Connect with us

Film

‘Psycho’ Remains Alfred Hitchcock’s Most Radical Film 60 Years On

Six decades after the release of “Psycho,” it remains Alfred Hitchcock’s most adventurous film and the blueprint for extreme horror to come.

Published

on

Psycho 1960

Hitchcock’s Psycho on the 60 Year Anniversary

It’s surprisingly easy to miss just how important Psycho is among Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography 60 years after its first release. It remains one of Hitchcock’s most popular films, and for most viewers, it’s the first of his films that they’ll sample. But much of what drives people to seek out Psycho is driven by the reputation and lore the shower scene has attained over the decades. It’s possibly the greatest sequence in any of Hitchcock’s films, but the inordinate focus on it treats the first half of the film as a mere warm-up. With Psycho, Hitchcock made his most experimental film, and its reduced budget and economical production make it a punk-like anomaly among his films. The evolution of the horror genre toward endless gore may have blunted some of its impact over the years, but Hitchcock’s unsentimental brutality still has the power to shock.

Despite Hitchcock being regarded as one of the textbook examples of an auteur, a director whose personal sensibilities are apparent throughout their work, Psycho establishes Bernard Herrmann as an indispensable collaborator from the film’s opening titles. He eschews the bombast of most horror film music from the period and instead creates a galloping suspense theme that mirrors Marion Crane’s drive from Phoenix toward a fantasy future in Los Angeles. The film’s reduced budget forced Herrmann to downgrade his usual full orchestra to a string section, but the ensemble’s modest forces allow him to hint at Marion’s fate without wallowing in it.

Psycho

After establishing its tone with the titles, Psycho opens on Marion (Janet Leigh) and her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin) as they take their time dressing after a lunch-break tryst. Herrmann’s music has already established the suspenseful tone, but Hitchcock and his screenwriter Joseph Stefano signal how transgressive the film will be by having the two kiss on the bed, which was still a screen taboo even in 1960, especially considering that they’re only partially dressed. Other filmmakers might have opened on the couple fully dressed and whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears as if they just spent the afternoon cuddling, but Hitchcock isn’t trying to obscure the fact that they just had sex. He’s offering a franker view of sexuality than was usually seen at the time, even if it seems quaint by modern standards.

Psycho also gives a surprisingly unvarnished look into the everyday sexism that someone like Marion Crane would experience, which makes the film seem particularly modern for the period. Hitchcock’s filmography is filled with leading men coming on to leading ladies in ways we might find creepy now, even abusive, though its usually treated as romantic, or comical at worst. Yet when an unctuous man starts to flirt with Marion at the office she works in, it’s treated as a disgusting annoyance. The way Leigh keeps a polite smile on her face as Cassidy (Frank Albertson) shoves of a wad of bills in her face totaling $40,000 suggests she’s had to deal with plenty of other men just like him, to the point that she barely bats an eye.

Though she’s possibly the most recognizable of Hitchcock’s female leads, we learn little about Marion Crane or her home life or the forces that have shaped her. She’s an enigma, which makes her decision to steal the $40,000 even more intriguing — was she always capable of stealing that much (almost $350,000 in today’s dollars), or did she experience a moment of temporary insanity? Stefano’s screenplay doesn’t say, though Hitchcock seems to favor a more sinister interpretation. The day after the theft, as she drives through the desert wasteland of Southern California, Marion begins to imagine the frantic conversations her boss and coworker and Cassidy might have as they realize she has run away with the money. Her anxious look softens, and the corners of her mouth turn up ever so slightly into a sinister smile.

Psycho

Hitchcock films Marion’s final drive with cheap process shots, partially a consequence of the decision to use his television crew from his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The decision was necessitated by Paramount’s disinterest in making Psycho because of what the studio perceived as its lewd content. To finish out his contract, which required one more film, Hitchcock offered to use the cheaper crew and deferred his usual $250,000 fee in favor of 60 percent of the film’s backend (which resulted in his biggest payday ever after the film became a hit). By using a crew of journeymen, Hitchcock stripped the usual sheen of his big-budget thrillers down to a raw finish. Psycho lacks the romanticism and grandeur of his other masterpieces, but it gains a sense of documentary reality that makes its frights far more chilling.

