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萬人斬 (1980)
Killer Constable

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 05/19/2011
Summary: the graceless executor...

leng tian-ying (chen kuan-tai), the 'killer constable' of the film's title, is charged with assembling a team to locate the two million taels of gold which have been stolen from the empress's treasury. it is an unenviable job, to be completed in a very short time-frame and one which failure will come couple with a death sentence. never the less, the constable with a reputation for getting things done, more often through foul means than fair, assembles his team and they head out to recoup the gold, unaware of what awaits them...

now, this is one of those films which starts and you soon start thinking that it might not be up to much. you now, there's something about the set-up and its execution which is rubbing you up the wrong way and then you slowly start to find enjoyment in it, before you start to realise that you're enjoying each scene of the film more than the last and, by the end, you're loving it? well, if you don't know that feeling, then you'll think i'm nuts, but this was a film that started off and i instantly though, this is going to be an ordeal to sit through. ninety minutes later i was hoping that this was one of the shaw titles which celestial reissued, as i'd like to pick up a copy of it.

so, this ended up being a really nicely done, twisting and turning narrative, filled with some enjoyable action sequences, which made for a very exciting watch.

cracking stuff...

Reviewed by: sharkeysbar
Date: 04/28/2008
Summary: The obsessive swordsman

This is one great film, from 1980 and set in the time of the Qing dynasty. It is the story of a large theft o f gold from the royal vaults and the chief constable who is ordered to find the culprits and return the stolen gold.
I found this story captivating, as it is much more than just the story of hunting thieves, it has so many elements that make it a great film. There is action a-plenty from the constables and the thieves and ruffians met along the way, but it is also has palace intrigues, double-crosses and set ups galore. The chief constable also battles with himself over being tough yet understanding and compassionate.
It also brought into play historical themes and understandings quite well, things like duty before all else, obediance, etc.
All in all this is a great film and regardless of the deeper levels that can be drawn from this film, it stands proud on its action scenes alone! I will surely be watching this one again.... fantastic!

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 05/29/2007

“Mark _______ for 300 taels of gold and take his head back to the court”. So goes life with Chief Constable Liang Tin Ying, the far from still center around which “Killer Constable” whirls. Liang is the title character and we find out quite early in the movie that he more than deserves his nickname. He summarily executes a criminal rather than return him for trial because the criminal wasn’t important enough to bother further with. It is a brutal, bleak and harrowing tale of torture, murder and betrayal. The story set in motion immediately—empress angry that two million gold taels have been stolen by the Treasury guards, chief of security doesn’t think he can both recover the gold and keep the theft from being known. He recommends Liang.

Liang is an efficient, resourceful and brave officer whose preference for meting out justice in the field rather than bringing captured criminals back to the court creates conflict with his brother. In a very quick and dramatic confrontation Liang’s brother denounces him for “the stink of blood on his hands” and resigns.

Immediately afterwards in scene that parallels Liang’s denunciation by his brother, the oldest constable in the service demands to be part of the detachment tracking the guards. When Liang refuses, telling him to stay behind to protect the fort—exactly the same orders he gave his brother—the old soldier, played by Gam Biu, declares he will resign unless he can accompany his leader. The contrast between the two could not be more stark and it makes clear two sides of Liang’s character. He is loyal to his subordinates and inspires intense loyalty in return but is also remorseless and cruel toward perceived enemies.

For all his viciousness, Liang is a poor field commander. His men are courageous and aggressive but he leads them into ambushes where foes outnumber them and have more deadly weapons. He commits the greatest sin of a combat leader—he is profligate with the lives of those he commands. The action director has made him a poor swordsman. His only offensive move is to slash with his broadsword and he thrusts only to set up a parry. Liang’s shortcomings are obvious when he confronts an enemy in helmet and armor. His opponent is unarmed but is a kung fu master and almost wins when Liang’s slashes simply bounce off the armor.

There some very gruesome deaths including one of a constable who is tortured and nailed to a wooden gird where he is in constant agony. If he is moved at all the pain will only increase so he begs Liang to kill him. Later when Liang and some of his men are trapped in a ring of fire during an ambush another of his men throws himself into the flames becoming a bridge for Liang to escape and track the leader of the thieves. He is horribly burned and dies in agony.

Laing’s men capture a number of small time thieves who have 50 stolen taels here and 300 there. It becomes clear to the audience that these men—none of whom survive interrogation--could have run an operation to steal millions and we are not surprised when the real culprit is exposed.

A few formal notes:

Gwai Chi-Hung likes fire and makes good use of it. When the fire set as trap in one of the ambushes burns itself out the aftermath of the smoking battleground looks like an image of the end of the world—or at least the way it has been depicted in many films. Another instance is when Liang and his men approach what seems to be a burned village, its charred timbers, still smoldering ruins and dead bodies indicating complete devastation. It is an artifice, still another ambush that they have walked into. The dead bodies are actually criminals waiting to spring a trap, a trap straight into which Liang leads his few remaining men.

We know from early in the film that the butcher’s bill will be quite high. Liang offers to leave to of his constables home—the oldest who threatens to resign if not allowed to accompany him and a young lawman who is about to be married. He postpones his wedding so that he can go on the quest. It is obvious that these two at least will not live to see the end of the movie.

The only woman in the film other than the empress is Feng’s daughter. When she meets Liang for first time, after Liang had been badly wounded, we notice that her outfit is a mirror image of the constable’s uniform, dark blue with white fur trim. Not sure if this is supposed to mean something or if the costuming department simply like that pattern.

“Killer Constable” is an adequate but not outstanding study of obsession and obsessive violence. There aren’t any positive or likeable characters and the only ones for whom we would have any sympathy—Liang’s constables and some of the thieves—are obviously marked for death.

Reviewed by: mpongpun
Date: 08/08/2002

Two million taels of gold has been stolen from the palace. The Empress is worried that this news might get out to foreign powers. Chief Constable Liang Tin Ying (Chen Kuan Tai) is called in to retrieve the gold and capture the robbers in ten days. Along the way to retrieving the gold, Liang Tin Ying uncovers the Mastermind (Walter Cho Tat Hwa) behind the whole heist. Good movie. Chen Kuan Tai plays this Constable who shows no mercy and compassion for the bad guys. He has that "get them before they get me" mentality. However, with his comrades, he IS a compassionate and caring guy who looks out for them like they were his own brother.