Life Gamble (HK 1978)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/24/11
Director: Chang Cheh
Cast: Philip Kwok, Alexander Fu Sheng, Lo Meng, Wang Lung, Wei Ying Hung, Dick Wei

A wonderful tale of greed, betrayal, and deceit as a group of people compete for a stolen jade treasure. Qui Zi Yu (Philip Kwok) is a kung fu master who has left the world of martial arts and gone into hiding. Unfortunately, his cover as a blacksmith isn't very good, since everyone seems to know who he is and about his past. Four thieves are in town to gamble over possession of the jade, and numerous parties come to Yu for assistance. He ultimately sides with the original owner of the jade and decides to help him get it back. In the process, nearly everyone who gets near the jade gets killed as a result of their greed, selfishness, and poor moral choices.

It's a good looking production and the performances are quite enjoyable. The convoluted story is fun to follow and the film moves at a steady pace. Philip Kwok gives an outstanding physical performance, with gracefully fluid movements and amazingly effortless back flips. Chang Cheh's love of unique and ridiculous weapons is present once again, with the highlight being an iron hand that Yu fashions. The kung fu is entertaining, but the choreography is stiff and calculated, and the players pull their punches more than I prefer. The lovely Wei Ying Hung shows up in a supporting role, but sadly has no action scenes. By far the funniest part of the film is its use of music from "Monty Python And The Holy Grail" (1974), which creates a bizarre association. (although I suspect it was originally lifted from somewhere else) Chang Cheh's signature use of blood is also on display, but it's not as gratuitous or gruesome as some of his other films. There's also the laughably awful facial hair and Fu Sheng once again sports his terrible trademark hair style. Apart from its corniness, it's still a good time, and it's a delight to see everything played straight. Studio imposed comedies would later dominate and ruin the genre.