I hadn’t watched a martial arts movie for quite a while until last night when, in my Sunday boredom my eyes wandered over to the shelf with this movie on it which just jumped out at me. I’d only watched it once before during the height of my kung fu movie obsession and it was long overdue a re-watch, so here is my review of a little slice of action movie history.
Shaw Brothers studios made some of my favourite martials arts movies of all time, they had actors exclusively under contract and the majority of movies were filmed on their own studio lot giving them a unique feel. Some of the greatest names in martial arts movie direction worked for Shaw Brothers, Chang Cheh, Liu Chia Liang, Chu Yuan, Lo Mar to name just four but one of the most interesting of all the directors was Sun Chung. He had a flair for camera work and stamped his unique style on his work which stood out from the other movies being produced at the studio, turning even the weakest plot into something special, one such example would be Rendezvous With Death, filmed in 1980.
This film straddles the divide between the 2 main sub genre of martial arts movies made around this time, the straight up kung fu movie and the Wuxia swordplay film. The plot is pretty bog standard, a young fighter played by Wong Yue is looking to make a name for himself in Jiang Hu (the martial world), he takes on a risky job for a nobleman transporting a box across the country. Along the way he meets various odd characters all out to steal the box and its mystery contents, and others with less straight forward intentions. Amongst the various players in the martial world we have one of my favourite kung fu actors Chen Kuan Tai playing the aloof kung fu master, and the original five fingers of death Lo Lieh playing a beggar who tags along with our hero. As in most of these type of films there are a lot of minor characters who only pop up in a scene or two and it can get a bit confusing plot wise but Sun Chung manages to keep this one moving without too many head scratching moments.
The lead actor is one who can be a little annoying as kung fu films of this period all tend to have a bit of a comedic element to them but fortunately this is kept to a minimum this time. Wong Yue doesn’t have the gravitas of a leading man IMO and a more stoic kind of hero would have been more suited for this character, one which Wong Yue would struggle to play. Chen Kuan Tai is the stand out actor IMO, he plays the arrogant martial artist really well and has the skills to boot. This is the stand out fight scene for me, Chen shows his skills with some great pole work choreographed by Action Director Tang Chia who worked on most of Sun Chungs movies, I like the low angle used in part of this scene. The quality of the clip isn't that great, its a bit jerky but you can see the interesting use of camera angles, the tracking shots and framing are excellent and I especially like the pull out to end the fight scene.
Plot wise this is nothing special but the mystery surrounding the box and its contents and the various characters intentions are handled well and you are pretty much kept in the dark until the maguffin is revealed, a stronger final fight scene and this one would have been up there amongst the best but unfortunately it is a bit anti climactic and so falls short of some of Sun Chungs other work such as Deadly Breaking Sword and his masterpiece Avenging Eagle.