Monday, February 29, 2016

The Smiling, Proud Wanderer

First published in 1969, this novel by Chin Yung is very enjoyable to read. I read that some people said this book was Chin Yung's best work - and some other chose The Deer and the Cauldron. I have read both books and both are interesting in their own ways. The Deer and The Cauldron is more a historical fiction; I did have a great time reading that book. The time frame in The Smiling, Proud Wanderer is not clear, but it can be guessed that it's a couple hundred years after the events in  The Heavenly Sword and The Dragon Sabre.

One of the many things I like about this book, is how the author constructed a web of intrigue from the very beginning. The central character of this book is a young swordsman named Lenghou Tiong (or Linghu Chong in Mandarin), the first student of Gak Put-kun, the chief of Hoa-san-pay (pay=sect, san=mountain). From the title we can guess that he is a merry, proud young man who likes to travel.

The book begins with the story of Lim Peng-ci, a handsome young man and the only son of a security bureau owner. The Lim family is well-known for its invincible swordplay, pi-sia-kiam-hoat; but Lim Peng-ci and his father's skill themselves are not very good. So there should be a secret behind it. People from Jing-sia-pay attack the Lim family's security bureau, arrest Lim Peng-ci's parents and kill the employees. Lim Peng-ci runs away and is saved by Gak Put-kun, the chief of Hoa-san-pay, and becomes a student.

Then the readers are introduced to Lenghou Tiong from a story told by a young beautiful nun, who have been saved by Lenghou Tiong from a rapist. In his effort to save the nun, Lenghou Tiong is gravely wounded. We finally meet this heroic character when he is recuperating in a brothel.

Wounded Lenghuo Tiong then meets two dying characters who gives him a music book. The notes are of a song called 'The Smiling, Proud Wanderer', made for a duet for a khim and a flute. They ask him to give the music book to a talented person. Soon after he receives this task, he meets the dying parents of Lim Peng-ci. The dying father gives him a message for his son, probably how to find the most wanted manual swordplay.

But on saving the young nun, Lenghou Tiong have befriended the rapist and for Gak Put-kun, this is a big sin. Hoa-san-pay's people should not make friends with bad people. On their return to Hoa-san, Lenghou Tiong is punished. He is to go to a secluded area in Hoa-san to reflect in his sins for a couple of months. In here our hero meets an elder of Hoa-san-pay, who teaches him the invincible Tokko-kiu-kiam (=nine sword moves by a man named Tokko). In his life-time, Tokko always won in every fight.

Lenghou Tiong is an orphan. Gak Put-kun and his wife brought him up as their own son, so he loves them and respect them very much. He grew up with Gak Put-kun's only daughter, Gak Leng-sian. As Lenghou Tiong is Hoa-san-pay's first student, many people hope that one day he will replace Gak Put-kun as the chief. Lenghou Tiong also hopes to marry Gak Leng-sian someday.

But while Lenghou Tiong is punished on the secluded area, Gak Leng-sian becomes closer to the new student, Lim Peng-ci.

Lenghou Tiong's suffering does not end here. Because Lim Peng-ci's father gives his last message to him, Gak Put-kun accuses him of stealing the pi-sia-kiam manual. When they search him, they find the music book and think that it is the swordplay manual in codes. To prove that the book is a music book, they go to a khim player. In this occasion Lenghou Tiong meets Yim Ing-ing, the daughter of the tiau-yang-sin-kau's chief. Tiau-yang-sin-kau is considered an evil sect.

Although Yim Ing-ing is from an evil sect, when Lenghou Tiong first meets her, he doesn't know her identity and her face. He only knows that she plays khim beautifully and someone who can play music like that should not be a bad person. He trusts her completely and tell her all his secrets. He hopes he can play the duet song with her in the future, so Yim Ing-ing teaches him how to play khim.

Because Lenghou Tiong befriends people from the evil sect - plus the accusation of stealing the swordsplay manual - he is fired from Hoa-san-pay. Our broken hearted hero will try to be forgiven and taken back to Hoa-san-pay - until he realizes that it is all his teacher's evil scheme to rule to martial arts world. Meanwhile, he learns how much Yim Ing-ing loves him, that she doesn't hesitate to sacrifice herself for him. The young lady agrees to be confined in Shaolin Temple, and in return, the abbot teaches Lenghou Tiong a skill to cure his inner injury.

