1 February 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
KING EAGLE Ti Lung has good role in average Shaw Bros. swordplay film
KING EAGLE (1970) is a swordplay film from director Chang Cheh that may not be among his greatest works (ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, SHAOLIN TEMPLE, THE FIVE VENOMS, et al), but nonetheless has a few major points of interest for Shaw fans. The beautiful Li Ching (THE LONG CHASE, HONG KONG RHAPSODY) has a remarkable dual role as two sisters who are the 7th and 8th Chiefs of the Tien Yi Tong Clan, which is in the midst of a bloody factional battle that puts the sisters on opposite sides. (They even fight each other at one point.) The 7th Chief is a good girl and the 8th is in league with the villains and both are drawn in broad melodramatic strokes. The bad one calls herself "the greatest beauty in the martial arts world" and gets upset when the hero ignores her. The good one's no slouch in the looks department either.
Ti Lung plays Jin Fei, or "King Eagle," a lone hero who tries to stay out of the fray, minding his own business. He's strong, stoic and a lethal killer when necessary and not one to tolerate other people's games. At one point he's offered a tray of money to join the bad guys' side and turns it down, insisting that all he really wants is to avenge the senseless killings of a waiter and farm girl at a roadside inn by two of the bad chief's henchmen. Which he then proceeds to do in a most effective and unexpected maneuver.
Jin Fei gets involved after the good sister tends to his wounds after a fight and the two eventually fall for each other. He's a hard guy who has never asked anybody for help and he gradually realizes it's not a bad thing to have someone in his corner. He displays some genuine tenderness here and it reminds us that director Chang Cheh didn't always shy away from romance and strong women characters. It all comes down to a dilemma of what to do about the bad sister. The good one insists that, in the impending showdown, the bad one be spared, no matter what. Jin Fei correctly notes that the bad sister will show no such compunction when push comes to shove, but good Li doesn't want to hear it, making for some crucial dramatic tension during the final confrontation.
The strong supporting cast includes kung fu great Chen Sing as a bad chief who fights with two rectangular metal plates that can do a lot of damage. Kang Hua (aka Tung Li), whom I liked when he played a hero in BLACK TAVERN, is another bad guy. He looks a lot like western star Lee Van Cleef. Dependable co-stars Cheng Lei and Wang Chung are two other good guys and there are a lot of the usual familiar Shaw Bros. actors around. Tang Chia, who co-directed the fight scenes, turns up on screen as a hired killer with a whip who gives Jin Fei a hard time. In one exciting action scene, he sends a heavy wagon loaded with sacks careening down a street into a group of children, forcing Jin Fei to stop the wagon with his super-strength to prevent it from running over a girl. As Jin Fei holds the wagon and tries to get someone to put a wedge under the wheel so they can move the girl, Tang Chia kills anyone who tries to help the hero and then launches a vicious attack on him.
If I have any complaint about this one, it's that the fights are all very short and the antagonists too easily dispatched. We don't see the extended battles that Chang's later films would feature.