What a very nice surprise this 1976 kung-fu film
turned out to be. Even though there is really not a huge amount of action
– and Angela Mao is only in one lengthy fight – the production values are
terrific and the story is complex enough to be involving. The film was
directed by Huang Feng - the man who discovered Angela and directed
a few of her films - and the action choreography was from Sammo Hung –
who also appears in a small role. And for historical purposes, let’s mention
that one of the extras and stuntmen was Jackie Chan.
The prologue states that Golden Harvest had
to travel to Nepal and Tibet to find the students from the Mi School who
still had the knowledge of a certain style of fighting to perform in the
film. Hmmm? I am not sure what that meant as nearly all the fighting is
performed by well known actors from either HK or Taiwan, but certainly
much of the film appears to have been shot in Nepal and there are some
lovely scenes of the mountains and temples. In fact one fight takes place
on the steps of an ancient temple which strikes me as a bit tacky – though
admittedly visually interesting. It reminded me of another HK film I saw
recently – Hero Dream – in which this huge fight occurs - with explosives
mind you - in the ancient city of Ayutthaya in Thailand. What were people
Regrettably after the prologue, the sub titles
vanish never to be seen again, but with the assistance of a plot summary
from Bruce Long’s site
- and a review from the Bootmaster’s
site it was reasonably easy to follow along. The son and daughter of
the two wealthiest men in town are marrying one another. Angela is the
happy bride in red – but her childhood friend and co-trainee in the martial
arts, Tan Tao Liang, watches from a distance with sad eyes. It is clear
that he is not of the right class to marry Angela.
A splendid wedding festival takes place in which
the two fathers watch their children with pride. The fathers are played
by kung fu film regular Han Ying Chieh and Kwan Shan – the father of Rosamund
Kwan. A melodious Indian/Nepalese song is performed, a horse-racing contest
takes place in which Sammo participates - looking more like a pirate on
the Seven Seas than anything, and there is a little martial arts contest
between groom and bride! That is an intriguing custom – sort of getting
them prepared for married life!
The villain of the story – there always has to
be one doesn’t there – is Chen Sing and he has other ideas for this happy
day. He comes up with this complex plan to seize power and steal the wealth
from the two fathers. He kills the groom and replaces him with a double
and then after the marriage murders him and frames Angela for it. Her father
Kwan Shan is forced to sentence her to death – the method - being tied
to a raft sent down the rapids!
Needless to say she is rescued by Tan Tao and
the two of them plot their revenge. First though they realize that neither
has the kung-fu skills to defeat Chen and so they beg a Shaolin priest
to teach them his skills that seem to comprise primarily of . . .
breath control. Yes that deadly weapon – breath control! So the two of
them spend hours trudging up and down a hill carrying a load of rocks
- and blowing against a piece of paper. Finally Angela is able to blow
a hole through the paper and blow out a row of candles - and they
feel that they are ready to take on Chen! It’s great for party tricks but
I don’t really see how this prepared them for a fight to the death. Strangely
enough though this blowing ability does come in handy in a very odd way
during the final fight.
This last fight is terrific and extended and Sammo
gets involved as a minion of Chen. Both Angela and Tan Tao show some stunning
moves – Tan Tao is a terrific kicker (in which the Bootmaster
goes into some detail in a profile of Tan Tao) and Angela performs a few
flying kicks (one to poor Sammo) that are amazing.
Overall this is an excellent film though a lot
more fighting from Angela would have been welcome. There were a number
of other fights that I didn’t mention because Angela was not involved.
And the final freeze frame of the film is a bit of a slap – almost a social
indictment of the class structure.
My rating for this film: 7.5