The character we meet in the beginning of the book, Lim Peng-ci, is like Lenghou Tiong at first. He is brave and not afraid to die in fight for justice. With his limited skill, Lim Peng-ci saves Gak Leng-sian from evil men, although he almost lose his life. As the story progresses, his lust for revenge is bigger than his love for Gak Leng-sian. He can have a happy ending with a loving wife, but he chooses to castrate himself a few days before his wedding because he cannot restrain himself from learning the pi-sia-kiam-hoat he has just found. He also becomes evil and kills his wife, but Lenghou Tiong has promised dying Gak Leng-sian that he will not kill Lim Peng-ci and take care of him all his life.

In this story, we learn that not all people from good sects are good and not all people from bad sects are bad. Greed can change a good person. Hoa-san-pay is destroyed, in the end, by greed of one man.

The two characters who gives Lenghou Tiong the music book, one is from the evil sect and one from one of the righteous sects. The people from the 'righteous sects' don't like this kind of friendship and force the man from the good sect to kill his friend. He refuses, of course. They have attracted to each other because of the sound of the music they play. They have learned that no one can guess one's heart, but the sound of music cannot be deceitful.

I watched the 1984 TVB version of this story, the one with Chow Yun-fat as Lenghou Tiong; but I remember I didn't like it very much. Considering I like this book very much, then the 1984 series must not be a good adaptation.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Magnificent Trio (1966)

Starring Wang Yu, Lo Lieh and Cheng Lei. This was the first time I saw Cheng Lei played the main role. Usually he only played supporting characters.

Wang Yu played Lu Fang, the grandson of a famous Ming general, who had broken the encirclement (at war front) and came to Mati village, where he saw a young woman was taken to a mill.

It was the Mati's head village who kidnapped the magistrate's daughter and kept her in the mill. The villagers wanted the magistrate to cut their provisions. The county magistrate forced them for provisions [although the imperial court had exempted their provision]. There was a war and the villagers had no food.

Minister Yuan would pass by in 2-3 days and the head village had written a petition, reporting the corruption of the magistrate. So the magistrate must have taken care of the matter before the minister arrived.

Instead of giving what the villagers had demanded, the magistrate hired  a killer and freed bandits from his jail so they could work for him.  Why the magistrate didn't simply give  the villagers what they demanded? They only wanted the magistrate not to take their food. They were poor and the food collected from them should not be much. Yet the magistrate chose to spend money from his treasury to hire the bandits. Furthermore, the outcome was unpredictable, even dangerous, because bandits were not reliable.

Master Yan and Huang Liang
The head village had a daughter and the magistrate's men took her to the mill, to exchange her with the magistrate's daughter. In this incident, the head village's daughter died, the magistrate's daughter was freed, and Lu Fang gave himself up to the magistrate's men in exchange for the life of the head village and his accomplices.

The head village's son is digging a grave for his sister
Looks like a coffin is buried here.
So where's the hole dug by the head village's son?
Huang Liang (Cheng Lei) - not sure what was his connection to Lu Fang, but he called Lu Fang his "young master" - broke into the magistrate's house to free Lu Fang from jail. The magistrate's daughter sent her maid to help Huang Liang because Huang Liang didn't know the location of the jail. Huang Liang said to the maid: "They are coming, I'll stop them. You go to rescue Mr. Lu." I failed to understand why Huang sent the maid to jail with this task. It can be guessed that the maid died in her errand.

Huang Liang said to the maid,
"They are coming. I'll stop them. You go to rescue Mr. Lu."
Lo Lieh played Mr. Yan, the magistrate's bodyguard who actually hated doing dirty works. Yan also helped Lu Fang to escape. Lu Fang escaped and went back to the mill. Why he didn't went somewhere else? - so the magistrate's men couldn't find him.

Lu Fang finds out that the wine has been poisoned
The movie ended well, with the good won against the bad.

