Jimmy Wang Wu Capsule Reviews

Jimmy Wang Wu Capsule Reviews

Temple of the Red Lotus (Hsu Tseng-hung, 1965) — June 23, 2015

The Shaw Brothers dove headfirst into wuxia in 1965 with this, the first in a trilogy previously adapted as an epic serial (one of the longest movies ever) in 1928. Future luminaries abound, from Jimmy Wang Yu and Lo Lieh making their debuts to reliable supporting actors like Tien Feng and The Love Eterne star Ivy Ling Po to future director-choreographers Lau Kar-leung, Yuen Woo-ping, and Tong Kai as stuntman extras. Wang Yu plays a young man who gets caught up in a gang war he doesn’t understand while he seeks some revenge for his murdered parents and falls for a pretty girl. Long sections of taking and walking feel like they belong more to the huangmei world than wuxia. There’s a sequence done much, much better a decade later in Shaolin Mantis, where the young lovers have to escape a compound by besting various family members: instead of fighting their way out, they mostly accomplish their escape through begging and whining. What action there is is generally too sped-up and too quickly edited. The final sequences, multi-person combat intricately choreographed and patiently shot, with the occasional ingenious device, are a hint of better things to come. Director Hsu Tseng-Hung would go on to a couple dozen relatively minor wuxia over the next 15 years or so at Shaws and Golden Harvest.

The Magnificent Trio (Chang Cheh, 1966) — November 5, 2017

Chang Cheh’s second wuxia film, and the oldest one to survive. The first, Tiger Boy, was a low-budget black and white film for which he did the choreography himself. By all accounts it has been lost. The Magnificent Trio is in color and has all the Shaw bells and whistles, and for the first time Chang used the team of Tong Kai and Lau Kar-leung as choreographers. Jimmy Wang Yu plays a noble warrior on the run who falls in with Tien Feng’s scheme to protest the local magistrate’s injustices by kidnapping the man’s daughter. Lo Lieh is the magistrate’s reluctant swordsman, and Cheng Lui plays a righteous man who gets let out of jail along with a gang of criminals to rescue the daughter. The three stars eventually realize they share a common code of honor that distinguishes them from the petty criminals who oppress the people, and take turns making brave sacrifices (of themselves and the women they love) for their ideals. It’s all pretty standard Chang stuff, though it moves much more deliberately than it should and the heroes are especially slow-witted.

The Trail of the Broken Blade (Chang Cheh, 1967) — November 7, 2017

Basically the same plot as Golden Swallow (which would come out a year later): Jimmy Wang Yu as part of a love triangle between the swordswoman he loves but can’t be with (because he assassinated the evil prime minister who murdered his father) and the swordsman he loves but can’t be with (because he’s a guy, obviously, nothing gay going on in Chang Cheh movies). But Kiu Chong and Chin Ping are no Lo Lieh and Cheng Pei-pei, and the movie bogs down in the boring melodrama of Wang’s secret identity and whether anyone will ever figure it out.

Things pick up only at the end, when Wang assaults the evil pirates led by Tien Feng on Flying Fish Island (complete with a trap-filled cave), but it holds none of the majesty of his doomed assault in the later film. Subtext comes perilously close to text when Chin Ping realizes that Wang has gone off alone because he “wants to sacrifice himself”. The Chang hero doesn’t just stand up for his code despite all odds, he actively seeks out an ideological justification for his own glorious self-destruction. On the other hand, hoping his two friends will be united after his honorable death, Wang Yu desperately gasps at them “Go. . . go eat something!”

The Chinese Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu, 1970) – May 7, 2014

Jimmy Wang Yu and I don't care
Jimmy Wang Yu and I don't care
Jimmy Wang Yu and I don't care
Take that you stupid Japanese Judo, Karate, and Kendo experts

(Sorry. This probably only makes sense if, like me, you periodically have Bender's version of "Jimmy Crack Corn" stuck in your head.)

The Sword (Pan Lei, 1971) – May 13, 2014

Jimmy Wang Yu learns a valuable lesson. But is it too late?

Millionaire’s Express (Sammo Hung, 1986) — September 26, 2013

Like one of those all-star light adventure comedies Hollywood put out in the era between, say, Around the World in 80 Days and Cannonball Run (big cast, little plot, less character), but this one has Sammo Hung fighting Cynthia Rothrock so it’s pretty good.

Added July 30, 2017:
Maybe the best cast of any 1980s Hong Kong film, but it feels like it could have used another hour of plot. As it is, things don’t make a lot of sense and subplots are dropped wholesale during the big final fight (Jimmy Wang Yu and Shih Kien, for example). Tremendous falling from buildings though.