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BRAVE ARCHER AND HIS MATE Sagging 3rd Sequel to BRAVE ARCHER
BRAVE ARCHER AND HIS MATE (1982) is the fourth and last film in the Brave Archer series directed by Chang Cheh and based on two novels by Louis Cha (Jin Yong), "Legend of the Condor Heroes" and "Return of the Condor Heroes," which were both made into TV series around the same time (1982 and 1983, respectively). The first three films have all also been reviewed on this site. This fourth one is apparently the first one to draw on "Return of the Condor Heroes" and introduces a new hero and a whole new story arc. As a result it comes with a complete and total change in casting. The young kung fu couple dominating the first three films, Kuo Tsing and Huang Yung, were played by Fu Sheng as Kuo Tsing in all three films, Tien Niu as Huang Yung in the first, and Niu Niu as Huang Yung in the second and third BA films. Here the film opens with two completely different actors in these roles, Kuo Chui (who played crazy old "Uncle Naughty" in all three of the earlier films) and an actress who's completely new to me, Huang Shu-yi. Other characters from the first films are played by different actors here as well. Fu Sheng is on hand, but he plays Yang Guo, son of Yang Kang, Kuo Tsing's sworn-brother-turned-bitter-rival. Yang Guo is seen as a baby in the opening sequence in which his parents die in an encounter with various other parties including the lead couple, Kuo Tsing and Huang Yung, and Yang Guo's dying mother turns the baby over to them to raise him.
When next we see the boy, he's grown up to be Fu Sheng, who, in order to appear as a believable teenager, flounces around, makes funny faces, and acts in a petulant manner. His adoptive parents don't want to teach him kung fu because they fear he'll be a bad seed like his father so they teach him only Confucian precepts, while his sister (the couple's biological daughter) and two other boys learn kung fu from Uncle Kuo. Eager to learn kung fu himself, Yang Guo sneaks off to Iron Spear Temple where he encounters Ouyang Feng, "Western Poison" (Wang Li), who'd been in the fight at the beginning of the film and been trapped in the temple ever since and only vaguely recalls enough of the details to give young Yang Guo a version distorted enough to lead him to think his adoptive parents killed his real ones. Western Poison also teaches him frog-style kung fu. (Ouyang Feng is a central character in Wong Kar Wai's unique take on the whole "Condor Heroes" saga, ASHES OF TIME, 1994, and is played in it by Leslie Cheung.)
All this seems to be leading somewhere, but then the film shifts gears as three of the characters, Kuo Tsing, Yang Guo and a kung fu student of Kuo Tsing's, all head over to the priests at Choy Yang Palace where they get into a scrape with a group of Mongols seeking to meet the reclusive Dragon Girl, who resides in a tomb on the site. We hear the whole story of the Dragon Girl but that goes nowhere and we get a final series of rousing fight scenes involving characters who are so new to the story that we have no stake in who they are. The fights are good but we don't really care at this point. From a kung fu fan's standpoint, it's a disappointment because Fu Sheng, one of the two greatest martial arts stars at Shaw Bros. at the time (Gordon Liu was the other) doesn't have any significant martial arts action other than a few lame frog-style moves that send opponents flying and thrusting back without any contact. The other kung fu student in the finale is played by Chin Siu Ho, another notable kung fu talent at Shaw's, and he hardly fights at all either. The main fighting is done by three of the original Five VenomsKuo Chui, Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng, along with Wang Li, the "honorary" Venom. The first major extended kung fu sequence in the whole film occurs at the 67 minute mark, with only sporadic action afterward until the final battles in the last ten minutes.
It's a nice touch, though, to see the lead couple played in a more mature fashion than they were played in the first three BA films. (The characters are 20 years older, after all.) The actress who plays Huang Yung, Huang Shu-yi, is quite good and more of a hard beauty then the average Shaw Bros. starlet of the 1980s. However, despite the title, the film is less about this couple than about Yang Guo and his coming of age.
Overall, the convoluted plot and structure don't add up to much of a film, particularly after the distinct pleasures of the first three BA films. They just seem to be going through the motions here. Also, it seems to set up a direct sequel to showcase the Dragon Girl. Instead, the next movie, LITTLE DRAGON MAIDEN (1983), retells part of the story told here but with an all-new cast and then continues it with the saga of Yang Guo and his time spent with the title maiden, the same Dragon Girl described above. (Yang Guo is now played by Leslie Cheung who shares scenes with his future ASHES OF TIME character, Ouyang Feng, here played by Lo Lieh.) It's a better film than BRAVE ARCHER & HIS MATE, but still not as good as the first three BA films, although it does boast an awesome condor. It's as if the whole new crew assigned to the sequel decided to simply make their own version with no interest in preserving the continuity (such as it was) of Chang Cheh's four-film series. I can't blame them.
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