Huang Liang finds the petition in a stream.
The head village must have used a permanent ink.
However, Yan's lover died, Lu Fang and the magistrate's  daughter didn't become a couple (they loved each other but she betrayed her father in order to help Lu Fang. I guess she felt guilty for being unfilial and therefore couldn't take Lu Fang as her husband), and Huang Liang died and broke a woman's heart.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What Price Honesty? (1981)

Pai Piao, Danny Lee and Sun Chien played three friends who just graduated from a police academy. They became constables in a little town, where the whole regiment was corrupted.

Like freshly graduated police, they held ideal principles, trying to be honest and just; but of course they could not fight against the whole regiment. Other constables hated them - including their boss, the magistrate and the prison guards' chief; on the other hand, the civilians hated them as well - because they had seen how the constables used to squeeze them for money. In the civilians' eyes, honest constables impossibly existed.

L-R : Danny Lee, Pai Piao, Sun Chien
One day they were called to help their fellows - who were surrounding a big bandit (Lo Lieh) in a ruined temple. Danny Lee died in this incident, because their boss refused to help them. The three gambled with their life to free a hostage, but although Danny Lee died, even the ex-hostage didn't think much about the sacrifice. They did catch the bandit, but the magistrate and the constables' chief received bribes and sentenced him to three months only.

Pai Piao was so bitter with the whole thing that after that he punished severely the criminals he caught before sending them to jail (i.e.beating them). His colleagues were also angry because the bribe money they received became less and less. The constables' chief  held Sun Chien's family and coerced him to frame Pai Piao. Pai Piao was sent to jail.

Then came the news that an imperial envoy would visit the little town. Pai Piao's wife visited her husband in jail and told him her plan to plead the case to the envoy. Sadly the conversation was overheard and the corrupted officers killed Pai Piao's wife. This did not end here, the magistrate and the constables' chief killed the prisoners, in order to remove any proof that could be used against them in front of the imperial envoy.

But Pai Piao broke out of jail and held the magistrate as a hostage. But when the imperial envoy came, was he as honest as they had expected?

This movie ended tragically. It's a sad story where the good perishes with the bad, because they were outnumbered.

Monday, February 15, 2016

My Young Auntie (1981)

To prevent his 3rd brother from snatching his assets, dying old Yu married his servant's daughter. After his death, she was to go to Guang-zhou and give the will and deed to his eldest brother's fourth child, Yu Jing Chuen. The greedy 3rd brother and his godson would try to get the deed back.

My Young Auntie is an interesting film. Jing Dai Nan (played by Kara Hui), the 2nd wife of the 2nd uncle - the servant's daughter - was about at the same age at Yu Jing Chuen's son. So although by age she belonged to the next generation of old Yu's nephews, but by marriage, her status was higher than them: she was their elder.  Old Yu's nephews had to bow to her, although they were old enough to be her father and uncles. And they did it dutifully and seriously because it was tradition.

Family Tree

Compare that with the behaviour of the younger generation: Yu Jing Chuen's son, Yu Tao. He had been studying in Hong Kong and  spoke English quite often. His attitude to his 'grand aunt' was not as respectful as his father's. Yu Tao had been influenced by western culture.

war costume : chinese style vs western style

Friday, February 12, 2016

Five Fingers of Death (1972)

Tien Feng played Meng, the head of  Pak Sing kung-fu school, who used every means to win the championship in a kung-fu tournament; including hiring Japanese killers to eliminate his rivals.

Lo Lieh played Chao Chih-hao, a loyal and honest student of Mr Sung. Sung realized that Chih-hao was too talented to be his student, so he sent him to a better teacher: Mr Suen. Mr Suen would later taught Chih-hao the iron palm.

Chih-hao trying to break a piece of wood
Chao Chih-hao and Mr Sung's daughter were in love, but Mr Sung forbade them to marry until Chih-hao had won the championship.

Sung Ying-ying (Wang Ping) and Lo Lieh (Chao Chih-hao)
Knowing that Chih-hao was his strongest rival, Meng sent his thugs to ambush our hero. They crushed his hands, but -I actually find it hard to believe- Chih-hao could recuperate in time to win the championship.

