Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chinese Hercules (aka The Kid in Pier) (aka Freedom Strikes a Blow)

                                                  Director: Ta Huang
                              Starring: Chan Wai Man, Yang Sze, Fan Chiang

What we have hear is a case of false (or at least somewhat misleading) advertising. For anybody who's not yet seen this 1973 basher, you are led to believe that Yang Sze (aka Bolo Yeung) is the star of the film. The trailer and poster focus exclusively on him. Hell, the title even refers to him, right (the U.S. title does, at least)? Well never mind any of that because Yang Sze is litttle more than the main villain's top henchman. His actual screen time here amounts to only slightly more than his appearance in Enter the Dragon. That said, Bolo does leave an impression. He cuts quite an intmidating figure here, more so than in perhaps any other film I've seen him in. When he fights, you believe it. Unfortunately, he only has a few and they are all in the second half of the feature.

The main star of Chinese Hercules is Chan Wai Man (aka Michael Chan). Chan has had a long career in Hong Kong cinema, having played heroic parts early on and mostly villainous ones at the later stage. Though a good convincing fighter, I never thought that he made for a very personable hero. He always seemed to me to be better as the bad guy. Arguably his most memorable role was as the Ninja Leader in Chang Cheh's 5 Element Ninja.

The first ten minutes may actually be the best part. Chan plays a fighter who is training hard in order to defeat his girlfriend's obnoxious, bullying brother. The brother drunk, discovers Chan and his sister together (though innocently so). Enraged, he challenges Chan. In the ensuing fight, Chan accidentally kills the jerk. Horrified by what he did, he runs away. Arriving on a beach, he smashes his hands on a rock (ouch!) and goes into self imposed exile. After that opening, the film pretty much goes downhill. Chan winds gets a job at a shipyard. He finds that his co workers are being harassed and taken advantage of by the new boss, a crooked gangster. Chan (as is usual in this sort of thing) refuses to fight. Instead, it is a co worker who stands up to the boss and his crooked henchmen. Though he wins the initial fight, the worker is later killed by the top henchman (Yang Sze). Still, Chan refuses to do anything. Finally his girlfriend tracks him down to inform him that her brother's alive and he need not feel so guilt ridden (this part of the plot feels made up on the spot). With a clear conscience, Chan confronts the boss.

The fights are all O.K. with the penultimate battle between Chan and Yang being the best. Overall, not a terrible basher, but I expected better considering the hype. The film's biggest fans are likely the ones who first saw it in Grindhouses back in the early 70s. Reportedly, it was a huge hit on New York's 42 Street.

                                                               ** / ****

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