Gordon Liu is one of the best known Shaw Brothers stars, having been in the classics “36th Chamber of Shaolin” and “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter” to name but two, as well as featuring in fervent fanboy Tarantino’s recent martial arts love letter “Kill Bill”. “Godfather of Canton” was directed by Kuei Chih hung, best known for the sleazy horror films which he made for the Shaw Brothers, including “Hex” and the infamous “The Killer Snakes”. “Canton” was originally released by the studio back in 1982, and may come as somewhat of a shock to fans used to seeing the shaven-headed Liu playing a righteous Shaolin upstart, as the film sees him taking on a thoroughly immoral role as a gangster who rises through the ranks of the underworld thanks to double crossing and bloody ruthlessness.
In “Godfather of Canton”, Gordon Liu plays Hai, a coolie who saves the life of a police envoy investigating corruption in the force, and is offered a job at the station as a result. After this turns out to be little more than sweeping floors and taking abuse from his co-workers, Hai takes matters into his own hands and starts accepting bribes from local criminals. Using treachery and cunning, Hai gradually worms his way into the pay of the local gangs, gaining influence and respect, before quitting the police altogether to become a fully fledged underworld boss.
“Godfather of Canton ” doesn’t start off too promisingly, taking place on cheap looking sets and filled with weak slapstick humour. However, as soon as the plot kicks in, things improve immeasurably, and Hai’s rise to the top makes for an interesting divergence from the usual Shaw Brothers tale of righteousness and piety. Hai’s scheming and ruthlessness make him a great and fitting character for the film, which actually turns out to be a cynical, if not particularly intelligent affair, depicting corruption at every level of police and government.
Indeed, Hai is portrayed as being no worse than many of these dishonest officials, and at least manages to keep some semblance of honour in his continuing to look after his retarded coolie friend even after his rise to power. This leads to a mock-touching scene in which Hai presides over his friend’s wedding to a similarly afflicted girl, with hilariously tragic results. All this endears Hai to the viewer, and although the plot is fairly formulaic and predictable, it is hard not to cheer him on or care about his fate.
The film is certainly action packed, though most of it comes in the form of shoot outs and mass brawls, with just a couple of brief martial arts duels. As the film progresses it becomes considerably more violent and bloody, with the use of squibs that rivals Peckinpah’s classic “The Wild Bunch”, leading up to a great finale filled with meat cleaver chopping and exploding bodies. Interestingly, the trailer features several scenes of action and nudity not seen in the film, although judging from the content, these are unlikely to have been censored, and are probably missing due to the reportedly chaotic nature of the production.
Although “Godfather of Canton” may not appeal to devotees of Liu’s more traditional roles, fans of the studio’s more contemporary efforts and Chinese crime films in general will not be disappointed. Director Kuei Chih hung has a good eye for exploitation cinema, and keeps things moving along at a good speed, throwing in shootings and betrayals every few minutes to ensure that the short running time passes quickly. To be fair, there is very little in the way of character development or depth of any kind, though this never really gets in the way of what is essentially a short, violent and entertaining thrill ride.
Kuei Chih hung (director)
CAST: Gordon Liu, Feng Ku, Chia Hui Liu