|12-26-2007, 11:58 AM||#1|
Join Date: Oct 2007
PURSUIT 1972 Act. ***1/2 Blood ***1/2 /Movie *****
Yue Hua (Lin Chung), Fan Mei-sheng (Lu Zhi Shen), Lee Chia-ting (Gao Chu), Paul Chiang (Lu Chien), Wang Chin-feng (Chin Niang), Yang Chi-ching (Commander Gao), Chiao Hsiung (Xu Ba), Huang Chung-shun (Dong Chao)
Screenplay & Directed by Cheng Kang
Lin Chung, the instructor for the Imperial troops meets up with an old friend of his Lu Zhi Shen who is now a monk. While they drink, the son of the Commander of the Sung forces, Gao Chui tries to rape Lin Chung's wife while a number of his colleagues wreak havoc. Lin stops them and narrowly avoids a major situation. For this embarrassment, Gao and Lu Chien, a supposed friend of Lin's conspire with Commander Gao to have Lin executed. After much torture, Lin is to be escorted to another province but orders are given to kill him before he reaches his destination. Lin's one true friend, Lu Zhi Shen, the wily monk, is never far behind and saves him. Meanwhile, Gao Chui, still desiring Lin's wife, learns of her whereabouts. After numerous plots and attempts on his life and a final, violent altercation involving his wife and family, Lin Chung foresakes his life of an honorable and law abiding soldier taking bloody revenge on his enemies and inevitably taking his place among the Liang Shan Outlaws.
Brilliant and highly dramatic Wu Xia sword picture from one of the unsung HK cinema masters, Cheng Kang. Every scene reeks of professionalism with numerous scenes packing a theatrical wallop with director Cheng Kang often times building the suspense and others hitting you in the face with their abruptness. There are many striking sequences here both exquisite in there beauty and deplorable in there violence. As per most Shaw Brothers movies the villains here are the most wicked scum and nearly all of them have high military positions which makes it all the more disturbing.
Yue Hua delivers an awesome performance and probably my favorite outside of his arrogant poet freedom fighter in Chang Cheh's oft maligned Republic Era martial drama IRON BODYGUARD (1973). In PURSUIT (1972), the villains really put him through hell. Over and over, I kept feeling sorry for his character wondering when he'd get an upper hand. Towards the end he even looks up to the heavens and asks what has he done to deserve so much torment. The first torture scene is extremely brutal where the soldiers pound him repeatedly in the chest with the ends of large poles.
On his long trip to Cang Zhou, he is mercilessly tortured by his two escorts, Dong Chao and Xu Ba. They whip him and place his feet in scalding water among other things. At one point they plan to kill him inside the Wild Boar Forest proclaiming that "We're only following orders". Knowing what is to occur, director Cheng builds this scene nicely as Lin is flogged and shoved around inside the thick underbrush of the forest accompanied by music by Akira Ifukube lifted from DAIMAJIN (1966). The wild monk arrives and saves his friend lending an opportunity for the fight choreographers to shine. Lu breaks Lin free of the Cangue but Lin still retains that "This is the law". A new plan is hatched to do away with Lin that will either ensure his death or execution one way or the other.
And even after numerous bouts of suffering and cruelty at the hands of his attendants, he can't be brought to despise them until late in the movie when he finally realizes there is nothing he can do to clear his name but fight back. Lu Zhi Shen understood this and at one point near the end, he says "Brother, you didn't listen to me before...now your family is ruined." Once Lin has abandoned his noble ways, he becomes a violently determined warrior whose only option is to kill those who've betrayed and framed him and because all those involved are military officials, he will have to become an outlaw to accomplish this. This element is handled well by Cheng Kang and he wrings every bit of righteous ideology from Lin Chung before he is transformed into an indomitable force seeking retribution and final justice. The next to last scene in which Lin confronts his former Commander by presenting him with his sons head is expertly handled with all of the soldiers Lin trained coming to the aid of the Commander only to have them disobey him and side with Lin. A wonderfully cheerful moment which leads to the last scene in which Lin is off to join the Honorable 108 Liang Shan Mountain Bandits, the Outlaws of the Marsh.
Fan Mei-sheng excels as the crazy but righteous monk, Lu Zhi Shen. He has a strong constitution for piety and integrity. The relationship between Lin and Lu builds the foundation for the entire film; That no matter the circumstance, good can overcome evil. The film is divided amongst those two factions; the corrupt and evil government, which, unlike mere ruffians or murdering swordsmen, great power is involved making it a bit more difficult for justice to be served. The other faction is the good, represented by both Lin Chung and Lu Zhi Shen. It's never made quite clear exactly why Commander Gao and his men want Lin dead aside from the fact that Gao and the others are corrupt, essentially ruthless thugs occupying political posts allowing them to run rampant and do what they want. Lin represents truth, nobility and honor which is a threat to Gao and his unscrupulous horde. Again, Cheng Kang balances both of these perfectly.
Both Yue Hua and Fan Mei-sheng would feature in Chang Cheh's WATER MARGIN (1972) and ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS (1973) both installments in the famous Outlaws of the Marsh literary works. This film is a worthy companion piece to those two movies. However, this film does not exemplify the action but character development which dominates the bulk of the movie lending a powerful and dramatic punch to the action when it arrives. The villains are conniving and vicious in their deeds of uncompromising cruelty. Yang Chi-ching, who plays the Commander here also played villains in Chang Cheh's FLYING DAGGER (1968) and Ho Meng Hua's AMBUSH (1972). The star of AMBUSH (1972), Chiao Hsiung, plays one of the devious escorts who leads Lin Chung on his way to an almost certain death. Chiao was apparently being groomed for stardom but it seems he never caught on with audiences. I like him but his burly appearance and somewhat villainous face probably kept him from future starring roles. He did headline the aforementioned AMBUSH (1972) and THE GOLDEN LION (1975) among some other credits.
A very entertaining and highly recommended swordplay movie which has some dynamite sets such as the forest sequence and the snowbound finale. The Akira Ifukube music lifted from DAIMAJIN (1966) and possibly another of his Japanese composed films suits the films gloomy atmosphere. If you want to see lots and lots of fights, you should steer clear of this one and go for something like AMBUSH (1972) instead but if you want a very dramatic and theatrical experience laced with some strong fights, then this is a worthy film for your collection.