25 May 2012 | BrianDanaCamp
MA SU CHEN: Another take on the Ma Yung Chen story
MA SU CHEN (1972) is a sequel to FURIOUS SLAUGHTER (1972, aka SUPER DRAGON), in which Jimmy Wang Yu played Ma Yung Chen, a real-life historical figure who came from rural Shantung to bustling Shanghai early in the 20th century to make his fortune and wound up becoming a gangster who was brought down tragically by rivals employing the notorious Ax Gang. Ma was the central character in another film that year, BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972), a well-budgeted Shaw Bros. production that charts the rise and fall of Ma, as played by Chen Kuan Tai. MA SU CHEN focuses on Ma Su Chen, the sister of Ma Yung Chen, played by Nancy Yen, and her efforts to avenge her brother. Another film to come out in 1972, QUEEN BOXER (aka THE AVENGER), tells the same story as MA SU CHEN, but features the unforgettable Chia Ling in the role of Ma's avenging sister. I'm assuming that the flashbacks in MA SU CHEN showing Ma Yung Chen's earlier battles are from FURIOUS SLAUGHTER, the only title in this quartet I haven't yet seen.
The big difference between MA SU CHEN and the other films is that Ma Yung Chen (Wang Yu) actually survives the fight with the Ax Gang, although he's temporarily blinded, and goes off to recuperate. In the meantime, Ma's sister is seen working with a doctor at a health clinic in Shantung and then comes to Shanghai to check up on her brother, only to be told, mistakenly it turns out, that he's been killed. She then embarks on a series of fights with the villains, who have recruited Japanese fighters, including a swordsman, to search for Ma and help them fight Miss Ma. At some point, Miss Ma is captured by the main gang and is assisted by Ma Yung Chen's girlfriend, who's been forced to work as a servant in the club that the gang runs. She tells Miss Ma that her brother is still alive and she helps Miss Ma escape. More fights ensue and eventually brother and sister are reunited for one last confrontation with the bad guys.
Nancy Yen (BORN INVINCIBLE) is a capable actress and does a competent job in the fight scenes, although she's frequently doubled for the more strenuous stunts and acrobatic bits. But she does fight a lot. In the big climactic fight scene, Wang Yu's action is filmed in the dark and we can hardly see anything, while Miss Yen's fights are filmed with much better lighting so we can actually SEE what she does. Still, Miss Yen pales in comparison to the ferocious Chia Ling who makes such a spectacular impression in this role in QUEEN BOXER. Wang Yu, a former Shaw Bros. star (ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, THE Chinese BOXER), has a smaller part than normal here.
The edition I watched for this review was a letter-boxed, English-dubbed gray-market DVD from Crash Cinema. It runs 75 minutes long, much shorter than average for a kung fu film, which makes me wonder if some content was cut from the print used for this transfer. The English dubbing is done, I believe, by English-speaking actors of Asian descent and not the usual kung fu dubbing crew whose voices we've come to know so well after watching hundreds of these films. The English dialogue is often very odd, as in this exchange between Miss Ma and the crime boss: "It was a trick!" "Not really, it was a very simple ruse." (Ummm
isn't that the same thing?) At least there are lots of fight scenes.
BOXER FROM SHANTUNG is the best film of this group, largely because it's structured like a real rise-and-fall gangster epic, with a lot of attention to detail and an emphasis on Ma Yung Chen's noble inclination to champion the poor and working people of Shanghai. There's a sense of a real character there, not just a cardboard kung fu hero. The other films cited here are much lower-budgeted and put their emphasis on fight scenes and simple good-vs.-evil confrontations. MA SU CHEN has a large number of well-staged fight scenes that are fun to watch, but QUEEN BOXER has Chia Ling at her most ferocious, which automatically makes it a true kung fu classic. I've also reviewed BOXER FROM SHANTUNG and QUEEN BOXER for IMDb.