The low-budget process shots of Marion’s final drive in the rain, with their static focus on her face, make it all the more chilling when the rain finally slows and the camera reverses to reveal the Bates Motel sign. The camera suddenly shifts and shakes as it focuses on the sign, and the slow approach seethes with dread. We’ve gotten so used to the artificial driving shots before that that when the camera finally moves it adds a dose of reality, underscoring the danger Marion is approaching, even if she doesn’t know it. Just beyond the sign and the motel looms the Bates house, which spies on Marion with its illuminated window eyes. The house, which was constructed on the Universal backlot, was inspired by Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting House by the Railroad, and it remains the greatest instance of set design ever put on film. Anyone who has taken the Universal Studios backlot tour in California knows that the house isn’t quite as sinister in real life, but the black and white photography makes it darker and more imposing. Hitchcock chose to shoot in black and white to keep his costs down, but in hindsight, it seems like the only possibility. So many scenes in Psycho would lose their emotional punch if they were filmed in color, as demonstrated by Gus van Sant’s 1998 remake, a fascinating misfire. Color circa 1960 would have been especially inappropriate, as the oddly saturated colors would have only emphasized the film’s artificiality.

Psycho

Just as Hitchcock didn’t attempt to obscure Marion’s post-coitus look at the beginning of the film, he doesn’t shy away from documenting the sadism of her murder in the shower. Through rapid-fire expressionist edits, he and editor George Tomasini convey the brutality of the stabbing, even if the Production Code prevented them from showing the knife piercing her flesh. We don’t see the gore, but the editing, combined with Herrmann’s high-pitched violin squeals, gives us a sense of Marion’s terror in her final seconds. The film serves as a rarely followed blueprint for how to evoke horror without explicitly depicting it. One of the few films to follow Psycho’s example is the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which was also inspired by the murderer and grave robber Ed Gein. Despite its reputation for brutality, most of the violence is merely suggested. Like PsychoThe Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s frights become more immediate thanks to the film’s overwhelming sense of dread.

The documentary aspect of Psycho is again apparent in the lengthy scene where Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) cleans up his mother’s mess and disposes of Marion’s body. Another filmmaker might have immediately moved on to set up the next murder, but Hitchcock and Stefano invite the audience to consider just how much effort goes into cleaning and covering up a murder. Norman must find every tendril of blood (or chocolate syrup) and scrub the evidence away, before disposing of her belongings (and her body). Though Perkins vacillates between being a charming loaner and a sinister loon in his parlor supper with Marion, the fear that animates his eyes helps disguise his culpability for first-time viewers. Who would have thought that having a lead actor clean up for a murder was one of the most effective ways to make him seem innocent?

Psycho

Psycho’s subsequent frights can’t quite compare to the shower scene, but they benefit from a sense of dread supplied by Herrmann’s music. Hitchcock wisely cuts out the music after her supper to make it more powerful in the shower scene, but once we know the full extent of the violence inflicted on anyone who gets too close to Norman, it’s appropriate to bring back Herrmann’s chilling tones. His shower scene cue is so iconic that it’s easy to forget how great the score is in its more low-key moments. The shower scene cue makes it a masterpiece of film music, but Herrmann’s score would have been great even without it.

