18 October 2009 | BrianDanaCamp
BANDITS FROM SHANTUNG - Middling martial arts adventure from Golden Harvest
BANDITS FROM SHANTUNG (1972) has some great atmosphere and a couple of superb fight scenes, but it doesn't have enough of a plot to keep us fully engaged. It starts off well enough with some nice build-up in a sprawling deserted farm town (a nice backlot on a Taiwan location) as various motley characters show up at the town's only open establishment, a tavern/inn, with some evil doings in mind. When advance men for the title bandits show up to lay the groundwork for a raid, they round up all available hostages but one. That one is the film's lone hero (Chang Yi), whose motivation is simply stated—he's there to check up on family—but no one believes him. At the thirty-minute mark, he launches into an eight-minute battle with the two bandit chieftains, hand-to-hand with one (Sammo Hung) and swordplay with the other (an actor I didn't recognize). It's a well-staged brawl and it spreads all over the empty town.
Afterwards, not much of interest happens until the next major fight scene, which takes up the film's last 13 minutes as our hero fights the bandit leader (Pai Ying). It's a good fight, but we haven't really seen enough of the villain up to this point to feel any stake in it. And he's done such a poor job of banditry throughout the film that he seems a bit out of his league with this formidable hero. So there's not much suspense.
The few notable supporting cast members include Hu Chin (one of the kung fu-fighting tavern maids in THE FATE OF LEE KHAN), Chien Yuet San (who played a Japanese villain in WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES) and future kung fu great Sammo Hung, but they have relatively small parts. All the great characters we meet in the first half-hour are pretty much gone from the movie by the 40-minute mark, after the first major fight. Sammo Hung choreographed the fight scenes. The film's writer-director is Huang Feng, who was responsible for so many of Golden Harvest's early kung fu classics (LADY WHIRLWIND, HAPKIDO, WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES, etc.).
Still, it's short (79 min.) and well-paced and shot amidst picturesque locations and that awesome set built in the middle of the Taiwan countryside. And it's nice to see Chang Yi still playing heroes after being a leading man at Shaw Bros. (THE SECRET OF THE DIRK) but before his great streak of kung fu villainy in the later '70s (TRAITOROUS, EAGLE'S CLAW, CHALLENGE OF DEATH, FATAL NEEDLES VS. FATAL FISTS, etc.).