King Eagle (1971)
Director: Chang Cheh
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Ti Lung, Pei-Shan Chang, Miao Ching and Ching Lee

The Plot: When the figurehead of a powerful martial arts clan is killed by the first-chief, the head-man leaves his dying words and symbol with a young follower who is given the responsibility of carrying the symbol to the eight heads of the clan in order to tell them of this treachery. When the young man is wounded by one of the many groups hunting him, he runs off to a creek where he meets up with Jin Fei “The King Eagle”, as played by the legendary Ti Lung. Jin Fei wants nothing to do with this dying man nor his story and feels that if he lives by the sword, so must he die. However, the man begins to speak and just by hearing the story of who killed this headman, it makes Jin Fei a marked man. Now the entire clan is after him, with the first-chief leading the charge. Behind him is the eighth chief, a scorned woman who believes herself to be the most beautiful in all the martial world but is angered when King Eagle does not react to her looks. Eighth chief has an elder twin sister, the seventh chief, who is an honest and decent woman who just so happens to hit it off with King Eagle. These two begin a subtle romance while they inevitably wander towards the ultimate showdown. A showdown that will feature the superhuman Jin Fei and this evil clan of power hungry lunatics.

The Review
With roughly 100 films to his credit, Chang Cheh had his fingers in every type of martial arts film one could imagine. However, he has mostly been defined by two periods in his work: his earlier swordsman films, made primarily in the sixties and the early seventies and then his hand-to-hand Kung Fu features made from the mid-seventies up through to the eighties. These two periods helped establish him as a legend and although you can’t hold the man to any one select style, you can always feel his personal affections within any particular project. King Eagle is primarily a swordsplay film, made in the early seventies. This was before Cheh would team up with the venom mob in Taiwan later on, and help change martial arts film history. At this point he had already been blessed with succes on titles such as One Armed Swordsman and Have Sword, Will Travel, but this film seems to be mildly forgotten in comparison to those other two, which is a shame since I would argue that it is equally as good as the previously mentioned work.
If there is a single memorable thing about this picture, just one thing that you as a viewer will walk away remembering, it is this: Ti Lung is a bad, bad man! Without question, King Eagle becomes the movie that it is because of the role that Ti Lung plays. It has been said that Chang Cheh was influenced by Japanese samurai films and by spaghetti westerns, and never was that more obvious than when watching King Eagle. The character of Jin Fei is that of the immortal anti-hero, who quite simply never wants to be involved in any kind of altercation no matter how ruthless the villains may be or how moral the good guys may be. He simply demands his privacy and although he is ultimately wrapped up in all of the fighting anyway, he only fights after he has been theroughly provoked. The character is pretty amazing, since everyone around him refers to him as a “hero”, but in actuality he only does the right thing when his own selfish way of life is put at stake. Although we as viewers probably shouldn’t LIKE this character, his sheer ferocity and determination makes him too endearing to turn away.

Ti Lung absolutely makes the movie. He excels in this role and shows why he is so beloved by fans of this genre. He delivers when it comes time to show emotion and he is always very believable when delivering the action. He may have been the very best “actor” of the old school Kung Fu era. Here, he essentially plays Superman however. While that may not sound particularly interesting, it adds a completely different element to the movie than what Chang Cheh usually delivers. Bruce Lee often played a similar role, as he was that one guy that truly seemed invincible on the screen. When you watched Bruce Lee, you never even contemplated him losing in a fight. The same can be said here, as we watch Ti Lung rip through his opponents. The difference here is that while Bruce Lee may have finished opponents with a single knockout punch, Ti Lung’s character will quite literally kill you with a single punch to the cranium. A favorite kill of mine comes as Ti Lung monkey wrenches a man’s arm behind his back, and then he proceeds to lift this man straight up into the air via the same arm and shoulder, hurling him six feet in the air where he lands in a flaming bonfire. Super strength? Check. Invulnerability? Check. X-Ray Vision? Probably!
The violence can be fairly brutal throughout. This bitter anger separates this movie from the likes of Bruce Lee and gives it that quintessential Chang Cheh vibe. There are limbs removed during the course of the movie, with plenty of arterial spray as Ti Lung slices open some villain’s neck. Not an incredibly gory sight, the movie certainly does deliver more violence than you might be accustomed to for this type of movie, especially if you’re used to the lighter side of the Kung Fu market. There’s a bloody arm dismemberment at one point and the bloodbath that concludes the film make up for the bloodiest moments throughout. The violence and fight scenes are over relatively quick, however, which leads to many of the complaints I have seen elsewhere for the movie. The fight scenes, due to the raw force and fighting ability of Ti Lung’s character, are generally short throughout much of the film. Only during the final battle do we see a great deal of extended choreography, as most fights seem to end with a tiny bit of back and forth before our Chiense superhero dispatches of the bad guys with relative ease.

For me, this film represents Chang Cheh at his best. When his stories are streamlined and he gets to bring his various interests into a project that remains less tedious in its plotting, we get to see how talented a director he really is. The characters are introduced at a steady and solid pace, every character is differenciated so that the audience can take mental notes and the plot is generally a very simple one. The characters are interesting, Chang Cheh gets to use some of his marvelous gimmicks and we get some dynamic performances along the way. Although it is not his best film, I don’t see how you could fault someone for listing it amongst their favorites.

The Conclusion
Chang Cheh takes a simple story about a man who doesn’t want to fight but is being forced to do it, then he incorporates one armed men (one of the chief’s has a hook for an arm) and deadly metal fingers, how could you not be entertained? Okay, so it isn’t Chang Cheh’s very best, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t entertain. I give the film a four out of five. I would like to see more discussion going on for this one out there. I would like to see King Eagle get a little more respect amongst the more mainstream Kung Fu fans out there! This one certainly has all of the makings of a Kung Fu cult classic, if only more people check it out.