Psycho will never be Hitchcock’s most enjoyable film (that’s Notorious), nor his most moving (Vertigo), but it’s still his best. Among all his films, it’s the one where he achieved the greatest artistic returns on his investment, and it’s also the most influential. It’s tempting to draw a line between Psycho and today’s crop of “elevated horror films,” which seem to be inspired by Hitchcock’s craft and style. But it’s the dirtier, rowdier horror films and their directors that are the true children of Psycho. They may not have Hitchcock’s style, but they understand as well as he did the importance of occasionally transgressing beyond good taste. It’s easier to digest Psycho’s scares at a distance of 60 years, but it’s easy to forget how shocked its initial audiences would have been. They got a glimpse into a mind fueled by violent madness, something most of them had never seen before in such detail. But it’s still there, and committed viewers can still gaze into that abyss, even today.

Psycho

Brian Marks is Sordid Cinema's Lead Film Critic. His writing has appeared in The Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, and Ampersand. He's a graduate of USC's master's program in Specialized Arts Journalism. You can find more of his writing at InPraiseofCinema.com. Best film experience: driving halfway across the the country for a screening of Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear." Totally worth it.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Friday Film Noir

‘The Chase’ is a Unique Film Noir that Few Have Seen

The Chase 1946

Published

on

The Chase 1946 Film Noir Review

Friday Film Noir

Hunted … haunted … hounded …

*A fair warning to readers: those sensitive to spoilers had best watch the film under review before reading the article. To properly dive into its themes and story, major plot points will be revealed.

Surprises in movies are a great gift the storytellers can offer viewers to wake them from the state of comfort, or boredom depending on whom one asks, which sets in when plot points are too familiar and the dramatic beats too predictable. For some, it can be a chore to get through just as it may offer the right type of simple escapism for others. Sometimes, however, the ingredients need to be shaken and stirred. In an amusing case of coincidence, this week’s column entry, the 1946 film The Chase, arrives only weeks after Steven Soderbergh’s supposed final theatrical feature, Side Effects, opened in theatres. The latter begins with a story which, while perfectly adequate and engaging, morphs into a different beast altogether at a one critical moment. Unsuspecting viewers who take a chance with this Arthur Ripley directed noir are in for a surprise of equal magnitude.

Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) is a WWII veteran roaming the streets of downtown Miami. He has served his country well during the war, yet his financial situation is rough, to say the least. Upon observing through a restaurant window a cook prepares wonderfully looking beat patties he takes notice of the wallet at his feet. Picking it up and snooping inside he discovers a hefty amount of cold hard cash. He opts to pay himself a swell breakfast before returning the object to its rightful owner, the name of address of which is on a small card in one of the pockets. It turns out the individual concerned, one Eddie Roman (Steve Cochrane), is a filthy rich gangster living in a grand palace none too far away. Always accompanied by his right-hand man Gino, Peter Lorre), Eddie is impressed by Chuck’s honesty for having delivered his lost wallet personally and gives him a job as a chauffeur. Just as things are settling in nicely for Chuck, his employer’s depressed and suicidal wife, Lorna (Michèle Morgan) offers him the chance to run away to Cuba. From there on things get quite complicated, although not always for the reasons some viewers might suspect.

Movies cut from the same cloth as The Chase are always fun to decipher and analyze, even those which fail to pay full dividends on its twists and turns, as is also the case with the film currently under review. It seems as though many films, especially in modern cinema, try far too desperately to shock and awe audiences with sudden twists which ultimately carry little weight in the grander scheme of the plot. They are, to put it bluntly, twists for the sake of twists and nothing more. Then there are films such as Side Effects and The Chase, which totally pull the rug from under the audience’s feat by venturing into territory completely unforeseen. A viewer believes for perfectly understandable reasons they are watching a film that falls under category ‘A’, only for its true nature to be unexpectedly revealed. Of course, in order to properly pull off this sort of a stunt, the movie naturally has to sustain enough dramatic heft. The twist on its own is insufficient. The Chase nearly succeeds in this respect, falling just short of concluding its story with the perfect climax. Nevertheless, the effort is well worth discovering this small yet creative film.

