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Shaw Bros. Spotlight

Sir Run Run Shaw, the Man Who Built one of the Greatest Film Studios

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Life and Career of Sir Run Run Shaw

Shaw Bros. Weekend Spotlight

There is a plethora of sources to read about Run Run Shaw’s life (his Chinese name is actually Shao Renleng), especially in recent days as most cultural media journalists provided the requisite plot points to the man’s life story (and his rarely mentioned contribution to 1982’s Blade Runner) in the wake of his death. Today’s column shall, therefore, sidestep the obvious route, preferring to consider his legacy, what it means and how he went about building it sky-high.

Like the great Hollywood studio producers such as Jack Warner, Run Run Shaw (1907-2014) was an entrepreneur and a businessman.  Long before establishing his now famous studio in 1958 in Hong Kong, he got his footing in the industry by marketing films with his elder brother Runme Shaw as far back as the late 1920s. He was not a director, writer, or craftsman save for a single film in 1937, but he knew what sold, and a seller he was. After helping his brothers establish their own production studio (Tiyani Film Productions), it was time Run Run to take his own kick at the can with Shaw Brothers. The rest, as they say, is history.

Run Run Shaw

A history that, notwithstanding his incredibly successful television station TVB, lasted only a few decades once Shaw Bros. ceased the production of movies in the early 1980s. Even so, with a standardized method of creating films for the masses, Shaw Bros. quickly took lift-off, easily complying with existing demand for more movies of all sorts, although their specialty, as it were, was in martial arts films. Reading a report published by Canada’s CBC website, an old quote was cited from a Time magazine interview Run Run granted in 1976. The legendary media mogul openly admitted that, at least at the start of his film-producing career, the quality of the product was actually not at the top of his list of priorities.

“We’re here to make money,” was his explanation at the time. Many a serious cinephile would be right to scoff at such a reasoning behind his methods. Then again, the same practices were abided by long before Shaw and still are to this day. Still, it must have been perversely refreshing to read about a major movie producer have no qualms whatsoever about admitting the real reason why he entered the business. Even studio executives today are prone to waxing poetic about believing in a director’s talent or vision. In two respects, critics would be right in expressing concerns in Run Run’s direction.

Sir Run Run Shaw, the King of Kung-Fu Filmmakers

First, his name appears in the opening credits of virtually every Shaw Brothers title in the entire catalogue. If ever there was someone who could theoretically receive the brunt of any blame, it would have to be the man who put his stamp of approval on all the movies his studio made. Second, and this is where things get really interesting, most of the movies looked cheap. How many scenes in films where the story supposedly occurs outdoors were shot on laughably obvious indoor sets? How many times was the effect of a knife or dart puncturing a victim’s skin handled with painfully unsubtle ‘before and after’ shots edited in sequence? There is little purpose in beating around the bush, Shaw Bros. made movies like factories produce cheap toys or bottle soda pop on mass production lines. It shows on the screen in every early film. They were the opposite of the multi-million dollar Hollywood motion picture events. Pre-production, shooting and post-production periods could be limited to a few weeks, maybe a couple of months if the film was of a higher caliber. How else could these actors and directors work on three or four movies in a single year? The fact that in 1974 Shaw Bros. made an astonishing 50 films is a testament to its admirable desire to satisfy demand and the obviously dubious quality of films made in alarmingly rapid succession.

Sir Run Run Shaw

Yet a truth remains that cannot be put into question: the longevity of these movies. Quentin Tarantino, the Wu-Tang Clan, John Woo; the widespread influence of Shaw Bros. productions is as mighty as the number of films they created. Blogs today are dedicated to them. Film historians write about them. Various artists, from film to music, make obvious or subtle references to them (Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 begins with the studio’s logo and fanfare). The fact that they look cheap matters not given their obvious ebullience. People love them and still watch them today. Perhaps it is because cheaper productions leave more up to the imagination, perhaps the production values have a curiously romantic air about them (those fake magic hour shots do look rather dreamy), or maybe it is something more obvious. Instinct tells that the fun factor trumps all else. If one is up for a rollickingly good kung fu experience, an experience with no holds barred, no pretenses of watering down the action for the children who probably should not be watching but just might anyways, where character motivations often stand on rather muddy moral grounds, where the music is ripped off of a James Bond score or an American television show, and where the stories just might be good, sporting a lick of intelligence and depth, then what does it matter if the set looks fake? What does it matter if the blood looks fake? What does it matter if the subtitling is appalling so long as the ideas are communicated? What matters is if you, like others, had a good time.

Shaw Bros. demonstrated that cheaply made movies can be good. Lo and behold, the size of one’s budget and the time frame allotted for the production period does not automatically correlate with the satisfaction viewers can derive, nor with the film’s quality. Yes, there are plenty of examples when those two variables do prove to be deciding factors of quality, but Sir Run Run Shaw succeeded in demonstrating the opposite case. He did time and time again for over 20 years. All good things come to end, however. By 1983, when Shaw Bros. ceased making films, Run Run’s interests laid far more with his television company than with movies. Shaw Bros. had never updated their technique between the early 1960s and early 1980s. Sets, costumes, music, and gore effects appear completely identical in the later films as in the first. At some point, it just wouldn’t cut it anymore. A shame? Yes, but inevitable if one is unwilling to mix things up, especially after two decades.

