Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Shadow Boxing – review

Director: Chia-Liang Liu

Release date: 1979

Contains spoilers

The Shadow Boxing was also known as Spiritual Boxer II but was only very loosely a sequel to the 1974 film. It was a Shaw Brothers’ production and the very start of the film has a voice over regarding corpse herders and the idea that in Xiangxi province, before transportation was invented, to return the corpse to its village corpse herders would use black magic to animate the body.

Clearly this animation makes them kyonsi but I will state at the head that we get very little in the way of classic Chinese vampire action – despite them being referred to as vampire through the film (at least on the subtitles I saw). These are pretty much under control – bar one as we shall see. You’ll also note that this did not have the Taoist trappings that were later placed within the typical kyonsi film.

Corpse preperation
At the head of the film the apprentice herder Fan Chun Yuen (Wong Yu) prepares a corpse for herding. We note the use of spell scrolls but a lot of the ritual trappings that would later be introduced are not yet to be found. The effect is that the rituals are almost minimalist, with hindsight. The mortuary has a total of eight bodies and Yuen has to find his master Chen Wu, (Chia Yung Liu), who is missing. Local girl Ah-Fei (Cecilia Wong) points him to a gambling house so long as he takes her with him (on the road that is).

transport only in odd numbers
In the gambling house the Master has been winning and this leads to a fight when Yuen gets there. The Master sits it out as Yuen fights with the Master calling instructions. His fight style is based on vampires and the Master calls moves. This sets up for the rest of the film as we learn that Yuen has a poor memory and cannot fight without the next move within the discipline being communicated to him. The Master reminds the apprentice that they cannot leave with eight corpses as it has to be an odd number.

Gordon Liu as the bald one
Back at the mortuary a new body of a bald man (Gordon Liu, Shaolin Vs Vampire, Shaolin Vs Evil Dead and Shaolin Vs Evil Dead: Ultimate Power) is brought in – making nine. The master leaves most of the preparation to Yuen, as he is a drunk. Ah-Fei reminds Yuen of his promise. She is being forced to marry and dislikes her future husband. Yuen says he cannot take her due to her female energy interacting badly with the vampires. The corpse herders get on their way but the bald vampire is acting up all the time. When they stop to eat Yuen is convinced he hears the corpse swallow.

bouncing down the road
After talking their way through a roadblock where the soldiers seem a little debauched and are looking for a fugitive, they reach an inn for the night. Yuen preps the corpses as the Master sneaks off to the local gambling house. During the night Yuen sees shadows moving outside his room and is convinced it is the bald vampire. Something gets in and… it is Ah-Fei, who has cut her hair, put men’s clothes on and run away from home.

cooking up a plan
In the morning Yuen has to get the Master who has won big and is being attacked by the house owners for the money. A massive fight ensues, which ends when the guard captain from the roadblock enters and realises who the master is. He gets his money but has fractured his leg. Ah-Fei is recruited and she and Yuen have to deliver the corpses. There are comedy moments with regards Ah-Fei and her reactions, untrained, to the animated dead but the moments aren’t as in your face as later kyonsi movie comedies might have taken the joke.

A villain killed for vengeance
You probably will have guessed that the bald vampire is not actually dead and is the fugitive – using the idea of corpse herding to pass roadblocks undetected. He is actually a police officer who discovered corruption between the head of his ranks and a local crime boss. Refusing to be bribed he was framed and looks to clear his name. The same, we discover, happened to the Master twenty years before hence being drunk and gambling.

fight sequence
I am no expert on martial arts movies but the main fights, in the gambling houses and as the film climaxes seemed rather impressive to me. There is a scene where they lose a corpse and fake it being returned to the family (with Yuen masquerading as the corpse) that would be replicated years later in films such as the Musical Vampire. The cinematography looked lovely compared to some of the low budget films that would follow.

more action
I really enjoyed this for the change of pace. There was a seriousness to the film and crispness to the photography that leant it a different atmosphere from many of the kyonsi films that would follow. Also I liked the fact that they were there, controlled and the main plot of the film was focused elsewhere, it was again a nice change of pace.

6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

spiritual boxer 2 on Amazon US

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