**From this point onward, the review shall delve into spoilers.**

Things start off well enough, with a story about a down on his luck yet all-around decent man falling prey to the desperate need to make any money he can and therefore accepting a job from a very nasty person. Robert Cummings is not an actor who ever went down in movie history as one of the greats, yet his performances are always very engaging. Here, as Chuck, his naturally affable manners come through vividly. His honesty is commendable, yet it brings him to a gangster’s doorstep. It is very easy to cheer Chuck on in his attempt to escort Lorna to safety in Cuba, and considering his experience as a war veteran, it is not difficult to accept his character as a brave individual. Bravery and honesty are admirable qualities, yet they can still get one in trouble, and as Chuck himself explains upon meeting Eddie for the first time, he is just ‘a sucker.’ In this case, he is a sucker for money and for love. Michèle Morgan is very believable as the desperate and depressed Lorna. Eddie has kept her on the tightest leash imaginable for three years, suffocating her as a person. Her desire to escape narrowly outweighs the fear of the risks she incurs by fleeing her nefarious husband. Morgan is also very sensual in her more tender scenes with her male costar, which helps the viewer fall for their relationship. Their high caliber performances prove crucial considering that the script is somewhat inadequate in elaborating on what the time frame is for the chain of events that take them to Cuba and have them fall in love. Strictly in terms of running length, only about 20 minutes have passed since their first scene together and when they admit their passions for one another. Steve Cochrane plays Eddie Roman as a mighty cool cat with a very mean streak. In fact, one could argue he underplays the role even. No temper tantrums or eruptions of rage, just quiet, calculated moves to always gain the upper hand or teach someone some manners. Peter Lorre is similar in how his character nearly seems aloof most of the time to what is going on, yet is also capable of communicating quiet malice.

It is once Chuck and Lorna make it to Havana that the picture makes some dramatic moves, practically turning The Chase into a Twilight Zone episode. Just as he and Lorna are dancing romantically at a nightclub, one of Eddie’s Cuban henchmen somehow murders her with a knife to the back. The leading lady drops dead halfway into the story. The local police only see Chuck as the most likely suspect, which has the movie turn into, for a while at least, a drama about a man wrongfully accused of murder fleeing the authorities. There is some very good tension in this portion, much of it deriving from the fact that there is evidently a ploy against the protagonist, with none other than Eddie pulling the strings all the way from Florida. No matter his pleas, false evidence piles up to make him appear all the guiltier.

As amusing as this portion of the story is, it does not last for the remainder of the running time, for once Chuck, after slipping through the police’s fingers, appears to have stumbled on evidence to prove his innocence…he wakes him in the room where he has been staying since working for Eddie. It was all an intensely vivid dream. It turns out Chuck needs medication to suppress severe anxiety and stress due to wartime trauma. The tiniest of hints was indeed dropped very early in the film, although kudos to anyone who correctly guesses the ebb and flow of this film even with that knowledge in mind. Ultimately, the film ends up being not only a love story between a pampered but oppressed woman and a good man but one that relates to the condition of all too many returning war veterans who must wrestle against the intangible demons of warfare, plagued by psychological and emotional turmoil inconceivable to anybody who has not had the misfortune of engaging in what soldiers have. Noir itself, in more ways than one, often tackles the issues of American society in the waning years of the Second World War and the decade that followed. The cynicism, bitterness, sadness, and frustration that actually existed in society overshadowed many people’s views of what fabled America was like. The real, darker world settled in and noir presented as an exaggerated (and in some respects not so exaggerated) cinematic translation of the resulting anxieties. The Chase is a more literal version in that its protagonist is actually suffering from postwar trauma, all the while offering an unreliable dreamlike evolution of its story. Sadly, the climax is disappointing if only because Chuck suddenly becomes a far more passive character, a strange decision considering how active he was leading up until then.

Faulty climax notwithstanding, The Chase is a very adventurous effort from director Arthur Ripley. It is next to impossible to guess what comes next. The thrill of the unexpected is almost enough to carry the film all the way through on its own, but that would be taking credit away from the fine cast and the effective tension the director builds throughout. Even compared to some of the wilder noir entries, The Chase is definitely a unique specimen.

