|Shanghai 13 (1981)|
|Starring:||Chen Kuan Tai, Sheng Chiang and Feng Lu|
|The Plot: Mr. Gau is a rebelling official who uses the services of The Black Hat (played by Jimmy Wang Yu) in order to steal a document that holds information on a secret deal between the Chinese and Japanese governments. As Mr. Gau proceeds to visit friends of the rebellion, he runs into some trouble as certain members of the 13 Rascals are soon on his trail. This is a group of martial artists, some good and some bad, who are generally feared by all of the populace. Soon enough Gau is having to hide from the various enforcers that make up the corrupt side of this group. From Tiger, the tattooed mercenary, all the way to Sheau-Yang, the killer who uses a rifle instead of his fists. Will Gau be protected or will the corrupted officials manage to take his life before he can spread his news?|
Featuring Jimmy Wang Yu (Master of the Flying Guillotine), David Chiang (The Deadly Duo), Ti Lung (King Eagle), Chiang Sheng (Five Deadly Venoms), Lu Feng (Return of the Five Deadly Venoms), Chen Kuan Tai (Executioners From Shaolin), Danny Lee (The Killer) and Andy Lau (Fulltime Killer) … how does one manage to go wrong? Well, undoubtedly, there are many ways one could go wrong with that much ego floating around on one set. However, Chang apparently thought that the best way to avoid arguments over screen time would be to split everyone up and give them equal opportunity. While the idea is worthy enough, in practice it leads to a film that plays on Chang Cheh’s ultimate weakness which is juggling an excessive amount of ‘plot’ in the midst of his martial arts action. While Cheh does a commendable job in stringing the film together as if this were a series of vignettes, which takes slightly from the confusion his films normally have, very often throughout the film it becomes easy to forget who is fighting and for what reason.
While it would have been spectacular to have David Chiang and Ti Lung together once again, or Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng sharing screen time, or maybe even some kind of showdown between Jimmy Wang Yu and Chen Kuan Tai, we are still left with a good ninety minutes worth of martial arts cinema featuring some of the best the business has ever seen. The fight choreography is blistering and so many members of the cast seem content to put in the best work that they possibly could. With a cast like this, where does one begin? I suppose I’ll just go through the main cast, in the order that they are introduced throughout the film. The film starts off with a glorified cameo from Jimmy Wang-Yu, who plays a safe cracker that helps steal the government plans that the rest of the film seems to revolve around. Jimmy unfortunately doesn’t get to take part in any fight scenes, but you still can’t help but smile when you see him light up on the screen. I do not care what the documentary Not Quite Hollywood might have had to say about the man, he is still one of my favorites.
Some final notes I should mention: The DVD quality is absolutely horrible. The disc I picked up through netflix is an outrage and features a poor transfer, which I could have dealt with, but unfortunately it sports the original audio and the only subtitles available are burned directly into the video and they are incredibly white on top of this bleached out background. Not only that, many words are cropped off on the sides of the screen so even if you can manage to read the white on top of white, you should still lose at least two words for every long sentence. As far as the technical merits of the film go, it looks relatively good for what it is. This project, despite the cast, certainly seems like a more low budget affair than many of Cheh’s previous work. It could be the drained out visuals making me think that, but I somehow don’t think so. Even in bootleg form, in the past you could always see the glory in the costumes and great set design present in his seventies work. Some of the sets here just seem sort of… dull, by comparison.