17 October 2004 | BrianDanaCamp
THE BASTARD - Good acting showcase for kung fu diva Lily Li
THE BASTARD (1973) is a rather unusual costume drama from Hong Kong's Shaw Bros. studio. It has the usual hero, a naïve young man with kung fu skill who faces the larger world for the first time, but it makes his female companion the more interesting and flamboyant character. It also places greater emphasis on characters and relationships and offers so few fights that the film cannot technically be called a kung fu film.
The hero (played by Chung Wa/also spelled Tsung Hua) has no name and is dubbed by a passing merchant, "Little Bastard," a name he adopts for himself given his lack of known parentage. Lily Li plays Hsiao Yi, or "Little Beggar," as she calls herself, and she latches onto Little Bastard and helps him find food and lodging as he searches for the parents who abandoned him as an infant 18 years earlier. He eventually finds his real father, a powerful and wealthy local (Cheng Miu), and is taken in by him and his family. In the course of acclimating to his new family, Little Bastard is seduced by his attractive cousin, Ai Zhen (Kong Ling), making Hsiao Yi very jealous indeed. However, the seduction and family welcome are all part of a nefarious plan by the father that is better left undescribed here. Lily gets wind of this and tries to save our hero.
It's a simple story and moves at a brisk pace and includes a rousing kung fu finale complete with lots of breakaway walls and furniture. The action direction is by Yuen Wo Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan of the famed Yuen Clan. Overall, the film is well shot and staged but is best seen as a showcase for the acting talents of Lily Li. Normally seen in kung fu films (e.g. EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, A SLICE OF DEATH, DAGGERS EIGHT, THE MAGIC BLADE), Lily doesn't get to fight here, although she acts up a storm as the spunky, childlike urchin who aggressively pursues Little Bastard's interests. Chung Wa, however, makes less of an impression in the hero's role and was better off in supporting roles. As the sexy cousin, Kong Ling (an actress previously unfamiliar to this reviewer) is quite a lovely performer and adds a distinct romantic-erotic quality to the seduction scene. Other roles are filled by such Shaw Bros. regulars as Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, and Yang Chih Ching. The director is Chu Yuan (aka Chor Yuen), whose later swordplay extravaganzas (KILLER CLANS, THE MAGIC BLADE, CLANS OF INTRIGUE, WEB OF DEATH, etc.) are a lot more intricate--and spectacular--than this one.