I'd heard big wraps on this one. Praise for Chow's intense performance, as he was trying hard to establish himself as a star, and for the astute work of Ann Hui, who is also one of my favourite directors.
Reviewer Score: 3
Maybe it was the lack of subtitles, but I found a lot of the action was hard to fathom and, although the plight of the refugees was easy to relate to, I found it not as convincing as it could be.
Or perhaps it's because I saw Hong Kong 1941 just a week earlier. The comparison is unfair, of course. The two movies, HK 1941 and SOWV are similarly paced, deal with similar characters in a nearly parallel situation, and Chow is the lead actor in both. HK1941 shows Chow giving a gripping performance, assisted by an excellent cast who play their parts to perfection. SOWV has a weaker cast (including a number of unknowns) and the characters are harded to get into and, though I pitied them, I couldn't feel much else for them. Chow's performance is that of a troubled man and doesn't vary much. The luscious Cherie Chung was only just starting in movies, and it shows.
Actually, it is Cora Miao who stands out. Cora is one of those HK actresses whose features are not distinctive enough to make her easily identifiable. But she is nevertheless a fine actress, and carries well the part of the woman who was Chow's penpal and (I assumed) aspired to be his lover, only to lose him to the gorgeous and vulnerable Cherie.
A lot of screen time is taken up with veteran fu actor Lo Lieh, who plays the main ruthless gunman who becomes Chow's protector. I'm afraid the old tough guy outclasses Chow completely.
Things are all very grim, of course, but whereas HK1941 rises above this, SOVW does not. This may have been the director's intention, but the ending left me on a mild letdown.
I've seen one disreputable video distributor flogging SOVW under the title "God Of Killers". Lord, please save us from these idiots ! Chow's character does get drawn into petty crime, but he's far from the proficient killer of Better Tomorrow or Hard Boiled.
Briefly, if you are a Chow fan and you wish to see SOWV and HK1941, I'd recommend you see SOWV first. if not, SOVW is likely to disappoint.