Edgar Chaput

Continue Reading

Film

Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is Neither Afoot of Her Older Brother or Her Own Genre

It is neither brilliant nor absolutely rotten, but it is rubbish, to say the least. Enola’s first outing is not afoot of her older brother’s lineup of thrilling interpretations or the film’s broad genre in any way…

Published

on

Netflix Enola Holmes

Netflix’s Enola Holmes Review

Despite what you may have already heard, the game is not quite afoot with this one. Netflix’s Enola Holmes is the streaming giant’s latest mystery film based on Nancy Springer’s series of young adult fiction novels starring the younger sister of London’s finest consulting detective Sherlock Holmes- more specifically The Case of the Missing Marquess, the first book in the author’s franchise. For those expecting a mind-bending mystery comparable to BBC’s excellent Sherlock or the exciting Robert Downey Jr. films, you best grab a cabbie and leave before touching this one. Enola Holmes will without a doubt be a fun family film for kids captivated by its promising cast of actors, but any true crime solver will be scurrying from the scene faster than you can say “The Hounds of Baskerville” by the time the second act even hits.

Enola Holmes seems to initially build towards the story of the title character finding her missing mother after she seemingly disappears one morning, but in reality, this story quickly takes a hard turn after its introduction. It manages to become a tale of conquering a characteristic the title character’s name spells backward (alone) all while untangling another family conspiracy that is beyond anticlimactic. There is certainly a mystery to be solved within this flick, but not one you are expecting to find on the surface as Enola Holmes has no idea where exactly its focus should lie. It is constantly jumping between ideas and never manages to find a footing until the third act is in session. Millie Bobby Brown is arguably the main reason Netflix audiences will be flooding to see Enola Holmes and they certainly will not be disappointed by the young Stranger Things actor’s witty performance. However, it might as well be the only aspect worth sitting through in this disrespectful misfortune of an adaptation.

While the actor is certainly flaunting her accent and enjoying her eighteenth-century mishaps, it is just a shame Brown did not get a stronger script to work with. Enola is spunky and clever, but acts like a Deadpool or more so Harley Quinn as she constantly communicates with the audience through wall-breaks- a creative choice that is never properly utilized and results in the movie having to close on an odd note that does not properly bookend the character’s story. The character has no compelling flaws or established reasons as to why her quest is supposed to come off as a challenge for her. Outside of Enola and the young Marquess heir she encounters, the only other interesting talent holding up this story that is worthy of a mention is of course Sherlock Holmes, but he rarely ever appears in the movie or has any importance.

Henry Cavil plays a great Sherlock Holmes except he never receives any moments to truly shine by showing off his masterclass detective skills everyone is constantly on about during the whole film’s two-hour runtime. In fact, by the end of the movie, the character somewhat falls off the high horse as what honestly seems like a simple case flies overtime for him- somehow young Enola can outsmart a veteran Sherlock Holmes? While I am glad they kept Sherlock out of the spotlight as the focus should be on his younger sister, it is hard not to acknowledge the genius consulting detective audiences are accustomed to is just not as quick or clever as he should be. As for the other mainstay characters, Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin) plays a key role yet there is nothing striking to say about Sherlock’s brother who only appears to really throw a wrench into Enola’s plans and generally is portrayed as an idiot rather than the arrogant mastermind that he is supposed to be.

It may seem packed with problems so far- especially when it comes to keeping up with or respecting the source material, but the largest issue Enola Holmes helms is the way in which its mystery unfolds and how it unsuccessfully incorporates its forced theme. In comparison to previous on-screen interpretations of Sherlock Holmes- or even the Enola Holmes novels for that matter if you are the type of reader so keen on not comparing the two characters- the mystery being explored lacks much depth or development from beginning to end. Sure it builds upon the character of Enola in tons of great ways as it shows off her personality and skills adopted from her childhood, but it never truly does what a good mystery story is out to accomplish. Here we have two different stories intertwining, the search for Enola’s mother and the whereabouts of her male friend.

