Shaw Brothers’ The Brave Archer (射鵰英雄傳) suffers from a poor casting choice. But it redeems itself by displaying an earnest respect towards the source material.
The Brave Archer (射鵰英雄傳) Review
Adapted from Jinyong’s famous Condor Heroes saga, The Brave Archer focuses on the earlier adventures of Guo Jing after he returns to Jiangnan from Mongolia. Though dim, his kind nature wins him the steadfast love of Huang Rong, and through her, the mentorship of “Northern Beggar” Hong Qigong too. Of note, this 1977 Wuxia flick is the first of a trilogy, and Hong Kong’s second attempt at a film adaptation of the saga.
I had “access” to this retro Shaw Brothers’ Wuxia flick for a few years now, but only of late did I consider watching it. Why the disinterest? One name. Alexander Fu.
As much as I (usually) enjoy his movies, as much as I continue to lament his early demise, I find Alex an utterly nonsensical choice for the role of Guo Jing. Boyish and cheeky in his public persona, Alex seems the very antithesis of the stoic and dim Guo Jing described in Louis Cha i.e. Jinyong’s masterpiece. The Wuxia hero, incidentally, a character that I’m familiar with since the age of ten.
Well, it didn’t turn out half as bad as I thought it would be. Alex frequently slips when reining in his signature playfulness. A lot of times, he can’t project the difference between stupidity and confusion too. That said, his acting wasn’t entirely unbearable; at the very least, it wasn’t cringe-worthy. Expectedly, once the action starts, the dude instantly regains his element. These, incidentally, the moments he felt closest to Guo Jing.
Outside of the above, The Brave Archer was more or less a smooth watch. A little abrupt at times because of heavy story abridgement but the gist of the novel was retained and there weren’t any eye-raising plot changes. Coming to the action, the kung-fu, I think what’s most noteworthy is that there’s surprisingly minimal shirtless “heroic bloodshed” in this show, despite being a Chang Cheh movie.
Most dudes keep their tops on. Duels, like those in classic Wuxia novels, focus on techniques instead of gory and agonizing deaths.
Even Alex keeps his shirt on throughout the show!
Was Chang opting for a more classic Wuxia feel, one more in line with older Cantonese mo hup peen? Was he also expressing respect for one of Chinese popular fiction’s greatest works?
Seems like it. For me, it made the movie a better watch. Made me more inclined to ignore the godawful hairdos too.
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