Run Run Shaw
7th March 1978: Sir Run Run Shaw, in London with his wife and daughter, after receiving a Knighthood from the Queen. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Truth be told, the victories far outweighed the defeats. The two decades of Shaw Bros. moviemaking inspired an incredible number of filmmakers around the globe to take on the mantle and pave their own paths in the genre. The popularity of martial arts movies in North America and elsewhere is largely due to what Shaw Bros. accomplished and that should never be overlooked nor forgotten. TV producer, businessman, philanthropist, somewhat of a recluse, Sir Run Run Shaw’s brilliant career has a lot of high points, his kung fu films being only one of many, but certainly, the one fans of the genre will always hold in great esteem.

Here’s to the man who helped bring moviegoers 36th Chamber of the ShaolinFive Deadly VenomsCrippled AvengersOne-Armed SwordsmanCome Drink With MeThe Lady HermitHeroes of the EastThe Swift KnightThe Black TavernFive Fingers of DeathAll Men Are BrothersThe Water MarginKillers FiveFists of the White LotusExecutioners of ShaolinTwelve Gold MedallionsThe Sword and the Lute, and so many more beloved classics.

-Edgar Chaput

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly column about the Shaw Bros. film studio.

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar has been writing about film since 2008. At first relegated to a personal blog back when those things were all the rage, he eventually became a Sound on Sight staff member in late 2011, a site managed by non-other than Ricky D himself. Theatrical reviews, festival coverage, film noir and martial arts flicks columns, he even co-hosted a podcast for a couple of years from 2012 to 2014 with Ricky and Simon Howell. His true cinematic love however, his unshakable obsession, is the 007 franchise. In late 2017, together with another 00 agent stationed in Montreal, he helped create The James Bond Complex podcast (alas, not part of the Goombastomp network) in which they discuss the James Bond phenomenon, from Fleming to the films and everything in between. After all, nobody does it better.

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Shaw Bros. Spotlight

‘The Boxer from Shantung’ Does Not Aim High Enough

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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

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Shaw Bros. Spotlight

‘The Boxer from Shantung’ Doesn’t Aim High Enough

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on

The Boxer from Shantung

Shaw Bros. Spotlight

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.

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.

The Boxer from Shantung

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

Shaw Bros. Spotlight

‘The Magnificent Swordsman’ Recycles from the Past but Feels Fresh and New

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Magnificent Swordsman Movie Review

Shaw Bros. Spotlight

At what point should movie watchers applaud a film which borrows heavily from other familiar sources for the quality of the filmmaking and when is it too apparent that said film is incapable of overcoming the fatal flaw that can be the lack of originality? It is a tricky question, to say the least, one interested in the very slippery slope of homages, remakes, nods, and the like in the realm of cinema. If one is being honest, there exists no singular answer encompassing all variations of circumstances under which directors, writers, and producers are either playfully playing tribute to other material or rather unashamedly ripping off of it. Even in the latter category, provided the new film is of quality and possesses just enough of its own identity, does there still exist sufficient grounds to dismiss said movie? A thought-provoking topic to be sure, one that may very well dwell in the minds of viewers who take their chances on the 1968 co-directed Shaw Brothers movieThe Magnificent Swordsman.

Swordsman, from the directing duo of Griffin Yueh Feng and Ching Gong, is the tale of one lone, stoic wandering swordsman, Jiang Dan Feng (Wong Chung-Shun), who finds himself involved with the sister (Shu Pei Pei) of a hoodlum who met his end when a small band of muggers tried to attack and vanquish Jiang, better known to the people of the land as the Magnificent Swordsman. The brother’s dying words were a plea that the protagonist returns his blade to his sister Xiu Xiu, and upon performing this noble warrior’s task the sister at first believes that it was Jiang who in fact murdered her sibling. He convinces her otherwise, even after she attempts to strike him down, causing injury. Jiang has little time to rest in Xiu Xiu’s home, however, as the town is quickly under the duress of a notorious gang led by the smug, murderous Huang Da Ba (Cheng Miu). The latter has been on the prowl for Jiang for some time already, infuriated by the expert swordsman’s capacity to continuously escape death. Xiu Xiu pleads Jiang’s case to the townsfolk, convinced he can be a staunch ally, yet time is of the essence as Huang Da Ba is not one to wait long before striking at his prey…

