River of Fury
Hong Kong 1973
Directed by Cheung Chang Chak.


Zhou Yezhuang (Danny Lee) is a small town farm boy whose father passed away. He didn't want to end up an impovershed landowner like his father, and set his sights instead of traveling, leading a wandering life. He idolizes the Duobo, or helmsman, of a river boat, played by Ku Feng. Duobo is sympathetic to the boy, and used to drink with his father, so he takes him in to learn the trade, which not only includes being a boat pilot, but illegal smuggling on the side.

While piloting a group of Cantonese Opera players up and down the river, Yezhuangzi falls in love with the star actress, Ge Yiqing (Lily Ho), and starts thinking about settling down with her on a small patch of land after all. She is interested, but her mother isn't, especially since Yiqing's career is starting to take off, and she is starting to bring in a lot of money.

In the end, there is no place for the love and friendship of a farmboy. Everyone values money above all else. Duobo continues smuggling to make himself rich, but when the police are on his trail, he plans for Yezhaungzi to take the fall. Yiqing's mother accepts Yezhaungzi's brideprice for his marriage to Yiqing, but she is willing to quickly discard it when Yiqing catches the eye of a more wealthy suitor, even if he is married. Yiqing desires fame and wealth, too, as everyone makes increasingly desperate grabs for wealth, Yezhaungzi becomes increasingly sick of it. Even his friend, Duobo, is unsympathetic. "There are lots of women around," he says, "With money we can screw anyone we want!"

RIVER OF FURY marks Danny Lee's first starring role. It's a good effort, but he can't quite hold up the picture, and he portrays the young farmboy as far too simpleminded to be very sympathetic. He also spends a lot of time pouting -- not the most endearing character trait. I think he was trying for a bit of a Bruce Lee angry, righteous young man kind of thing but it just doesn't fly.

Lily Ho spends most of her time in Cantonese Opera costume and the movie is filled with performances, short scenes from The Butterfly Lovers (The Love Eterne), in which she plays the role of Chu Ying Tai. She is very accomplished in these performances. Off stage, her switch from sweet girl in love to money-loving showgirl is a bit too abrubt to be believed. Her best moments come at the very end of the film.

And then there is Ku Feng, the man who seems to appear in every Shaw Brothers film, once you know to look for him. And he can always be relied on to turn in a solid performance. Sometimes he stands out, sometimes he simply fits his character perfectly and draws no attention to himself, giving all the focus to the leads. This time, he is at his very best and the rest of the cast just can't compete. He plays an extremely likable character, a real salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who works hard and drinks hard. He's got his shirt off for pretty much the whole film, sweating profusely in his small cabin on board his boat. He laughs heartily, and has a lusty appetite for life. It's like he's channeling the great Toshiro Mifune in some scenes.

RIVER OF FURY ends a bit too abruptly, and has a protagonist that is difficult to readily identify with (or even much like). On the other hand, there are some very good fight scenes with both Danny Lee and Ku Feng, a strong supporting cast of Shaw regulars, and an invigorating performance by Ku Feng that is worth watching.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 02, 2005.


Comments

best movie of all time. and this is the best comment of all internet.

Posted by: Zecuz„o at September 19, 2005 09:48 AM
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