Hello you fight film fans! This next film we're going to cover on Hai! Karate is one of the great Chang Cheh's lesser-known films, King Eagle!! The film stars Shaw Studios icons Ti Lung and Li Ching as the leads, with Cheung Pooi-Saan and Cheung Miu as veteran role players in the cast. This film is interesting, so let's get to it!
King Eagle starts out in a different way than a good deal of pictures from Shaw Studios. We open with the head of the Tien Yi Tong clan is betrayed by 1st Chief Hung Sing Tien(Pooi Saan). Sing Tien even takes out his own brother in the attack. This goes throughout the opening credits, keeping you squarely riveted. Sing Tien is aided by his desired lover and clan member An Bing Er(Ching)in the fight. (Side note: Bruce Tong plays the brother who gets dispatched - he'd ride these roles into a bigger status as a solid actor for Shaw as the 70's rolled on.)One man manages to escape however, and in doing so takes the golden marker from the late clan leader, hoping to get that symbol of the chain of command to other loyal members. But he gets to a river and finds the wandering swordsman King Eagle Jin Fei(Lung) who at first doesn't even want to get mixed up in it when he's begged to take the marker to the clan. Sing Tien however isn't so sure about Jin Fei staying out of it, so he does what melodramatic villains do: he hires two killers to take Jin Fel out. This is also due to the fact that Jin Fei is well known for being a master swordsman in the land.
Jin Fei goes to town to meet his close friend, and falls into the trap of the hired killers only to be saved by An Yuk Lin, the older sister of Bing Er. Now if she looks familiar...it's Li Ching playing both roles! Yuk Lin is far more virtuous and heroic than her sister, and so she's shocked to find that the chief of her clan was murdered by her and Sing Tien. She disbelieves at first until she's attacked and Jin Fei rescues her. They wind up falling for each other. This romance does have clouds on the horizon however, as Sing Tien and Bing Er team up with Wan Bau Ha(Miu) to wipe Jin Fei out once and for all!! And so they meet for the final battle...
King Eagle is a different kind of Chang Cheh flick. This was his 11th for Shaw, and it came after such triumphs like The One-Armed Swordsman for example. The thing with King Eagle is that there's more focus on the female leads played by Li Ching. An award winning actress by this point, Ching handles the dual roles of Yuk Lin and Bing Er to perfection. They are each their own woman, their own warrior. She takes care to give them life and Ti Lung responds very well to both with his emoting. Lung at this point was fast becoming one of Shaw's great male leads and his stoic performance carries great heft. Cheh's direction is notable for the fact that Li Ching's dual roles were shown with flair and attention and not treated as backdrop like his other films. Also, while there is some bloodshed to be found(Jin Fei's spearing of a villain while he's in midair is startling), it's less than what you'd get in one of his later films. The story is deliberate to almost being too slow but put together well with the fight scenes, even if they're quick. All in all, check out King Eagle for a nice little wuxia action if you're looking for something to watch.
RATING: 3 of 5 DRAGON PUNCHES