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Deadful Melody

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 03/08/2006
Summary: nice magic lyre...

bridgette lin and yuen biao star in a fantasy piece about a magic lyre that is so powerful, it's a threat to the world of martial arts. lin gives biao the task of escorting the lyre to a new owner, with ambushes awaiting around every corner, but not everything is as it appears.

this is a very enjoyable bit of wu xia fantasy, it's both light hearted, melodramatic and is essentially good fun.

enjoyable stuff...

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 11/20/2005

“Deadful Melody” portrays the Martial Arts world as irrational, chaotic and lawless. It is divided into warring clans each controlled by a leader who is very powerful but whose power is incomplete. The contending warlords attempt to undermine, cripple and conquer each other while engaging in short term tactical alliances. The Magic Lyre is the ultimate weapon—possessing it means mastery over the entire sorry mess—or so the villains in this movie (and the audience) think. However acquiring the lyre and being able to use it effectively, they find, are two different matters.

Bridgette Lin is terrific as Snow, the current keeper of the magic lyre and (apparently) the only person who knows how to play the “Heavenly Dragon Eight Notes” melody that causes her enemies to explode. Others who gain brief possession of the lyre find that their attempts to use it either don’t work or backfire against them. There is at least a hint that the feuding clan leaders want to find the lyre so they can destroy it since it has caused so much death and destruction but this seems to be a stratagem that they use to fool each other—and, once again, the audience. As is generally the case, Lin dominates the screen whenever she is on it. Her look—actually a number of variations on the semi-sidelong glance—can be seductive, terrifying and hypnotizing—or all three at the same time and Ng Min-Kan makes full use of it. There have been other actresses who could stop traffic on Times Square with a glance—Greta Garbo, for example—consider the last scene in “Queen Christiana” or any of a number of shots in “Mata Hari”. The young Joan Crawford is another—in the very early “Rain” she showed how she could command the screen with a glance. The same is true of Lin, although I think she may be an under appreciated artist since she was cast in so many roles similar to this one. But within the confines of that typical gender-indeterminate role she could be electrifying.

Yuen Biao as Liu Lin was serviceable but not much more. His greatest strength—his astonishing martial arts prowess—was never on display since “Deadful Melody” was shot and edited in typical wuxia style—quick cuts, high or low camera angles, the camera panning to follow the warriors as they flew through the air. At no point was he allowed to do what he did best, engage in an extended fight scene. He is not bad as an actor but the combination of pathos, broad comedy and melodrama that this script called for was a bit beyond him. Carina Lau had an excellent role as Tam Yuet Wah, the student of Master Fire who is charged with tracking down the lyre and bringing back. She goes from imperious to coy to a bit lovestruck in her character’s various guises and does everything well.

There are two threads that unify the action—one is the journey of Liu Lun to deliver the lyre. He doesn’t know why so many people are after it or how valuable it really is—he is simply trying to cement his position as the new head of his father’s security company. The other thread is the discord within the martial arts world, as the various villains (Master Fire, Master Ghost, Tong Fong Pak, the Six Fingered Master) plot with and against each other to obtain the lyre. That corruption of the martial arts world is generally known—at one point Lun, when dealing with what he thinks is a young man who seems to want to help him (actually Tam Yuet Wah, disguised as an innkeeper) he says that he is surprised to find an honest man among martial artists. That she is neither honest nor a man leads to some of the very broad (if you will) comedy—he also remarks, for example, that his helper must have some very odd kung fu since his chest is so springy.

This is only one instance, and a very obvious one, of the ambiguity, sexual and otherwise, that characterizes “Deadful Melody”. The point of view is extremely unreliable. The movie opens with what seems to be the slaughter of an innocent family. The father is a kung fu master who has given up his deadly ways—not unlike one of the archetypes of Westerns, the gunfighter who has hung up his pistols. The mother is also very skilled in kung fu. They are no match for the hoards who are attacking their isolate house in search of the lyre which has been entrusted to the reluctant head of the family. We are led to believe that the father and mother were killed while defending their children—Snow and Liu Lun—which is most likely the case. Later, though, Liu and the audience is told that his parents committed suicide when the lyre was taken from them and that the massed clans attacking the house wanted only to destroy the lyre. There are other examples of this lack of reliability, which could be there to keep the audience guessing. While it could also be the result to sloppiness in continuity and editing, there are enough instances of earlier “facts” being at least partially (and credibly) refuted to make one think it was part of the vision of the director and screenwriter.

One (at least this one) was relieved that the comic relief was made a part to the story and not simply tacked on. The questionable gender of Tam Yeut Wah at one point is an example. Another is the regular appearance of Liu Lun’s sifu, “Late”. He not only is always late, arriving to impart a word of wisdom a few minutes after it would have been useful, but also consumes the stinkiest of stinky tofu.

