Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)

Chinese title: Turbulence in the Welcoming Spring Pavilion (迎春閣之風波).

The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)There're 2 title roles in this movie - Lee Khan is the English title role while the inn or tavern  ("Welcoming Spring Pavilion") supplies the Chinese title role. In fact, 2 of his previous notable wuxia films have the inn as the focal point where the story takes place. These include Come Drink with Me (1966), and Dragon Inn (1967).

This is 1 of the 3 "inn movies" that King Hu made. Indeed, the inn appears in this movie nearly twice as long as Lee Khan, who only makes his grand and much anticipated entrance into the inn almost - to the minute - exactly half way into the film. This is the point when the 2 title characters come together. Indeed, this crucial moment is shown with much attention from the director. I was expecting fanfare with 2 rows of trumpeters, but found only bodyguards instead. Wait, this is a Mongol Khan, not medieval European monarch (my bad).

The inn, such as one that is located in an out of way place, is a gathering of the various characters from the cross section of jianghu. The 1st half of the movie shows the coming and going of such people passing through the inn. All these colourful jianghu characters only adds confusion to the task of identifying who's on your side, and who's spy. In short, the inn is the very microcosm of the jianghu.

It's interesting that on the one hand, King Hu is masterful in capturing the panoramic vista in many of his movies, and at the same time creating situations where characters interact in the claustrophobic confine of the inn. Such contrast creates and accentuates the tensions of both. This is 1 of King Hu's forte.

A number of King Hu's favourite actors in his previous films also appear here - Bai Ying, Roy Chiao, and Hsu Feng. 2 notable new faces are worth mentioning. Li Li-Hua was usually given a role of a woman with strength, capability, and a leader to play (e.g. The Magnificent Concubine (1962), Wu Ze Tian (1963), etc). More interestingly is the inclusion of Angela Mao, who kicked her way to fame with a number of kungfu flicks, of which Hapkido (1972) being the most celebrated. She's also crowned in the West as Lady Kung Fu, which is an alternative title for Hapkido (1972). Despite being a wuxia with sword play, she did a lot of kicking in this movie, by popular demand, no doubt. We don't want to see her wielding swords, we want to see her famous straight, and rapid successive kicks that's really is her cup of tea. The enjoyment of her kicks was diminished somewhat as she had to do so in a long, multi-layered, heavy frock. Unfortunately, the Yuan period costume demands this Mongolian attire. Nice to look at, just not the best outfit for kungfu kicks.

The Fate of Lee Khan (1973)I mentioned in several different reviews that King Hu, and Chang Cheh are 2 of the most high profile directors, but they're also polar opposite in 2 important respect. Chang Cheh is quite happy to switch to direct kungfu genre after Bruce Lee arrived in the HK movie scene while King Hu is stubbornly stuck to his wuxia. Also, Chang Cheh's wuxia is tough and masculine with strong male lead(s) while King Hu prefer the female lead of nuxia or swordswoman. Li Li-Hua played the female lead, and the female main characters outnumber the male counterparts in this movie.

Choreography has never been King Hu's strongest suit, and in this case, we could only have Sammo Hung to blame. Well, it isn't too shabby. It's better than his previous films. It's just not as equally matched King Hu's other departments. As usual, the wardrobe department is impeccable.

Overall, this is King Hu's minor masterpiece, and an enjoyable entertainment. This is more entertaining than Come Drink with Me, just not a landmark movie (which doesn't always means entertaining).

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