To Kill With Intrigue a.k.a. Jian hua yan yu Jiang Nan (1977): Breakdown by Kain424
One warrior prince’s complex story of revenge and forgiveness. But mostly revenge.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Jackie Chan is Cao Lei
The son of a wealthy man, he’s mostly just a stubborn brute. Still the guy is played by Jackie Chan, so you know he’s got some serious skills. He’s pretty much a lost soul through much of the picture, but once he gains a certain friendship, he becomes as loyal as a… mule? Hey, he says it, not me.
San Yat Lung is Chien Chun
A total dick. All of the movie’s major twists revolve around this guy, but he’s got about as much characterization as a classic Disney villain.
The Infinitely More Complex:
Feng Hsu is Chin Chang-yuen
This is where the film’s bread is buttered. Feng Hsu (who I think I’ve only seen before in A Touch Of Zen) plays the role with so much fury she does actually scare me. She spends most of the movie with her face hidden by a light veil, and therefore acts through her eyes. And damn, those eyes can so quickly go from focused curiosity to terrifying anger I would have shat myself if I’d been one of the dumb-asses that tries to attack in this movie.
But more than that, she is an interesting character the movie never really addresses (which is it’s one real serious flaw). She was apparently raised to become the ultimate bad-ass from age 5 on, and is so powerful drinking her blood can make one powerful as well. Yet her life before the start of the story is scarcely delved into, and her plot thread is dropped minutes before the film ends and we never find out what happens to her. What the hell?
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
Not a lot to say here, but George Wang’s Fourth Dragon character does seem to fall in love with Jackie Chan’s shirtless Cao Lei upon seeing him.
Oh, ok. I should mention that part of Chan’s strategy for defeating the main villain seems to involve stripping him, bit by sexy bit, of all his flowing golden clothes. Whatever.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
Yu Ling Lung’s Chin-Chin spends the whole movie being a worthless pawn for men to fight over, so I’d say they really go for it. Fortunately, Feng Hsu easily cancels it out by being such an extreme bad-ass. Though maybe you could call her obsessive possessiveness of Jackie Chan a negative portrayal of the female perspective on love… and she does seem to fall in love with him after he essentially rapes her. James Bond would be proud.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 21 ]
This isn’t a gore-fest. But Jackie’s entire family and their many friends are all slaughtered in the movie’s opening, which supplies most of the bodycount. Chan himself scores 5 corpses. But it’s the physical harm he does to himself that sticks with you.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
Jackie Chan outdoes Chuck Norris
Cao Lei is such an amazing fighter he kicks a guy through the roof of a house and as the guy comes tumbling down the side of the building, Lei throws the guy’s own sword out the window and impales him onto a tree in the yard. Holy fucking shit.
Chan strangles his final opponent with his own sash, by jumping onto a nearby statue hanging the guy there until he dies. It’s pretty wicked.
The version I have is dubbed, so I have to go with this cheesy bit of dialog from the beginning.
Feng Hsu: Why are you not dead?
Jackie Chan: Because I have to kill you!
There is definitely a tendency, fronted by even Jackie Chan himself, to dismiss Chan’s work with Wei Lo during his time at Golden Harvest. I know I don’t usually help dissuade people from that, but it should be mentioned that To Kill With Intrigue is one of the rare exceptions of Wei Lo actually making an interesting film.
Though it starts out as something of a by-the-numbers revenge tale, it quickly delves into intense themes of loss, betrayal, love, obsession, and death. And along with that, it has a lot of subtext about gender roles and power politics. This probably shouldn’t be too surprising since it was written by Chinese novelist Lung Ku, who also wrote The Magic Blade and the screenplay for The One-Armed Swordsman. The latter seems to explain the story’s tendencies toward scarring violence.
Jackie Chan stars as Cao Lei, the son of a wealthy lord. He at first strikes us as a callous asshole, sending his newly pregnant girlfriend off just after hearing the news. But we soon find out it’s all for her own good. Vengeance-seeking bandits are out to kill Cao Lei’s father for wronging them many years in the past. Indeed, they sweep through the courtyard and kill everyone who attempts to mount a defense. Everyone, but the young and skilled Cao Lei.
Cao Lei fights the leader of the bandits, a woman played by Feng Hsu, and gets the upper hand. But when she reveals his father had tried to kill when she was just a 5 year old girl, Lei hesitates to kill her. She quickly knocks him out, and when he awakens he finds she has taken him into the wilderness and plans to allow him to live. Not to go on with his life, but to live in mortal fear that one day she will return to kill him. Cao Lei doesn’t seem too bothered by this and wanders the forest until he comes upon the small house where he was to meet with Chin-Chin, his pregnant girlfriend. Lei had his friend, Chien Chun, find his girlfriend and bring her here… or at least, that was the plan. A saddened Cao Lei simply shacks up there, where the mysterious bandit leader finds him. But instead of fear, Cao Lei goes into a delusional state and forces her into the bed and has his way with her.
As messed up as this is, what happens next is even more fucked. Apparently one night with Chan performing his own stunts is enough to make any woman fall madly in love with him. And so sets about one of the weirdest kung fu love stories I’ve ever seen.
Cao Lei wanders the roads and wilds, making friends here and there, but always searching for Chin-Chin. This perpetually perturbs Chin Chang-Yuen, who now seems to just want to have Cao Lei’s babies. In one instance, Cao Lei takes on a clan of warriors by himself to repay a debt he owes to Fourth Dragon, only to become horrifically wounded from a sword to the stomach. Only Chin Chang-Yuen’s timely assistance saves him. But Fourth Dragon keeps him to take care of him, which only infuriates this mysterious and deadly woman. After seeing the best doctors in the country (who probably all tried to cure him with a tea or herbal extract… not ideal for a sword wound to the gut), Fourth Dragon agrees to give him to her.
From here, she cures him and tells him her friend has betrayed him and run off with his girlfriend. Cao attempts to leave, but Chin keeps him there through force. She continually allows him to train, however, saying if he beats her then he can leave. But everytime she beats him, she forces him to do something horrible to himself, starting with swallowing burning coal straight out of a fireplace. She loves him and wants him to stay, but he has all kinds of revenge to get. So we end up with one seriously fucked up movie, and Jackie Chan looking like Two-Face by the end of his stay. Top all this with a plot containing too many twists to make sense of, and you’ve got one wildly messed up motion picture.
There seems to be a lot subtext about emasculation in this one. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I can’t help but notice it. Especially when the usually fun Jackie Chan training montage features an awkward and possibly unintentionally hilarious amount of crotch shots aimed at dummies.
Too be honest, I don’t think Chan seems to terribly interested in the story or acting, but the fights are all top-notch stuff for the genre. Jackie gets to show off how athletic he is, San Yat Lung gets to show off his muscles, and Wei Lo gets a movie that isn’t just another variation on The Big Boss or Fist Of Fury. David Lynch fans who also like kung fu and wuxia films might just love this one. While most people are loving the hell out of Drunken Master and some of Chan’s other breakthrough roles, I think it’s worth checking this one out as well. Sure, Shaolin Wooden Men is better, but this one is… different.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Not all your foes are your enemies, and not all your allies are your friends. Also, love hurts.