The Condemned (1976, Hong Kong)
I’d very much like to say that there was an interesting subtext to this movie; the contamination in prison of non-violent men placed with violent offenders, perhaps. But, no, this is a straightforward good guys v. bad guys story; a revenge story. With lots of fighting. Lots. But none in prison.
The two heroes’ stories intersect when they are placed in the same prison cell.
Feng Da-Gang (Hung Tsai) has been sent by his martial arts master to help a wealthy citizen, Mr Xie, deal with a banditry problem – what we would now describe as a home invasion problem, or a gang problem. Mr Xie welcomes Feng into his home, and soon thereafter receives a visit from a respected and wealthy local, kung fu teacher Sheng Meng (Feng Ku), who claims to be seeking a safe place to shelter from the same bandits, whose identity is unknown. Midway through a meal, Sheng’s men attack the Xie household and open up the fortified gate to allow the rest of the bandits, led by the super-chilled Lung Wen-Xuan (Ying Bai), into the home.
Feng fights the marauders valiantly, but is felled by Lung’s trademark double-footed kick and head-slam combination… and when the security forces arrive (let’s just call them police), the entire Xie household has been annihilated and Feng is fighting with a dying man who accuses him of being a spy, and sprawled over some valuables that the bandits left behind. He is assumed by nearly everyone to be the killer bandit and is taken to the local prison, where he is placed, one arm tethered by a chain, in a dark cell.
Somewhere nearby is Yang Lin (David Chiang), a small time, happy-go-lucky pickpocket who is in love with a prostitute’s maid, the very chaste Bao Ying (Lily Li). Yang is a popular young man, no doubt due to his habit of generously sharing his ill-gotten gains with other rogues. He unwittingly lifts the fat wallet of the lecherous Liang (Shen Chan), who happens to be one of the gang of bandits… and then a bit carelessly starts sharing the proceeds in full view of the victim. He is chased down by the police and, while they can’t find the wallet, is placed in the cell with Feng – in the hope that he might be scared enough to confess his crime and return the wallet to its owner.
The tactic half works. Yang is scared, largely due to Feng’s habit of jolting from a meditative position and trying to grab him by the throat, if only the chain would let him get close enough. Then Sheng and his cronies – who are acutely aware that Feng is the only one alive who can positively identify them as the bandits – propose a deal to Yang: he can keep the money if he poisons his cellmate. Yang goes back and tells Feng. They become best buddies.
Working together, they manage to free Feng from his shackles, overpower four prison guards, and escape. Yang foolishly rushes to see Bao Ying, and is promptly caught by the bandits. Feng foolishly decides not to escape the area entirely, and instead heads straight to Sheng’s house. Yang is beaten, tortured in an attempt to have him reveal where Feng is, and then tortured again when his advice proves wrong. Bao Ying is raped by Liang, and then hangs herself. Feng winds up in a one-on-one battle with Sheng for what seems like an hour, then Feng and Yang team up to fight Lung, with Yang (who can’t fight, but is spurred on by his grief and anger over the loss of his true love) providing the light entertainment as he is nonchalantly swatted away each time he tries to take Lung on. The police obligingly wait until Feng and Yang are the only two left, and they are then taken back to prison – where, one suspects, they might not stay for long, as the police Captain Fang has long held suspicions about Sheng’s unexplained wealth.
Several synopses on the interweb describes Feng as a ‘swordsman’. If that’s the case, he sadly forgets to bring his sword with him to Mr Xie’s and then to every single fight thereafter; had he remembered, some of the protracted hand-to-hand combat might have been cut short, so to speak.
As for the prison scenes, one can say only that the prison is a little overcrowded but the food is surprisingly generous. Well, that’s not entirely true; one could also say that Yang’s corruption – from cheeky pickpocket to violent offender – occurs only because he is (a) in prison, and (b) in a shared cell with an alleged violent offender, who happens to be innocent, but who can be righteously violent when the need arises. As I said, there is no subtext. Hope you like fighting.
Listed as Si qiu on IMDb.
Posted on October 15th, 2018 at 8:33 pm. Updated on June 15th, 2019 at 12:48 pm.