Vengeance | aka Kung Fu Vengeance (1970) Review

"Vengeance" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Vengeance" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Chang Cheh
Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wong Ping, Guk Fung, Wong Chung, Cliff Lok, Hsu Hsia, Wong Ching Ho, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Cheng Hong Yip, Chuen Yuen, Guk Fung, Lau Gong, Shum Lo, Wong Kwong Yue, Yuen Shun-Yi, Fung Hak On, Yuen Cheung Yan, Yuen Wo Ping
Running Time: 98 min.

By Joe909

Vengeance is the perfect revenge movie. Chang Cheh accomplishes in 90 minutes what it takes Quentin Tarantino 4 hours to do in Kill Bill. But don’t get me wrong. I am in the grip of a love affair with Kill Bill, so I obviously think it’s a better movie. I just can’t help but admire Chang’s fat-free nihilistic revenge fantasy.

The opening itself is lots of violent fun, with the film’s title briefly appearing in blood-red cartoon characters, only to melt off the screen. It’s 1925 in “a city in China,” and the story begins with Ti Lung, a Peking Opera star, trying to keep an eye on his adulterous wife while at the same time performing for an audience. The bitch is having multiple affairs, but for some reason Lung still hangs onto her. He warns a bunch of thugs to keep away from her. The next day Lung heads into a restaurant, only to find that every patron is strapped with a knife. They attack en masse, in a furious battle that prefigures the bloody climax of Boxer from Shantung. I should mention that this fight is very gory, even by early Shaws standards. By the end of it, Ti Lung is a mess, sliced up with his eyes poked out. He dies after taking out several enemies. All of this happens within the first twelve minutes.

Immediately after this (like I said, the movie’s fat-free), Lung’s angst-ridden brother David Chiang strides into town. He’s looking for, you guessed it, vengeance, because a movie with the title “Forgive and Forget” wouldn’t do so well at the box office. The film then follows mostly the same path as Fist of Fury, but we must remember that Vengeance came out two years before Bruce Lee’s movie. In some ways I prefer Vengeance’s handling of the subject matter. Instead of engaging in balls-to-the-wall kung-fu fights with his targets (Chiang of course was not nearly the martial artist Bruce Lee was), Chiang instead knifes everyone on his list. And boy, he kills everyone. That beautiful Shaws red-paint blood flows freely in this one. I love it!

But speaking of the kung-fu, there are several fights in this, and they aren’t choreographed as well as you’d wish. They’re not Mannix-level, mind you. In fact, they really aren’t that bad. It’s just that we all have been spoiled by modern-day, intricate choreography, thank you very much, Jackie Chan. Ti Lung has a few fights before his grand exit, and it’s obvious he was the better martial artist, but this movie was intended as a David Chiang vehicle. Although Lung is still revered as a great early kung-fu actor, David Chiang’s star has faded; it seems obvious to me that when Bruce Lee would famously poke fun at the sub par kung-fu talents of actors in early 1970s Hong Kong movies, he was indirectly referring to David Chiang. But still, Chiang does have a great screen presence; his hooded eyes and constant sneer make him believable in the role. And speaking of famous early Shaws actors, Chen Kuan-Tai makes a brief cameo as a guard who can’t NEARLY take a knife to the gut as well as his character in Boxer from Shantung could.

The Celestial disc is fantastic! I can’t believe how well they’ve restored these old classics. I could moan that the English dub wasn’t included (part of my lifelong enjoyment of Shaw Brothers movies has been the cheesy English dubbing), but it’s really no big deal. The movie is also uncut, in full color; Vengeance reverted to black and white in certain scenes in the US print, to hide the violence. Yes, this is what gave Quentin Tarantino inspiration to make parts of the “House of Blue Leaves” fight sequence black and white in Kill Bill; he himself stated this in an interview on the Charlie Rose show.

The DVD also features multiple extras. Several trailers are included, as well as behind the scenes shots and documentaries on Ti Lung, David Chiang, and most importantly, Chang Cheh. The Chang bio is worth the price of the DVD itself, as it features current-day Hong Kong directors (i.e. John Woo, Tsui Hark) and actors (i.e. Andy Lau) reminiscing about him. It’s all in Cantonese, but English subtitles are offered. We also see shots of several Chang movies, and the interesting thing is, Celestial uses clips from movies that aren’t remastered. For example, multiple clips from One-Armed Swordsman are shown, the print all faded and worn, with the burnt-on Chinese and English subtitles at the bottom of the frame. Really makes you appreciate even more how Celestial has cleaned up these movies.

Production quality for the movie is very high, the acting is pretty good, and the fighting, while not elaborate as a latter-day Shaws flick, is a carnage-filled delight. You need some Vengeance in your life.

Joe909’s Rating: 10/10

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One Response to Vengeance | aka Kung Fu Vengeance (1970) Review

  1. Chadd says:

    I dig your reviews. Great site.

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