Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pai Yu-Ching (1977)

Martial world China. A masked, black-clad martial artist attacks the headquarters of the highly influential Green Dragon Band and steals its most important possession, a scroll known as the Green Dragon Pass (that somehow grants the group some sort of dominance over other martial arts groups, but that's neither going to be important later on nor explained to the unworthy audience). The intruder maims and kills quite a few of the Band's members (comes from only playing hippie jam rock), but loses a piece of jade during his escape.That piece of jade is easily identifiable as belonging to the well-known swordsman Pai Yu-Cheng (Tien Peng), so the ambitious second in command of the Green Dragon Band - hell-bent on using his group's problems to seize power from his aging and ill master - sets a prize on Pai's head.

Of course, it has all been a set-up. Pai is as honourable a swordsman as they come, the type of man who adopts incredibly annoying children he just met on the street as his martial arts students, protects the weak and needy, helps your grandma cross the street etc etc.

Nonetheless, Pai now has to fight through a lot of other martial artists out for his blood, all the while trying to find out who framed him and what the whole affair of the Green Dragon Pass is all about. There will be betrayal, some mannered flirting, and lots and lots of characters who are never properly introduced, acting for reasons that sometimes are even explained.

Fortunately for Pai, the Green Dragon Band is not exactly united, with various factions besides number two competing against each other to become the replacement of its leader. It might even be possible that the cause for Pai's troubles lies with these factional differences.

The Taiwanese wuxia Pai Yu-Ching is certainly not one of the major hidden gems of its genre. It is a rather unremarkable mishmash of typical wuxia elements that have already appeared in hundreds of better films, and would continue to appear in dozens more. If you don't expect too much of the film going into it however, and if you like the wuxia genre in its more conservative/classicist form, there's a good potential for entertainment to be found in it anyway.

Sure, the film's plot is only an excuse to throw as many fight scenes on screen as possible, and director Lee Ga's storytelling tends to the confusing side even for the less than rigid standards of the wuxia film. Most of the time, the director is just throwing stuff at the audience, probably in the hope that some of it will resonate, but at least the fight scenes that stuff is meant to generate are competent and professionally choreographed, and at times even mildly exciting to watch. Lee's direction is of the very basic point and shoot school, but the editing is dynamic enough - if a little rough - to keep the film flowing nicely, instead of stumbling around like the truly bad films of the genre do.

This isn't one of those late period, second tier wuxia films that try to evoke a feeling of grand adventure by misunderstanding King Hu and being slow and ponderous. Lee seems out to entertain with the simple tools he has available, and if you're willing to be entertained, he'll let his actors do their little dances of weird wigs, only very slightly strange martial arts, and comfortable melodrama for you with all the grace of the true professionals they are.

That Pai Yu-Ching will in a few days turn into just another part of the mush of clanging swords, the sound clothing makes when somebody jumps real high, and always the same library music into which many of the less directly memorable wuxia from Taiwan have dissolved in my brain over the years, doesn't change is basic okayness. It doesn't sound like much, but I don't regret my 85 minutes with the film.


No comments: