What little I know about Connie Chan I probably read on duriandave's wonderful blog, Soft Film. So going into a viewing of 1972's The Lizard with limited knowledge of Connie Chan's career could be a good or a bad thing: I either watch the film without any preconceived notions or I watch it not having a clue as to what I'm supposed to be paying attention to.
The Lizard, a cat burglar in an all black outfit, finds himself trapped in a house as a Western couple engage in a very 1970-ish sex scene. We cut to Connie Chan practicing kung fu in a courtyard. The cute Xiao Ju almost impales servant Wu Ma with a thrown knife; she may look like an innocent, but she's a deadly martial artist.
Xiao Ju's grandpa (Goo Man Chung) is stumped by the Lizard and the bandit's constant preying on Westerners. It's up to Connie and family friend -- her fiance? -- Yueh Hua to catch the titular villain.
There's a lot of gambling stuff once Yueh Hua enters the film but this gives way to Connie Chan fighting a bunch of guys in a marketplace after she is harassed by one of them.
Compared to Cheng Pei-Pei, Connie -- at least here -- seems more forceful, the lack of swords or weapons making the scene seem more dramatic.
Soon, there's a big banquet and the Lizard makes an appearance -- or does he? Clearly, we are led to believe that Lo Lieh is the Lizard but in a rooftop confrontation with Lo Lieh, it's Yueh Hua under the Lizard's mask as a pilfered Pink Floyd track -- "One Of These Days" -- plays on the soundtrack.
After Lo Lieh attempts to root out the Lizard from a closed-door party scene -- look for a funny Lydia Shum here -- Yueh Hua confronts Connie Chan in the Lizard suit only she quickly reveals herself to the guy after a few minutes of routine fighting.
Later, Connie raids Lo Lieh's house in an attempt to rescue Wu Ma's kidnapped wife. As she battles Lo Lieh, the Clark Gable-ish cad stops and sweettalks her but the girl keeps swinging and kicking. This scene was the highlight of the film for me as there was a real playfulness here that was a quality sorely missing from most 1970s Shaw Brothers martial arts films. Maybe it's an echo of an earlier era, maybe it's an effect that Connie Chan's fans would have expected in one of her films, but the scene delivers thrills without the dour seriousness of a Chang Cheh film, or the rote traditionalism of a Ti Lung genre picture (even though this was directed by frequent Ti Lung collaborator Chor Yuen).
The films shifts to comedy again when Connie disguises herself as a Japanese woman to infiltrate a rich Japanese woman's home as the woman is a possible target of the Lizard.
The Lizard would have been more fun had it been shorter. Part comedy, part martial arts fest, the film flits between styles a bit too much but as a nice introduction to what Connie Chan was like on a film screen, it's a fun film.
There's a review from YTSL on Brian's site here.
Unfortunately, The Lizard is out-of-print on both VCD and DVD at the moment.