Lover Beware

Reviewed by YTSL

In her glorious film career (one that spanned two territories and languages as well as is being stretched into a third decade, if you count her doing (uncredited) voice work for her friend Yonfan’s “Bishonen...” and “The Peony Pavilion”), Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia appeared in (slightly) over 100 movies.  Unfortunately, more than a few of these offerings are hard to find and some others have only turned up in not particularly ideal -- e.g., pan and scan, and/or sans English subtitles -- home video formats.  A case in point:  This less than formulaic -- especially the further along one goes into it -- 1984 Taiwanese martial arts drama that was shown a couple or so years ago on Singaporean (cable) TV, used to be available on VHS and now may be so on VCD (but which probably will never ever appear on DVD; this not least since far more critically acclaimed efforts featuring the screen goddess -- including “Red Dust” and “The (Secret Love of) Peach Blossom Land” -- have yet to do so (at least as of January 2002)).

That whose Chinese language title apparently literally translates into English as “Darling, Watch Out for the Dagger”(!) and whose various English language titles include LOVER BEWARE, “Be Careful Sweetheart”, “Victims Of The Assassin” along with “Last Hero In China” starts off rather dramatically with the planned double execution of the characters played by Brigitte Lin and Adam Cheng because they violated the contract of Yin Feng Villa -- an institution I took to be a martial arts school -- by becoming "love sick" and having sex instead of focusing on their studies.  Moments before the heads of the wholly unrepentant Ling Ling Erh and Wei Kai (whom Ling Erh tends to affectionately address as Hsiao (i.e., “Small” in Mandarin Chinese) Kai) are due to be separated from the rest of them by a guillotine-like device however, their escape from the fate that this period piece’s villains (Mr. Sheung (Han Yingjie), Ying Feng Villa’s stern, white-haired master, and a vixenish Tibetan princess named Kao Tang) had sought for them gets effected with the help of two friends of theirs (Taciturn Feng Chi and easy-going Feng Chu are a couple who had been banished from the Villa after they had been found to be in love with each other).
Taken by Feng Chi and Feng Chu to a rustic looking hiding place, Ling Erh and Wei Kai -- who Mr. Sheung distastefully considered to be an “impudent lover-boy” -- are initially happy just to be alive and in the company of the other.  Before too long however, Wei Kai starts ruing his looking to have effectively condemned his beloved Ling Erh as well as himself to a rough, tough life of having to constantly be on the run plus needing to watch out for and hide from those who seek to collect the 10,000 taels of gold that’s the announced prize for those who bring even one of the pair back to Ying Feng Villa, alive or dead (as well as avoid the threat issued that anyone who helps them will also be violently dealt with).  What contentment these love birds have from being together is further destroyed upon first Feng Chu, then Feng Chi, getting killed while battling to defend their precious freedom (Although Ling Erh and Wei Kai often seem to have only eyes for each other, it does get made clear -- by the way that they grieve over the bodies of their dead friends -- that they do care quite a bit for their equally rebellious -- but sadly less expert at kung fu -- rescuers).
Up until this point in the movie, LOVER BEWARE played like a work whose makers couldn't seem to decide whether it should primarily be a sickeningly lovey-dovey romance or rather workmanlike swordplay offering.  With the main entrance into the film of Derek Yee’s character though, this effort got considerably more absorbing as well as less meandering plus slow going.  This was because his Lou Chang (whose Ms. Lin’s Ling Erh was apt to familiarly refer to as Hsiao Lou) not only brought news to his former Ying Feng Villa colleagues that the organization which they used to be proud of being associated with was plotting a rebellion (that would install its Tibetan princess co-conspirator as ruler of China) but also effectively presented himself as another manly individual who obviously admired Ling Erh and wouldn’t half mind devoting the rest of his life with -- as well as to protecting -- the beautiful woman who actually isn’t too bad a martial artist herself.
What made matters particularly interesting was that Wei Kai didn’t react as one might have expected that he would to Lou Chang’s proposal that:  The latter permanently join up with the fugitive duo; and the three of them stay as far away as possible from Ying Feng Villa along with those other places where powerful plus power-hungry people -- as well as trouble -- were to be found.  Instead, he -- who had previously told his lady love that “Confucius says “When a man loves a woman, he’ll do anything to please her”” -- suddenly disappeared one morning, only to return some time later with a triumphantly smirking Kao Tang plus a substantial group of armed men in tow.
LOVER BEWARE proceeds to take a turn towards the quite bizarre as well as downright surprising after an upset Ling Erh asks Wei Kai -- in no uncertain terms but ones which have to have been historically inappropriate translated language -- “Why be her (i.e., the Tibetan princess’) gigolo?”!  Suffice to say that among the scenes that then ensue are ones which show Ling Erh literally indulging in bouts of self-flaggelation as well as torturing herself by doing such as throwing her own body against bamboo trees in a scene that (probably inadvertently) looks like a parody version of “A Touch of Zen”’s celebrated bamboo forest fight scene) along with others which bring the generally action-packed movie to a pretty (melo-)dramatic and satisfyingly fight-filled close (that doesn’t necessarily neatly tie up all of the film’s plot threads but still does enough for things -- and the recent apparently illogical conduct of two of the offering’s principal characters -- to make some sense).  In conclusion, here’s stating that:  Even if just for what takes place over the course of its particularly eventful last half hour or so, this is one effort I'd definitely recommend that Brigittephiles try to get a hold of in order to see a still young and sweet looking favorite actress doing a lot more than one might expect in a relatively wire-less martial arts movie.

My rating for this film:  7.

Reviewed by Brian

There may be some who upon watching this film will suspect that it is not really Brigitte Lin doing those double, triple and even quadruple flips – but I wouldn’t put anything past the great one! There can be no doubt though that it is Brigitte who when not capturing the hearts of the two men with her swooning eyes is cutting up the enemy with a fierce slicing sword and a combination of deadly kung fu kicks. This film is a wonderful transitional film in Brigitte’s career as it brings together both her film past and her film future in a crystallized moment - like amber capturing evidence of evolution - this captures her transition from Taiwanese weepies to the flying heartstopping Hong Kong goddess of cinema. In the first half she is like a giggly school girl in love who almost pouts when killers intrude on her love nest, but in the second half the eyes blaze with pain and fury - her body nearly broken by betrayal – consumed with hate - she seeks revenge – yes, that’s the Brigitte we know and love. One moment she can rip out your heart with her molten lava eyes and quivering lip, the next with the point of a sword.

My rating for this film: 7.5