Friday, May 18, 2012

Crush


                                                             1972
                                                Director: Tu Kuang Chi
                     Starring: Jason Pai Piao, Ingrid Hu Yin-Yin, Chen Hung Lieh

                                                 

Jason Pai Piao has had one of the longest and most ubiquitous careers of any in Hong Kong cinema. Originally signing with the Shaw Brothers in the late 60s, he quickly struck out on his own and starred in many independent martial arts films. By the mid 70s, his name and reputation grew large enough that he was able to return to the Shaws and be given larger, meatier roles that lasted well into the 80s and beyond. Of his early independent leading man vehicles, Crush is one of his best (and one of the toughest to track down, at least in it's original version and with an English translation).

In the film Pai plays Wong, a mysterious Chinese stranger wandering Korea during the Japanese occupation. Coming upon a Tae Kwan Do school that is being harassed (and then some) by a clan of decidely loathsome samurai (who have no qualm about unseathing their swords to kill the unarmed Koreans), he decides for no apparent reason other than being virtuous to defend the school. As a master of Tang Style Boxing, Wong proves to be up to the task.

If the plot sounds run of the mill, it's because it is. What makes this particular pic so successful and absorbing lies in the deft direction applied by Tu Kuang Chi. A veteran director of dramas and love stories whos credits date back to 1950, Crush would be Tu's last and his lone attempt at lensing a Basher. What Tu did here was devise a lean and mean 82 minute distilation of the traditional evil Japanese theme by amping up their badness to the tenth degree (honestly, samurai who almost casually cut down unarmed oponenets?!) and adds a feeling of exotica by having the entire pic take place in the snowy mountain area of Korea. This exotic locale (for back then) along with a pacing that just zips right along reveals an assured hand behind the camera. It's really a shame that Tu didn't direct more martial arts films as this one proves he was as sharp and perceptive in this genre as any of his peers.

Jason Pai Piao may at first not look like the traditional hero type, but he does have a commanding screen presence to go along with his strong screen fighting. Watching him in this and his other early bashers, I got the sense he was the real deal and could probably do most anything that was required of him. Ingrid Hu would again star with Pai in Blind Boxer (previous reviewed somewhere in this blog of mine). She has a way of portraying "quiet despair" that along with her beauty, made her one of the more mysterious Hong Kong starlets of the day. Chen Hung Lieh was one of the more reliable screen villians of this period. Beginning his career with the King Hu classic, Come Drink With Me, Chen has always proven to be a thoroughly hissable antagonist and more than fulfils that role here.

Crush is simply one of the best early Bashers that I have encountered so far. It's plot may be slight, but the memorable characters combined with Tu Kuang Chi's veteran direction and it's plentiful (and quite gory) action setpieces make this one a big time winner and highly recommended.

BTW, this film was also redubbed by the French who gave it a "What's Up Tiger Lily?" sendup and retitled it "Can Dialectics Break Bricks?". This version treats the proceedings as an itellectual comedy. It's worth seeking out under either moniker.

                                                              *** / ****



                                   



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