The Anonymous Heroes

Year of release: 1971

Genre: kung fu

Director: Chang Cheh

Action director: Lau Kar-Leung

Stars: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Ku Feng, Ching Miao, Yang Chi Ching, Wang Chung

Rated OAT I; contains violence and brief nudity

Version reviewed: Celestial VCD

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One of the best things about Celestial turning out stellar copies of old Shaw Brothers movies is that there are so many undiscovered gems (at least to Western viewers) being released now, and this film is a prime example. If there's any one out there who doesn't think Chang Cheh was huge influence on John Woo and the "heroic bloodshed" pictures that came out after the success of A Better Tomorrow (all two of you -- put down the pinku hairy palm stuff and actually read a book for once), you really need to check out this movie. Despite some low production values (an unfortunate side effect of the Shaw Brothers' "crank 'em out quick" policy), The Anonymous Heroes is one of the best old-school flicks I've seen and a great example of the genius that was Chang Cheh.

The story has the oft-paired duo of Ti Lung and David Chiang as a couple of ne'er-do-wells who get into a scheme to steal a shipment of guns to help the revolution. Like a lot of Chang Cheh's work, there is much more behind the surface, as themes of brotherhood, loyalty, independence and the like are all touched on in this "chop-socky" -- a term which I will only use in an instance like this; just because it's a kung fu film, it doesn't mean it's any less valid as a form of cinematic expression. Anyway, the script is nothing mind-blowing, but it does allow for some nice character development, which is pushed forward via strong performances from the leads. Any one who can watch this movie and not think Ti Lung is a badass needs to switch to Sanka or something, because they're obviously impaired or "special".

Even if you don't dig the story or acting, the action here is great stuff. For a movie made over thirty years ago, The Anonymous Heroes can stand up and surpass many of the big-budget "blockbusters" cranked out now. Things start off innocuously enough with a couple of good-natured brawls between Ti and Chiang, but the ending is something that would make Peckinpah or Wong Jing proud, with lots of gunfire, sword slashes and spurting wounds.

The Anonymous Heroes does take a bit of time to get going, but once it does, it's a great ride. It's an intelligent film with a good deal of action. Even though other directors have managed to absorb a lot of this into their own movies (the ending for this movie is startlingly similar to John Woo's Hard Boiled), perhaps they can take a few more cues from this sadly too often passed-over and ignored director and actually make action movies that have characters that people will care about.


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