Shaw Brothers 1972 film The Lizard takes it cues from Robin Hood and as such it is a light adventure film, though in typical HK fashion with a dollop of nudity and violence.
The mysterious Lizard has riled the corrupt local constable, Chen Can (Lo Lieh- Five Fingers of Death, Executioners from Shaolin), by regularly robbing all the foreigners that Chen is courting. A daring robbery during a crowded party, where the Lizard boldly pre-announced when and what he was stealing, becomes the real linchpin that enrages Chen. It also provides the backdrop for Xiao Ju (Connie Chan), the daughter of one of Chen's noble underlings, to realize that the stuttering, meek Cheng Long (Yuen Ha- Come Drink With Me) is in fact the Lizard.
Xiao Ju and Cheng Long make cute and she tags along (montage time!) and observes how he anonymously redistributes the stolen wealth. After an emboldened Xiao Ju sticks up for a friend who's wife was captured because he didn't repay his gambling debts, evil Chen decides to make the feisty scrapper his wife but her father rebuffs this saying that Cheng Long is her fiancee. Ironically, this leads to the framing of Cheng Long as the Lizard and Xiao Ju and her father arranging a heist to prove that the jailed Cheng Long isn't the notorious crook.
The Lizard is what I consider a mid range Shaw Brothers film. It doesn't really aim low, but it doesn't aim much higher. You really get the sense that had they imbued the film with a bigger budget, one that a caper film of its ilk would benefit from, you'd have a film that crackles more in every area, especially the action sequences.
Yuen Ha is a capable actor but as a lead he was never the kind of guy that set the cinema screen on fire with his presence. So, in terms of star power, he really ends up taking a backseat to Lo Lieh, who was one of martial filmdoms best villains. Once he stuck to the mustache, there was no turning back and he commands every bit if sneering screentime he has on The Lizard. There is a great blink and you'll miss it bit during a hostage exchange where Lo Lieh goes to untie his hostages and, ever the bad guy, he pretty much dramatically stabs at them to undo the ropes. Beyond the cruel smile, the white suit, and the pimp smacking, its those little effortless touches that show why he was a star.
Director Chor Yuen was already a veteran helmer by the time of The Lizard. The film predates the latter stage of his career when he would be known for his swordplay films, many with wild fantasy elements and nigh impenetrable plotting like The Magic Blade, Bat Without Wings, Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, and the Sentimental Swordsman films. I mention those films because they share the use of sets that he he utilizes in The Lizard. Filming a more fantasy based film entirely within the Shaw studios compound enhances the artificial and otherworldly nature of the genre but with The Lizard it feels like he is slightly holding back and the fake backdrops come across as too obvious, awkward, and flat. It is the kind of economy, a flat blue or black background for a day or nighttime sky, a couple of trees on stage for a forest, that a director like Teruo Ishii would use as an asset. You just wish the choreography and camerawork in The Lizard a bit wilder, more comic book, instead of what it is, pretty plain and routine.
The DVD: Image.
Picture: The Lizard is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen. The print is in pretty good shape, clean, a tad grainy, but otherwise relatively spot free. Colors and contrast are well-defined with deep blacks and healthy fleshtones. Unfortunately Image's source conversion problems that plague most of their releases are also apparent here resulting in some lack of sharpness, shimmering, and motion blur trailing.
Sound: The two audio options are for mono Mandarin or English dub with optional English or Spanish subtitles (close-captioned). Cant fault the tracks for being aged. Though muffled and mix limited, luckily they are more or less free from severe distortions hiss and pops. I'm a fan of the old school English dubs, so its nice to see the track included in all its cheeseball glory. Subtitles are okay though they do skimp on onscreen text translation which ruins at least one gag.
Extras: The only extra is a gallery of Shaw Brothers trailers. These are not the original release trailers. Instead you get the lackluster and highly generic Celestial remixes.
Conclusion: The Lizard has a fun premise, one with lots of promise, but it ends up feeling a bit padded, visually dull, and the action is less than lively. Luckily, it is just entertaining enough and Lo Lieh is a fine antagonist. The Image disc is mediocre in terms of transfer and extras, so I lean towards a rental.