20 December 2008 | BrianDanaCamp
THE HIMALAYAN not one of Angela Mao's best
THE HIMALAYAN (1976) is a very odd Golden Harvest film that stars kung fu great Chen Sing (SHAOLIN MONK, THE MAGNIFICENT) as an ambitious man who brutally murders anyone in his way. Kung fu diva Angela Mao (HAPKIDO, LADY WHIRLWIND) appears in a supporting role as the daughter of a wealthy man and has only one extended fight scene in the whole movie and it comes at the very end. The film opens with an elaborate piece of narration describing a particular style of kung fu practiced in Nepal and Tibet and how Golden Harvest went to those countries to make the film (a neat trick considering China's control of Tibet would have prevented any outside film crew from entering the country). We get a whole opening sequence filled with folk dancing and music and horse-riding contests evidently filmed on location in a mountainous region (probably Nepal) with dozens of native extras in full ethnic dress. After this sequence it's back to China and the standard kung fu movie sets, costumes, and customs seen in so many other Golden Harvest movies. Nepal and Tibet are almost completely forgotten about after that point, except when Sammo Hung enters the scene late in some kind of ethnic costume, and a location shot of a temple in Nepal is inserted when the hero and heroine arrive at a Shaolin temple.
Chen Sing, as Kao Chu, is eager to force his adoptive brother into marriage with Angela and use it as a springboard to gain access to her family's estate. (The notion that anyone would have to be forced to marry the beautiful Angela already damages the film's credibility right from the very beginning.) Kao gets things off to a rough start when he kills his resistant brother and replaces him with a compliant lookalike (played by the same actor, Ling Hon) who's already married but is paid by Kao to proceed with the deception and marry Angela, even though Angela's already met the real brother. None of this makes any sense, especially when Kao has to put makeup on the impostor brother's forehead to replicate a birthmark that the real brother had. Gradually, Kao kills a bunch of other people who threaten his plans in different ways and even frames Angela for one of the murders. Kao's behavior is consistently disturbing through all of this, yet, remarkably, none of it sets off any alarm bells with Angela's gullible family.
Eventually, Angela flees with a loyal servant who's in love with her, played by kung fu star Tan Tao Liang (FLASH LEGS, LEG FIGHTERS), and the two wind up, in the film's final half-hour, at a Shaolin temple outpost where they implore the Abbot to teach them his special brand of kung fu so they can defeat Kao's Tiger Claw technique. The Abbot instead orders them to carry thousands of rocks up a treacherous hill and then, when they're done, to carry them all back down again. That and some breath control comprise the bulk of the training we see them get. Eventually they go back to confront Chen Sing and his men in a disappointingly short fight finale.
Angela gets to do a little more here, acting-wise, than she normally did, but only in the extraordinary amount of on-screen punishment she takes. At one point she puts up a valiant struggle against Kao but is ultimately disabled by his Tiger Claw technique. At another point she's strapped to a wooden board and set afloat in some rapids. And then she has to carry all those damned rocks. Even if they're made out of plastic or foam, it still looks hard going up and down that steep, rocky hill.
But fans of Angela are anxious to see her fight and she hardly does that in the film. She has a friendly match at the beginning with her intended groom, but that doesn't really count. Sure, there's a nice bout with Chen Sing at the end, but it comes in the last five minutes of a 108-minute film. Chen himself doesn't even get to fight that much. Mainly he just hits people who don't fight back or he kills them outright. He's extraordinarily vicious here. Chen was often a great villain in these films, but was best when he had a formidable hero to oppose him. Angela doesn't really do that until the very end and Tan Tao Liang, who has one or two good fights in the film himself, is pretty passive for the most part. Overall, this is one of the weakest Golden Harvest films I've seen of late.