Fate of Lee Khan, The
Li Li Hua, Roy Chiao, Hsu Feng, Bai Ying, Feng Tien, Angela Mao, Hu Chin, Helen Ma, Nan Chiang, Han Ying-Chieh, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Chang Hsi, Chen Chi, Fung Ging Man, Ho Li Jen, Ho Pak-Kwong, Li Wen Tai, Min Min, Shangguan Yen-Erh, Tu Yung-Tiang, Wei Ping Ou
|Martial Arts, Adventure
| 7 (from 1 vote)
The year is 1366, and the Mongol Empire has made inroads into China, taking over vast swathes of the territory by force and cunning. But many Chinese are not going to take this lying down, and have taken to insurgency, with their spies scattered across the land in various cells with the express motive of expelling the invaders. One such cell is in this inn, where the owner, Wan Jen-mi (Li Li Hua), has recruited four new waitresses, not because they are good at customer service, but because they have criminal pasts that will lend themselves to pulling off a grand scheme. The Mongol leader Lee Khan (Feng Tien) is in the area, and wishes to stay at the inn with his team...
The Fate of Lee Khan, or Ying chun ge zhi Fengbo as it was called in its native Hong Kong, marked the completion of an unofficial trilogy from writer and director King Hu, who had already revolutionised the cinema of his homeland with Come Drink with Me in the mid-sixties, then had gone on to make other tavern-based martial arts movies with Dragon Inn, A Touch of Zen and finally, this - the aforementioned trilogy. Compared to the deep and thoughtful second instalment, perhaps this was a lot less resonant, preferring to get to the action with the minimum of fuss, although that did not include an opening act which faffed about with comedy and character establishing business.
This did pay off, no matter how impatient the viewer may have grown as they waited for the plot to kick in, for it did mean you were a little more engaged with the main players even if you were at a loss to explain why the title character was any less moral than the machinations against him. Everyone here was shaded in grey, since at any moment they could jump up and reveal themselves to be an expert in deadly violence to pit themselves against their perceived enemy: it might have been giving the film a little too much credit to wonder if we were supposed to ponder who the real heroes were in this scenario when all the ensemble of schemers were prone to brutality and bloodshed.
Besides, a matter of geography marked out who we were intended to support: the goodies were Chinese and the baddies were Mongol, or at least that is the manner it would have played to the Hong Kong audiences of the day (you would assume so, anyway). This would be the least of the unofficial inn trilogy, largely thanks to how difficult it was to see down the years which affected its standing, but those who liked this liked it a lot. It was difficult to ignore how it was a step down from A Touch of Zen in terms of mysticism and philosophy, as in spite of how twisty-turny it appeared to be as it unfolded, it was a lot more straightforward than you might have been regarding it by the halfway mark, as if King had had second thoughts about getting serious after the previous effort, which after all had suffered studio interference.
Therefore there was a degree less whistles and bells here, and in many ways it was more traditional in concept and effect than what the director was capable of, though his artistry was in evidence, and indeed some of the innovations that were being pioneered in this decade: this shared a co-star with Enter the Dragon, Angela Mao, and the Bruce Lee movie was what everyone was talking about in terms of Hong Kong movies in 1973. Completist Mao fans have been drawn to this and the general reaction has been disappointment, for her combat skills are not given the chance to be showcased enough for them, but Sammo Hung's choreography does feature a pleasingly crunchy quality that may not be elaborate, but suits the air of tense intrigue that begins to make itself plain as the story proceeds to its second hour. Yet aside from a musing over who actually had the high ground, The Fate of Lee Khan was going to appeal to martial arts fans who liked a lack of pretension in their entertainment, though even so, this was distinctive in its creator's way. Music by Joseph Koo.
[Those features on the Eureka Blu-ray in full:
1080p transfer of the film on Blu-ray, with a progressive encode on the DVD
Optional English subtitles
Original Mandarin audio, available in original mono (uncompressed on Blu-ray) and restored 5.1
Optional English audio, available in original mono (uncompressed on Blu-ray) and restored 5.1
Brand new and exclusive commentary by critic and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns
A brand new and exclusive video essay by David Cairns and Anne Billson
PLUS: a collector's booklet featuring new and archival writing on the film.]