|(All images courtesy Celestial Pictures.)|
IN 1978, Shaw Brothers director Sun Chung had four films released. Two of those were wuxia pictures. Of them, only The Avenging Eagle reached US theaters, eventually attaining a cult status with followers of HK action cinema. The Proud Youth (the first to be put out) never made it to American shores. With the recent DVD reissue of TAE still resonating among "old school" fans, I'll now examine the overlooked TPY and see how it holds up to the more analyzed classic.
The story centers around Nangong Song (Wong Yu), the top kung fu student of Luo Chaojun (Stanley Fung Shui Fan). The life Song has been living with Chaojun and the others in the Huashan Clan is about to get turned upside down.
When the alliance chief gets word about the men's relationship, he stops Zhongying's retirement, ordering him to kill Yun. Zhongying refuses and pays a harsh price for it as his wife and children are slain. While Yun rescues Zhongying from the skirmish, he's not in time to prevent him from receiving a mortal wound. In seclusion, the two solemnly perform their composition, "Last Sound of the Empty Valley", knowing it will be their final time together to do so.
|Wong Yu and Chan Wai Ying|
Returning to the Huashan Clan, Song is punished for being with Huizhi by having to stare at the Cliff of Remorse for a year. Early into his sentence, he discovers an opening in the cliff that leads to a cave. Inside, the walls are covered with writings left by ten dead chiefs of the Sun Clan, who were lured in there by the Five Swords Clans many years prior, fearing the Sun Clan's "Chongyang Nine Swords Style" kung fu would dominate the martial arts world over the style of the Five Swords Clans. As Song ponders this revelation, he learns the "CNSS" (diagrammed on the walls) to pass the time.
Once Chaojun finds out Song's been in the company of Yingying, he kicks him out of the clan. Song doesn't stop to dwell on it as he begins to look for Shi. Upon finding him, he and Shi then spring Bai from captivity. From there, Yingying joins the threesome in killing Sima Wuji and restoring her father as head of the Sun Clan. Song passes on a job offer from Chief Bai in hopes he can get back into the Huashan Clan.
|left to right: Michael Chan Wai Man and Wong Yu|
|Stanley Fung Shui Fan|
Like TAE, Ni Kuang's screenplay for TPY is adapted from a story by Chinese novelist Jin Yong; here, it's The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (serialized 1967-69). While I've yet to read anything of Yong's, I do know from research his writings are loaded with characters and plot twists; in addition, movies derived from his work are often said to come up short because a lot of stuff is left out. To read the plot summary of TSPW on Wikipedia and compare it to the finished movie, it's obvious things are missing from TPY. While the general structure of the script is okay, it's marred by a lack of some heart and unresolved plot points that make the final outcome not as satisfying as it should be (exacerbated by an abrupt ending).
Technically, Sun Chung and his production crew have made a pretty slick feature that make the story lapses tolerable. Key personnel who worked on TAE do their magic here. Cinematographer Nam Mai Choi's photography is never less than great; there's even use of the Steadicam, but it's not used extensively like it will be in later Chung films (like The Kung Fu Instructor). Film editors Chiang Hsing Lung and Chui Sui Lung keep the movie lively, especially making the marvelous fight choreography of Tong Gaai and Wong Pau Gei exciting, by 1978 standards.
|left to right: Ku Feng (with beard) Shih Szu, |
Wong Chung and Wong Yu
The IVL DVD has added-on music and sound effects, which are totally unnecessary, but most of what's tacked on is harmless except when a synthesizer is employed. Beyond this, it has the usual fine picture (anamorphic), decent sound and "extras" to be expected on IVL Shaws.
TPY is another good movie from Sun Chung, one of many waiting to be rediscovered by those who love TAE. As one of Chang Cheh's most talented disciples (after John Woo), Chung's directing on TPY still shows some of that influence, but his storytelling has evolved since the days of (for example) The Bloody Escape to favorable results. TPY is more ornate than TAE, like one of Chu Yuan's films based on a Gu Long novel, but it's not as confusing. Despite the flaws in Ni Kuang's script, Chung has made a watchable diversion that holds the viewer by great filmmaking, if not by substance.
Brother Fang cuts to the chase: "Not as emotionally involving or cohesive as The Avenging Eagle, The Proud Youth is still quality work from Sun Chung. The guy could direct. Seriously, pick this one up (and any other movies of his you can get your hands on) before it disappears. Three stars (out of four)."
Keeping it trivial....
Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.
P.S.-- Buy The Proud Youth here. Read more about Sun Chung here.