Solid kung fu crime tale with a good cast and lots of fights
GREEN JADE STATUETTE (1981) is a later kung fu entry from Taiwan-based director Lee Tso Nam (EAGLE'S CLAW, CHALLENGE OF DEATH) and offers a good plot, plenty of fights and a solid cast in a well-designed period tale boasting nice sets, attractive costumes, and location shooting at historic sites in Taiwan. The basic premise is intriguing and involves the search for the title object which was stolen in a murder-robbery raid on a prominent family and then transferred to the vice-ridden town of Stone Village where a number of parties, including the original bandits, converge a year after the robbery to try and obtain it. A number of interesting characters emerge, several of whom are not quite what they seem.
Meng Fei stars as a fighter-for-hire who seeks the jade statuette for an unidentified employer. Hu Chin (THE FATE OF LEE KHAN) plays the sexy femme fatale, Madame Pearl, who runs the local brothel, seemingly the center of the town's commercial life. Chi Kuan-Chun plays Wu Kang, the town boss, who is involved romantically with Madame Pearl and protects the brothel. Madame Pearl is in league with the bandits who stole the jade and is waiting for them to arrive in town. The very pretty Kitty Meng Chui plays a prostitute who becomes an ally of Meng Fei. Mysterious characters abound, including one elegant fellow (played by Wang Kuan-Hsiung) who has the habit of placing a single rose on the bodies of fight victims, saying, "Even the dead love roses." Many other familiar faces are on hand as well.
Both Chi Kuan-Chun and Meng Fei are cast against type to great effect. The lean, long-limbed Chi, best known as a noble Ming patriot in Shaw Bros. films (HEROES TWO, THE INVINCIBLE ONE, MEN FROM THE MONASTERY), plays a hard-edged tough guy here and actually resembles western actor Lee Van Cleef in some shots. Meng Fei normally plays the callow youth forced to undergo kung fu training and become a man (PRODIGAL BOXER, KUNG FU OF EIGHT DRUNKARDS and UNBEATEN 28), but here plays a much more sophisticated, self-confident man of action and is dressed and coiffed to play the handsome romantic lead in addition to being a fighting star. He carries a clever weapon, a short metal baton with retractable blades that helps him fend off ax-wielding thugs in several fights. He and Chi start out as antagonists but wind up as partners against those who have the jade statuette. Such a choice makes Chi turn against Madame Pearl.
Some dependable kung fu villains spice up the fights. Kao Fei (aka Philip Ko) plays one of the brothel guards and figures in several fights. Jimmy Lee (aka Lung Fong) plays Chi Kuan-Chun's right hand man and is involved in early fights with Meng Fei. Late in the film, Lung Fei and Leung Kar Yan appear in fighting cameos as two of the returning bandits and have a short but furious fight with Chi Kuan-Chun. Tommy Lee (aka Kam Ming), a renowned fight choreographer in his own right, turns up as a surprise villain and fights the two heroes at the end in the film's only extended battle, which takes place on temple grounds surrounded by rows of gold Buddha statues.
The fights are frequent, but generally short. Some of them are quite exciting and involve the heroes fighting multiple combatants at once. Still, this is a more formal work with a stronger plot but less of the inspired frenzied spectacle found in the director's earlier works (EAGLE'S CLAW, THE HOT, THE COOL AND THE VICIOUS, CHALLENGE OF DEATH, FATAL NEEDLES FATAL FISTS). It is, nonetheless, a good-looking, well-produced work offering handsome widescreen photography which suffers horribly from the full-frame video transfer (courtesy of Ocean Shores) which often cuts the actors out of the frame in their own dialogue scenes, showing an empty space whenever two actors are talking from opposite sides of the frame. So many kung fu films cry out for remastered letter-boxed transfers and this one deserves to be high on that list.
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