The Anonymous Heroes (1971: Chang Cheh):
I liked the beginning and the end much more than the stagnant middle. There is a nice impish byplay between Ti Lung and David Chiang throughout the film. One of the highlights for me was the fight between the two in there “how long will it last” house. I thought overall the fighting was more interesting than the gun battles.
This is a Republic era film (critic Po Fung states it is around 1926 and 1927 which would mean this takes place during KMT’s Northern Expedition; interesting that KMT is the good guys here) so you expect that there will be warlords vying for weapons like Cheh apprentice’s John Woo’s The Young Dragons (1974). But the main plot is the comradery between Chiang and Lung and hanger-on Pepper (Ching Li) as they plot to steal arms and bring them south to the unifying movement while inadvertently becoming heroes. There is an interesting sub-angle on what happens to her dad because of her actions.
This has been noted as probably being the first Hong Kong production with horses chasing a train. It reminded me somewhat of Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) though Keaton used a real train that plummeted instead of the obvious set here, yes Keaton destroyed a real train by dropping it off the tracks where it stayed until World War II (used for metal.) Not the best or worst miniatures I have seen, but the worst effects were the horrible rolling painted trees that were seen quite often on the train ride (you have to check out the one’s in Shaw Brothers The Golden Buddha (1966) which are worse.) The chase was a good idea, it just did not come off well, and especially when you see how slow the train was going (though this was explained in the plot.)
The ending (not the coda which is interesting in itself) was influenced by The Wild Bunch (1969) a film Chang Cheh was quite fond of. Cheh was also influenced by Arthur Penn, especially Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and one reviewer on IMDB noted that some of the soundtrack came from Penn’s The Chase (1966, John Barry did the music) but I cannot currently corroborate that. Some of the logic during this battle maybe a little farfetched, but it fits well within Cheh’s themes throughout many of his films.
The IVL R3 disc is not anamorphic, but has a surprising amount of extras. There are three interviews (strangely enough the cover says Bey Logan though he is not heard in the interviews) with David Chiang, Lo Meng (Tubo Law), and Po Fung. Only Po Fung had anything to do with talking about the film itself (though it was sometimes edifying.) I have no idea why they put Lo Meng on there, but still glad to have it. There is actually a commentary with Jude Poyer and Miles Wood which I have not listened to yet except for about 10 minutes of it.)