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B (1974)

Reviewed by: Libretio
Date: 12/02/2005
Summary: Award-winning action-drama, entirely serviceable

FRIENDS (1974)

Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 (Shawscope)
Sound format: Mono

A wealthy young playboy (Alexander Fu Sheng) flees his repressive family and joins forces with a gang of street toughs who are unaware of his true identity, until he's kidnapped by white slavers who demand a ransom for his safe return...

Though he'd played minor supporting roles in several movies (THE GENERATION GAP, POLICE FORCE, etc.) prior to his appearance in this lightweight action-drama, Fu Sheng won the Best Young Newcomer Award at the 20th Asian Film Festival in 1974 for his performance as the son of a boorish tycoon (Lo Dik) who rejects his opulent lifestyle and embraces the simple virtues of a benevolent street gang, headed by struggling artist David Chiang (already a star in the Shaw Bros. firmament). Chiang's cool elegance is somewhat eclipsed by Fu's laidback insouciance, though they make a formidable team during the various fight scenes, which resulted in them being paired in numerous films at Shaw Bros. throughout the 1970's.

Co-written by prolific scribe Ni Kuang (ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN, BOXER FROM SHANTUNG, etc.), FRIENDS exercises all the themes of loyalty and brotherhood expected of director Chang Cheh, along with an equally expected (and not-so-subtle) homoerotic subtext: Chiang's relationship with girlfriend Lily Li is sidelined in favor of his involvement with a troupe of handsome male subordinates, rendered all the more obvious with the arrival of Fu, the most attractive and dynamic of them all. Chang always denied tailoring his scenarios in this manner (cf. his comments in Stanley Kwan's UK/HK documentary YANG ± YIN: GENDER IN CHINESE CINEMA, for instance), though he betrays himself on several occasions here, without ever making the notion explicit.

The film's busy plotline takes off when low-ranking gang member Lee Yung-git stumbles on Fu's identity and extorts money from Lo (who would rather believe Fu has been kidnapped than accept his association with 'hooligans'), which attracts the attention of white slavers who kidnap Fu for real, leading to a climactic confrontation between various factions on opposite sides of the moral divide. Untypically, Chang foregoes bloodshed and tragedy for lighthearted fisticuffs, though the action set-pieces are no less blistering, and the narrative remains evenly balanced between emotional melodrama and high-kicking combat sequences. Faintly superficial in basic terms, the movie is constructed with technical flair in the usual Shaw manner, and the results are entirely serviceable.

[Mandarin dialogue]

Reviewer Score: 5