“The Golden Lion” is a re-release of the 1975 Shaw Brothers swordplay film directed by the prolific Ho Meng Hua, probably best known for “The Flying Guillotine”. As well as being responsible for a good number of traditional wuxia films, Hua actually worked for the studio across a wide range of genres, from modern day horror in “Black Magic”, through to the sleazy “Kiss of Death”, and perhaps more unfortunately, the trash classic “The Mighty Peking Man”.
Although “The Golden Lion” takes its title and character names from the works of novelist Jin Yong, as with so many other films it bears no real resemblance to the author’s rich and complex stories. Wisely, there is no real attempt at adaptation here, and so the film does not suffer by comparison and remains a fun and action packed genre effort.
The plot begins as the Golden Lion (Chao Hsiung, also in “Chinese Boxer”), a bandit with mysterious strength who robs from the rich and apparently gives to the poor, is ambushed and poisoned by the evil bounty hunter Wang Hsieh and his gang, who are hunting him at the behest of the authorities. Golden Lion’s friends take him to the home of a righteous doctor, who agrees to help cure the wounded bandit despite the threats of Wang Hsieh.
Needing to find a special ingredient to create a life-saving antidote, the doctor sets out for a distant mountain, taking the injured Golden Lion along in a cart, and accompanied by his surly son and courageous daughter (popular studio star Li Ching, “The Fourteen Amazons”). However, the road is long and perilous, and they are beset at every turn by Wang Hsieh, who will stop at nothing to catch his quarry.
As with many of the studio’s swordplay films, the plot is basically an excuse for a series of fight scenes in a variety of familiar looking locations. However, Ho Meng Hua does manage to work up a fair amount of tension, and puts a twist on the formula by having the titular character remain injured and debilitated throughout the film, meaning that the martial arts duties are shared amongst the rest of the cast. Although there are no real surprises, the film is a tense, fast moving affair that has a definite hard edge, with plenty of spurting blood and a rather ruthless decimation of the supporting characters.
Having said this, the film is frequently hard to take seriously, especially since the villains have a habit of lurking in bushes en masse, cackling deviously as they wait to pounce, despite the fact that they are spectacularly poorly hidden. Similarly, no reason is ever given for the Golden Lion’s incredible strength, which allows him to pick up his foes, sometimes two at once, and hurl them great distances.
Despite the obvious ups and downs of his career, Ho Meng Hua was arguably one of the studio’s better directors, and he gives “The Golden Lion” a handsome look, making the most of the beautiful scenery with a number of panoramic shots. He handles the action scenes with real cinematic flair, switching between wide angles and high impact close ups which works very well in both the multi-participant battles and the bloody one on one duels at the climax. The opening scenes in particular, featuring a rain lashed forest brawl, are both atmospheric and exciting.
Since the action comes thick and fast, with very little in the way of exposition and a commendable brief running time, the film is efficient and thrilling. Though perhaps lacking the spark of originality to make it truly memorable, it is definitely a superior studio effort and makes for highly entertaining and exciting viewing.
Meng-Hwa Ho (director)
CAST: Hung Chiu, Ching Lee