Both are without a doubt compelling ideas except for the fact that the latter abruptly becomes the focus at around the halfway point for what is seemingly going to be a few minutes but ends up being the entire film. On top of this, we have a consistent theme being thrown around that “girls can do anything” which is completely fine, except for the fact that its female lead is, as previously stated, practically flawless and is often played out as superior to everyone else by one-upping her older brothers or being better than the pretty boy who has little character development. The movie takes place during the perfect time period to use feminism as a theme and while it does mention the world’s current politics multiple times it never actually draws a focus towards those enticing problems. The film leaps over so many possible compelling character points and plotlines as it treads around a mystery that is not all that much of an enigma.

Without taking into account the other various pieces of Sherlock Holmes media available- including BBC’s terrific modern take on the franchise which is streaming on the same platform, Enola Holmes is a substandard film that younger audiences will likely more so enjoy than the older folks accustomed to London’s greatest detective. For those completely unaware of the lore behind Sherlock Holmes and are here for the recognizable actors being marketed at the forefront, the cast will without a doubt help end your viewing party on a less than sour note as Brown provides one of her best performances yet in a somewhat fun though messy detective flick. It is neither brilliant nor absolutely rotten, but it is rubbish, to say the least. Enola’s first outing is not afoot of her older brother’s lineup of thrilling interpretations or the film’s broad genre in any way.

Continue Reading

Shaw Bros. Spotlight

‘The Boxer from Shantung’ Does Not Aim High Enough

Published

on

The Boxer from Shantung

Anyone who has seen just a few Shaw martial arts films has noticed a trend: all of the stories transpire centuries ago, during the era of the many Chinese dynasties. The beautiful costumes, the intricate set designs, the legendary figures upon which writers and directors can find inspiration, the admiration of tactical warfare during the times, all of these and much more are reasons why the studio chose to set its stories in the distant past. As with all rules, there are exceptions. Just as not every single Shaw film is martial arts-based, not everyone is a period piece either. This week, the column takes a look at yet another Chang Cheh picture, The Boxer From Shantung, although this one is set in the 20th century in the city of Shanghai.

Ma Yung Chen (Chen Kuan-Tai) and Hsiao Chiang Pei (Cheng Kang-Yeh) are two friends working blue-collar shifts making water pipes for the city of Shanghai. The pay is as small as their landlord’s attitude is deplorable. While Chiang Pei is a rather fun-loving character, honest, friendly, uninterested in creating mischief, Yung Chen is cut from an altogether different cloth. His desire to leave their lifestyle far behind is far more ferocious. Determined to make a name for himself and his friends, along with earning tons of cash, Yung Chen’s rambunctious attitude almost gets him in deep trouble when stumbling upon the evil doings of a local mob, ‘The Four Champions’, whose leader, Boss Yang (Chiang Nan), does not take kindly to intruders. Lucky for Yung Chen, he knows a near-impenetrable style of boxing studied back home in Shantung. The volatile and cocky young man beats the living daylights out en entire hoard of Yang’ men. On that same day, he earns the favourable opinion of another, more benevolent boss, Tan Si (Chang Cheh regular David Chiang). With plenty of friends to help him out and a powerful, newly found ally in Boss Tan Si, Ying Chen makes his way up in the world as an enforcer, a protector, and finally a boss.

