HOME |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
 
Newest Reviews
Flag Day
Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster
Nest, The
Martin Eden
Halloween Kills
Cicada
Sun Shines Bright, The
Last Thing Mary Saw, The
Comets
Herself
Mon Oncle d'Amerique
Wild Strawberries
Runner, The
Don't Look Up
Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Eternals
Forever Purge, The
Memoria
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Legend of La Llorona, The
Japon
Glasshouse
Perdita Durango
Commando, The
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror
Boiling Point
Malignant
Deadly Games
Ailey
Voyeurs, The
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
In the Earth
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Hotel Poseidon
Zola
No Time to Die
Klaus
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Candyman
Power of the Dog, The
   
 
Newest Articles
Super Sammo: Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son on Blu-ray
Sex vs Violence: In the Realm of the Senses on Blu-ray
What's So Funny About Brit Horror? Vampira and Bloodbath at the House of Death on Arrow
Keeping the Beatles Alive: Get Back
The Punk Rock Movie: Out of the Blue on Blu-ray
Yeah, Too Quiet: The Great Silence on Blu-ray
Vestron Double Bill: Dementia 13 and The Wraith
Farewell Dean Stockwell: His Years of Weirdness
Kung Fu Craft: Cinematic Vengeance! on Blu-ray
999 Letsbe Avenue: Gideon's Way on Blu-ray
Hungary for Cartoons: Hungarian Animations on MUBI
You Have No Choice: Invasion of the Body Snatchers on Blu-ray
You Can't Tame What's Meant to Be Wild: The Howling on Blu-ray
Commendably Brief: Short Sharp Shocks Vol. 2 on Blu-ray
Super Silents: Early Universal Vol. 2 on Blu-ray
Fable Fear: The Singing Ringing Tree on Blu-ray
Gunsight Eyes: The Sabata Trilogy on Blu-ray
Bloody Bastard Baby: The Monster/I Don't Want to Be Born on Blu-ray
Night of the Animated Dead: Director Jason Axinn Interview
The ParaPod: A Very British Ghost Hunt - Interview with Director/Star Ian Boldsworth
On the Right Track: Best of British Transport Films Vol. 2
The Guns of Nutty Joan: Johnny Guitar on Blu-ray
Intercourse Between Two Worlds: Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me/The Missing Pieces on Blu-ray
Enjoy the Silents: Early Universal Vol. 1 on Blu-ray
Masterful: The Servant on Blu-ray
   
 
  Marco Polo In Xanadu did Kublai Khan unleash a whole lot of kung fu
Year: 1975
Director: Chang Cheh
Stars: Richard Harrison, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Tong Yim Chaan, Philip Kwok Tsui, Shih Szu, Lo Dik, Gordon Liu, Leung Kar-Yan, Wang Lung-Wei, Lee Tung-Chun, Carter Wong
Genre: Martial Arts, Historical, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Shaw Brothers’ historical epic is better served by its alternate title: Four Assassins, given that Marco Polo, the 13th century Venetian trader and writer who was the first westerner to trade with China, is more a supporting player here compared with say, the 2007 miniseries starring Ian Somerhalder or even the disastrous 1973 musical biopic with Desi Arnaz Jr. Veteran director Chang Cheh crash-zooms onto Marco (Richard Harrison) as he rides into the kingdom of Mongolian emperor Kublai Khan (Lee Tung-Chun). After observing a lengthy martial arts bout that introduces swaggering Mongol warriors Abulahua (Gordon Liu), Caldalu (Leung Kar-Yan) and Dulldan (Wang Lung-Wei), Khan sends Marco to survey his kingdom. He returns three years (more like two seconds) later, sporting a porn star moustache and trailed by Chinese assassins. The three tough guys make short work of the rebels, save for one man (Carter Wong, later in John Carpenter’s cult classic Big Trouble in Little China (1986)) schooled in what the dub calls “pugilism”, though we know they mean kung fu.

