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The Convict Killer
Iron Chain Fighter / Iron Chain Assassin

Hong Kong 1980
produced by
Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong for Shaw Brothers
directed by Chu Yuan (= Chor Yuen)
starring Ti Lung, Jason Pai Piao, Ching Li, Tony Liu, Chan Man-no, Ai Fei, Ching Miao, Ku Kuan-chung, Wang Yung, Cho Tat-wah, Aistin Wai, Yuen Bun, Dick Wei, Wong Mei-Mei, Chiang Nan, Chiang Chuen
screenplay by Chu Yuan (= Chor Yuen), based on a novel by Chu Yu, music by Eddie Wang, fighting instructors: Tang Chia, Huang Pei-Chi

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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15 years ago, Teng Piao (Ti Lung) has been thrown into jail after having been framed by someone only known as the Black Leopard. Now he is out, and he wants his revenge on Black Leopard, which is why he still carries his iron chain from prison around. There is only one problem: Nobody knows who the Black Leopard is, what he looks like, or even if he's male or female. The only thing known about him is that he has a birthmark in the form of a black leopard (hence the name) on his chest.

Teng Piao has a clue leading to the Black Leopard though, that's Master Zhou (Jason Pai Piao), a gangster who controls a village together with businessman Lan (Ching Miao) - so Teng Piao announces himself to Master Zhou, then takes up residence at the local inn, waiting for the Black Leopard to show up and try to kill him. At the inn, Teng Piao meets Shan Lin (Ching Li), a woman who has lost her husband 15 years ago and only the Black Leopard knows who killed him. So to find out who's the killer, she has decided to stick with Teng Piao, the man most likely to track him (her?) down. Teng Piao also makes the acquaintance of inspector Chi (Ai Fei), who decides to support him because he wants to get rid of the Black Leopard as well.

In the meantime, Master Zhou and Lan decide they don't want the snooping stranger around, so they summon their gang of superior martial artists collectively known as the Seven Killers to get rid of Teng Piao. It should be noted here that Black Leopard is one of the Seven Killers, and that the identity of all of them is unknown to the general public - and it is said that nobody survives to see the Seven Killers all at once.

Meanwhile, at the inn Teng Piao is residing at all sorts of weird characters show up, the most interesting of all being Du (Tony Liu), an expert knifethrower, a bit of a scoundrel, and a man who refuses to choose sides between Teng Piao and the Seven Killers.

After several unsuccessful attempts on Teng Piao's and Shan Li's lives, Master Zhou finds out Du has actually killed two gouvernment officials, but he promises him a pardon if he kills Teng Piao in exchange - and Du agrees. Du manages to seriously injure Teng Piao in a fight, but when Zhou asks him to hand him over, Du refuses, not before he gets his pardon, but Master Zhou was of course bluffing ... so Du takes Teng Piao to the inn with him and turns all the doors and windows to his room into death traps to ensure nobody can come in.

Eventually, Du lets in Shan Lin and inspector Chi though, whom he thinks his accomplices - but then inspector Chi turns out to be one of the Seven Killers, and he lets the others in - but then it turns out that Teng Piao wasn't really injured in the fight and Du is actually a gouvernment official come to track down the Black Leopard - who has now been identified as Lan.

Du has brought reinforcements, and a big fight erupts, at the end of which Lan the Black Leopard is shot by ... Master Zhou, who blames his life of crime on the Seven Killers and who has figured only if he got rid of the others he could start a new life as a honest man. Master Zhou is pardoned for all his crimes, and he travels North together with Teng Piao and Shan Li. It's only later that Du finds out the birthmark on Lan's chest that identifies him as Black Leopard is a fake, which means the real Black Leopard must be ... Master Zhou.

Du catches up with Zhou just when he is about to poison Teng Piao and Shan Li, and another fight erupts, at the end of which Teng Piao strangles Master Zhou with his chain. With his dying breath though, Zhou tells Shan Li who has killed her husband: Teng Piao. Teng Piao admits it and is shot by Shan Li on the spot ...

 

Another great film by Chu Yuan that crosses genre boundaries (martial arts movie, murder mystery, revenge flick, ...) many times, ignores the laws of nature when they stand in the way of a good action scene, and that seems to be set in some historical limbo (though some costumes suggest the early 20th century, the sets certainly don't). The whole thing is carried by an interesting story that might seem a bit overconvoluted and does feature a few plotholes, but a slick direction, expert pacing, great action sequences, and a handful of bizarre ideas gloss over all narrative shortcomings neatly. And a great ensemble cast doesn't hurt one bit either.

Recommended!

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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On the same day
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

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produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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out now on DVD