AKA: Enter the Silver Fox
Director: Ng See Yuen
Producer: Cheung Kune
Cast: Don Wong Tao, John Liu (Chung Liang), Hwang Jang Lee, James Nam, Lui Sau Ching, Yuen Biao, Tong Kam Tong, Gam Ming, To Wai Wo
Running Time: 87 min.
Here is a film that has the right ingredients for a good action flick, but is partnered with a chef that doesn’t know how to prepare them. The Secret Rivals has an obviously talented cast of martial artists, a standard but workable idea, and an excellent theme song, but the director Ng See Yuen snips, cuts, and meshes these elements together to form an utterly dizzying mess of a movie. However, I am informed that this is the film which revolutionized kung-fu flicks, therefore it is considered a classic and is recommended viewing. Perhaps so, but only for the curious, the hardcore fans, and the viewers who want to know everything about Hong Kong cinema. If you’re looking for an entertaining fight piece, steer clear.
Two Chinese fighters arrive in Korea to settle separate matters with a notorious martial-arts master known as the Silver Fox, and while on their stay, develop somewhat of a rivalry over the daughter of an inn-keeper. With Ng See Yuen’s amateurish direction, this basic plot is taken way out of proportion. Too much time is spent on trying to develop the story, while the fight scenes and the cast members’ energy and skills are left in the dust. Not emphasizing on the action, but rather on the “substance” is perfectly fine, but only if one can provide good acting, style, and dialogue. Here in this movie, the story telling and characters do not compensate for this unfortunate loss. The dialogue is not funny or cheesy or riddled with memorable lines, but is painfully stupid and only made worse thanks to the atrocious English dubbing, which is often difficult to understand.
The story cuts from scene to scene at a fast rate like it knows what it’s doing; it feels as if Yuen is a child let loose in a warehouse of movie ideas and who wants to try out more of them than he can handle. This task he undertakes doesn’t make The Secret Rivals a great film, but instead creates scenes that don’t make any sense, that are useless, and that only confuse the viewer. But back to the action sequences. The biggest complaint about them is that they do not last long enough. When a fight breaks out, it is suddenly stopped by the nagging plotline- literally. They barely serve to wet appetites, leaving the audience possibly too disappointed to beg for more. This is a shame; the actors seem amazingly skilled, what with all the training they do in the film. Having said this, the choreography is pointed in the right direction and when there is a fight scene, we can sense the talent. However, after several encounters, fights become irritatingly formulaic.
All complaints can be put aside though for the ending, which comes as a moment of clarity. The final confrontation is a nice showcase of skills and techniques. This ending, and the sweeping, epic-like theme song must be the only positive elements of the movie. I am not that familiar with the history of kung-fu films, but I do know a thing or two about them that allowed me not to walk into this movie expecting much in the acting, drama, and story departments. But it is most disappointing to see talent wasted on silly ideas. And as for the revolution, I suppose this film brought a new approach to fight choreography and style. It introduced new ideas and said “look what you can do.” Apparently, future projects learned from this and were able to focus on what makes kung-fu movies enjoyable- something that The Secret Rivals failed miserably to do.
Milkcan’s Rating: 6/10