Angela Mao and Delon Tan showcase their impressive kicking skills in this underrated classic that also highlights the power of one Chan Sing.
In a small village of Tibet, the Tseng family is one of the most noble and respected families in the land. When the patriarch (Guan Shen) intends to marry off his daughter Chen-Lan (Mao), a respectable family, the Kaos, answer the arranged marriage. Led by eldest brother Kao Chu (Chan), Kao intends to marry off his younger brother I-Fan (Ling Hon). When Lan and I-Fan test each other’s fighting skills, the elder Tseng is impressed and decides he will make the perfect groom for his daughter.
However, Kao Chu has even darker intentions. He intends to marry his brother into the family only to gain access to their wealth with aspirations of taking over the village. When I-Fan refuses to marry Lan, Chu kills his own brother and luckily for him, hires a look-alike to proceed with the wedding. Meanwhile, Lan’s childhood friend Hsu Chin-Kang (Tan) has harbored feelings for Lan but cannot act on them because he does not have the wealth and power that is expected of the Tsengs.
When Kao learns that his pawn is beginning to have doubts about the plan, Kao goes into full mode by framing Hsu for having an affair with Lan. In addition, he hits Lan with his Tiger Claw technique and “poisons” her. Kao kills the pawn and forces Lan to look as if she killed her husband. When Lan goes on trial and is sent to die in the rivers, Hsu, learning the truth about the plan, goes to rescue Lan. When Hsu rescues a recovering Lan, they must go to the Mi Temple, run by the Eagle Lamma (Huang Feng, the film’s director), and learn his form of martial arts if they expect to stop Kao once and for all.
When it comes to classic martial arts films, it seems like for the early to mid-1970’s, the team of director Huang Feng and star Angela Mao means “box office gold”. It is evident that Mao was Huang’s muse and the films they worked on together, from THE ANGRY RIVER (1970) to LADY WHIRLWIND (1972) combined Huang’s talents behind the scenes with Mao’s impressive acting and fighting skills. This film, which would mark Huang and Mao’s final collaboration at Golden Harvest (Their last collaboration, THE LEGENDARY STRIKE (1978) was made by an independent film studio.), is truly one of their greatest works and is underrated in every way.
Mao truly gives a great performance as Tseng Cheng-Lan, a young female fighter who comes from an aristocratic family. She truly plays someone who not only has her heart broken, but someone who doesn’t like what cards she has been dealt when she is forced into an arranged marriage. Playing the lead villain of the piece is another one of Huang’s favorite actors, the karateka Chan Sing. From the opening scene, one would think Chan as a nice guy, but as the film progresses, his true persona is revealed as a money-hungry wannabe usurper who will do anything, including murder to get his way.
While Mao and Chan give out great performances, the scene stealer here is Delon Tan, the super kicking actor who unleashed his legwork in films like THE HOT THE COOL AND THE VICIOUS (1976) and HAND OF DEATH (1976). Tan plays the broken-hearted Hsu, whose feelings for Lan gets the best of him even though he does not have the wealth or aristocracy. In a stunning flashback, we learn that both Lan and Hsu trained under the same master as kids. Expect more of a dramatic performance by Tan in the first half of the film and the second half explode with exciting action from the leg fighter.
The action choreography was a collaboration between the legendary Han Ying-Chieh and Sammo Hung. It is apparent what sequences each choreographer worked on. Han utilized most of the fights involving only Chan Sing or his four henchmen, played by Yeung Wai, Corey Yuen, Billy Chan, and Lee Ka-Ting. Hung, on the other hand, had been Mao’s premier fight choreographer and once again, makes amazing use of her fighting skills as well as that of Delon Tan. The finale, in which Hung appears briefly, is truly a great climax with both Mao and Tan using their impressive legwork against Chan Sing and goons with a major twist involving the Mi Temple’s brand of martial arts. Look out for brief appearances by Jackie Chan and Yuen Wah as members of the Tseng family.
THE HIMALAYAN is truly one of the most underrated martial arts films of the 1970’s. Huang Feng worked really well with Angela Mao, Chan Sing, and Delon Tan while both Han Ying-Chieh and Sammo Hung really made excellent use of the cast’s martial arts skills. Highly recommended.