Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Raw Courage with Cheng Pei-Pei

I originally watched most of my Cheng Pei-Pei wuxia films in a few marathon sessions about 3 or 4 years ago so they all tend to blur together in my mind. However, the one that I remembered as being the most fun was 1969's Raw Courage. And the good news is that the film held up for me on a second viewing.

In a precredits sequence, Ming Emperor Jianwen entrusts his infant son to Shangguan as enemy troops overrun the palace. As the baby is whisked away, the Emperor has his men set fire to the palace.

Shangguan Hou (director Lo Wei himself) and his Black Dragon Society suffer a sneak attack from a rival clan. The injured leader entrusts the transport of the infant prince to the Taiyuan Temple in Quanzhou to his daughter Xiuyi (Cheng Pei-Pei) and Zhenxiong (Ng Fung).

As the East Sea clan of Pan Ai Lan and Tien Feng overruns her Black Dragon clan fortress, Xiuyi and Zhenxiong escape into the night with the baby. They are soon attacked but assisted in their fight by a kindly beggar played by Yeung Chi Hing.

Soon, the duo are crossing paths with farmer Niu Er (Yueh Hua) and sneaking across the border disguised as farmers.

Mrs. Bai (Ouyang Shafei) takes in the couple, assisted by funnyman Lee Kwan playing a street beggar who sometimes speaks in riddles.

Soon, master Feiyun (actually Yueh Hua's farmer Niu Er) is assisting the duo in their mission as Mrs. Bai loads up the horses and supplies equipment.

The short sequence with the trio trying to cross the border is a lot of fun. As Cheng Pei-Pei hides in a coffin with the baby, the guys try to carry the burden past the gate. A guard dog starts barking and soon Yueh Hua and Cheng Pei-Pei are showing why they were action stars. Troops of extras pour down the hill and the fun begins.

The trio comes into contact with a kindly old man (Goo Man Chung) who may not be trustworthy.

Eventually there's another massive battle and heroes and villains reveal themselves and so on.

It would be downright silly to recount every plot twist and turn of Raw Courage as the whole point of this thing is the plot; once you know what happens, it is slightly less compelling, I must admit.

However, the success of Raw Courage for me is that it's a genre picture and nothing more. That's not an insult; the film is what it is and it's a lot of fun. Most of the pleasures come from the fast-moving plot and while the film probably didn't break any new ground for wuxia films, it remains accessible in a way that a Chang Cheh film is not.

This might not be Cheng Pei-Pei's best wuxia film but it's the most fun, as far as I'm concerned.

Brian's review here sounds a bit more jaded than mine perhaps.

You can order Raw Courage on DVD here.