Watching Swordsman, it is abundantly apparent that directors Griffin Yueh Feng and Ching Gong were influenced by some very specific movies of the same era when making their own picture. The final product, as shall be reviewed a little further, is still very very good despite what some might fear. Unsuspecting viewers or those with a more cursory familiarity with the popular genre pictures of the mid to late 1960s shall not, in all likelihood, be struck with the sense that this film is practically a hodgepodge of three if not four tremendously popular movies made and released only a few precious years prior. Those who have seen Sergio Carbucci’s Django, Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro can still enjoy the show, but they most certainly will notice by little light bulbs going off in their heads every time a recognizable scene or characteristic appears on screen, in some cases even sounds. For one, the opening credit sequence features the hero walking the Chinese countryside, wearing his straw hat and carrying his trusty sword, as a ballad, unmistakably reminiscent of the one sung at the start of Django (albeit in Cantonese), roars in the soundtrack. Jiang is the silent type, preferring to project an aura of mystery about him by rarely looking upwards, thus frequently hiding his eyes from view. When his face is uncovered, viewers notice it resembles a melding of the man with no name and Sanjuro (could he speak Japanese, Wong Chung Shun might even attempt a Toshiro Mifune impersonation). He has arrived in a town harassed by a vile gang of mobsters that requires saving, even though the town itself deeply mistrusts Jiang. His fighting style is far removed from what Shaw fans have come to know and love. Rather than taking on enemies in an elaborate, near-balletic fashion, he remains calm and still, carefully holding onto his legendary, unbreakable sword. His moves are brief and lighting quick, exercising the greatest precision. In essence, he is more samurai than a traditional Chinese swordsman. Even the music comes off like a low key variation of various spaghetti western scores.

The Magnificent Swordsman Collects from Other Classics to Create its Own Special Identity

Should any of those converging ingredients, cobbled together from the aforementioned classics, be reason to scoff at Swordsman? Provided the viewer keep an open mind and allow the film to find its own identity amidst all of the blatant borrowings, the answer is a resounding ‘No.’ Whatever feelings some might have towards the practice of very direct inspiration, a movie can still create its own unique personality despite the similarities it shares with its predecessors. Griffin Yue Feng and Ching Gong have nonetheless concocted a wildly entertaining adventure with some terrifically exciting moments and characters that are easy to appreciate and grow invested in. Their film does not depend on the borrowed traits, it utilizes them as a platform upon which it creates its own voice. For every obvious copycat moment, there are two which remind the viewer the directors do in fact have a more sophisticated, compelling plan than mere mimicry.

For one, the action scenes are top-notch, offering a salivating amount of diversity both in regards to the setting in which each confrontation occurs and the visual presentation the directors adopt to convey the sense of danger and thrill. Close quarter combat has the cinematography throw the viewer in the thick of the sword swipes, ducks and side steps to avoid contact, just like the characters themselves. There are some unexpected and inventive moments when, as the camera rests behind an actor’s shoulder, the frame will swerve diagonally to the left or the right as the combatant who back is facing the audience moves around. Other times the frame remains beautifully calm, much like Jiang himself, offering a more classically panoramic view of the ongoing slaughter, slaughter being a morbidly apt term considering the amount of blood which occasionally spurts out of victims. The climactic battle, in which Jiang fends off Da Ba’s entire army to save the town, is fantastic for its creativity and scope.

Swordsman is also saddled with some impressive leads. At the centre of all the action is Wong Chung-Shun, who effortlessly gets into character as a sullen yet experienced fighter who commits himself to rid the land of what he describes as bullying. The difference with his character is that, when pressed, he is more vocal about his altruistic motives than either Django or Sanjuro ever were. True enough, having the character converse more openly about why operates the way he does subdues some of his potential mystique, although conversely, this makes his more human and easy to identify with. There are two villains in the film, the dominating presence being Cheng Miu as Huang Da Ba. Miu excels at playing these sort of tempestuous personalities. With such vim and verve, it becomes difficult to not get excited when Huang Da Ba barks orders. Playing second fiddle Tien Feng, who appears only in the second half as Golden Snake Whip, is a calmer, more mischievous individual who has a connection to Jiang’s past. Tien Feng, very charismatic, is a Shaw studio legend, making his limited screen time somewhat disappointing however

Finally, the story takes an oddly compelling turn once Huang Da Ba’s increases the pressure on the innocent townsfolk with an ultimatum. Word gets out that Huang Da Ba has hired another master assassin (that being Golden Snake Whip) for 3000 silver taels. Suddenly some people begin assessing the possibility of paying off Huang Da Ba in order to spare their lives, all the while Xiu Xiu staunchly defends Jiang and believes in his usefulness as a protector. Rather than slowly come to believe in Jiang’s virtuous qualities and utter command of ways of slicing people to bits, they continue to bicker and debate the quickest solution to their predicament, expressing no sympathy for either Xiu Xiu or Jiang. While some suggest the idea of taking the fight to Da Ba themselves seeing as they may have strength in numbers, the majority expressing the desire to just pay off Da Ba and kick Jiang out of town actually rules. There are no open-minded townspeople to be found here.

The Magnificent Swordsman is an example of how unsubtle use of certain traits from other movies is not a recipe for a lazy movie, provided the filmmakers themselves astutely juggle the old and new material.

-Edgar Chaput

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