|(All images courtesy Celestial Pictures.)|
IF you combine Rebel Without a Cause with The Bowery Boys, add a dash of Poor Little Rich Girl (in this story, a rich young man), and filter it through director Chang Cheh's "yang gang", the result wiil be Friends. It's the last Shaw Brothers movie Cheh would make in the "younger generation"-oriented vein, as his main focus shifted to the making of the "Shaolin" pictures. Though it was one of those very films (Heroes Two) that introduced HK moviegoers to new star Fu Sheng in early 1974, Friends was actually the first one (with him in a lead role) completed. Its release would be held up until the summer, and while it's only a good guess it did OK box office, what can be confirmed is the "Best Young Newcomer Award" the movie won at the '74 Asian Film Festival. The recipient: Fu Sheng.
The most common complaint about Friends centers on how David Chiang and Fu Sheng interact as the leads. Some sense a lack of dynamics between them, which doesn't ring true with the assertion they are supposed to be friends. People forget that Jiaji and Heng get introduced to each other under tense circumstances, and Jiaji doesn't help matters when he ruins Heng's portrait of Xin by smashing it over his chauffeur's head! Further, Heng's trying to break out as an artist while juggling a girlfriend and a job at the same time. For all the friends he has now, the sudden surfacing of Jiaji (who appears to have no friends at the beginning of the film, except his sifu Wang, played by Tung Choi-bo) seems to be one friend too many for him to handle. Once Jiaji gets to meet Heng's other friends, any burden is lifted off his shoulders and distributed to everyone else; only then does he begin to see Jiaji's a nice guy. Significantly, what we are observing is the beginnning of a friendship over the few days' time covered in the film, and by having seen the prologue, we know it will still be thriving ten years later (and counting). As the start of friendships go, Chiang's performance rings true, and it compliments the one delivered by Sheng.