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Leaving the poverty of his life in Shantung to seek fortune in Shanghai, The Boxer is instead drawn into a world of corruption, gang warfare and evil... Where his only protection is his famed fighting technique.
Marco Polo joined by powerhouse kung fu cast in HK costume epic
THE FOUR ASSASSINS (aka MARCO POLO, 1975) is that rare Hong Kong kung fu film which features a westerner in a pivotal, heroic role. Set at the time of Italian explorer Marco Polo's historic expedition to China, during the reign of Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, it stars American actor Richard Harrison as Polo. Taking considerable liberties with the historic record, the film has Polo turning up as an Imperial Inspector assigned to root out Chinese rebels in the south, but eventually being won over to their cause. As such, it relies on the formula commonly used in kung fu films to depict a much later period of conflict, that of Qing-era Manchu conquerors vs. Ming loyalists.
The film boasts a large cast of formidable kung fu players, including, as three of the four heroes of the title, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, and, in his first film role, Kuo Chui (Philip Kwok, better known as one of the Five Venoms). The villains are portrayed by Wang Lung-Wei, Leung Kar Yan and the normally heroic Gordon Liu. These six actor-fighters are among the top names of 1970s Hong Kong kung fu cinema and any film with such a top-ranked cast involved in such a dazzling array of matches belongs at the top of any kung fu fan's must-see list. Also on hand are Billy Tang as the fourth assassin of the title and Carter Wong as an ill-fated would-be assassin.
The film's one serious structural flaw is that it introduces the villains first and follows them around as they are assigned to accompany Polo on his travels and tour of inspection. The four heroes make comparatively little impact because we don't meet them until nearly half-way into the film and then have to wait during their period of training (at mundane tasks designed to mask their outlawed kung fu practice) before the spectacular final series of matches with the villains. Action director Lau Kar Leung ended his association with director Chang Cheh during the shooting of FOUR ASSASSINS (in Taiwan) and thereafter struck out on his own as a director.
Marco Polo is played by American actor Richard Harrison, who starred in many Italian films in the 1960s, including spaghetti westerns and sword 'n' sandal adventures (GUNFIGHT AT RED SANDS, GLADIATORS SEVEN). He doesn't participate in any of the fighting here but simply gets to hang around the margins of the action and, ultimately, give advice to the heroes on how best to beat their opponents. Harrison appeared the following year in another historical kung fu film, BOXER REBELLION (1976, aka BLOODY AVENGERS), as a German officer in Peking who is confronted by three of this film's stars. I've also reviewed that film on IMDb and I recommend it highly.
ADDENDUM (6/14/11): In October 2005, I acquired the Celestial Pictures Region 3 DVD of this film, under its original title, MARCO POLO, which is both letter-boxed and in Mandarin with English subtitles, two things I couldn't say about the TV broadcast I originally watched for this review. Well, I've finally watched the DVD. The "one serious structural flaw" I cited above (almost ten years ago!) didn't bother me this time. The late introduction of the heroes seemed to make sense now. Also, I feel terribly remiss for not having cited in my review the female lead, Shih Szu. I may not have been very familiar with her when I first watched this. I've since watched her in many films and reviewed several of them here (e.g. LADY HERMIT, THE RESCUE). She was quite an active action heroine in the early '70s. She doesn't have any fight scenes in this film, though, but she gives quite a stirring performance as the widow of a slain rebel and has some touching scenes with Harrison. I'm also impressed with the sympathetic way that Harrison's character, Marco Polo, is handled, He's actually working for the bad guys, the "Tartars," throughout, yet in spite of that, he shows respect for the rebels and they return it. Harrison's dialogue is dubbed in Mandarin.
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