The Water Margin (1972)


water margin

Starring Ku Feng, Chin Feng, Yueh Hua, Fen Mei Sheng, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Lily Ho, Cheng Lei, Lui Tan, Wu Ma, Wang Chung, Peng Peng, Lo Wei, Chen Kuan Tai, and pretty much anyone who has ever been in a Shaw Brothers film.

Fight Choreography by

Directed by Chang Cheh

THE MOUNTAIN BROTHERS ARE ALL HERE!

Those words reverberated through me at the age of eight, as this was the first martial arts film I over watched with my Dad, the first of many during Kung-Fu Saturdays, and I had visions of characters with such awesome names as Young Dragon, Red-Haired Devil and moves with names like the 13 Throws of Young Dragon, The Triple Kick Of Death. I had never seen anything like it. I found it so much more interesting than any cartoon or comic book at the time. Little did I know who much this film would help forge who I am today. So is it as good as I remembered it?

The film starts with introductions for each character, and dang it, it’s an hour into the film before they are done with them! It’s actually kinda funny and would make a great drinking game. “Drink every time you see a Chen or Feng on screen!” You’d be drunk ten minutes into the film!

We are introduced to the 108 bandits who are more freedom fighters than anything else: the Liang Shan fighters. We pick up where their leader, Chao Gai, is hunted down and killed by Shi Wen Gong for the Zeng Family, a powerful and corrupt family aligned with the government. The other LiangShan fighters vow vengeance, but first they must find a fighter who is the equal of Shi Wen Gong. They find such a fighter in Lu Chun I and his protege , Yen Ching but Lu Chun I is in trouble himself as he is betrayed by his wife and her lover, his own steward. The rest of the film deals as the fighters of Liang Shan take their revenge and save Lu Junyi as well…

The film itself it as epic a Shaw Brothers film as you’ll ever find. You’ll probably find every location on the Shaw Brothers lot has been used, casts of hundreds (cannon fodder baddies, but whatever) and colorful characters with names like The Timely Rain, Red-Haired Demon, Black Whirlwind, The Rash, The Pallid, and so so many more. The film mostly concentrates on Lu Chun I and Yen Ching, but that’s okay because everyone is larger than life in this film, and it reminds me of the American Film All Quiet on The Western Front, which starred most of the actors of the day. The deaths are all operatic and funny to watch as characters are skewered multiple times but have enough gumption to say something or do something before expiring, even with things like spears, arrows, and axes in their bodies! Chang Cheh is the best of the Shaw Brothers directors, and his skills are on full display here, using every camera angle and style in the book to deliver an epic film, at a time when “epic” and kung-fu movies were not synonymous.

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The music deserves a mention here as well. It’s a different animal all together, and has some really funky themes, like the Chiga-Chiga-Cha! whenever Yen Ching shows up, and the soulful singing that occurs throughout the film. It all fits perfectly, but on paper you wouldn’t think so.

The fights are pretty good, but it’s the finale of the film where it all comes together and shines brightly. It’s all full of Shaw Brothers goodness. Ti Lung gets the most work here, and looks great doing it. It’s actually funny to see the Shi Wen Gong call out the moves for his students to watch out for…right before the move actually happens, which winds up killing his students! There are better fights in other Shaw Brothers films, but it’s the story, not the fights, that is the winner here.

I know this may be a biased review by me, but…

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 10

One of the absolute best of the Shaw Brothers library. Full of operatic acting and epic battle sequences and fights, Chang Cheh pulls out the stops to deliver an epic tale of honor, loyalty, and justice!

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