BRAVE ARCHER 2 more "Condor Heroes" costume adventure
BRAVE ARCHER 2 (1978) continues the story begun in BRAVE ARCHER (1977) and basically plays as a long middle chapter in a continuing serial. (Which is fitting since there were two more BRAVE ARCHER films to be directed by Chang Cheh at Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio, all based on the epic 1957 serial, "Legend of the Condor Heroes," by Jin Yong, aka Louis Cha, a story that also provided the inspiration for Wong Kar Wai's 1994 film, ASHES OF TIME.) BA2 doesn't open with intros of the characters the way the first film did, but simply gives us the title and then launches into a fast-paced recap of events from the first film, going so far as to finish with incidents that happened after the end of the first film but before the start of the second (a clever cheat, if you ask me). There are lots of characters, all with different agendas, and it's hard to keep track of them all. Since it's a safe bet nothing's going to be resolved by the end of this film, there's no real plot arc to single out. One just simply follows the characters on their various journeys. If I had to pinpoint one narrative thread, it would be the growing bond between hero and heroine, Kuo Tsing (Fu Sheng) and Huang Yung (Niu Niu), and, more importantly, Huang Yung's role as newly appointed chief of the Beggars Clan.
There are two great setpieces here: At one point after a kung fu battle with Western Poison (Wang Lung Wei) and his nephew (Danny Lee), Kuo Tsing is wounded and Huang Yung takes him to a hidden room in an abandoned inn and performs a healing ritual that requires them to join palms for seven days and seven nights without talking to anyone else. There's a hole in the wall that allows them to see everything that transpires in the inn which is quite a lot over the course of seven days, seeing as how most of the other major characters show up at different points and get into various squabbles. There's a distinct theatrical quality to this sequence and one can see how this all could have been staged as a play or Chinese opera. Eventually, the disappearance from view of the young couple provokes a confrontation between two sets of characters that could prove very deadly. The next great setpiece is the big gathering of the Beggars Clan where a usurper, Yang King (Lee Yi Min), has claimed chiefdom and Huang has to confront him over this and prove to the clan that she's been anointed the next chief by the wounded Chief Hung (Ku Feng).
With the Brave Archer series director Chang Cheh ventured into Chor Yuen territory and made films based on a popular series of novels, just as Chor Yuen did with the novels of Ku Lung (THE MAGIC BLADE, KILLER CLANS, CLANS OF INTRIGUE, et al). The big difference between Chang Cheh's and Chor Yuen's approaches is, of course, that there's more pure, unvarnished kung fu in the Brave Archer films and casts packed with great kung fu actors. Not only is Alexander Fu Sheng the star, but all five of the Five Venoms are in the cast as well, along with Lee Yi Min, Ku Feng, Danny Lee and frequent Shaw Bros. villain Wang Lung Wei, among many other great Shaw Bros. performers.
The great revelation here is actress Niu Niu, who was only a teenager at the time but manages to wield great authority as the daughter of Eastern Evil (Ku Kuan Chung) and a kung fu expert in her own right who gets the coveted chief of Beggars Clan position and learns the 36 stick techniques that come in handy later in proving her appointment. She's cute and spunky and smiles a lot and has a bigger part than women normally get in Chang Cheh films. She's quite unlike the women in Chor Yuen's films, who have an icy, elegant beauty and infuse the Chor Yuen/Ku Lung universe with a strong female presence and sensibility. While there are a lot of interesting women in the Brave Archer films, they don't have quite the same sway and the ones with the most screen time are the ones who function best in a man's world. (NOTE: Niu Niu is a different actress from Tien Niu, who portrayed Huang Yung in the first BRAVE ARCHER film. Niu Niu invests the role with a more serious demeanor than Tien Niu, who, playing a younger version of the character, brought a higher degree of playfulness to the part.)
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