This would earn a rating of a five, but the presence of Carina Lau and (especially) Bridgette Lin are worth a point between them, so it is a six.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 07/02/2005
Summary: 7.5/10

Deadful Melody (I can't decide if that's a deliberate pun on deadly/dreadful or just really poor English!) came towards the tail end of the post-Swordsman Wu Xia revival, and is largely an excuse for Brigitte Lin to reprise her Asia The Invincible performance, this time with the aid of a magical lyre that amplifies the user's Qi or something... the net effect being that when Brigitte plays it people explode in coloured smoke. The plot is a familiar one... the keepers of the lyre are killed by rival martial artists who seek to rule the Jiang Hu (ownership of the lyre apparently makes one the de facto leader), but the young child escapes with the lyre and many years later returns to take revenge. Yuen Biao is the security guard tasked with escorting the lyre (an obvious decoy to draw out those that would steal it) and Brigitte Lin is the vengeful offspring. There's various clans whose masters desire the lyre, and they all try to get it in none too original or complicated ways. The story is basically classic Wu Xia from I Kuang, who's written enough wu xia scripts to know how it's done.

Deadful melody is definitely a fun film, but definitely definitely not original and it all feels a bit cheap - the production values sometimes make it feel more like a TV show than a film, though it's probably not much worse than something like The East Is Red. One obvious problem that hinders the film is the voice acting on the Cantonese track - the voices don't sound right for the characters, and the delivery feels somewhat removed from the action on screen. I found myself wondering if I was meant to be watching it in Mandarin, but that was not an option on the DVD so I couldn't see if it fit the film better. Some of the camera shots also felt too close up and cramped, making me wonder if the DVD was cropped, but there were no obvious signs such as missing mouths in close-ups, so I assume it's just the way it was filmed - probably trying to go for the Ching Siu-Tung stylised vibe and failing.

It's hard to call any film with Brigitte Lin and Yuen Biao in the cast "second rate", but I guess the phrase "second tier" is at least appropriate for this film... it simply isn't at the level of production of the Swordsman or Bride With White Hair films, but it sits along the lower budget films of the era like Butterfly & Sword without looking too shabby. If it weren't for Brigitte Lin doing what she did best it might have ended up third tier though. Even the presence of Yuen Biao doesn't really bring it up, and in fact might bring it down a little... I never felt he suited the new wave wu xia films - even though he appeared in some great ones, it felt like they would have been just as good with pretty much anyone in the role (which you definitely can't say about the more grounded martial arts films he appeared in). He's definitely not bad, and doesn't ruin the film, but not necessarily the best choice for the part. Carina Lau does good here, with a much sassier character & performance than I'm used to seeing from her. The rest of the cast don't really have much to do except look the part, which they all do - Tsui Kam Kong and Wu Ma are the only villains that stand out though, and Peter Chan Lung is great as Biao's sifu but not actually in the film much (due to his character's trait of always arriving too late, no doubt!).

Conclusions: even though there's plenty to pick apart in the film and say "that doesn't come up to scratch", it has a charm & energy that transcend any technical quibbles, and any fan of new-wave wu xia and mad wire-fu should be able to get caught up and enjoy the ride. It's not exactly a classic, and definitely won't appeal to those who aren't a little fond of the genre to start with, but it's well worth a watch for those who are!

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: balstino
Date: 05/27/2003
Summary: Pretty good, but not Amazing

This is a pretty good modern swordplay genre film. I liked the story and the characters, but the fighting was not really that impressive. Functional though. Overall, I just didn't think Deadful Melody was all that special!

I'd recommend going for Swordsman 2 instead, or even Butterfly and Sword if you like the insane!

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 02/24/2003
Summary: I loved it

One of my favorite movies of all time, Deadful Melody is made in the best form of new wave wuxia, with everything I love. Brigitte Lin is better than ever with her serious/cold look, & I wish she did more roles like this. The only downer is the ending, which is less than perfect. But hey, it's a HK movie. I've seen over 350 of them, and maybe 5 have satisfying endings.

You have to be a fan of the genre to appreciate this little gem. Just like one has to be a fan of Westerns to really appreciate Westerns - and since I don't like Westerns, I may think they're stupid. Fans would of course argue with me.

Definitely not a film made for Westerners, and for that I recommend it only to fans of the new wave wuxia genre.


Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 01/22/2003
Summary: Quite good

I did have low expectations of this movie but was pleasantly suprised.

Though not the best plot in the world, this movie does use it's limited storyline to good use. There is some unexpected comedy in this and the action is the normal flying swordman with energy coming out everywhere!!

Yuen Biao and Brigette Lin look at home with there roles and seeing Elvis Tsui with hair is quite funny!!


