The Lizard (1972)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-05-03
“The Lizard” has scores of extras, opulent costumes, well done sets—everything that one expects from a Shaw Brothers semi-classic. Lo Lieh is Chen Can the chief investigator for the police and is the person who runs the town. He is a savage in a suit who kills without remorse and collects gambling debts by selling women into sexual slavery. The Chief is a person you love to hate and Lo Lieh brings every bit of evil to the fore. He and his superiors have only one real problem—the criminal known as The Lizard, a masked man who punishes imperialistic foreigners, especially the English and Japanese, by stealing from them and humiliating them. A very accomplished burglar, he is able to get into well guarded and apparently inaccessible rooms. We first see him in the bedroom of an English couple looting the wall safe. Earlier the audience had overheard two people complaining that a foreigner had abused and humiliated a local citizen—obviously this foreigner. The couple had come upstairs unexpectedly, she wearing a filmy negligee which she shrugs off while he doesn’t loosen his tie or unbutton his smoking jacket. The Lizard watches them while the audience watches The Lizard watch them. This scene has a number of functions: it shows the moral superiority of the Chinese over their degenerate and debauched occupiers; it introduces The Lizard as more than a thief but also as an avenger, and it supplies some gratuitous female nudity.

This robbery is potentially a disaster for the police force. The bedroom should be the safest part of the English couple’s house, the place where they disrobe (or not disrobe) to make love and the room in which the safe containing their jewelry and other valuables is located. The Lizard has penetrated to the heart of their little castle and gotten away cleanly, leaving his logo—a red plastic lizard—to taunt them. He also has a large fan base—the lovely Yo Xiao Ju, who we first see practicing kung fu, gets weak in the knees when she thinks of him. If Chinese police officers walking their beat stumbled across The Lizard there is a better chance they would bow in respect than try to arrest him. Obviously these people are not pro-crime--Yo Xiao Ju is quite well off. She lives with her grandfather, a police official, in a large house and the constables are sworn to uphold the law and take their oaths seriously. But they are opposed to the continued occupation of their country by imperialist powers and The Lizard is both a person and a symbol to express their discontent. Since Chief Chen Can is a tool of the Japanese he is more endangered by the success of his reptilian foe than anyone.

He is in Japan when the next outrage occurs—Officer Cheng Long, the secret identity of the Lizard, is arrested although his second in command the vile interpreter King Yun Bao thinks he is framing Cheng. Yo Xiao Ju, her grandfather and a sympathetic cop steal a ceremonial sword presented by the Emperor from its place of honor at the Japanese consulate, tying the theft to The Lizard. Since Cheng Long is in custody when the sword was stolen (and returned) he obviously isn’t the Lizard.

We had met the Japanese Consul before this, at an event in which The Lizard, with the help of Y Siao Ju, embarrasses the Director of Police and his wife at a reception in their honor. The Director is no more than a lackey for the occupying powers, fawning over the Japanese ambassador and his wife when they arrive and gushing about the English Consul who didn’t attend but sent his regards. The presumed target for The Lizard is a diamond necklace worn by the director’s wife, memorably overplayed by Lydia Shum Tin-Ha, but what The Lizard actually accomplishes is the humiliation of the Director, of Chen Chan and particularly the Japanese ambassador who, when he urgently needs to use the toilet, is followed and watched by three of Chen’s deputies.

What comes through more than anything is that the Lizard is a champion of the Chinese people against both alien invaders and the local officials who profit from their presence and that he is welcomed by many if not most of his countrymen. That he was played by Yueh Hua is a strength of the movie and also a weakness. As Brother Dumb, a stuttering and not very competent police officer he shows that any Chinese citizen can effectively resist the occupiers. But Yueh Hua is simply too big and gawky looking to be credible as a hero who scales walls and leaps from balconies. Other actors were physically suited for their parts but did some cegregious overacting. Lo Lieh only needed a prop bullwhip and a mustache he could twirl to become Snidely Whiplash. He was over the top from beginning to end. Ma Kim-Tong’s Interpreter King could have been a cardboard cutout with “toady” stamped on it, always the sycophant with his superiors and vicious with those under him. We don’t expect Lydia Shum Tin-Ha to be subtle was a lot less funny the tenth time she did it than the first.

The lovely Connie Chan Po-Chu was quite winning and very convincing as Yo Xiao Ju and Yeung Chi-Hing brought the necessary gravitas to his role as her grandfather. The fight scenes were unconvincing and contrived looking—they needed to grow organically from the narrative and not appear simply dropped in.

By no means a bad movie but not recommended very highly.
Reviewer Score: 6