Time to shake things up a bit for the Shaw Brothers Saturday column. In addition to offering readers another review this week (The Mighty One), the column feels like it has run long enough and witnessed enough bloodshed to take a step back and reminisce on some of the more fondly remembered films reviewed since December 2011.
As such, in this special bonus edition of Shaw Brothers Saturday, readers will find a special top 5 list of the author’s favourite films with a some brief thoughts on each as well as links provided to direct readers towards the full length reviews. Before revealing the list, a few pertinent notes need be shared so that seasoned fans of the studio’s output are not dumbfounded by the omission of some obvious choices.
First, at the risk disappointing some, 36th Chamber of Shaolin is frequently included in top 5s and top 10s to the extent that their inclusion has grown somewhat predictable. Obviously fans of the genre and especially newcomers should behold 36th Chamber out. It is a classic, no questions asked. The same goes for Heroes of the East, a personal all time favourite. In essence, apart from some of the obvious choices, what other films should fans make an effort to discover? So, without further ado:
5-Executioners from Shaolin (1976, Liu Chia-Liang)
This is arguably the granddaddy of all films featuring the famous white haired villain who proudly strokes his long beard in moments of reflection. This is in addition to the fact that he can inexplicably protect his private parts from harmful blows, pardon the pun. It also contains one of the more visually curious and arresting training methods ever. Full review
4-Duel for Gold (1971, Chor Yuen)
Shaw movies were often quite interesting for they put their own martial arts spin on other genre and familiar stories. Duel for Gold is a hybrid of heist film tropes and a morbid game of ‘last fighter standing.’ Surprisingly enough, the films is actually quite successful in having the viewer guess who exactly shall walk away with the loot. A great balance of suspense and action. Full review
3-Twelve Gold Medallions (1970, Ching Gong)
This is a very special example of a film which end sup being fantastic despite that the script suffers dramatically in some basic storytelling areas, like establishing basic character motivations, leading to a bit of a mess plot-wise. None of that matters seeing as everything else in the film is absolutely joyous to watch and listen to. From the dialogue to the action (courtesy of Samo Hung) and the main hero’s stratospheric level of cool. Full review
2-The Web of Death (1976, Chor Yuen)
Describing The Web of Death in a few phrases is no simple task, which is its most charming feature, truth be told. Political intrigue is the backdrop for one insane villain’s plot to usurp power with the help of a caged spider gifted with evil powers. Lo Lieh, in one of his most wildly entertaining performances, is the said megalomaniac. The Web of Death is, for some obvious reasons, a little off the wall and all the better because of it. Full review
1-Come Drink With Me (1968, King Hu)
King Hu’s masterpiece of a kung fu adventure is funny, thrilling, violent to an extreme at times and, most impressively, a precursor to a genre that would only really gain significant popularity two decades later: the buddy cop movie. Chang Pei-pei is a government agent named Golden Swallow sent to rescue a governor’s son (also her brother). Along the way she requires the assistance of Drunken Cat (Hua Yueh), to whom she most definitely does not warm up to initially. To top it off, the villain, named Sleek Face, looks and behaves like a Chinese Joker! Full review