Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Tournament (Zhong tai quan tan sheng si zhan, 1974)

What's going on, folks?!! We've got another veritable must-see film here for you on Hai! of our favorites over here and a choice one for Women's History Month. On the screen tonight? The Tournament, starring the legendary Angela Mao Ying!!! This picture also boasts a who's who of kung fu movies, such as Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Whang In Sik and others. This film is chock full of hardcore action with some great twists, so let's dive right into it!

The Tournament begins with a shady deal going down in the streets of Hong Kong. Apparently, bookies in Bangkok, Thailand need someone to go fight there. They strong-arm one guy into doing it over some gambling debts. But first, he has to clear it with his master as is customary with all Chinese boxing associations. Master Siu-Fung(Got Heung-Ting)gives the okay for him and his son(Wong) to go to Thailand to enter a Muay Thai contest - without the knowledge of the boxing association. Both men go, and get the ever-loving crap kicked out of them. An onlooker tells the association, who mostly disavows Master siu-Fung for 'disgracing Chinese boxing.' The backlash wrecks his name, and ruins the arranged marriage of Lau Siu-Fung(Mao Ying) and the son of a fellow master(the smarmy Chiang Nan). Despite some comfort and support from the association president(Guan Shan), the master is so despondent that he commits suicide.

Distraught, Lau takes it upon herself to restore the honor of her father along with her brother, and so they both make the decision to go to Thailand. This goes against the wishes of the association, who try to stop her to no avail. In other words? She DESTROYS all of them. Soon after, they hit Bangkok and begin to train for combat in the Muay Thai ring. But intrigue in Bangkok complete with run-ins with the gang responsible for the mess along with trouble at home thanks to a Japanese karate master(In Sik)hellbent on seizing the Siu-Fung residence to be his own dojo, makes for a daunting series of battles ahead for Lau Siu-Fung...

Honestly, this film is major on so many levels. For starters, it's yet another Hong Kong martial arts film that would incorporate Muay Thai as a main part of the story. Prior to that, you only saw it in Duel Of Fists and The Angry Guest from Shaw Studios. It would lead to Muay Thai being a concrete part of martial arts cinema going forward. To that end, the biggest revelation is when Lau Siu-Fung takes it upon herself to learn the art. And that leads us to another big moment...

Angela Mao with SHORT HAIR. Now, this may not seem like much, but at the time it was revolutionary. There were films where women took on men's roles, it was quite common. But in this role, Angela's short cut was striking.(And it didn't distract from how lovely she was - first reaction I had was oooooooooh-WEE when I saw it).Striking because over the course of the film, Lau redefines herself immensely. She begins the film as a dutiful daughter, willing to be in an arranged marriage with someone who isn't realllllllllly a good match for her, to a fierce fighter who in effect supplants her brother as the master-in-charge. It's a bold plot even in an era where it was seemingly progressive for women in cinema. This gets underscored by her actual Muay Thai training and being in the ring - she addresses the Thai press in a smart blouse and slacks, and carries herself with the utmost confidence. Angela's fighting skills are put to great usage in The Tournament. One standout fight besides her Muay Thai match is when she goes toe to toe with veteran actor Wilson Tong on the fixed poles. It's HER FILM from the moment she begins her first scene, full of steely determination, impressive fighting and charm that truly mesmerizes. I mean, Carter Wong gets shunted aside rather quickly, which is a bit surprising but when you consider Angela's prowess, not that much.

The Tournament does have its odd points - Whang In Sik raids the Siu-Fung house with a burly white dude in tow(George Yakirian) in a slightly laughable way. Then you have the abject dismissal on the part of the association against Siu-Fung - it's like, wouldn't you ASK why he did what he did in a heavier investigation? Also, the gang business in Thailand is a bit of a minor thing in the second half of the film. There's even a 'meta' moment involving Golden Harvest Studios themselves. But if it's brutal action you want, the fight choreography by Sammo Hung gives that to you in spades. (Side note: Sammo would outfit actors with shin guards and demand that they deliver full-on kicks to give off that extra realness, as was custom in shooting these films.) THe Muay Thai scenes are done really well, with a keen technical eye. It's also interesting to note the different players in the picture - you can spot a young Yung Biao here and there in the film(Side note:he actually did double for Angela in a couple of acrobatic scenes). I highly recommend The Tournament for all martial arts film fans, as yet another example of how thoroughly bad-ass Angela Mao Ying truly was. It's available online and on DVD!


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