AKA: Super Dragon
Director: Ding Sin Saai
Writer: Ding Sin Saai
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Sally Chen Sha Li, Tin Yau, Ma Kei, Lung Fei, Yee Yuen, Got Siu Bo, Lee Keung, Chai Hau Keung, Chang I Fei, Cheung Yee Kwai, Chui Lap, Gam Man Hei
Running Time: 84 min.
By Matthew Le-feuvre
From many critics’ perspective, Jimmy Wang Yu has always been looked upon as an anomalous, yet significant presence in the Hong Kong film industry. However, for some he’s a plague – even a bourgeois interference constantly trying too capitalize on past glories. For others, he’s an assiduous personality, eager too please his wide legion of followers with daredevil stunts (The Man from Hong Kong/A Man Called Tiger) or lengthy fight arrangements (Beach of the War Gods) only a select few would endeavour. And still, people repudiate the fact that like his (former) contemporary Lo Lieh, Wang Yu was essentially one of the first martial arts actors to grace the jade screen, literally erupting with sword in hand, hacking away at larger-than-life villains and their dominion with flamboyant aplomb.
Indeed, copious amounts of blood, stained dresswear and a heroic exit were perquisite trademarks that thrilled audiences throughout the mid to late sixties until saturation inevitably took root, forcing Wang Yu to reinvent himself with the awesome trendsetter, The Chinese Boxer (1969): a personal project and a cult sensation often regarded as instigating the ‘art of unarmed combat’ mantle for Bruce Lee’s return to Hong Kong. Despite both a limited acting range and accompanying fighting skills, pomp or political intimations has never been Wang Yu’s forte or interest, even though originally groomed under the patriarchal guidance of Chang Cheh. Understandably, he wished for, and pursued his own expression of idealism, at the expense of Japanese culture.
Sadly, alleged personality clashes with the Shaw Brothers resulted in a contractual penalty when rival production, Golden Harvest, dangled a carte blanche contract in front of him. An intelligent and resourceful man, the former swimming champion accepted. The downside, nevertheless, was the condition of involuntary exile to Taiwan, a place, apparently, even the Shaws’ could not legally impose themselves. Either way, creative freedom, as well as supplemental expenditure from Raymond Chow, did retain merits Wang Yu was previously restricted from, given the Shaws’ totalitarian studio system whereby servitude was paramount before personal consideration.
Taiwan, doubly, did not impede Wang Yu from the additional luxury of manoeuvring between independent studios such as: First Films and latterly Lo Wei’s infamous Motion Picture Co. Ltd.; nor did it prevent him from writing, starring and directing The One-Armed Boxer (1971), an impressive tournament picture, obviously designed as an acrimonious final salute to his former employers by amalgamating elements from his two greatly revered contributions: The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) and the aforementioned Chinese Boxer.
Resoundingly effective in spite of its blatancy to weave escapist fantasy with cartoon violence, The One Armed Boxer stylishly became the template mold for future mono-limbed adventures that heavily relied on graphic visuals, than a cohesive storyline: for example, Master of the flying Guillotine, One-Armed Chivalry vs One-Armed Chivalry, One-Armed Swordsman vs the 9 Killers, One-Armed Swordsmen (reuniting with David Chiang) and Return of the Chinese Boxer – were all variations on a theme, often bloated, hackneyed and technically redundant. All, more or less, contained the same support cast in exactly the same roles – basically acting the same!
As for Wang Yu, his physical craft – usually choreographed by Liu Chia Liang or his younger brother, Lau kar Wing – increasingly transposed from slower balletic movements to the dynamic encapsulating, more breathtaking jump kicks and precarious realism – notably the utilization of close proximity implements: tables, stalls, chop sticks or axes became familiar props as much as commonplace vistas/cinematography of Taiwan’s rolling hills, beaches or quarry canyons. However, in some instances, Wang Yu’s performances sank to the level of caricature. This is to be expected, considering the enormous workload schedule he subjected himself too, and by present standards, would simply destroy the modern action man.
Astonishingly in 1972, Wang Yu starred in thirteen pictures, efficaciously ranging from historical epics (Chow Ken) to the pretentiously irrelevant (The Destroyer). Of these, Furious Slaughter was one of those rare treats, if one looks beyond the veneer of conventionality.
[In] directly influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Wang Yu, sporting a hat affectation, mysteriously arrives in a no-named town circa 1930′s, where everyone seems to have their own ambitious pursuits concerning capitalism: be it through exploitation, slave trading, gambling or prostitution.
After demonstrating his aerobic prowess on a thuggish rickshaw gang, Wang Yu; who reveals himself as ‘Ma Yuen Chen’ befriends ‘Fat Teddy,’ a subservient coward to the local gang leader, who spends the majority of (his) time in a self recriminatory drunken stupor. However, in his sobriety, inspired by Ma’s courageous actions, he recognizes a hidden strength within and decides to inform Ma on the heinous elements of the town.
Unimpressed, Ma deliberately and sardonically pivets, punches, chops and kicks his way through an echelon of minions, con-men and bodyguards (naturally Japanese); breaks the gambling house using tactics of assertive stoicism, liberates two women from enforced whoredom and daringly humiliates the chief crimelord, Chow Ping Pai. In retaliation, Boss Chow tries to manipulate Ma, which ultimately sets off a domino effect for a heart pounding, tense finale reminiscent of The Boxer from Shantung (1972).
Directed with electric panache, Ding Sin Saai (A Queen’s Ransom) shells out a panoply of visuals to suit Wang Yu’s likable persona. Cynicism is in constant abundance just as everyone is looking out for their own needs: money, face, reputation and power, even a little boy selling strawberries is not exempt from corruption. But it’s a two sided affair; motive is compulsory factor for survival, something Ma cannot always relate to, and at times is unsympathetic too those who may end up suffering worse because of his noble deeds. Question is: will Ma’s indomitable fighting spirit make a difference in an environment fueled by recycling brutality?
Verdict: Concealing important social issues, Furious Slaughter is a fast paced action classic that is both sublime and thought provoking. Often overlooked, this is Wang Yu’s finest hour – oozing coolness, determination and bravado against a myriad of impossibilities (An unnecessary sequel was produced the same year titled The Rebel Boxer, aka Ma Su Chen).
Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 9/10