Howdy folks! Get set for another rapid fire review on Hai! Karate!! This next film is a slightly known feature from the Shaw Brothers Studios entitled The Deadly Knives!! The film also goes by the name Fists of Vengeance as well according to a couple of other sites. The film stars matinee idol Ling Yun and Ching Li along with noted stars Lily Li, Chen Feng-Chen and staples Chan Shen, Cheng Miu and Gam Kei-Chu. In the director's chair for this flick is Chang Il-Ho.
The Deadly Knives opens with a view of rich forest and a tree falling. We then find ourselves whisked aboard a train coursing through the hinterland. Yan Zi Fei(Yun) and Guan Yue Hua(Li) are taking this train home from the city together...with love in their eyes, all set to announce to their parents their intention to marry. At that moment, a group of drunken Japanese thugs come through the car causing trouble. And Zi Fei calmly and coolly breaks the gang up with deft martial arts skills. Arriving in town, Zi Fei is greeted by Jiao Jiao(Lily Li), an orphan his father took in when Zi Fei was little. She has a serious jones for Zi Fei, and so gives Yue Hua the major side-eye. Of course, Zi Fei doesn't see Jiao Jiao the same way. This incenses her, and that gets fueled even more by Xu Qian (Feng-Chen) who's another orphan that became part of Zi Fei's house. Who is madly in love with Jiao Jiao. More on that in a bit. Zi Fei finds that the scurvy Japanese magnate Ogawa(Miu) has been after his dad's land for quite some time while he was away. And apparently has an ally in none other than Yue Hua's father(Tang Ti). This of course strains his relationship with Yue Hua, but both decide to keep seeing each other. Jiao Jiao confronts them and in her jealousy picks at Zi Fei, telling him he should honor his house. Yue Hua runs away upset and Zi Fei follows, leaving Jiao Jiao alone. But not for long, since Xu Qian had been following her the whole time. He tries to confess his love but gets angrily shut down by Jiao Jiao. That sets the wheels in motion for a plan Ogawa had cooked up along with Mr.Guan and the local magistrate. They get Xu Qian drunk as hell, who goes back home and begins to basically dream of Jiao Jiao naked and..well... does something Divinyls would approve off if you get my meaning. This isn't enough however. Xu Qian then LEAPS UP and breaks into Jiao Jiao's room with all intentions to rape her. Zi Fei busts in and breaks it up. Qian then leaves, but returns and murders Mr. Yan and takes the deed to the land to Ogawa.
Zi Fei goes to the magistrate who tells him that his late father sold the land to Ogawa. A brawl ensues and Ogawa's right hand man Ishikawa(Shen)steps in, brandishing a pistol. Which has everyone shook. Zi Fei tends to his father's funeral, and Yue Hua in the company of her house servant Doggie(yes, they call him Doggie - don't ask me why)arrives to pay her respects. Jiao Jiao taunts her, and Zi Fei sends her away, calling off their engagement. Crushed, Yue Hua still pays her respects and leaves. And THEN Ishikawa's goons arrive to bust up the ceremony. They batter Zi Fei and in the melee, Jiao Jiao gets kidnapped by Xu Qian trying to rescue her. But when he meets with Ogawa later for his payment, all he gets is a swift katana to the neck. Jiao Jiao is then raped by Ogawa and made into a comfort girl. Zi Fei finds all of this out while recuperating from nearly being drowned by Ogawa(and in the process learning his teacher was killed)thanks to Yue Hua and Doggie who rescue Jiao Jiao. But that doesn't end well either, with a final showdown on the horizon once Zi Fei heals and sets about mastering...you guessed it...the Deadly Knives!
The Deadly Knives is a particularly interesting flick from the Shaw Studios for a few reasons. To begin with, this film was made by Cheng Il-Ho, a Korean director who would essentially helm 10 films in all. He directed this in the same year that he also directed The Thunderbolt Fist. There's similarities between the two films in terms of their sheer violence, their eye towards love affairs and the Chinese versus the evil Japanese plot element. One thing that I do have to address in the film first is the inclusion of rape. We have the first scene where Jiao Jiao is almost raped by Xu Qian. And then we see that she is raped (although it's not fully shown)by Ogawa. And Yue Hua is almost raped by Ishikawa as well. Both Lily Li and Ching Li would find themselves in these 'damsel in distress' roles a bit as their careers grew at Shaw. Lily Li would actually play a rape victim THREE TIMES in Shaw films to my recollection. In this film however, we see that the director and screenwriter took care to show the psychological effects in full. Jiao Jiao winds up with severe mental trauma which becomes yet another tragedy that burdens Zi Fei. It's significant that it wasn't brushed off by Cheng Il-Ho. Another factor to look into here is the Chinese vs. Japanese angle. By this time, Shaw had seen how using this really helped their films gain more appeal. And it kept them neck and neck with rivals Golden Harvest who in two years had seen great return using this in their motion pictures. For those wanting to know more about the action, you may find the dialogue scenes stretched a bit. But you're rewarded with fight scenes that are about furious brawling. Cats get broken over chairs and tables, and towards the end things do get gory.(A note to the squeamish - expect blood geysers here and there.) Yuen Woo Ping as fight choreographer makes good use of the set space. He even has a cameo in the film as a Japanese fighter. The actors definitely help the cause. Ling Yun by this point was well regarded as a classic star of the 1960's and was now getting into more kick & punch films. Casting him as Zi Fei was brilliant in that he gives the character enough emotional depth to convey his conflict and resolve throughout. Ching Li shines here, particularly in the funeral scene (weeping is a strong suit of her acting skills) and when she rescues Jiao Jiao from Ogawa's mansion. As far as the villains, Cheng Miu gives us some bits of sneering as Ogawa. But Chen Shen steals the show as the pistol-packing Ishikawa. The way he snarls and sneers makes me wonder if Tupac studied his role to play Bishop in Juice.(Hey, you never know.) There's also an ode to the gunfighter element in the final scene with Zi Fei and Ishikawa that harkens to the Westerns that dominated two decades before in cinema. And symbolism is rife, from the tree felling that opens and closes the film to the duel between knives and guns and what has more honor. There are some moments of comedy, both direct and unintended like those with Doggie and that Xu Qian solo scene. Dean Shek Tien, who plays Doggie, would go on to more fame with Yuen Woo Ping and Jackie Chan in their future film efforts. That said, The Deadly Knives is a decent flick to take in with enough drama and action to pass the time for a spell.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 DRAGON PUNCHES