13 May 2013 | bob the moo
Engaging plot and quite brutal
Yan Zi Fei and Guan Yue Hua are returning home in love and plan to tell their parents but once they arrive back they find that there is a conflict between the two families. Guan Fun Lin is working with Master Ogawa to assist the Japanese in taking possession of the Yan family's forest – by fair means or foul. With Master Yan refusing to sell, Ogama continues his plotting, using deceit, betrayal and ultimately bloody violence to get what he wants.
After seeing some modern films which appear to be referencing the films of the Shaw Brothers, I decided to make a bit of effort to actually watch some of the originals and, as such, I have come to a few of them with the rather "tongue-in-cheek" approach of modern films in mind. It isn't that I have expected total cheese but certainly some element of cheesiness is in my mind when I click play. As a result some of them have taken me by surprise and The Deadly Knives (Luoye Fei dao) is one such film. The plot begins with a very abrupt setup as we quickly learn Ogawa wants this land (in a scene we he says this and then the scene ends!) and that our two main characters are in love. From there the film gets better with the plot and I found the various betrayals and twists to be pretty engaging. What helped this is that there is very little comedy (maybe one or two moments) but mostly it is very brutal. The fight scenes are spread out but are always pretty bloody and intense but more noticeably there is a real thread of sexual violence running through the film. Rape is implied and although some nudity is in here, generally it is shown in a fair way that is not exploitative – the damage it does and the cruelty of it is clear.
The fight sequences are well done, in particular the very large sequence which closes the film; the camera is steady and allows you to see what is happening and this is appreciated as it really lets you appreciate the coordination of all the individual movements. It may not have the wire-fu excesses but the complexity and intensity of it is more than enough. The cast do the action well but also handled the acting side too. Yun Ling plays Fei without a lot of depth and character but he makes a solid central character even if he overacts his despair a bit too much. Li Ching is good as well and convinces more in her pain. The best of the bunch for me was Lily Li's Chiao-Chiao (or Jiao Jiao as my subtitles had it) as she brought character with a small look (her feelings for her foster brother) and also her genuine fear of the violence against her – it was a brutal performance. The villains of the film are enjoyably cruel and well delivered so that they are excessive but not to the point of becoming pantomime characters.
I enjoyed how engaging and brutal this film was, it is not perfect but the action is good, the plot has meaning and consequence and the narrative provides plenty of brutality and twists to keep the attention.