Starring Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Wang Lung, Dick Wei, Ku Feng
Fight Choreography by Tang Chia and Huang Pei-Chi
Directed By Sun Chung
From the house of Shaw Brothers comes another revenge martial arts film, but with a twist midway through the film that is telegraphed, but no less engaging because of its portent. Two Shaw Brother stalwarts head up yet another great cast…
Ti Lung plays Chik Ming Sing, a member of the Iron Boat Gang and one of their best fighters, part of a group known as the 13 Eagles. He was raised to be an assassin since he was a young orphan taken in by Yoh Xi Hung (Ku Feng), a brutal man who craves more power and uses his assassins to get it. When we meet Chik he is running from the other assassins, and meets a fellow on the road named Homeless (Fu Sheng) who helps him fight off several of the assassins trying to kill him, and in between fights we are told in flashback why they are hunting Chik and why Chik ran away, wanting to change his life. Homeless is trying to kill Yoh Xi Hung for reasons that are revealed toward the end of the film. Chik and Homeless band together to end the Iron Boat Gang once and for all, but Homeless hides a secret that may pit both men against each other once Yoh is defeated…
Operatic. That is the best way to describe this film. This is something that almost could’ve been done as a stage play. The story does a good job of parsing out information regularly but not intrusively, as each time they go into a flashback I found myself more and more interested in what really happened to Chik, and how Homeless plays into the greater scheme of things. It all makes the final fight all the more engrossing as the “twist” is made known to Chik, and while the audience already knows it, we wait in anticipation of what Chik will do when he finds out.
Ti Lung does an excellent job portraying the dark and tortured Chik Ming Sing, who wants to atone for his sins, but at the same time isn’t really interested in dying. This may be Ti Lung’s best acting performance, and he puts his all into the character. Alexander Fu Sheng is…well, in many respects the same kind of smartass character he plays so well, but even here he has a dark aspect that is missing from most of the characters he plays, adding to the overall darkness of the film. Wang Lung is a badass as always, but doesn’t really get much to do here since he’s really main Flunkie number 1 in this flick.
The fights take on the operatic nature of the story, as there is mostly weapon fighting that are very dramatic in execution. The first fight involving Chik and Homeless versus a group of Eagles was well staged, but had interesting moments where the camera went into a freeze frame. I’m not sure what the purpose of it was, and I never understood what effect they were looking to achieve, but it happens only a few times in the film and doesn’t really deter any of the fights. The second fight as the 13 Eagles attack Yu Fai town is epic in nature and well staged as the fight carries across the entire town, and the camerawork is flawless and not once was I confused by where everyone was at. The highlight of this scene is a fantastic fight between Ti Lung and his 3 section staff versus a spear fighter. The choreography is some of the best I’ve seen using those weapons. I love Dick Wei, but I loved the way he got taken down by Fu Sheng even more. It was so simple and quick I laughed out loud when it happened. All of the fights are good, but more because of what they mean to move the story along, which is the main difference between many Hollywood martial arts films and Shaw Brothers films. The fights are part of the story, and move the story along, not hindering it, or stopping the proceeding to “see a fight scene”. This film marries story and fighting as well as any SB film has.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) The fights are incredibly well done and feature a myriad of weapons that don’t get a lot of play in martial arts films. It all ties into the overall tone of the film perfectly. Ti Lung and Alexander Fu Sheng really shine in all of their fights.
STUNTWORK: (8) The stunt work rocked in this film. The stuntmen didn’t overact or react too badly, and really acted their death scenes with aplomb (much like a stage play). There wasn’t too many falls, but the ones that were there were executed well.
STAR POWER: (10) Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Ku Feng, with smaller parts by Dick Wei and Wang Lung? All at the height of their popularity during the Shaw Brothers era.
FINAL GRADE: (9) A great revenge story featuring the best performance of Ti Lung’s career, and Alexander Fu Sheng gets to show he can act too. Wall to Wall fights that will have you on the edge of your seat. Required viewing.
The ‘operatic’ films are the ones I like best. I think I would enjoy this film.
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