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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Rebel Boxer (1972) review


Jimmy Wang Yu (Ma Yung Chen), Nancy Yen Nan Hsi (Ma Su Chen), Chiang Nan (Japanese Master), Ma Kei (Cha Chin Pai), Tsai Hung (Yamasaki), Sally Chen Qu Li (Chai Fong), Lee Keung (Japanese fighter), Shan Mao (Thug), Pan Chuen Ling (Watanabe)

Directed by Ting San Si

Ma Yung Chen is nearly killed by the vicious Axe Gang. He manages to hide out and recuperate escaping the killers grasp. Not long after, a motley clutch of ruthless Japanese swordsmen seek out the injured Ma to avenge the death of one of their comrades, Mr. Mayaki. After being alerted to her brothers apparent demise, Ma Su Chen sets out to find the Paradise Club, the notorious gambling hall where Ma was said to have lost his life. Along the way, Su Chen gets into violent confrontations with the Japanese invaders and members of the Axe Gang. Cha Chin Pai, the owner of the Paradise Club, sets a devious trap for her. Now captured, Yung Chen must now come to his sisters rescue. The forces of good and evil converge on a warehouse for a final bloody battle.

Director Ting San Si helms this sloppy kung fu quickie, a sequel to his own FURIOUS SLAUGHTER (1972). In late 1971, Chang Cheh began working on BOXER FROM SHANTUNG. Around the same time, respected Shaw director, Yue Feng was working on a script for a movie entitled MA SU CHEN. It was a fictional account based on the exploits of real life peoples hero, Ma Yung Chen who took on gangsters in Shanghai in the 1920's. Once Chang Cheh began his movie based on the actual historical figure, Yue Feng seemingly gave up on his fictional version.

Furthermore, this didn't stop Jimmy Wang Yu from starring in his own version from First Films Organization Limited. Since he broke his contract with Shaws, he was unable to make films in Hong Kong till early 1973. Both FURIOUS SLAUGHTER and MA SU CHEN appear to have been shot back to back with the latter film suffering from a rushed production schedule. At just 78 minutes, about 10 to 15 minutes of that is footage from the first film seen in flashback recounted by various cast members.

Even though Nancy Yen is the title character, Wang Yu is still the center of attention and his name appears first in the credits. Yen isn't at all memorable as the fighting sister, Ma Su Chen. She has a nice look about her, but she has little charisma and seldom emotes. Her actions are rather lazy having little impact. She isn't very limber and seems disinterested during the combat sequences.

After a long recap of the previous films finale detailed to the teacher of a Japanese school, we are introduced to Ma Su Chen at the ten minute mark. She's a doctor who at first doesn't know anything of his whereabouts. Hearing the possibility that he may be dead, she plans to avenge his death on those responsible. The villains know he is alive and soon find out about the sister and plan to use her to get to Yung Chen. This plot device could have made for a highly enjoyable movie, but the jumbled and rushed appearance of the picture prevents MA SU CHEN from being anything more than mindless entertainment for close to 80 minutes.

Along with the slapdash approach to the material, there is an over abundance of zooms seen here. Several scenes repeatedly show zooms on both antagonist and protagonist over and over again accompanied by the same musical sting. This becomes tiresome quickly and coupled with all the flashback scenes from the previous movie, MA SU CHEN (1972) is a pretty weak movie all around.

Director Ting would also tackle one of the most unusual Shaw Brothers pictures, FLIGHT MAN (aka THE FLYING MAN OF MA LAN 1973) as well as an unreleased to DVD Shaw production, IMPERIAL TOMB RAIDERS (1973). Ting San Si also directed Wang Yu in KNIGHT ERRANT (1973), a modern day movie with a similar plot to MA SU CHEN wherein Japanese fighters travel to Hong Kong to find Wang Yu to avenge a wrong.