In late 70's - early 80's, every time I watched kung-fu movies Lo Lieh always played bad guys. Recently I found out that in late 60's movies he was actually often cast as good guys as well. In Five Fingers of Death, Lo Lieh played the good guy and I must say I like his performance here. Lately I watched quite a number of kung-fu movies and I must say that Lo Lieh was one of the best actors Shaw Brothers ever had. It was a surprise to know he had been born in Pematangsiantar, North Sumatra, and spent his childhood there - before migrating to Hongkong in the 50's.

Both his palms turn red
For the English title, I think 'Palm of Death' is more appropriate than 'Five Fingers of Death'. My first impression after reading the title was the character in the movie would use five fingers, like a claw - or perhaps finger by finger like Yi-yang finger technique from Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. But when I was watching it, to use the skill (the iron palm), Chih-hao's palm - the whole palm and not only fingers - would turn red - and the sound of alarm would appear. The original title itself is 'The World's Number One Fist", so the other English title "King Boxer" is better.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Full Moon Scimitar (1979)

scim·i·tar : a short sword with a curved blade that broadens toward the point, used originally in Eastern countries.

Based on a book by Khu Lung, the story is about the ambition of  men. The main character, Ting Peng, was a young hero who wanted to be famous in martial arts world. With his 'shooting star' sword technique - inherited from his late father, he defeated famous swordsmen one by one.

The next on his list was Liu Jo-sung. Ting Peng wouldn't have guessed that his opponent would use a dirty trick on him. Liu sent his wife to lure Ting Peng to her bedroom, to steal the manual of the shooting star. Of course in the duel Liu could defeated Ting Peng and even more, he accused our young hero of stealing the shooting star technique from him.

Embarrassed and hopeless, Ting Peng wanted to commit suicide, but met a beautiful lady, Ching Ching, who lived underground with her grandparents. She claimed that she was a fox woman, but Ting Peng didn't mind and married her. Ching Ching had a scimitar and she taught Ting Peng how to use it. Ting Peng now had gained his confidence back and wanted revenge.

*Listening to the Spring Rain in a small attic at night* inscription on the scimitar

Ting Peng (Erl Tung-shen) and Ching Ching (Liza Wang)
With the scimitar, Ching Ching's help and her grandfather's treasure, Ting Peng had Liu Jo-sung under his feet; but he was too arrogant to kill him and kept him as a student. He turned down Ching Ching's request to return underground, to live together peacefully there.

Dead rats in a pot of rice. A psychological war.
The parts about how Ting Peng gets revenge on Liu are very good.
He went further to challenge the Third Master, the number one swordsman; and married again to the daughter of the most wealthy man to gain more power in martial arts world. However, things didn't go as he had planned, for his student Liu Jo-sung wanted to harm him. This movie had a happy ending anyway: the good guys lived and the bad guys died.

Ting Peng forces his way to meet the Third Master
This movie had a nice theme song by Joseph Koo, sung by Roman Tam and Liza Wang. TVB also released a tv-series version in the same year, starring by Damian Lau and Angie Chiu.

The moon knows my heart's desire
The scimitar would join two loving hearts
Tears drop as the wind laments
Success draws lovers apart
Love will soon be forgotten; the wife abandoned!

Descendant of the Sun (1983)

I had so much fun watching this movie. It reminded me a lot of Superman II, where the superhero had enemies as strong as he was. Btw, the theme song was similar, too.

A poor old farmer found a baby boy inside a shining wall in a cave. He took the baby home and raised him with his wife. When the son had grown up, they found out that he was very strong (could lift a loaded cart) and could make peaches appeared out of nowhere in winter. Later we found out that he also could fly and speak to birds. This fairy had been sent from heaven to earth to fight a devil, who also had gone to earth approximately at the same time.

The fairy would end up in the princess's palace, guarding her against her evil uncle who wanted the throne. The devil would teamed up with the uncle.

Lung Tien-hsiang as the evil uncle and Ku Kuan-ching as the devil
Like in Superman, where the superhero will lose his power when he's near a lump of kryptonite; our fairy here also lost his power during  a solar eclipse. It was said that his power's source was the sun; although during night fight scenes he seemed do well.

Erl Tung-shen plays the title role
(L) the bird trainer - (R) the fairy.
If Clark Kent's friends cannot recognize him when he does not wear his glasses, here our fairy's friends couldn't recognize him although he didn't wear any disguise for his alter ego: the palace's bird trainer.