TO KILL WITH INTRIGUE [1977]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

AKA JIAN HUA TAN YU JIANG NAN

Hong Kong/Korea

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD

RUNNING TIME: 106 mins/99 mins/ 89 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

Fifteen years ago Lei Shao-feng’s father killed off most of the Killer Bee gang. Now, Lei knows that vengeance is coming and drives away his pregnant girlfriend Chin Chin to get her out of harm’s way, entrusting a friend named Chen-Ching to look after her. He also tries to get his parents to leave, but fails, and they end up killed by Ting Chan Yen, the female leader of the Bees, though Lei spares her life. Full of remorse, Lei plans to get Chin back but Cheng falls for her while Ting falls for Lei. Meanwhile Dragon Four is after the person who stole his possessions. Could this be the same person who sent some assassins to kill Lei?

Well this one, which I hadn’t seen before, and which there seem to be very few half decent pictures from, is pretty strange. It’s basically a odd romantic melodrama with some fight scenes, and given some of the most convoluted story telling I’ve seen in a film in some time. Obviously director Lo Wei set out to make a film full of complex intrigue, startling twists and full bloodied emotion, but for much of the time he just made a film that’s ridiculous. Example number one: none of the characters figure out the fact that the main bad guy is posing as three different people despite not changing his looks. He eventually reveals his secret to two others in this fashion [imagine tinny dubbed voice]: “So you now know that I am [name not mentioned as it would be a spoiler], as well as [ditto], but I’m also a THIRD person. Who do you think?” and the two guys look just as dumbfounded as I would I if I’d heard somebody say that to me. Example number two: at the beginning of the film, why the hell doesn’t Lei just warn Chin of the danger rather than be so cruel as to order her to go away? Hardly anybody in this film does anything which makes any sense, and, while it’s kind of cool to see Jackie Chan as a full-on wuxia hero leaping about, his character’s skills as a fighter vary incredibly according to whatever the plot requires. The film’s not especially fight filled either, but as you’ve no doubt already realised, there’s still a hell of a lot of entertainment to be had from To Kill With Intrigue, and it’s fairly unpredictable too which is always a good thing. Wei aims high and fails spectacularly – and I’m rather glad that he did!

Wei was determined to turn Chan into a star, and after failing several times decided that putting him in a more literary, prestigious production was the answer, with Chan even given a major female star Hsu Feng to play opposite. Ku Lung was a much respected wuxia novelist who often had his stories made into films, either with him adapting them or somebody else doing it. Lung is credited with the screenplay to To Kill With Intrigue, but considering the way that it turned out I reckon that Wei scripted the film from Lung’s material and added stuff of his own, though in his book I Am Jackie Chan, Chan says how he thinks that even Wei didn’t know what was going on in the story. Filmed took place in South Korea where extremely cold temperatures caused trampoline wires to freeze and cast and crew morale to be low, while Chan and Wei argued throughout. The film flopped, only running for five days in cinemas. For the Japanese release of this film, the name of Chin Chin had to be changed because Chin Chin is the slang for penis in that country. The export version lost 7 minutes, removing some of Chin’s material, though the uncut version also came out in the UK on video a bit later. In France 17 minutes were cut, cutting more of Chin and most of the first 15 minutes as well as making the plot even more hard to follow and moving a flashback so it seems to be from the point of view of Lei rather than Ting.

The titles unfold over fireworks because Lei’s father is celebrating his 60th birthday. A nice tracking shot takes us past a sign and over a wall to reveal the festivities – in fact the camerawork is generally better than Dragon Fist’s, probably due to a different cinematographer. Cut to Lei kicking his servant and pregnant girlfriend out, and even though he does this for a reason [if a stupid one], it’s fun to see Chan, whose movie characters would soon be so nice, do something like this in a film. He then turns up at the party to insult the guests and present somebody’s severed hand! The arrival of the Bees is quite something. First of all somebody crying out “return my hand” leaps into view before running off, teleporting himself several feet a few times as he does. Then a bunch of people sporting flower masks stand on the wall shouting “return our lives”, before some caskets are somehow lowered to the ground and out from them leap some of the Bees. It’s all rather unsettling until the fighting starts and shows that one thing [one of the few things] Wei was good at was creating a dark atmosphere. Though mum and dad are slain, Lei has the Bee leader Ting at sword point, but doesn’t kill her when she tells him that his father killed hers and scarred her face as a child. Thereby begins their very strange relationship in which she keeps turning up to annoyingly remind Lei that he finds himself unable to take revenge, then, whenever Lei can’t hear her and only we can, expresses that she’s falling in love with him in a very melodramatic fashion.