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 04/18/2002

mrblue (below) obviously hasn't a clue about the wuxia scene. To appreciate this movie, you must be aware of the background of all this - it's part of the Chinese culture. That's why I hesitate to recommend Westerners to watch Chinese movies - IT'S NOT MADE FOR FOREIGNERS WHO HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WUXIA IS. So Just leave it alone please...

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 02/09/2002

A more fitting title for this should be "Deadful Movie." The actors involved should be enough to push this into at least an average rating, but the total lack of a script and lame special effects push it down into to the depths of bad B-movie hell.

The plot deals with a deadly harp (ooooh, scary!) which is in the hands of a witch played by Brigette Lin. Apparently, when Lin plays the harp, a lot of pretty colors come out and people die. So, of course, every clan in the land wants it. And that's the main problem with Deadful Melody (besides a stupid title). There are just way too many characters in the mix -- there are really no heroes to root for or villains to boo. Even though Yuen Biao is the defacto hero of this movie, his status as that character is undermined by some really lame scriptwriting that depends way too much on plot twists rather than plot construction and/or exposition.

If there had been some decent action in this movie, I may have been able to forgive some of its' shortcomings. But the fights here consist mostly of people getting "hit" by badly animated lasers or whatever from the harp. There's next to no real action in here, and as such, there's next to no real excitement or any real reason to watch it unless you are a masochistic fan of Yuen Biao or Brigette Lin.

Reviewed by: ksbutterbox
Date: 10/24/2001
Summary: Good Follow up to...

Good follow up to Brigitte Lin's final count down to a brilliant career. No, it isn't Bride,or Swordsman 2 but it doesn't disappoint either! Carina Lau and Yuen Biao are also quite good. Brigitte's "LOOKS THAT KILL" are perfect for this era of her last days! Exploding body parts from zing went the strings! Loads of Fun during final 30 minutes. Gotta have this if you love her.

Reviewed by: ElectraWoman
Date: 10/12/2000
Summary: 7/10-Quite good period piece

Ignoring the sometimes dodgy sets, this is quite solid and well-written, with a great soundtrack.

The Chinese title for this film transalates roughly to "The Evil Six-Fingered Lyre" and I think that's a better indication of the storyline than "Deadful Melody" :) There are several master martial artists need this instrument in order to become invincible. This instrument is, of course, evil and can cause massive destruction. Finding the couple who owns the instrumental, they kill them, but unfortunately for them their daughter manages to escape with it. Fast-forwarding about twenty or so years and Yuen Biao, a security officer, is given the job to escort a mysterious package to someone living on a mountain (oops, forgot who this was). And that's all I'll say before I give the film away :)

I *think* this is an adaption of a novel, but I'm not sure. Anyways, it's in the mould of "Swordsman"-many characters and multi-layered storylines. They did a good job, however, I don't think this was executed as finely as "Swordsman". Hell, but, how many films can top a classic like that? Yuen Biao's performance, at times, comes across as being too strained, and he had no chemistry with his romantic interest, but generally the other actors were quite good. The climatic fight at the end is unintentionally funny-watch the bodies fly baby!-but overall, a pretty good period flick. And, to me, the most memorable quote from this film is after the Ghost leader's son conveys to him some important information, the Ghost leader flattens his son and says angrily-"Damn you! You made me waste a drop of blood." Bwahhahah :D

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 08/19/2000

This is one of the BEST movies I have ever seen! I cannot imagine why any kung fu/fantasy fan would not like it. The plot and actions were great; I wish this movie was at least 2 hours long because a lot more could have been added to make this the greatest martial arts movie ever made!

Reviewed by: jfierro
Date: 12/21/1999

Boring. Don't waste your time.

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/15/1999

Clever (if transparently plotted) martial arts fantasy pits Snow (Brigitte Lin), who blows her victims apart with her Magic Lyre, against powerful, ever-plotting rivals who'd killed her parents years ago. Not as craftsmanlike as some other fu offerings, but Lin's presence gives this a real boost. Lots of exploding bodies.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Perfunctory, often dull film based on Ngai Hong's wuxia novel.

[Reviewed by Iain Sinclair]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

In order to become invincible, a clan of martial-arts masters klls the two owners of a magic but deadly lyre. But unfortunately for them, the daughter of the young couple named Moon (Brigitte Lin) manage to escape with the precious object. Several years later, she will concocts a (complicate) plan which will allow her to avenge her parents death. As far as I am concern, they should have called that movie "Dreadful Melody". But to be quite honest, I can't really review this movie because I ejected the tape after 35 minutes (shame on me!). What I saw to this point wasn't that bad, it's just that it wasn't interesting enough. Maybe it get better afterwards but I guess I'll never know. From what I saw the acting was alright but I thought that Yuen Biao's performance was not very good. The only few fighting sequences that I watched were alright but sometime too chaotic for no reasons.

[Reviewed by Martin Sauvageau]