This film certainly made my jaw drop, mostly for all the right reasons. I spent many, many moments trying to reconcile extremely important questions such as; is that scrawny squirt with a permanent smirk on his face really David Chiang?
And was Ti Lung really that cool and not to mention ravishing in a Mongolian warrior get-up? It wasn’t that I didn’t know David Chiang, Ti Lung and many others were in Chang Cheh’s films, I guess I just wasn’t wasn’t prepared for how good they were.
I grew up watching these respectable veterans on television where their talents were somewhat more subdued for the consumption of television serials. The David Chiang that I know of is always mild mannered and restrained, you know like your friendly family doctor — here he is lopping peoples’ heads off and kicking up some heavy duty fu. I could go on, the list not only involves the stars who received main billings but many supporting actors too [eg Tsang Choh Lam who plays the waiter] whose familiar faces dotted my TV and film memories.
Despite my head spinning from all the face spotting, I did manage to take in the film in all its sumptuous martial arts gloriousness — and 70s martial arts at that. There are many lengthy battle scenes whereby hundreds of extras partake in the melee. No CG crowds, it’s all real here baby!
Of course there’s hokeyness aplenty to but seeing beyond the very obvious fake blood and hammy acting from the extras is the sheer artistry of Chang Cheh’s vision which has endeared him to many film fans. The famous themes of brotherhood and honour are all present here and rendered to good effect in this bloodthirsty tale of a family feud.
The first half of the film seems uncertain, especially the almost too lengthy introductory scene, where we are presented with the 13 hard-drinking, raucous Mongol warriors, sons of Mongol King Li Ke Yung. The almost caricature depiction of these Mongolian princes is rather curious [excessive barbaric stereotype?] resulting in a rather uncomfortable emotional engagement, at least initially.
However, the second half really jumps up and snaps you into attention, when in-fighting among the princes could potentially destroy the unity of the Li family but also their lives. Possibly the most undeveloped part of the story, Lily Li’s flower-vase love interest role is written out of the movie as quickly as she appeared, it nevertheless serves the purpose of heightening the already existing jealous tension between the brothers and showing the more human side of Tsun Chiao.
For me, The Heroic Ones delivered something a lot more substantial than what I thought was initially promised, which was an entertaining martial arts flick with big battle scenes and well choreographed action. It also contains one of the most memorable and disturbing demise of a lead character I have ever witnessed in a martial arts film and believe me, it will take you by surprise no matter how detached you think you are.
The Heroic Ones is perhaps a welcome addition to your Shaw Bros collection, although it may not be the one you dig out for repeated viewing, it is nevertheless essential viewing.
Tasty trivia — action choreographers-du-jour Yuen Woo Ping and his brother Corey Yuen were contracted to the Shaw Bros at the time and can be spotted if your Spidey senses are tingling. (Okay, Yuen Woo Ping plays one of the King Li’s bodyguard but I have no clue about Corey.)