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Crash Masters: Knights of Old Cathay

Crash Cinema // Unrated // March 13, 2007
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted April 4, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Knight of Old Cathay (1968) is an interesting Taiwanese swordplay film. It plays to the melodrama as much as the action, and while it does kowtow to some formula it also has some novel twists in its revenge dynamics. To discuss those twists I've got to be spoiler-y, though honestly its not like there is Maltese Falcon worthy mystery afoot. Genre fans and your average moviegoer will probably see the third act twist coming from a mile away. But, ya' know, I'm warning you in advance I'm disclosing the finale.

Wei-tsun (Peter Yang Kwan) is just about to have his wedding night consummation when he gets distracted by the sight of his mother walking into the woods in the dead of night. He leaves his bride, Jyi-fung (Hong Seung-kam) the daughter of his adopted father/mentor/swordmaster teacher, and follows the mother in law, who wanders out into the woods in order to pray at the grave of Wei-tsun's parents. This nocturnal escapade leads to Wei-tsun discovering the truth behind his parents death, that his father was a village chieftain unwilling to cede to local rebels who slaughtered Wei-tsun's family and have gone unpunished in the years since.

In typical revenge film fashion, Wei-tsun sets out to find the three conspirators who killed his parents, but in atypical fashion, from the outset, his new wife tags along and lends her own sword to the killing. She is after all, the daughter of a swordmaster. Refusing to let her husband battle alone, Jyi-fung figures if they are truly committed and Wei-tsun cannot rest until he gets revenge, then she will help in the revenge'in.

Wei-tsun and the wifey track down the killers and square off with the men and their minions. The curve ball in the final act is that, just as he thinks his revenge is complete, Wei-tsun learns that there was a fourth man behind the plot to kill his parents and it was... dum-dum-dum, his adopted guardian, teacher, and now father in law. The quandary is that his father in law has become a reformed, legitimate, well-intentioned man who's past misdeeds are behind him. Wei-tsun must struggle with wether his father in law deserves the wrath of his vengeance and if not, can Wei-tsun ever forgive him?

The action choreography and performances in the film are pretty solid if a bit routine. The dialogue is unremarkable, though to be fair that may have more to do with an unimaginative translation. But, for its era, there is a real competence in the visual department. Good camera moves, set design, and location shooting, display that Knights of Old Cathay was no bargain, throwaway production.

And, as I said, the storyline does throw in those extra wrinkles. The characterization of the supportive, ass kicking wife is a very nice approach and makes the female co-star more than just stereotypical window dressing behind the revenge bent hero. Likewise the ultimate villain showdown features more of a moral struggle than a physical one. Here the character is revealed as more than your carbon copy cackling, all powerful bad guy. Instead you find the total opposite and a fine example that not all martial films followed the same good guy/bad guy pattern time after time.

The DVD: Crash Cinema.

Crash has been in the DVD game for some time now and has steadily improved their quality from less than legit fullscreen vhs mastered releases (the bane of kung fu lovers and most common practice), to finally some nice widescreen releases, to actual anamorphic transfers.

Unfortunately, they make a terrible decision in their packaging by misrepresenting the final product in their "Crash Masters" line. The back cover still photos, including a before/after remastering screenshot, are complete phonies and not representative of the image on the DVD. The saddest fact of this misstep is, they have nothing to be ashamed or worth being deceitful about. Sure the image looks rough, but it's an old, badly preserved kung fu film, and hopefully in the future they will remedy this serious act of dishonesty.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Basically they have done some budget remastering, which is take a print and clean it up and color time it as best they could, but all the real final stage (read: most expensive) efforts that prints undergo when remastered have been skipped so the image still shows considerable wear and tear. So, you'll find all the hallmarks, dirt, spots, contrast flicker, tint changes, and the quality goes from good, to fair, to poor scene by scene, even, sometimes, shot by shot.

Sound: Mono. Mandarin language with burned in Chinese and English subtitles. Again, the iffy quality issues are all source related and the track is relatively well-presented. The real problem is the burned in subs which are blurry, white (so they often fade and disappear into the background), and are rife with grammatical errors like, "Taught me his seats," (thats right, "seats" instead of "secrets") and "You dare to twinkle at me?"

Extras: Trailers for Beautiful Swordswoman and Knight of Old Cathay.

Conclusion: I enjoyed the film. It's a very low key swordplay film that doesnt veer into the fantastic or the extremely bloody, but instead Knight of Old Cathay's strength is some decent drama and even some moralizing in its finale. The quality of the transfer is very poor- acceptable but poor- so only die hard kung fu fans will want to pick it up. Casual viewers will want to opt for a rental.

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