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