Tight and bleak vision of Law and Order, or Good vs. Bad
At times you get positively surprised, when you look forward to a film and expect to see some quality work, and you get what you seek out but in a very different way than you thought, and possibly even more. This was the case when I popped Killer Constable into my DVD player and got way more than your regular Shaw Kung Fu hour-and-a-half epistle.
Compared to other Shaw Brother's period Wu Xia and Kung Fu works, Killer Constable differs from the lot quite a bit, and in a very positive way. Director Kuei Chih-hung's background in crime films really show, as he takes interesting elements from hard-boiled crime films and Japanese samurai films, among others, and bring them seamlessly into the Wu Xia movie.
It's more than rare in these films to see the protagonists being as a part of the Manchu dynasty's government. This is probably the main reason why we have such a dark character as the main protagonist. Chen Kuan-tai as the Killer Constable himself is a dark type of hero, bordering the anti-hero nearly all of the time. Along in his company of ever-vigilant law-officers, there's no place for your typical sleek-cheeked do-gooders in the posse, as we soon see, when this group of tough law officers go for their mission to capture and punish the bandit who's responsible for stealing a large sum of Emperor's gold. Also, a bit striking are some features you can see in the villains of the movie, some of them who have unusually humane characteristics, giving less stereotypical image of the characters than your usual black-and-white Good vs. Bad composition found in many of the genre pieces.
While always being a solid actor and great martial artist - one of my very favourite Shaw Bros. stars - Chen Kuan-Tai really shines in his role. He has the powerful presence and charisma as the stone faced law officer who discovers that he is only a tool and gets betrayed by the system he has abidingly served, that the role gets nearly immortalized.
Beautiful use of lighting and scenery, tight script, good balance of action and story, and especially interesting main character make this one the winner all the way. I also have to dish out some bonus points for the very bleak ending shot that somehow emphasized the futility of it all and concretely showed what kind of destruction greed, corruption and following orders without any questioning can lead you to. (This last one may very well be only my interpretation more than the message that was intendedly embedded in the film, but that's how I felt when the last images hit the screen.)
The blend of these elements make Killer Constable very atmospheric and exceptionally dark piece of martial arts mayhem, guaranteed to satisfy the genre fans and most probably being an interesting piece also for the people who are not familiar with the genre. Definitely one of my all-time Shaw favourites!
This is my truth. What is yours?
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