|"This one's dedicated to the fine people over at the Heroic Sisterhood Facebook|
page who love their Ti Lung on Tuesday-- and every other day of the week!"
|(All movie images courtesy Celestial Pictures)|
***AUTHOR'S NOTE: More than a few reference sources, including contemporary HK posters, cite the movie's title as just Delightful Forest, with no "The". I'll refer to it in the same way. In addition, my experiences with anything relative to the literary Water Margin stem only from Chang Cheh's four movie adaptations and Li Han-Hsiang's 1982 Shaw Tiger Killer, plus online material about the novel, such as the writings on Wikipedia. Based on this, my review is focused on the movie, with an occasional nod to the online breakdowns of the novel and its characters, which helped me to understand what was going on in the movie substantially.***
ONE interesting bit of trivia related to Wu Sung, one of the better-known fictional heroes from the Chinese novel Water Margin (a.k.a. Outlaws of the Marsh), comes from Wikipedia. It says his story "is probably the only one that has been remade many times in Chinese media, due to the fact that adultery in China was a serious offence (and a huge dishonour to the family)", which says a lot about their culture. (How much of that same adultery contributed to the rise in population over the centuries, I can't begin to guess.)
So when Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh decided to to produce a series of films based on the book, it was inevitable one of them would spotlight the honorable, wine-drinking tiger killer. Of course, in keeping with the filmmaker's "yang gang" philosophy, as Delightful Forest (the prequel to his The Water Margin, released in HK 2/17/72) was being made, he decided to pass on the earlier "soap opera" elements of Wu Sung's tale and focus on the events that led him to join the 108 bandits on Mount Liang Shan (in northern China) in rebelling against Hui Zhong, an emporer (non-fictional) of the Song Dynasty who reigned during troubled times from 1101-1125 AD.
|Lau Kar Wing|
|left to right: Ti Lung, Yu Feng and Wong Kuong Yue|
|left to right: Tin Ching and Wong Ching Ho|
|left to right: Ti Lung and Chu Mu|
|left to right: ?, Ti Lung and Chiang Nan|
Considering Chang Cheh had The Water Margin, Delightful Forest, All Men are Brothers and the "White Water Strand" segment of Trilogy of Swordsmanship in various stages of development concurrently, and DF fared as well as it ultimately did aesthetically (and, presumably, fiancially), seems miraculous, but it's not a surprise. DF (co-directed with Pao Hsueh-li) is another reminder of how Cheh was more adept at creating smaller movies than big-budgeted epics. This is not to say he couldn't conceive an epic, but the point eventually came where he got in over his head with making them. Later ambitious films like 7-Man Army and Boxer Rebellion (both 1976) simply lacked the box office success of earlier Cheh classics like One-Armed Swordsman or Boxer from Shantung because it was obvious the money was put more towards the onscreen spectacle rather than help sustain the screenplays. Fortunately, back in 1972, Cheh had yet to hit the wall creatively, regardless of the scale of the movies he worked on.
|For the women, a gratuitous shot of Ti Lung without a shirt.|
|For the men, a gratuitous shot of Yu Feng.|
|(Well Go USA)|
For anyone who's interested in experiencing Cheh's Water Margin movies, a good starting point may be DF. With fewer people to keep track of than in TWM or AMaB, it's easier to watch and keep up with. In fact, it stands well on its own and can be enjoyed without seeing the others. It's not perfect, but it's a solid, well-paced film, skillfully balancing atmosphere, bloody action and drama with dashes of comedy as seasoning. For Ti Lung fans in particular, they get to see him deliriously dive into the role of Wu Sung, a nice respite from David Chiang and playing wandering swordsmen. If I had to give DF a numerical rating, I'd give it eight bowls of wine out of ten. Cheers.
Brother Fang cuts to the chase: "Easily the best of Chang Cheh's Water Margin movies. Whether you see them all or only Delightful Forest, you'll find yourself returning to it again and again. Recommended."
Keeping it trivial....
Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.
P.S.-- Buy Delightful Forest here.