Monday, December 16, 2013

Killer Clans (1976)

The original cover that misspelled the title.
Check the shitty fixed one here.
Director: Chor Yuen
Notable Cast: Chung Wa, Fu Keng, Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh

While Chang Cheh might be my favorite Shaw Brothers director and Kar Lau Leung might be one of the more memorable ones, Chor Yuen is not someone to overlook. Technically speaking, Chor Yuen might only direct one kind of Shaw film, the epic toned wuxia film more often than not based on an epic novel, but he's strong at it and makes the most out of even the weaker scripts. Take "Killer Clans" as a prime example. While the script for this very complex tale of two rival clans and an assassin caught between them could have used a few rewrites to strengthen some plot points and characters, it's still a very entertaining and addictive film.

When one of the martial world's greatest killers (Chung Wa) is hired to kill Uncle (Ku Feng) who is the leader of a massive clan known as the Lung Men Society. What he stumbles into is a massive conspiracy of intrigue surrounding the Lung Men and their rival clan the Roc Society. With no one to trust and a slew of betrayals for power hungry men, he must decide to choose a side and the choice may leave him a hero or a dead villain.

"Yes, I smell that bad too."
When "Killer Clans" first started, it was very rough going. There seemed to be a thousand characters populating dozens of mini-plot lines, and there seemed to be even a bit of exploitation elements added into the mix that certainly didn't fit. One of the lead female characters is introduced in an essentially soft core porn sequence. For the first third of the film, I sat in a relative stupor just trying to figure out what stories were meant to be priority and what characters I should give two shits about. While "Killer Clans" is surprisingly void of the fantasy elements that grace many of Chor Yuen's films, this first act plays out almost like a fever dream of way too much shit going on at once.

Hanging around.
Fortunately, after a significant amount of characters are killed off and some of the random red herring moments are worked through, "Killer Clans" pulls off a rather miraculous recovery and somehow gets the plots to tie together and the pace gets moving. The mystery of the film thickens and there are so many twists and turns to the plot (I had no idea who the villain was until the final act) that even with some sub-standard subplots, including a romantic one that seems a bit forced thanks to a rather lackluster performance from our lead killer and no chemistry, that it was simply a fun ride to see where "Killer Clans" was going to take you.

"Killer Clans" is not a perfect kung fu film. It's a very inconsistent one overall in pacing and acting (allowing Ku Feng to act circles around his co-stars as the brilliant chess player Uncle) and the random bits of nudity feel massively out of place. It is, however, very entertaining with its crazy complex story and some fun fight sequences choreographed by Yuen Cheung Yan (yes, that's the brother of legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping). It does earn some credit with its charm that makes some of the weirder elements less of a burden. For kung fu fanatics, "Killer Clans" comes recommended for its entertainment value even if Chor Yuen has done better.

Lo Lieh doing what Lo Lieh does best...being badass.
BONUS BLOODY PRAISE: Shaw favorite (and one of Blood Brothers' favorites) Lo Lieh has a brief cameo as a semi-crazy body guard who lives in the woods. He has a great moment where he decapitates an assassin with his hat and then takes blood and wipes it all over his face without saying a word. While he tends to have a rather weak fight sequence later, that moment earns him some praise....bloody praise.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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