Excellent and action packed Shaw Brothers Spaghetti Western
Siu Lao (Lieh) and Ma Tien Piao (Feng) are bandits who ride from town to town holding up banks and killing anyone who tries to stop them using their superb and rapid fire shooting skills. When a holdup goes wrong, Siu sends Ma away with the cash and tells him that if he is caught to try and rescue him later. Siu is tortured and as time passes he realizes his sworn brother isn't coming for him instead setting up a bandit gang to carry on with murdering and banditry. Sui manages to escape and heads for Ma's encampment to settle some scores.
The film is very exciting and bloody with enough wild gun battles for at least half a dozen spaghetti's. At only 76 minutes, the film chugs along at a brisk pace and the action seldom lets up. This becomes a slight problem as very few scenes are allowed to breathe but then, action is the main attraction here. This being a lower tier Shaw movie in that it's mostly style over substance, there are some polished scenes. There's lots of well done tracking shots and the first meeting of Siu and Ma after Siu breaks out of jail is nicely done utilizing the full 'Man With A Harmonica' piece from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.
The opening and finale are memorable as well as Siu's jailbreak and also the scene where he is attacked by dozens of killers sent by Ma in Death Valley. There are some great locations that also ape the Italian western nicely. About the only thing I can say that's even remotely negative is that rarely does anyone ever run out of bullets. This is a constant complaint from critics in the Italian westerns but here it's way OOT. It's fine for me but someone who takes these things seriously may be put off.
Also, there is a preponderance of zoom ins and zoom outs that populate the film. Also, some may be put off by the one or two against a hundred scenario that dominates the action set pieces. This was a staple of Chang Cheh where his films would feature a near invincible hero who fought against impossible odds for honor, loyalty and brotherhood knowing full well he would in all probability be killed in battle, covered in blood, his guts spilling out fought to the last killing every attacker before he, himself succumbed to his injuries. The same thing applies here only swords have been replaced with guns.
There is also minimal use of kung fu on display. The accent is on gunplay and even these scenes are laced with kung fu or 'gun fu' to be more precise. The sets as usual for Shaw Brothers movies are meticulous and quite amazing considering they produced anywhere from 40 to 50 movies a year(!) Even the lesser Shaw movies could be counted on to have some great sets if nothing else.
Lo Lieh, as most always is very good here showcasing a nice range of emotion in this role. He is at first a criminal but has a change of heart later in the film. This being a Shaw Brothers movie, there is much tragedy on hand and Lo Lieh gets a lot of it leading up to the big battle at the end. Lo even gets his hands smashed (again) to keep him from handling a gun. A similar scene, but more violent, occurs in the first international kung fu hit KING BOXER (aka 5 FINGERS OF DEATH) from the same year. This being a Spaghetti Western done Shaw Brothers style, this sequence owes more to DJANGO (1966) I would say.
The award winning actor Ku Feng again displays another great villain role. Feng, who also would play a hero from time to time made some memorable movies playing incredibly sadistic bad guys. Here, he's a treacherous scoundrel who on several occasions tries uses lies and trickery to get out of a jam against Siu.
Sammo Hung even has a brief bit as a bandit that gets killed by Lo Lieh. He gets a couple of lines beforehand, though. It's quite interesting to see Hung in a Shaw movie considering his famous output for Golden Harvest.
Not only are various musical cues lifted from Italian oater's, but also the actors are given stubble and have a very sweaty, unclean appearance to assimilate the style of the Euro westerns. Definitely a step up from Chang Cheh's spaghetti's in terms of emulating the formula, Chang directed at least three films similar in style to spaghetti westerns--THE SAVAGE FIVE (1974), THE ANONYMOUS HEROES (1969) and THE INVINCIBLE FIST (1969) also starring Lo Lieh. All three are good films in their own right but THE FUGITIVE captures the flavor of the spaghetti's perfectly. A thrilling and action packed film for fans of both genres.
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