Written by: Carroll Jenkins on April 26th, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1981
Director: Chih-Hung Kuei
Cast: Kuan Tai Chen, Feng Ku, Jason Pai Piao, Tsui Ling Yu
DVD Released: July 6th, 2007
Approximate Running Time: 92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono Mandarin, Dolby Digital Mono Cantonese
Subtitles: Chinese, English
DVD Release: Celestial Pictures
Region Coding: Region 3 NTSC (Hong Kong)
Retail Price: $10.90 ($85 HK)
Synopsis: The chief constable has a perfect record; no one every goes free once he encounters them – he just kills them on the spot. When the royal treasury is robbed, the Killer Constable is dispatched with four deputies to seek retribution for Her Highness. Once the posse leaves the city, we see hopelessness, despair, and dust everywhere.
This is a perverse view of the Qing Dynasty through a spaghetti western filter. The period marked the rule of the invading Manchu over China, thus illegal actions committed by common criminals take on many shades of gray, as do the lawful actions of officials. The main character is an anti-hero of the first magnitude, his brother has a philosophical discourse / argument with Liang before he resigns in disgust. Liang is fiercely self-righteous in his belief and his world vision is absolute.
A rare period swordplay epic by director Gwai Chi-Hung, best known for intense genre fare such as Bamboo House of Dolls, Killer Snakes, Corpse Mania, and the infamous but muddled Boxer’s Omen. This is a tour-de-force that dawdles occasionally for some drama and pathos before the next atrocity, torture, execution, or large scale battle. There are beheadings, limb chopping, blood geysers, crucifixions, booby traps, brutal interrogations, but the most exotic weapon is the Scorpion Poison Dart that kills within 15 steps. The body count is exceptionally high even discounting the off-screen deaths, it probably would have been banned had all the violence actually been displayed.
This is one Shaw Brothers film that never looks stage bound. It appears that many sets were built on location, the few staged sequences elaborately adorned and disguised with mud, fog, rain, or fire. The sword play is not particularly convincing, consisting mostly of close-ups, quick cuts, and sound effects, but it does get the job done. The acting ranges from competent to excellent, though the blind daughter is not particularly convincing in her disability. Like Sergio Leone, the faces of bit characters sometimes tell more of the story than the actual script. The journey is more important than what actually transpires, and the viewer’s interpretation of events. A nihilistic undertone pervades the film, there is no happy ending for anyone, only death.
Another quality release by IVL / Celestial with an anamorphic letterboxed presentation. The source is of very good quality, extras include the original trailer and poster / stills gallery. Availability is limited.
This film can compare favorably to the Japanese Lone Wolf and Cub films, especially Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons. A fascinating film that begs a definitive release.