Hello Shaw Brothers fans,
This is Edgar Chaput, regular contributor to Sound on Sight and head honcho of Shaw Bros. Sat., writing to you, the astute and dedicated readers. This is my voice, uncensored and from the heart.
Korean import directors, rare as they were at the time, have a phenomenal track record when applying their trade within the Shaw Brothers studio system. Jeng Cheong-Woh’s stamp is far and away the most noteworthy, two of his films standing out as among the very best of the entire studio cannon (The Swift Knight from 1971 and Five Fingers of Death from 1972).
Writer-director Jeng Cheong-Woh was the instigator for one of the most important films to have ever been produced by the Shaw Brothers studio, Five Fingers of Death (also known as King Boxer). Not only is said film widely considered to be among the very best kung fu pictures ever made, it played a pivotal role for the unparalleled popularity of martial arts films in the United States since the 1970s.
The divide between good and evil can be very thin, almost imperceptible to those who prefer painting the world in grand, all-encompassing strokes. The same goes for film, wherein some stories are told with clearly delineated sides while others adopt more nuance. Experienced director Ho Meng-Hua and screenwriter Patrick Kong Yueng cooperated in 1973 to make The Golden Lion, a movie in which the alignments within firm camps of good guys and bad are not well-defined, providing its story more texture than typical martial arts fare.
Ronny Yu’s journey as a director of feature films is eerily reminiscent of that experienced by John Woo. After early success in their native land, Yu and Woo, albeit at different times in their careers, ventured into the Hollywood system with mixed results at best. Action movie legend John Woo returned to Hong Kong and made an extraordinarily grand scale period piece in the mainland, Red Cliff. After Bride of Chucky and Freddy vs Jason, Yu headed back home and made one of Jet Li’s greatest films, Fearless. Now, after a seven-year wait, he returns with a epic period story of his own, Saving General Yang.
Thinking about the brand of comedy championed in older martial arts pictures causes one to realize that more often then not, slapstick and extremely obvious tomfoolery is preferred over anything with a grain of subtlety. If such a style is not the viewer’s cup of tea, then they best stay away from most of the Shaw films that were either outright comedies or dabbled in lighthearted fair in the midst of their action epics.
Mystery and intrigue inspire an intrepid, confident sleuth to decipher the many machinations behind a series of appalling, loosely motivated murders, all of which are tied in some fashion or another to a bigger event, one with possible political motivations. The protagonist is an bright, analytical fellow who often has a snappy quip or two that lightens the tension of scenes involving great danger.