NEW TALES OF THE FLYING FOX fast-paced Hong Kong swordplay
NEW TALES OF THE FLYING FOX (1984) is part of the late Shaw Bros. swordplay cycle that included BUDDHA'S PALM, HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD, LITTLE DRAGON MAIDEN and SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT, eschewing traditional martial arts in favor of "wire fu," high-speed swordplay, elaborate stunts, special effects, and jam-packed narratives. While not quite as filled with magical powers as BUDDHA'S PALM and HOLY FLAME, FLYING FOX is at least on a par with them in terms of sheer fast-paced entertainment value. It's based on "Flying Fox of the Snowy Mountain," a novel by Jin Yong (Louis Cha) which was also made into a TV series that lasted 30 hours, yet, apparently the ENTIRE story is condensed into this 90-minute film. So much happens so quickly that you can't help but get immediately drawn into it. And I must say I never lost track of who's who and what's what, despite my previous unfamiliarity with the story.
Rather than try to recap the plot, let's just say that it's got the following elements: two martial arts champions poised for a duel; a boy who learns his father's kung fu from a "blueprint" drawn by his mother; a rebellion against the Qing dynasty; a female martial artist who goes around fighting the heads of various clans in order to take their Golden Seals; a visit to the "Medicine Clan" to find an antidote to "Poisonous Smoke"; the "7-Leaf Chrysanthemum" which protects the carrier from all poisons; a meeting called by a top Qing noble of all the martial arts clan leaders; a hero's warning that it's all a trap; and a grave containing the all-powerful Sun Knife and Moon Sword. Oh, and assorted self-sacrifices, including one in the film's heart-breaking closing seconds.
The action is mostly fast-and-furious swordplay with lots of acrobatics, high leaps, and plenty of flying, spinning and twirling. The performers are all excellent. The cinematography is just beautiful. The editing is expert. The sprawling Shaw Bros. sets are gorgeous.
Kung fu favorite Leung Kar Yan (SLEEPING FIST, THUNDERING MANTIS, LEGEND OF A FIGHTER) has a small, but key, role as the father of the hero. The lead male role of Wu Fei is played by Felix Wong Yat Wa, an actor previously unfamiliar to me. His performance here is good enough to have established him as real martial arts movie star material, yet he apparently preferred television to movies and became a TVB star (answering the question of where some of the late-stage Shaw Bros. contract players went after the movies stopped). The other male lead is Alex Man, who had a supporting role in BUDDHA'S PALM and is also very good here. Kara Hui Ying Hung plays the lead female role, Chi Yi, a virtuoso knife fighter who joins the hero on his various quests but tries to dissuade him from his mission of revenge, an act that could rob the anti-Qing movement of its prime mover. If you're a fan of Kara from the kung fu films she did for Lau Kar Leung (MY YOUNG AUNTIE, MAD MONKEY KUNG FU, LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF KUNG FU, 8-DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER), then you won't be disappointed here as she plunges into battle without a second's hesitation against seemingly unbeatable odds in a couple of superb fight scenes. She's a perfect match for the hero (both as an actress and a character).
The second lead actress, Tai Pei Ling, plays Ching Ling Soo, the mistress of the Medicine Clan, who also falls in love with Wu Fei. She has a great scene where she has to use her golden needles to "detoxify," at great speed, various poisoned comrades in the midst of a life-or-death battle. There are three other fine actresses in the film in smaller, but quite memorable parts. They are Chan Si Gaai, as Alex Man's unfaithful wife; Kan Chia Fong, as Leung Kar Yan's devoted wife and the mother of the hero; and Lau Yuk Pok, as a less-than-reliable member of the Medicine Clan.
This was only the second film by director Liu Shih-Yu, who, like Felix Wong, went over to television to continue his career. Shaw Bros. went out of movie production not long after this film was made, making this swordplay extravaganza one of the last in this particular cycle of martial arts picture.
We need to thank Celestial Pictures for the now-almost-two-year-old line of DVD releases of restored Shaw Bros. films that have enabled fans to discover so many previously little-known classics from the studio that defined Hong Kong filmmaking for over 20 years.
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