The Boxer from Shantung

The Boxer from Shantung may appear as a unique experience for its setting but said uniqueness is mostly a deception. Yes, a tale of gangsters in a much more modern setting does make for a fresh change of pace. The greater truth of the matter is that the screenwriter and directors (two principle directors for a single film being a first so far as this column is concerned) emulate the exact type of story familiar to fans of gangster flicks. Boxer is, at its core, a ‘rise and fall’ story, with the central character, the charismatic Yung Chen, works his way through the concrete jungle of gang warfare amongst heated rivals in order to make a living for himself, as well as gain increasing wealth and influence over local businesses and prominent individuals. Hence, the general story arc reserves few surprises for the audience, following the genre’s blueprints to near perfection, which is a bit of a shame given that one hopes that with an entirely new setting would liberate the filmmakers from the some of the tropes. Instead, they opt to follow the predictable plot points beat for beat, with only precious little signs of deviation, one example being the development of the love angle. There are not too many false notes per se, but the lack of chances taken is unfortunate.

The Boxer from Shantung somehow goes for something new, yet lacks originality…

It is a little strange to be watching a Chang Cheh (partially) directed film which features David Chiang playing only a supporting role. Chiang is a loveable type of actor, who can win an audience thanks to his easy charm and wit, and therefore the actor taking center stage has some rather big shoes to fill. In the case of Boxer, that actor is Chen Kuan-Tai, who fills is a perfect fit for said shoes, bringing his own brand of energy to the fold. It is always reassuring to see young, up and coming actors bring the best they have to offer right off the bat. Chen Kuan-Tai is definitely the sort of performer who adds barrels of life to a scene. It helps that the character he plays is cocky, street smart, ambitious, and remarkably gifted in the martial arts of his home province. It may be guessed that since the script treks a familiar path, the film could be used as a vehicle of sorts for young Chen Kuan-Tai. It does not necessarily make the film better, but the film’s star is now someone readers may want to peel their eyes for from now on. A little bit of credit should be shared with his co-star, Cheng Kang-Yeh. While he does play the supporting role, serving mostly as comic relief more than anything else, the performance is a fun one, if a little bit on the cheesy side.

The Boxer from Shantung

The necessity for not one but two directors is one to cause perplexity. As has already been written in this review, the story is easy to follow due to its familiarity, therefore causing one to wonder how exactly Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh Lieh collaborated on the project. There are few tonal inconsistencies and it is fair to wonder if their dual participation has anything to do with it. Some scenes are filled to the brim with energy and spunk, whereas others fall incredibly flat, lacking any momentum whatsoever. Oddly enough, the scene introducing David Chiang’s mob boss character is one such scene, in which he playfully taunts Ma Yung Chen, who at that point is just a nobody in the underworld, wandering the streets looking for a job opportunity. The scene is abnormally long, with each subsequent character reaction delayed for some unexplained reason, not to mention that there is no music, thus making it seem all the more hollow. This happens on a few occasions throughout the film and every time it plays out very strangely.

The action, when it erupts, is not of the most imaginative variety (nor is star Chen Kuan-Tai the most impressive fighter, moving a little bit slowly all things considered, even though he does give it is all), but what it lacks in creativity it makes up for in scale. Almost every single action scene involves the protagonist, sided with perhaps a couple of allies, fending off armies of Boss Yang’s men, many of whom enjoy attacking with little hatchets. These brawls en up being rather fun romps, wit plenty of bodies running, flipping, and falling all over the place. The best is saved for last, as Chen Kuan-Tai finds himself all alone against Yang, his strongest enforcers, and tons of other hoodlums inside a tea shop, fighting on both the second and first floors. To top it off, he receives a hatchet to the stomach, but of course, refuses to back down and takes out as many villains as he can anyhow.

There are a few significant opportunities that are lost in Boxer. Providing the film which a context so vastly different from the majority of other Shaw productions, in addition to favouring a lesser-known actor in the lead role with the more accomplished ones serving the secondary participation brought with it plenty of potential. Admittedly, upon learning that Chang Cheh had in fact directed a more contemporary action film, this martial arts fan’s curiosity was very much aroused. Ultimately, it gets the job done, which still means something at the very least. It is a competently made production. The problem is that it does not aim high enough.

-Edgar Chaput

Continue Reading

We update daily. Support our site by simply following us on Twitter and Facebook

Facebook

Trending