Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Avenging Eagle (Long xie shi san ying, 1978)

Next up here on Hai! Karate is the dramatic brawling flick, The Avenging Eagle! This Shaw Brothers joint features two of the studio's top male leads, the venerable Ti Lung and the late Alexander Fu Sheng. Also rounding out the cast are veteran Shaw stars Shih Szu, Ku Feng, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei and Dick Wei among others. The film is directed by Sun Chung and Ni Kuang provides the flick's screenplay.

The film opens with Black Eagle Chik Ming Sung(Lung)wandering through a desert patch, parched and exhausted. He falls off his steed and is soon rescued by another stranger, Double Sword Sleeve Cheuk Yi Fan(Sheng). Sung is uneasy at first, but Fan's wit and easy-going nature makes Sung drop his guard a bit. Well, that and the three killers who drop into the abandoned villa they're resting in. Fan observes that Sung not only knows them, but they know him too. After dispatching all three, they ride off and Sung spills the beans. He's one of the Thirteen Eagles, the assassins of the notorious Iron Boat Gang. The gang, led by Yoh Xi Hung(Feng) was formed to be ruthless killers for Hung from childhood onward. Hung spared no rod and certainly showed no love. Sung was one of his prized men. But after he and other Eagles went after a royal treasure protected by a great hero who laid a beatdown on him before his demise, Sung passed out in a forest glade. He's rescued from death by a kind man and taken into his house in a secluded valley. There, Sung is able to heal, and see the merits of kindness and honor. And he also falls in love with the man's sister, Miss Fung(Szu) who is more than willing to reciprocate. But, Sung returns to the gang and instead of quitting, is forced to go on another job. A job that entails the murder of Devil's Plight Wang An - the same man who rescued Sung. He tries to stop his brother assassins to no avail, and Miss Fung is murdered, dying in Sung's arms. This shatters him and when Yoh Xi Hung sees this, he goes ballistic. Sung then fights off the clan and flees. Fan hears this and then reveals that his family was the one slaughtered by the Thirteen Eagles. Both men become tenuous allies with one goal: smash the Iron Boat Gang and kill Yoh Xi Hung!

The Avenging Eagle is a compelling kung-fu movie for a number of reasons. For one, it's a very good story that Ni Kuang puts forth here. Savagery and justice and finding redemption are juggled as themes here. Sun Chung in the director's chair keeps things going at a great pace, even with one or two slow moments. This film marks a period where he was really in his zone with regards to action flicks, and it also was a film where he got to finally push the envelope with shooting on Steadicam. Chung was regarded as Shaw Studios' pioneer in this, and it shows up here in the crisp wide angle views as well as the multiple fluid action scenes. As for the leads, this film was the third film they had done together to that point. But it's a treat to see Ti Lung and Fu Sheng really stand out in this film as true equals. Fu Sheng by this time was a fast rising star; young and handsome, he was a prize for Shaw. Lung was, by this time, already a well-respected veteran actor with several stellar roles. He fit the role of the wandering swordsman very well. The chemistry between them is gripping. Ku Feng as the villainous Yoh Xi Hung is real GREASY. And when he busts out the golden claws for the final battle? You can't tell me Ghostface Killah didn't get the idea for the eagle gauntlet he used to rock from this film. I admit, Shih Szu as Miss Fung deserved a little bit more fleshing out in my opinion. But she did her job as the doomed romantic foil. Her role leads me to another key point about The Avenging Eagle; Chung packed a LOT into a flick just under 90 minutes. You won't be wanting for good fight scenes here. Some scenes will have you locked in, like the scene where Fan and Sung face off against Vulture(Lung-Wei) to turn the tables on the gang. (By the way, I wonder how much laughter ensued with his makeup job. You'll see what I mean.) Chung adds to the fight's energy with a few freeze frames and slo-mo shots. Not enough to be overkill, and just a tad to add some spice.

The Avenging Eagle is without a doubt a really good martial arts film. And recently even more validity to that statement came in July of this year when there was an announcement by both The Weinstein Company and Celestial Pictures was made. They are joining forces to remake two classic Shaw Brothers films from the 1960's and 1970's and one of them will be The Avenging Eagle. It really isn't hard to see why; the flick is a must see for all true fans of the genre. It has great fight scenes. Enough drama to tie everything together. And the outfits are really funky. I can say that you can't go wrong watching this flick.

RATING: 4 Dragon Punches out of 5

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