Review: The Lizard (1972)

Directed by:
Cast: , , ,

Distributed in Australia by:

In a departure from the wuxia/swordplay films that he’s best known for, in The Lizard director Chor Yuen brings us a period action film set in 1930s Shanghai. In a city full of wealthy foreigners and corrupt officials, a mysterious figure in black known only as The Lizard flits among the rooftops, stealing from those who don’t deserve their wealth and giving to those in need. Though a hero to the common people, the Lizard is a thorn in the side of the local police and organised crime.

Local police inspector Yo (Yueng Chi Hing) is continually frustrated by the Lizard’s escapades in his jurisdiction, coming home without a clue and with a blinding headache after each daring theft. He’s looked after by his granddaughter Xiao Ju (played by Connie Chan) and his two subordinates, played by perennial supporting player Cheng Hong-Yip and leading man Yueh Hua. Yueh Hua’s character Cheng Lung is a slow, honest policeman with an open face and a bit of a stutter, referred to as Brother Dumb by almost everyone. An early scene in a gambling house establishes, however, than Cheng Lung is a little more than plain Brother Dumb; possessed of preternatural reflexes, he is able to turn the tables when he discovers that the house is cheating.

So, it’s not that much of a surprise when we say that by night, Cheng Lung emerges from his stuttering disguise, dressing all in black and pulling off the Lizard’s rather complicated and dangerous series of thefts. Up against him is the Chief of Police, who’s also running a prostitution and gambling racket on the side. Played with considerable elan by Lo Lieh and armed with a thin moustache, white suit and slicked-back hair, the Chief oozes his way through Shanghai, profiting from both sides of the law and his diplomatic connections with the Japanese.

Despite its less fantastical setting, The Lizard twists and turns like Chor Yuen’s swordplay films, as heroes and arch-villains do battle for control of their world. Yueh Hua has a disarming quality to him that makes for a convincing performance, but he’s outshone here by Connie Chan, who probably gets more screen time than he does in both the dramatic and action sequences. The Lizard was the last film she made in quite a prolific career, despite being only in her mid-twenties when it was shot. The action in the film is choreographed by Yuen Cheung-Yan and Yuen Wo-Ping and is characteristically quick, with lots of large melee fights and mostly open-handed or knife fighting. Trampolines are used occasionally for death-defying leaps to safety, reminding me a little of King Hu’s films of the time — it was later that wires became more popular.

There are quite a few gaping plot holes, and a streak of broad comedy running through the film that occasionally falls a bit flat. There’s also a completely gratuitous sex scene (it’s the opening shot, and it doesn’t involve any of the film’s characters!) which is a bit of a surprise. Nonetheless, The Lizard is great fun to sit back and watch, and a fitting end to Connie Chan’s career as one of Hong Kong’s great kung-fu heroines.

8.5 trampoline-powered escapes out of 10.
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