probably be said for most movies, but I feel it’s especially true when we’re dealing with old school wuxia and a Western audience. You simply must know what you’re getting yourself into.

Anyway, The Jade Faced Assassin tells a pretty standard tale of martial intrigue, this time involving yet another stolen martial arts manual and a pair of infant twins separated and raised by competing clans. Our hero, Lily Ho, was cared for by the heroic Ku Feng, but he was assaulted and injured badly in the bandit infested “Happy Town.” The bandits raised Lily Ho as their own, teaching her every technique they knew, trying to create something of an über bandit. But their plan backfires as she’s simply not cut out for the bandit lifestyle, so when she’s of age she leaves in search of vengeance for her murdered parents. Along the way she meets up with a number of colorful characters (as is to be expected in a wuxia film), and has a rollicking, fun adventure.

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The Iron Buddha (1970)

The Iron Buddha [鐵羅漢] (1970)

Starring Ling Yun, Fang Ying, Wong Chung-Shun, Chen Hung Lieh, Yau Ching, Yue Wai, Fan Mei-Sheng, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, Yen Chun, Lee Sau Kei, Go Ming, Shum Lo

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: High. Sammo Hung choreography is generally fastastic.


It’s always fun when I discover a more “modern” martial arts film amidst the old school wuxia. It wouldn’t be fair to call this anything but a wuxia film, but its sensibilities are definitely progressive rather than regressive, and that’s always a good thing when it comes to this review series. The Iron Buddha isn’t a great film, or even a genre great, but it is remarkably fun, high-class entertainment that will satisfy those looking for a great diversion from your normal, not-flying-around-and-jumping-fifty-feet-into-trees life.

The Iron Buddha starts off uniquely as the rapist Xiao Tianzun (Wong Chung-Shun) is caught red-handed, but let free by a merciful martial arts master who is familiar with the reputation of the rapist’s teacher. He does not leave the rapist unscathed, though, carving a deep cross on his chest to mark him as an evildoer. Three years later, Xiao tracks down the man who gave him the scar, rapes his daughter while he watches and then kills him! Without missing a beat, he then murders the man’s entire school of students, save one rather resourceful guy who happened to be away from the group. This student becomes our main character, Luo Han (Ling Yun), and he’s out for some serious revenge! Now that’s a classic kung fu setup if I’ve ever heard one!

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That Fiery Girl (1968)

That Fiery Girl [紅辣椒] (1968)
AKA Red Chili Pepper

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Chan Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Cheng Lui, Tang Ti, Nam Wai-Lit, Wong Ching Ho, Lau Kwan, Chin Chun, Chow Siu-Loi

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s not another boring early Shaw.


That Fiery Girl is a hard film to rate (this seems to be a general theme for the films I’m watching lately!). For most of its runtime, it’s a low-key romantic film involving a bandit group and a heroic swordsman who has infiltrated their ranks. There are moments of martial arts and action, but it’s mostly romantic melodrama. I’m not a big fan of these kinds of Shaw Brothers films, so while the story was interesting and pretty well plotted, I found myself wishing for something more.

Like an unexpected package in the mail, the final act of That Fiery Girl delivers everything I could ever ask for from an early Shaw Brothers film, in greater quantities than even I could have imagined. While Chang Cheh is no stranger to ending his films with a large-scale extended action sequence, the other Shaw directors generally don’t use the technique at this stage of the game. If they do, it usually feels forced and nothing more than a poor imitation of the real deal. That Fiery Girl‘s ending is nearly all action, and it’s surprisingly good action. The film cross-cuts between two major battles to keep the action moving and it literally never lets up until every one of the bandits is on the floor in a pool of their own blood. There are loads of great moments of blood and gore thrown into the fights, including one of the best bamboo impalings I’ve ever seen. This amazing stretch of roughly fifteen minutes makes up for every shortcoming of That Fiery Girl and ends the film in the best way possible. It’s also gratifying to watch because the film’s plot up to this point, while melodramatic and light on action, is a fun set of twists and turns for our characters to go through. The threads of the plot all come together at once in the final action sequence, adding in an added layer of enjoyment for those that stayed awake and paid attention through the film’s more boring moments.

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Mini-Review: That Man in Chang-An (1967)

That Man in Chang-An [幪面大俠] (1967)

Starring Fang Ying, Gam Jan-Fooi, Yen Chun, Allyson Chang Yen, Tang Ti, Tien Feng, Wong Ching Ho, Cheung Kwong Chiu, Piu Liu-Chik, Chiu Ming

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate.


That Man in Chang-An is yet another early Shaw Brothers film that gets as much wrong as it does right. It’s not a poorly made film by any stretch, but it suffers from being overlong and light on the action. The first hour is devoted mostly to setup with only a couple of small sequences of excitement, notably a wagon chase and a fight in the middle of the forest. Both scenes are excellent and are shot with an eye for enhancing the action through quality camera movement. There’s also a fantastic opening sequence in which our hero, The Masked Man, infiltrates the enemy’s castle and steals an Imperial Edict.

The sets are as lavish and beautiful as the costumes, and it’s clear the picture was meant as a costume drama over anything else. The second half of the film does get more interesting with various escape plots and short battles with guards. One of these fights features an impressive horizontal tracking shot that follows the Masked Man as he lays waste to all comers. As you’d expect from an early Shaw film, the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but the shot is electric nonetheless.

The final fight is pretty exciting though, thanks in part to the undercranked fast motion of the combatants. I’m not a big fan of this technique but it worked very well here to get things moving. At 111 minutes this is a lot longer than your average Shaw film and it feels like it, so any increase in speed is appreciated. There’s also a ton of gorgeous exterior shots that add a lot of flavor to the overall tone of the picture. Ultimately, this is another one strictly for those already attuned to the works of the Shaw Brothers.

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