Slaughter in Xian (1989)
Director: Chang Cheh
Writers: Uknown
Starring: Tung Chi Hwa, Cecelia Wong, Hsu Shao Jien, Tu Yu Ming and Chow Lung.

The Plot: Mr. Kuk is the evil triad leader who rules over Sian during the early twentieth century. Vice Captain Ho (Tung Chi Hwa), on the other hand, is one of the few honest citizens still left around who doesn’t work for Kuk. When family is murdered on the side of the road in Sian, Ho is quickly dispatched to the case. He discovers that a large number of machine guns have made their way into his small city, and it seems that this crime scene was connected to it. Looking for answers, Ho turns to his good friend Fu who works with a traveling opera who have just made it into town. Fu used to be a thief, and he may have a lead on what kind of person would commit such a heinous murder/robbery. Fu agrees to go undercover and start investigating Mr. Kuk, even though it may be dangerous. When Ho discovers that one of the victims is missing her bracelets, he traces one of them down to a pickpocket who ripped them off from one of Kuk’s men. This may be enough evidence to warrant his investigation, but he quickly finds out that certain members of the police force would rather have this entire investigation swept under the rug. Ho must now deal with those who want to see him dead, and the police force who may want the same thing.

The Review
I have been a Chang Cheh fan for nearly as long as I have been a fan of kung fu cinema. As with most people my age or older, I started off my infatuation with martial arts through Bruce Lee. As a kid, when you hear rumors about Bruce Lee being able to rip the still-beating heart out of a man’s chest, it doesn’t seem so disturbing. Instead, it simply seems cool! When I finally discovered Five Deadly Venoms in my teenage years, it forever changed my life. I was familiar with “modern” Hong Kong cinema, but I had not yet seen what came between Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Chang Cheh brought so many different things to the table in terms of martial arts cinema. He brought the world of men to the big screen, and he showcased an affinity for male comradery and violent mayhem. As a teenager, these films certainly spoke to me on a very personal level. As someone who hasn’t grew much in terms of maturity, these films still do in fact speak to me! However, I have become more knowledgeable of film and I do see more of what Chang Cheh intended with his films. Slaughter in Xian should prove to be a interesting title for fans, because it came at the tail end of his career. Right when he was expected to be retired, Cheh delved once more into his tool chest and came up with this very strange and yet positively entertaining piece of martial mayhem. It may not be as great as his films from yester-year, but it is unusual enough to warrant a immediate watch.

After watching Shanghai 13, I don’t think I cared to see much more from Chang Cheh’s later work. It was too disappointing to see him try and press on with his older aesthetic values, especially since there was so much else going on in the world of Hong Kong cinema during this period. However, after a friend told me about the notorious “torture” sequence found within Slaughter in Xian, I decided the movie was too interesting to pass up. By conventional standards, I probably wouldn’t say that Slaughter in Xian holds up that well. Made in 1989, by most accounts at least, the movie certainly doesn’t look as if it were made on the brink of the 1990s. The production standards all scream out that this is a low budget project made in the late seventies. Sure, the movie may look fairly decent, but the style is very much out of date. It also suffers from a little too much plotting, something that Cheh was notorious for during his time working with Ni Kuang (his writer of preference). However, by the end of Slaughter in Xian you aren’t thinking about the plot or its pacing issues. Instead, you’re thinking about the absolutely bonkers final action sequence, and the strange homoerotic undertones that carry throughout the entire movie. This is classic Chang Cheh, indeed!

Well known for both his slightly homoerotic displays of male comraidery as well as his penchant for gore, Chang Cheh takes these concepts into outer space here in his twilight years. The relationship between the characters Ho and Fu, in particular, proves to be very odd. Appearances can be deceiving, but when you see two men embracing and rolling around on the floor together in slow motion… certain ideas begin to transform. Such is the case with Fu and Ho, who have a brief near-love affair during the first third of the picture. It certainly doesn’t help Ho’s case when he is confronted by a beautiful woman near the back end of the film, and he flatly denies her advances. Finally, even the violence enters into the realm of the homoerotic, as we watch a very important character within the picture come to his death by being forced to sit on a long pipe. Quite literally, he is raped to death, in what may be one of the most grotesque deaths in all of Chang Cheh’s filmography. Throughout most of the picture the violence remains fairly consistent, and only showcases a little blood here and there, as opposed to the geysers that erupt during the death rape.

Performances are all up to expectation from a project such as this. The characters all seem to take themselves very serious, and they get across Cheh’s usual themes of honor, friendship and loyalty. Tung Chi Hwa, who plays Captain Ho, is particularly well played in this movie. He has a brutish physique that is reminiscent of Donnie Yen, and he manages to convey a decent amount of range in this role. He is a relatable leading man, and handles the kung fu choreography with gusto. The martial arts, however, do often take a back seat to the gunplay. This is a let down of sorts, but how can viewers not be excited to see Chang Cheh finally step into the arena that was popularized by his own pupil John Woo? Cheh handles this new action style very well, and in all honesty his work does deeply resemble the likes of Woo. The blocking during certain scenes, the way the camera moves and the use of frame are all very reminiscent of John Woo’s work during the same period. Chang Cheh may have also borrowed one element from John Woo in return for all of his inspiration: the art of the body count. Generally, this is John Woo’s area of expertise, but Chang Cheh shows a knack for it as well during the final action sequence that closes our movie. In what may be one of Chang Cheh’s most outright insane action sequences ever established, we watch as dozens of men are gunned down in a hail of bullets and blood. This, combined with a epic knife battle that comes minutes before, causes the movie to end with a very lasting impression. It may have even swayed my rating for the film, because honestly, after this ending you won’t want to give it a low score either.

The Conclusion
Slaughter in Xian is not a great piece of work. It is far from being anywhere near Chang Cheh’s best, that is for sure. However, it is infinitely more entertaining than it really should be. The fight choreography is top notch, the gunplay is thrilling, and the violence is of the true “WTF?” nature. If not for the finale, this may have been rated less, but I am going to give it a three out of five. Not an overtly high rating, but better than the middle section of the movie probably deserves. Still, for the few random scenes of weirdness and the epic final action sequence, I wholeheartedly recommend this one.