|Life Gamble (1978)|
|Writers:||Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang|
|Starring:||Fu Sheng, Philip Kwok, Lo Meng, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng and Li Yi-min|
|The Plot: Mo Jun Feng (Lo Meng) is a swordsman in search of weaponmaster Qiu Zi Yu (Phillip Kwok), who is retired and in hiding. Mo Jun Feng desperately needs seven deadly daggers made, after his were stolen, but Qiu refuses to come out of hiding in order to help. Qiu has no interest in making weapons after an instance where he made a weapon for a man named Yan Zi Fei (Lu Feng), who turned on him immediately after completion of the special weapon. The situation nearly left Qiu dead, but he is a cunning martial artist who has traded weapons for training many times in the past. Mo Jun Feng on the other hand still embraces the martial world and has been hired to kill four less-respectable martial artists who have recently stolen a jade worth thousands. This group has decided to gamble for the sole ownership of this valuable jade and the four are in the process of heading to a gambling house run by Mao Kai Yuan, who specializes in rigging his games. Yun Ziang (Fu Sheng) is a masterful martial artist who has been living in servitude to the master gambler. Xiao Hong, a lovely young lady who has recently started work at the gambling house, immediately catches Yun Ziang’s eye. Unknown to him however, Xiao Hong has been placed undercover in this gambling house in order to gain information at the behest of the constable, who also wants to help Mo Jun Feng take down those who have stolen the valuable jade. What will Yun Ziang think of his muse once her secret is revealed? Will Mo Jun Feng convince Qui Zi Yu to come out of retirement? Will the jade be returned to its rightful owner? Tune in and find out!|
Our film today was released within the same year as Five Deadly Venoms, 1978, which was a good year for the Venom clan. That year also saw the release of Crippled Avengers, which also featured a prop that again shows up in this film! That’s right, the iron hands that Lu Feng wears in Crippled Avengers show up yet again with the exact same powers! As fun and clever as Crippled Avengers is, Life Gamble instead focuses on melodrama and a dry delivery that ultimately comes across feeling cold. The fun bits of gimmickry that we get on occasion never come close to making up for the massive influx of characters. This is the heart of the problem with Life Gamble, instead of focusing on a singular narrative strand it instead looks to complicate everything around it. Although I have not read about it anywhere, I can imagine this story being based upon some kind of historical context or perhaps a popular Chinese myth. If that is so, one can imagine that local audiences could have been more adept at keeping up with the characters due to a familiarity with their story but for those of us not accustomed, it can be downright infuriating.
There are returning aspects of Chang Cheh’s oeuvre here that should remain interesting for fans. Chang Cheh delivers yet another of his treacherous female characters, this one looks to ensnare Lo Meng with her womanly charms. Cheh actually makes up for the potentially offensive display of femininity by giving us a “good” woman as well, with the character of Xiao Hong. The previously mentioned iron-hand from Crippled Avengers does indeed show up again. This fits in with the continual appearance of maimed and deformed leading men in Chang Cheh’s work. Generally, it seems he loved tiny additions that would make his characters seem different. His films with the venom clan in particular would feature a bevy of gimmicks, from the weapons that they carried to their uniform appearance, and they helped give these films an appearance of solidarity. The weaponry shown in Life Gamble certainly fits that bill as well. Lo Meng and Fu Sheng’s characters both carry sets of throwing-daggers with them at all times, but the real fun comes when they get to show off their various hidden techniques. I should also mention the nunchaku style weapons that Phillip Kwok gets to handle during the final minutes! The weapon may be called a two-section staff, but it looks like nunchaku to me!