Lei does a lot of brooding about Ting, and brooding isn’t something Chan does very well. Then again, here his character is torn between one woman who, when she thinks he’s dead, immediately accepts an offer to marry somebody else, and another who easily gets him to swallow a hot piece of coal, let a fire poker burn the side of his face, and even drink poison as part of his martial arts training. I defy anybody to understand either of these three characters, or why Lei is almost killed in one fight but in the next one is able to push off a guy on top of him with such strength that he crashes through the roof of the house they’re in. Things are soon complicated further by several battling factions, with an encounter with an old man [well, a young man in a white wig] being one of several confrontations that are put in just because the main plot is relatively action-free and which only seem to distract from it, and a mysterious villain pulling some strings, but in the end it’s thankfully still all down to whether Jackie Chan can complete some training to defeat the main bad guy – actually err no it’s not, due to an especially stupid plot element. Meanwhile the attempts at emotion in the story just don’t work due to poor writing, staging or acting – or rather Wei’s poor acting direction. As usual, his film is mostly blandly directed but with the occasional attempt at artistry, like a brief flashback of Chin, and another of Chin and Lei, running around at nighttime both dressed in white.

Chan really shows off his acrobatic skill here, rolling and leaping all over the place, almost rendering unnecessary the jumping into the air. It’s odd having a final showdown in a Chan film with Chan and his opponent leaping on to rooftops. It’s a reasonably exciting climax and I like the way that Lei is totally unable to match his opponent’s martial arts so resorts to stripping and hanging him, though Chan’s best fight is an early encounter with three attackers utilising sword play. Otherwise it’s fairly average stuff and much of it not features Chan, while it doesn’t help that much of the jumping is poorly edited together so it looks like more people are doing the jumping than actually are. On the other hand though, you’ve got to love some of the weapons on display, like a bloody huge club with a face drawn on it. Despite taking the opportunity to show what he can do, Chan often looks ill-at-ease, not surprising considering the silly pointed eyebrows he’s been given to wear. Of course Feng, who looks magnificent by the way, gets some chances to shine and her sudden appearances are often highlights, as are her outfits. The budget for this one may have been bigger than some of the other Wei’s. The costume department was certainly able to get a good workout. Some clothing is absurd, some just looks great.

I couldn’t identify any of the music cues used, though two – a dramatic one played throughout, and a calmer one heard twice, must be the work of Akira Ifukube, composer of most of the early Godzilla and kaiju movie scores – the style is unmistakable. The love of Lei and Chin gets an especially bad sounding ‘30s-style love theme. Overall the cues are chosen well if usually played too often. I have to say that, even though so much of it is done badly, To Kill With Intrigue certainly didn’t bore me despite what some reviews I recall reading some time ago saying that it’s dull because the action is quite spaced out and the emphasis is on melodrama. The drama is frequently either funny or just baffling, but this provides its own kind of enjoyment unless you really can’t see the fun in a bad movie or the point of watching one, and I’m not sure if even a good director could have made it actually compelling as it’s all so unbelievable. But Chan does enough cool stuff to make it just about worthwhile for fans, in fact I’d say that this film, despite the wuxia stuff, is a bit more typically Chan in terms of action than Dragon Fist despite Dragon Fist being the substantially better film. But it’s an odd one, no doubt, not as demented as Fantasy Mission Force, but in a way even funnier because it was all intended to be taken seriously – I think.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2636 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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