The Tattooed Dragon

By 1973 both director Lo Wei and superstar Jimmy Wang Yu had moved away from the paternal embrace of the Shaw Brothers for other opportunities. By doing so they had also left behind the glossy Shaw look and their comparatively high budgets. This is fairly obvious in this very generic Golden Harvest kung fu production with little if any money spent on sets or costumes. It feels like light years from some of Wang Yu’s classic Shaw films such as The One-Armed Swordsman. Lo Wei by this time had been slotted into being a kung fu director – perhaps an awkward shift for him as his strength in the Shaw films had been fun sleek caper/spy films and costumed wuxia movies often starring Cheng Pei-pei. But his success with Bruce Lee and the sudden explosive popularity of kung fu films forced a number of directors to quickly take on this mantle. The low budget aspects of these films – putting actors into contemporary outdoor settings and letting them bash one another – also fit neatly into the cash strapped strategy of Golden Harvest in its start-up years.
For all the criticism Lo Wei has received over the years, the one thing that can’t be denied is that though his talents may be questioned he certainly seemed to recognize talent in others. Here he brings on two young actors who both went on to very successful careers. According to on-line filmographies this was the debut for Sylvia Chang who Lo Wei also used the next year in Slaughter in San Francisco. This Taiwanese actress soon broke loose of Lo Wei and began to shuttle back and forth between Hong Kong and Taiwanese productions. Sam Hui was still in the early stages of figuring out how to proceed with his career as Golden Harvest initially seemed intent on making him into a genial action comedy star with a bit of a bumpkin personality (here, Chinatown Capers, Back Alley Princess). Within a few short years of course he found his true comedic footing in the classic films with his two brothers, Michael and Ricky. In the early 1980’s both Sam and Sylvia found themselves working together again as two thirds of the equation in the Aces Go Places series.
This film begins with promise - a Leone like credit sequence overlaid with a Shaft type score and two quick fight sequences – before it slumps into a lengthy exposition that won’t make anyone’s pulse beat faster. Though not identified, the first fight sequence appears to take place among the splendid ruins of Ayuthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand. Here the Tattooed Dragon (Wang Yu) sets upon a gang of thieves who stole money from the Chinese Overseas Charity. The Tattooed Dragon named for a large tattoo on his back seems to be a kung fu Samaritan who goes around helping the downtrodden for no compensation – perhaps a trust baby. In the ensuing fight he is injured and makes his escape to a martial arts dojo. Here he is tracked down and again is injured and again runs away leaving the dojo members to fend for themselves – not exactly the stuff kung fu heroes are suppose to be made of.
This time he is taken in by Yang (Hui) a poor farmer who raises ducks and has a master plan to raise enough ducks to buy pigs and then raise enough pigs to buy cattle and then raise enough cattle to take over the world and marry his sweetheart Hsiang (Sylvia). She worries that by the time this plan works she will be an old maid. They tend to the Tattooed Dragon along with their friend Kun (Lee Kwan). When not tending to his ducks, Yang practices kickboxing. Coincidentally, the boss (James Tien) discovers that underneath the village where Yang lives are deposits of minerals and he develops an ingenious plan to take over the land. Knowing that Chinese men are all gambling addicts and will gamble until they lose everything, he installs a casino in town and sure enough all the men are lining up to play and forgetting their wives, children and work. Soon they are losing their land as well.
The Tattooed Dragon steps into this with both his gambling (he can tell what dice have been rolled through his acute hearing) and fighting skills and the final fight between him and the gang is actually fairly decent – though you can easily see that the stunt men slow down occasionally to allow Wang Yu the time to get into position for the next move. Tien gets extra credit for allowing himself to be set on fire and continuing to fight. Tien would go on to a solid career as the villain in many films to come. In the tradition of all townsfolk in movies, they stand around and allow the hero to do all the killing.

The VCD for this one had a reasonably clear clean picture – was widescreen – but the English subtitles were quite small and often blended in with the background.

My rating for this film: 6.0

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