A film where betrayal is the coin of the realm and even old friends cannot be trusted-let alone all the scoundrels who swarm around in an attempt to gain a rare and valuable prize whose cost maybe death.
What They Say
Kung Fu fans with a bloodlust for backstabbing bad guys and gut-wrenching plot twists need look no further than this offering from the Godfather of Hong Kong Cinema, Chang Cheh. Life Gamble is the tale of a Kung Fu blacksmith caught in a life and death struggle between dueling knife-slingers, the seductress who kills with her smile, a murderous iron-fisted villain, and the ruthless king of gamblers. Starring Hong Kong screen-idols Alexander Fu Sheng (Brave Archer) and Kuo Chui (Demon of the Lute, Brave Archer And His Mate), this sanguine saga of thievery, gambling, and cold-blooded murder drives audiences to the edge of their seats, leaving them nervously watching their backs long after the credits have rolled.
For the purposes of this review the viewing of the film was done in its original Mandarin mono language option. The audio is clear with no drop outs or distortions noted. The English mono dub was spot checked and there were no distortions or drop outs there either.
The biggest disappointment in this release is that its 16:9 presentation is not anamorphic widescreen. The film was created in 1978 and the transfer is otherwise rather well done. Colors and shadows come across clean with a lack of bleed or other issues were noted.
The cover presents two scenes from the end of the film with one of the characters standing in front of his private army on the top half or the cover and separated from an image of him fighting at the bottom by a large white banner giving the name of the feature and showing the Shaw Brothers logo. The back has an almost line-up like image showing the main players in this story while the banner has a picture of the original theatrical poster as well as some stills from the film under that. Like FUNimation's other Shaw releases this one comes with a slip cover that mirrors the DVDs presentation of the cover.
The main menu is a static picture from the top half of the front cover running the entire screen and the white banner overlaying it much like it does on the cover providing the selection options. There is a piece of music that plays in the background that appears to be one that the Shaw Brothers liked to use to signify that this is one of their films. The menu options are quick to respond when selected . No glitches were noted when shifting between options.
This feature contains no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens in a small Chinese village where a blacksmith is plying his trade. He is approached by the famous swordsman Mo Jun Feng to make him a set of knives like the ones he has lost. Mo believes the blacksmith to be Qui Zi Yu who was a weapons maker of great renown who made excellent weapons for martial arts experts and only asked that the recipient of them teach him one of their special skills. However Qui disappeared three years back and now Mo believes he has tracked Qui down. The blacksmith denies being Qui and claims he only makes farm tools and not weapons. As Mo is trying to persuade Qui to listen to him a carriage arrives in need of repair. The driver is a man known for his work with a whip and his passenger in the carriage Xiao Qiang who it turns out is also possessing of a reputation and has a history with Mo. With these many notorious people suddenly flocking to the same area it appears as if something major is up. Xiao knows that Qui was betrayed by a customer (Yan Zi Fei) and injured before he disappeared. She shares this knowledge with Mo to get him to agree to work with her in return for her persuading Qui to make daggers he wanted replaced.
It is revealed that Xiao is after a incredibly valuable jade statue which was recently stolen by four famous outlaws and will be brought to the village they are now at as it is home away from home to a master gambler called the Golden Lion. The four will trust their luck to see who will be the sole possessor of the jade and the wrath of the noble family it belongs to. As the number of people looking to obtain the jade at any means grows the film switches to show that part of why the Golden Lion is such a master a gambling is he has a device that allows him to cheat at dice. The Golden Lion is making other preparations as well, making sure the best courtesan he has-Shuang Shuang-sets up her hostess duties to put the four outlaws at easy and make them easier prey. After Shuang agrees to do so for an exceptional price the Golden Lion makes preparation to betray her as well . He talks to the assassin he rescued off the street and had raised for ten years about making sure she doesn't get away with the money after completing her task.
As these other plots are being set in motion Xiao has tracked down the man who betrayed Qui and is looking to make an example of him that will allow her to use Qui in her plans. After taking Yan's hand she approaches Qui to find he still will not help. Just after Xiao leaves a crippled Yan visits Qui and discovers Qui does not carry a grudge. Yan proclaims he has learned the errors of his ways and Qui agrees to make a replacement hand for him. Qui is then approached by another man Wu Hao who wants Qui's help as he attempts to climb the ranks of the martial arts world but finds Qui is still unwilling to reenter the martial arts world. Qui is then approached by another individual-Master Nan who is a member of a powerful family that was in charge of guarding the jade statue and is now looking to re-obtain it quietly. The final participants to take the board are Chief Constable Xiao Zi Jing and his daughter who also have a past with Qui and want his help to recover the jade. Now with the pieces on the board the story moves forward in its bloody tale of treachery, double dealing and violence in a manner that leaves the viewer wonder just who will be the next to be betrayed for the statue and what role will Qui play in each of the plots that have been hatched.
The film does a good job of mixing up the types of fighting as we get more than just hand to hand with a wide variety of weapons being used as well as setting the stage where the viewer never can be sure what angle a particular character is playing at any given time. The film also does a great job establishing some of the back stories between characters as well as establishing how they plot and scheme against each other. The biggest downside is that with so many characters it is vital to keep track of the interpersonal relationships and machinations as they are often run through quickly in order to get to the next scene establishing some more. It can also feel like a some of the characters get ushered on and off the stage at an almost breathtaking pace making it difficult to form a connection with them before they are gone.
Life Gamble is a story of greed and ambition woven into a complex tapestry where even one's long time allies may suddenly present the blade of a weapon to achieve their goal. There is a fairly complex layering of character histories and goals which almost makes one wish the release had included a score card to keep everything straight. Those who like tales of thieves proving there is no honor among them would do well to give this ambitious product a try but one will likely need to pay quite a bit of attention to piece together the puzzles intricacies and enjoy the full picture.
English Language, Mandarin Language, English Subtitles
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