Chor Yuen Capsule Reviews

Chor Yuen Capsule Reviews

The House of 72 Tenants (1973) — July 21, 2013

A comic version of the “poor people living in cramped quarters” genre that pops around around the world in movies like Humanity and Paper Balloons by Sadao Yamanaka, Street Scene by King Vidor, many of the 1930s films of Naruse and Ozu, etc. Sometime after the war, all these people, most of them recent immigrants to Hong Kong, are crammed into a big house owned by a scheming, evil, but fortunately bumbling landlord and her husband. It was a massive hit, topping even Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon at the Hong Kong box office, and its success changed the language of Hong Kong cinema forever. Literally: for many years Hong Kong films were shot in the Northern Chinese dialect Mandarin, the dominant language of the Mainland, but a minority one in Hong Kong and Southern China. After this movie, the language of Hong Kong cinema switched to Cantonese, the most common local dialect.

A co-production between Shaw Brothers and their television arm TVB, the film bears traces of its roots as a play first staged in 1945 (and set in Shanghai), structured as a series of long scenes with freeze frame act breaks as the scheme at hand gets foiled. It feels like a great pilot for a TV series, one of those 70s ones with the same essential plot running for 200 episodes because the characters and actors were just so fun to be around.

The Magic Blade (1976) — July 13, 2013

It doesn’t spoil anything to say this ultimately turns into a somewhat bloody wuxia version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, does it?

Return of the Sentimental Swordsman (1981) — August 12, 2013

Sequel to a Chor Yuen/Ti Lung movie I quite liked, but lacks the character depth and plot complexity of the original, though it retains the melancholy core within Chor’s over-cluttered frames. The plot revolves around a ranking of all the warriors in the jianghu, the martial arts world, with various lower ranked persons trying to defeat the higher ranked ones in some kind of twisted BCS. Ti Lung gets sucked back in to the jianghu he abandoned for a life of alcoholism three years before, and watches a bunch of people die for no good reason. Turns out the “Money Clan” is the root of all the evil. Big surprise there.