A couple of the supporting players would also be prominent villains in Shaw Brothers productions. Shan Mao and Tsai Hung would both feature together in Chang Cheh's massive big budget picture, SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1976). Tsai Hung played one of the lead Manchu officials while Shan Mao was the traitorous monk who helped the Qing successfully enter the temple. Some other Shaw Brothers movies he featured in were other Chang's Company productions like SHAOLIN AVENGERS, NEW SHAOLIN BOXERS (both 1976) and Chang's poorly made NAVAL COMMANDOS (1977). SHAOLIN TEMPLE will arguably be one of his most memorable roles.

Tsai Hung (middle;Tallest actor)

Tsai Hung is one of the most imposing villains in HK cinema possessing a face perfectly suited for a bad guy. He had a somewhat lengthy stint with Shaw Brothers although he did appear in other pictures outside of the famed studio at the same time. His formidable frame can be seen in FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS (1975), the aforementioned SHAOLIN TEMPLE, SHAOLIN AVENGERS (both 1976), CHINATOWN KID, BRAVE ARCHER (both 1977) and BRAVE ARCHER 2 (1978). Hung was also a hero(!) in the David Chiang directed THE CONDEMNED (1976). He's appeared in countless indy movies like BLOOD TREASURY FIGHT (1979) and THE HEROES (1980) among lots of credits.

The fights are, for the most part, very well done; at least the ones involving Wang Yu. The choreography was the work of Chan Shih Wei and belongs to the basher school of martial arts cinema. They have a ferocity about them akin to the Shaw films being helmed by Chang Cheh during this time. The brawl where the Japanese find Ma Yung Chen is an exciting one as he has barely recovered from his brutal stabbing and beating he took at the closing moments of the previous movie.

The one fight with Su Chen that is reasonably good is the one in which she tries to kill Cha Chin Pai in his club. Fooled, she discovers too late it's all a trap. Su Chen is attacked by the mobsters and the Japanese killers. Trapping her, the leader of the Japanese prepares to deliver the killing blow when Cha stops him preferring to use her to lure Yung Chen to their location. Another good fight is the 18 minute final fight inside the warehouse.

Wang Yu is cornered and attacked by dozens of Axe Gang members brandishing torches. He goes to work on them with a pick axe. While that is going on, Su Chen breaks out of the villains dungeon and after cutting down the grunts left behind, Chai Fong takes her to Yung Chen's location.

The concluding battle is also well handled and utilizes any object that's handy. Yung Chen suffers even worse than he did at the conclusion of FURIOUS SLAUGHTER (1972). The violence doesn't quite reach the typically over exaggerated levels of Wang Yu's movies, but the last couple minutes stretch the boundaries of credibility past their limits. After watching MA SU CHEN (1972), one gets the impression the film was made with left over funds from FURIOUS SLAUGHTER. Her character is fairly unremarkable and Nancy Yen brings relatively nothing to the table to make her interesting.

When we see Ma Su Chen the second time, we see a lone horse charging down a road accompanied by the main theme from Tonino valerii's spaghetti western, DAY OF ANGER (1969). She then pops up atop the horse having been riding off to the side of the animal the whole time. This is really pointless and must have just been added for showcasing Ma's additional skill levels. Again, this does nothing to enhance the character. This film needed a stronger presence to pull off the feisty female fighter.

MA SU CHEN (1972) isn't as good as FURIOUS SLAUGHTER (1972), but it will provide a quick fix of action for those who like lots of fights with little thought behind them. It's a wasted opportunity for this story which possesses a lot of possibilities. Even still Wang Yu fans will want to see it. Despite the title, this is still a Wang Yu movie and he has enough fight scenes to satisfy his followers. For those who haven't seen the first film in a while, the recycled footage provides a good refresher course.

This version, the most complete yet available, (widescreen and presumably uncut), is the one to get for fans of the picture. There are approximately 2 minutes of subbed dialog scenes and the entire opening scene was missing from some prints. Wang Yu completists will no doubt want MA SU CHEN in their kung fu collection.

This review is representative of the Fourth Strike DVD.

The DVD can be bought here...

The Fourth Strike website can be seen here...

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