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The Jade Tiger (1977)

Chu Yuan

Hong Kong

100 min, color, Mandarin (English subtitles)

Review © 2003 Branislav L. Slantchev

While Chang Cheh was busy creating the new male hero in straightforward, if a bit confused, martial arts epics, Chu Yuan took a slightly different route, and offered a series of wuxia films starring Ti Lung and a bevy of beautiful women who all invariably fall for him, often literally so. Mixing excellent martial arts with romance, fantasy, and philosophy, Chu Yuan's take on the tired wuxia tale is perhaps most memorable.

Ti Lung is way too cool This does not look like man to me

This time, the bloody plot concerns the rivalry of two Houses (doesn't it always?), one of them is one the side of good, mostly because Ti Lung and Ku Feng are in it, and the other is on the side of evil because they make poison, and because Derek Yee and Lo Lieh are running it. Ti Lung (whose generous heart we've just witnessed when he refuses to kill his defeated opponent Norman Chu) is about to marry the often crying Hsiao Yao. The wedding is a bit spoiled by his father (Ching Miao) getting his head cut off and stolen, apparently by Ku Feng.

Not a man even from this angle Norman Chu sporting the new L'Oreal look

Appearances do not lie this time because Ku Feng soon pops up at the bad House and offers them the head. Clearly, Ti Lung's filial duty is to avenge his father's murder, and so he sets out to locate and destroy Ku Feng. The quest almost fails when he gets poisoned by a blind man (Chan Shen), but is rescued by mistake by a boy, who turns out to be the servant of The Unique Man in the Carriage, who is unique because he sits in a carriage. All the time. He does have a nice hate-free philosophy, which he offers to Ti Lung, but the latter refuses because he knows that killing Ku Feng with love would cramp his style.

Yang Chi-Ching and Derek Yee, both EVIL The comic side of villain Lo Lieh

The evil Derek Yee then sets another trap for Ti Lung, which is very diabolical because it consists mostly of killing his own men. (Own guys expendable = evil master. Hint, hint.) Then there's one betrayal and another, but everything is helpfully explained in dialogue, which runs something like (my adaptation):

Shih Szu is definitely a woman! Lily Li and Hsiao Yao, the women who will fuck up the men's best-laid plans

"Die! I lied to you, I am not your savior but your killer."
"No, you die! I knew you were evil!"
"Please, you die first. When did you find out?"
"No, you first! From the moment I saw you."
"Ah, die, dog! Did you expect I had a sword inside my sword?"
"Death to scoundrels! Yes, of course I knew. Did you know I had a blade in my stick?"
"Die, die, die! I poke you! Yes, naturally!"
"While you're dying, do you have another sword in the sword that was in the sword?"
"Yes, so I kill you with it."
"No you are not because I expected you to have it. Therefore, I kill you."
"Damn! You are too smart for me."
"Do you have another sword?"
"No, but I have a bomb."

Fan Mei Sheng knows how to die best Sister (Lily Li) and Brother (Ti Lung)

There you have it, dialogue to put James Joyce to shame. But I have to admit that without the frequent explanations by the characters who tell us their reasoning, motivation, and thoughts, it would be pretty darn impossible to tell what the hell is going on. Anyway, so Ti Lung infiltrates the bad House of Tang, but before that he is healed from the poison by a man and a woman in white. They live by the lake and recite poetry. They also do not want to get involved. They also seem to take an instant liking to Ti Lung. At least she seems to. They do not give their names.

Shih Szu and Yueh Hua are classy The mutual admiration society

As soon as Ti Lung reaches the Tang residence, things go haywire because it turns out, in rapid sequence, that (a) Ku Feng is actually undercover although there's another Zhao spy at the Tangs; (b) Lo Lieh is bloodthirsty but dumb, which always works to his disadvantage; (c) the white man and woman are actually both Tangs, she is Yu (Shih Szu) and he is Ao (Yueh Hua), bad news for our guys; (d) Ku Feng convinces Ti Lung to seek Shih Szu's hand in marriage, which he promptly does, the horny bastard. The horny married bastard.

Ti Lung is way too cool, part 2 Lo Lieh tasting own medicine

Needless to say, when his sister (Lily Li) and real wife (Hsiao Yao) find out about the new marriage, they immediately set out to wreck it, getting Fan Mei Sheng poisoned and stabbed in the process. Then they arrive and blow Ti Lung's cover but no one believes them, which induces Hsiao Yao to commit suicide. Ti Lung's grief cannot be concealed and the good Tangs (Shih Szu and Yueh Hua) decide to let him go. The ungrateful bastard then destroys their entire house, and all Tangs die, some of them (like Shih Szu) sacrificing themselves, and others (like Yueh Hua) dying trying to teach Ti Lung a lesson.

Victory celebrations Sic transit gloria mundi

Ti Lung finally learns and rejects the leadership of the martial arts world. All he's loved are dead, and he has no one left to sacrifice to more fighting. He has learned the terrible cost that vengeance exacts even from the avenger, no matter how righteous his cause may be. The tragic deaths of his second wife and her brother only further his anguish from the mayhem that took his first wife's life as well. Although eminently successful in achieving the goal of his father, Ti Lung loses everything in the process, eventually coming to realize that hate makes pawns of all of us. Driven by the tragic unfolding of a destiny created in blood, the protagonists are helpless in stemming the flood of vengeance, and find themselves unwilling perpetrators of its imperative demands. Even Ti Lung fails to stop until there is no one else left to defeat, until there is no one else left to kill, or even survive. His conversion at the end is hollow for he will not know the simple life of the Hate-Free Society. Even though he has vanquished his hate, it was not before it killed everything worth saving.

Tragic, romantic, and bewildering, this Chu Yuan film is incredibly entertaining, a tightly-packed thriller (sometimes a bit too tightly) that has some over-the-top but good performances and is guaranteed to please with eye candy both sexes. The Celestial Pictures DVD offers an anamorphic widescreen transfer at the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with a single Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin soundtrack, and optional English subtitles. The extras include photo galleries, talent files, and trailers. Recommended.

November 8, 2003