Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In short: The Black Falcon (1967)

A shadowy and evil organization known as "The Black Falcon" terrorizes Hong Kong with unspecified shadowy and evil deeds. The World Insurance Organization (don't ask me) sends in its best man, Zhang Shijie (Paul Chang Chung), sworn brother to James Bond.

The Black Falcon's mastermind is a certain Mister Tan, but nobody in the organization speaks directly to him and nobody knows exactly where he lives. Fortunately, Zhang's superiors have a brilliant plan to find Tan. Our man Zhang will have to charm himself into the trust of Tan's daughter Julie (Jenny Hu) and get her father's whereabouts out of her. The charming part works out wonderfully. Julie hasn't seen her father for several months, though and doesn't have the slightest clue where he might live.

Worse for Zhang is the fact that the Black Falcon is on to his tricks and tries to murder him repeatedly. After a few other complications are dealt with and Julie is in the clear about who Zhang his and how evil and shadowy an evil and shadowy organization the Black Falcon truly is, the two team up to, um, drive randomly around the countryside, I guess.

The Black Falcon, directed by ex-Nikkatsu director Takumi Furukawa isn't exactly the crowning jewel of the spy movies the Shaw Brothers produced in the wake of the James Bond fever that seemed to have gripped Asia (or at least Hong Kong and Japan) especially heavily. The film's problems are twofold. Firstly, The Shaw's favorite secret agent Paul Chang Chung isn't the ideal casting for a super suave, super smart agent (here called a "detective", but who cares). While he knows how to handle himself in a fight and isn't exactly a bad actor, he also isn't all that charismatic or sexy, so that one has to trust the assurances of the script regarding his charisma and sexiness, instead of actually seeing them on screen.

Secondly, the script lacks any feeling of propulsion, and while we get to see a fair share of action, there never seems to be much of a reason for anything that happens except those boxes on the list of "things that belong in a spy film" the scriptwriters used. If our supposed hero has a plan, it doesn't show on screen too much.

While these flaws (and its pitiful lack of Lily Ho) are enough to keep the film from being more than a qualified recommendation, it also has a few virtues.

Furukawa's direction is fast and snappy and more often than not delightfully pop, and while the film isn't a satisfying whole, you can't blame Furukawa's ability for staging fun action sequences and set pieces for it.

There is a lot of fun to be had when the film gets through one of the classical motions of 60s spy films after another, most of them very expertly executed. As long as you are able to go with its semi-cheap, glossy surface charms and don't look for meaning or narrative, The Black Falcon is a fine time.



Todd said...

I actually liked this one quite a bit, but I think that's partly due to my having heard so many terrible things about it beforehand, which caused my expectations to be about as low as possible. Also, I was very pleased with myself at the time for recognizing that it was a remake of a Sergio Sollima film.

houseinrlyeh said...

A Sergio Solima film I still have to see.
But it's far from being terrible, I agree there, just lacking something. I think I would have liked it more with a different lead actor.
Personally, I'd have tried to give all of Paul Chang Chung's spy roles to, hm, David Chiang.

Todd said...

I think Tang Ching was also a pretty good HK Bond. Pretty much all of them were better than Paul Chang Chung, sadly. Though he's better here than in Golden Buddha.