Mortally wounded, the Chinese patriot finds refuge with his brave wife (Shih Szu), but Khan tasks Marco and the three warriors with suppressing this rebellion. A guilt-ridden Marco prevents the woman from committing suicide to join her husband, while his soldiers bully plucky farm boy Li Xiongfeng (Alexander Fu Sheng) and his brothers (Chi Kuan-Chun and Tong Yim Chaan) into helping escort her to prison. After much meandering we finally meet our lead characters. Li Xiongfeng is something of a prankster, seeing as he pees into a bowl of soup bound for his Mongol oppressors, though this gag almost backfires when Marco hands his bowl to the woman! Nevertheless, the farm boys help our heroine escape home to her father, who just happens to be head of a secret sect of martial arts masters. Xiongfeng and his brothers endure a series of comedy training scenes that endow them with skin impervious to steel, the ability to knock stone walls down with their bare fists and fight off a hundred men, single-handed. All of which come in handy when the Mongolian army come knocking at their door.

Far from a straightforward adaptation of Marco Polo’s celebrated journal, this is another of the “overthrow the oppressor” type plots Chang Cheh recycled throughout the mid-Seventies, including Five Shaolin Masters (1976), Shaolin Temple (1976) and the superior The Boxer Rebellion (1976). By this point in his career Chang seemingly cared less about staging compelling drama than bare-knuckle action. The action, which largely bookends the film, is lively, visceral fun choreographed by future director Liu Chia-liang and performed by an array of stars-in-the-making. Liu fell out with Chang on the set but went on to become a far more progressive and innovative filmmaker, notably with 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) whose star Gordon Liu takes a supporting role here. For all Liu's efforts, the film is strangled by its boring, repetitive plot, a curiously inert protagonist (Marco spends much of his screen-time watching people fight) and scrap-happy Chinese characters who, when they aren’t fighting, pontificate endlessly about technique. Chang had little time for the martial arts maidens that once dominated Mandarin cinema and reduces kung fu starlet Shih Szu (best known for the Shaw Brothers-Hammer co-production, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)) to a snivelling damsel in distress. Her sole contribution to Chang's beloved chivalric values is taking her own life, thus proving herself a loyal spouse. Production values are up to Shaw standards in spite of Kung Mu-To’s grainy photography while several music cues are suspiciously similar to Akira Ifukube’s theme from Godzilla (1954).

Marco Polo remains an understandably ambiguous figure in Asian culture, given he opened China’s doorway to the west but also paved the way for things like the Opium trade. Here he is cast as something of a conflicted antihero who comes to admire the rebellious Chinese and lament his alliance with Kublai Khan. Sadly, any attempt at complexity is scuppered because Richard Harrison never even attempts to act. Harrison was one of those down-on-their-luck Caucasian actors who became a staple of martial arts cinema. Marco Polo was his first Hong Kong movie after a career in Italy where he made some interesting films: The Invincible Gladiator (1962) by the underrated Alberto De Martino, spaghetti western Vengeance (1968) by Antonio Margheriti and pop art superhero flick Fantabulous (1967). His most popular outings were in the Euro-spy genre, including Secret Agent Fireball (1965) and You Can Do a Lot with Seven Women (1971). In the Eighties, he teamed with notorious schlock producer Godfrey Ho for a string of cut-and-paste ninja movies: Ninja Terminator (1985), Ninja Holocaust (1985), Ninja Squad (1986), Golden Ninja Warrior (1986), you get the idea. Regardless of genre, Harrison hated them all. He once joked his only contribution to cinema was persuading Clint Eastwood to star in A Fistful of Dollars (1964).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

This review has been viewed 5016 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

 
Review Comments (0)


Untitled 1

Login
  Username:
 
  Password:
 
   
 
Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.
   

Latest Poll
Which star probably has psychic powers?
Laurence Fishburne
Nicolas Cage
Anya Taylor-Joy
Patrick Stewart
Sissy Spacek
Michelle Yeoh
Aubrey Plaza
Tom Cruise
Beatrice Dalle
Michael Ironside
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Graeme Clark
Andrew Pragasam
Darren Jones
Jason Cook
Enoch Sneed
  Desbris M
  Paul Tuersley
  Chris Garbutt
   

 

Last Updated: