Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Knight Errant (Ying xiong ben se, 1973)

Next up for all you martial arts movie fans out there is a gem from 1973 featuring the main man Jimmy Wang Yu, Knight Errant!! This flick from the First Films studios also stars Kurata Yakasaki, Shen Mao, Lung Fei and Tse Gam-Guk along with others, most notably Blacky Ko. (yeah, that name would stand out.) In the director's chair on this picture is Ting Shan-Hsi.

Knight Errant opens with a flashback scene set in 1937 during the latter years of Japanese occupation of Taiwan. We see someone behind a shoji screen kneeling, and a mother and three young boys with her on the other side of it. In dramatic fashion, the figure raises a katana blade and sticks it into their belly. After a few jump cuts to the mother & children, we find ourselves outdoors in the present day. A mature woman dressed as a karateka(Gam-Guk) is issuing orders to three men. She's billed as 'The Lady With The Iron Fists!' and nothing else throughout the picture. The training sequence sets up the opening credits full of high-flying kicks and cascading music. If that opening music gets you REALLY hype when you hear it, there's a reason. The track is actually soul legend Solomon Burke's 'Cool Breeze' for the Blaxploitation classic of the same name starring Thalmus Rasulala. And it's also the basis for 'Apollo Kids', the bangin' classic by Ghostface Killah. (Side note - Curtis Mayfield gets sampled in this flick too early on.) It turns out that the three men, Tetsuro(Kurata), Masaki (Fei) and Takito(Mao) are those same three boys we see earlier. And they've been pushed to the limit training for one reason: revenge.

The Lady With The Iron Fists sits the three down after another session in the dojo where she shows exactly how tough she is. By having four of her students hold her down by each of her limbs and another student jump up and down on her STOMACH. Mind you, the dude doing this isn't tiny by any stretch. She tells them again that their mission is to avenge their father's seppuku & their mother's later suicide. See, their father was one Captain Mishima, who commanded a prison in the area. He captures a spy, Kebu and sets the order for execution. But Kebu escapes with the help of rebels and a man under Mishima's command, Lin Ming Cheung (Ngai So). The uproar caused Mishima to resign and take his own life. His wife then followed after. The plan is then set in motion for the three to hit Taiwan and find Ming Cheung and kill him. At this point, we find that Ming Cheung owns a small restaurant, and helps to take care of his two sons, a cousin and a daughter who's blind. Enter Lin Huo-Shan(Wang Yu), the eldest son who is a well-meaning cab driver who always winds up in a fight. And these fights wind up being a real drain on the family's savings, which are sorely needed to help repair his sister Yueh Fung's (Chen Ying Fung)blindness. Huo-Shan also tries to keep up his relationship with his girlfriend in the midst of all this when the three brothers come to town. And then things really get complicated, leaving Huo-Shan no choice but to get involved and settle things once and for all.

Knight Errant is an interesting flick. For one, this comes at the beginning of Wang Yu's newly-found independence. Prior to this, he was a box-office star in Hong Kong with Shaw Studios. But due to his desire to be paid more, Wang Yu broke his contract with Shaw. That led to him being unable to ever make a movie in Hong Kong going forward. Taiwan then became a major backdrop for all of his films. What makes this movie stand out during this period before his later hits is that for one, it shines a light on anti-Japanese sentiment that was rising steadily in these films in conjunction with World War II. But it does so as a key part of the plot without diving into stereotypes. Outside of Huo-Shan stating he hates the Japanese midway through the flick, the sentiment is very light. Wang Yu is gold here, giving some warmth as a dutiful son trying his best. There's also comedy at work here(keep an eye on the scene where he rescues his girl in a restaurant) both intentional and unintentional. See the pic below:

Yeah, that's Huo-Shan RUNNING OVER The Lady in his taxi as part of the final fight of the movie. I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall and have heard how they came up with this. It does give one slight pause that he'd do that to an older woman or a woman period but that got put aside 'cause she was a villain and as such, could be dealt with in any fashion. Putting that aside for a bit, the rest of the cast does well here. Kurata does make for a charismatic villain, and Lung Fei and Shan Mao do well here too. Mao actually stands out in another respect; he basically is known for being highly exaggerated with his facial expressions and movements in his film career. Here, he kind of gives way to Gam-Guk in that arena. Gam-Guk in this film is striking because she's the ultimate villain of the film, but we don't know how she got into the boys' lives. Also, she heads up her own school. Gam-Guk would only be in five films total in her career, with this and Kung Fu Mama being the highlights. According to some scant research, she was also a herbologist in addition to acting. She is quite formidable in this flick. Don't believe me? Peep how she comes back AFTER GETTING RUN OVER to give Wang Yu a two-piece. The action is brutal without being too bloody and makes Knight Errant more than a standard revenge fight flick. Go peep it when you can, it's actually on the 'Net now!

RATING: 4 Dragon Punches Out Of 5