|Killer Clans (1976)|
Fei Ai, Kwok Kuen Chan, Shen Chan, Dannie Lee, Ku Feng, Lo Lieh
Often times, I never know exactly why a film makes it to my “to-watch list.” Occasionally, when I look at the queue of movies that are lined up for me to watch, I find something that I honestly have no memory of. Sometimes, I am such a base-level viewer that i will watch a movie for no other reason than it has a “cool” sounding name. I’m not afraid to admit this fact either, because I suspect that I am not alone. While these movies have a 50/50% shot of being good or bad, their initial reason for ever coming to my attention is their cool names. Killer Clans is a title that has been on my list of martial art movies to search out for an extended period of time, and I believe the initial reason I was drew to it was because of that name. Directed by Chor Yuen, the movie has a decent cast, but nothing that will blow away audiences. Chor Yuen is a filmmaker who I only have a passing familiarity with, and from the main cast the biggest name in the west would have to be Lo Lieh. Yet, Lo Lieh has a small role in the grand scheme of things. So, without having any big selling points, it all seems to point back to the title “Killer Clans.” Sounding like a film that would feature a guaranteed body count and potentially scenes of grand warfare, the film does have a pretty solid name going for it. Ultimately, what will make this of interest is not the star power that the movie delivers, but instead I would say that Killer Clans is an interesting kung fu film that borders upon going into exploitation. While not splattering the walls with sleaze, Killer Clans stands out as a harder edge piece of mayhem from the Shaw library.
I don’t mean to paint a picture of Killer Clans as if it were The Story of Ricky. Indeed, it hardly rounds out the top twenty bloodiest kung fu films from the Shaw library. Still, for a Shaw Bros. film produced during the mid-seventies, nudity and extreme violence weren’t always the norm. Sure, Chang Cheh was capable of delivering a solid number of gory martial arts films, but the combination is enough to bring about a mild case of sensory overload. Especially during the formative scenes within Killer Clans. Indeed, the movie almost opens up with a mild dose of violence which is followed by some dry humping and an exposed pair of breasts. Later on in the film, there is more nudity, an implied rape sequence, a decapitated head, and a mildly disturbed scene involving a family committing suicide. In the scenes where you expect director Chor Yuen to have his camera cut away, he lingers on and focuses on giving the entire story. While many of these elements are tame by today’s standards, while watching Killer Clans one can’t help but wonder exactly how daring a production it might have been for its time and culture. From everything that I have read, it was apparently a large success for the Shaws. So, either the exploitation worked for promoting the film, or it was starting to become the norm for audiences when heading to the theater during the late seventies.
After the initial blood, gore, and tits, the second half of the movie develops into a rather peculiar game of cat and mouse between the two clans that our movie focuses on. While this second half of the movie doesn’t have as many scenes that will stick out in the viewer’s mind, it does manage to develop a fairly interesting little plot revolving around a series of double crosses between two warring factions. This sort of stuff is common amidst the martial arts genres, but the heavy doses of melodrama manage to make the experience somewhat intriguing. Unfortunately, the fact that this movie runs for nearly two hours, and that the entire second half of the movie dwindles down into a melodramatic thriller, really does start to hurt the overall effect. Not only is this entire ordeal a bit overwrought, but the lackadaisical performances and the relaxed pace of the film begins to make the movie anything but exciting. Based off of a Ku Lung novel and then adapted by the insanely active screenwriter Ni Kuang (and then later adapted in 1993 as Butterfly & Sword), the plot comes across as being too convoluted during the two hour span. And although I feel that the first half of the movie has a solid pace, the second half begins to feel as if it were twice as long due to the aforementioned elements.
What starts off with all the promise in the world quickly becomes something else entirely. When first watching Killer Clans, I assumed that after the first twenty minutes this would be a new favorite. When lo Lieh jumps into action and decapitates a random stranger, then proceeds to smear a hand full of blood over his face, I thought that the movie would far exceed any possible expectations I may have had. After another eighty minutes, my opinion had become something else entirely. Ultimately, the movie hinges upon a series of twists and turns within a sharp narrative, but I honestly could hardly keep up with it. Numerous characters are introduced at random periods, and although I enjoyed the gimmicky content of each “style,” these devices still didn’t prove to be memorable enough that I could continually keep up with the movie. The performances are decent for this sort of affair, and although there are a few memorable faces here (Ku Feng and Lo Lieh, chief among them), in the same way that the plot continues from Point A) to Point B), the performers also seem as if they are heading through the motions.
Killer Clans has a list of great gimmicks, some interesting camerawork, a few very impressive sets, and a plot that could be intriguing if it were a bit more straightforward. I feel that this truly could have been a “great” martial arts film. As it stands, it is only a bit over the “decent” mark. Overall, I feel no shame in giving it a three out of five. For my money, this isn’t necessary viewing. However, it’s the sort of flick that one wouldn’t turn off if they found it playing on TV during a kung fu marathon.