Big Land, Flying Eagles (Au Yeung-Jun, 1978)

I don’t know if anybody has ever bothered to do so, but somebody with an inordinate amount of leisure time ought to compile a list of all the movies out there based on Gu Long novels, and categorize them as such. Prolific a writer as he was, Hong Kong and Taiwanese studios seemed determined to film the whole Gu Long literary archipelago, often using the same actors for the same (or similar) parts. If you’re enough of a nerd, there’s lots of fun to be had trying to piece together a full cycle of stories out of the film adaptations that span both countries and several studios, directors and stars. I tried to do this once with the films based on the Chu Liu Xiang novels, but got confused while trying to place the Adam Cheng films in proper context with the Chu Yuan directed Shaw Brothers films starring Ti Lung. Besides, I still don’t have all of the films based on the Chu Liu Xiang novels.
But much of what Gu wrote were single volume stories, and so quite often one happens across a bewildering film with Gu’s name in the beginning of the credit sequence for “story by” or “story advisor” or something along those lines. I’ve watched Dressed to Fight (Au Yeung-Jun, 1979) four times and I still don’t really understand what it’s about. Maybe it makes sense if you’ve already read the story, or maybe the dubbed/cut version is just terrible, or maybe the original novel doesn’t make any damn sense. It’s kinda a mystery, and since I don’t know Chinese and only one Gu Long novel has been professionally translated into English, it will, for me, remain so.
Big Land, Flying Eagles (大地飛鷹) is one of those many films based on Gu’s literary output that seems to be a one-off, another Taiwanese wuxia movie starring Wang Kuan-Hsiang and the ubiquitous Ling Yun. Quite unlike the urbane locales seen in the Chor Yuen adaptations for the Shaw studio, like Death Duel or Full Moon Scimitar, Big Land, Flying Eagles is a spaghetti western-esque desert intrigue film set on the Mongolian-Chinese border. Xiao Fung, a notable swordsman, has killed the son of a local warlord, Lee San, and the 3,000,000 taels that Lee charged his son with transporting seem to have gone missing. Xiao Fung is now marked for death by Lee San, but finds protection from “Killer Eagle” another swordsman of great repute, and a band of nomadic Mongolian traders. Nevertheless, Lee sends killers of unusual backgrounds, including Buddhist monks, to hunt Xiao Fung down, while Xiao Fung seems curiously preoccupied with a woman who is herself embroiled in unstated conflicts with practically everybody.
One of the reasons why I find Dressed to Fight so strange is because director Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun also directed this movie, which is enormously superior. While I have no idea of the spatial relations of any of the places where the characters in Big Land, Flying Eagles fight, have sex, argue or fight some more, I at least have a grip on what those places are and why the characters go there to fight, have sex, etc. Of course, those locations actually look really good too, and the dry, arid desert is complimented by music (one assumes) pilfered from spaghetti westerns.
But I also have to say that comparisons to Italian westerns are a bit misdirected. The protagonists in the films of Leone or Corbucci are stoic killers or loquacious assholes, but they always work in their own interests. Xiao Fung and Killer Eagle are saintly by comparison, and the dialog is typical of films based on Gu Long -- stilted and goofy when translated into English but no doubt originally clever in untranslatable ways. It’s also a typically byzantine Gu Long plot. The above synopsis boils it down to its essentials, but so much happens during the film’s ninety minutes that I’m amazed at how well the ending wraps up all of the loose ends. It’s really quite unlike Li Chia’s The Lost Swordship, another Taiwanese Gu Long adaptation I enjoyed, which is really not an action film, but a melodrama revolving around a love triangle. Big Land, Flying Eagles is definitely an action film foremost, with a murder mystery and love story as incidental elements.
And it’s a lot of fun. There’s a scene where Xiao Fung and a female accomplice are trapped in an outpost, surrounded by Lee San’s murderous thugs. They decide to drink while they wait for something to happen. When Xiao Fung’s attractive young consort asks (she’s played by a very young, very cute Ha Ling Ling, who also appeared in Island Warriors and Thrilling Sword) he tells her that Lee San intends to trap them there for a year -- enough time for her to bear him a son, so that Lee San can take revenge by killing his first born. They both find this idea hysterical. It’s that kind of movie.

1 comment:

  1. I have yet to watch this one, but I do have two original HK movie posters for the film that have some very nice artwork.