Masked Avengers Review

The Film

Something very nasty is afoot when a gang of mask wearing, blood drinking murderers are rampaging through the region of Jingyang. They kidnap newly weds of two wealthy families and gang rape the bride whilst using the groom for spear throwing practice – these are bad men. The government send an investigator, Zheng, out to spy on the monsters but he is ambushed and ripped to pieces by their patented golden tridents. His sworn brothers and fellow investigators decide to visit Jingyang and to pay special attention to local bigwig Ling. Once in town, they turn down Ling's offers of hospitality and are attacked by the avengers in their tavern whilst Ling is with them, thus putting him in the clear. Ling suggests they look at fellow “legitimate businessman”(© The Simpsons), Fang. Acting on his suggestion they find themselves ambushed again whilst Fang has tea at a local eaterie. With bodies piling up, suspicion falls on the tavern's cook who has a habit for eavesdropping and playing with a golden trident. Investigator Liang is convinced he is the leader of the gang but Zeng Yun is certain that the cook is out to get the gang too. When the cook flees and Zeng Yun is found dead, it looks like Liang has a point. The forces of law must fight the masked avengers in their hideout to a bloody climax.

With the greater popularity of relatively bloodless Hong Kong action comedies from Jackie Chan, I always find myself admiring the technique but wanting a bit more reality. Like anyone I enjoy good triumphing over evil but common-sense and experience tells me it's a little harder than JC finds it, and with a lot less humour along the way. the antidote to anodyne action lies with Chang Cheh. His martial arts films usually end in a victory for righteousness but with a lot of pain and loss along the way. His chivalrous heroes lose loved ones, limbs and some face in their quest for justice, but the worst thing they ever face is disloyalty and treachery. The greatest sin in a Chang Cheh film is doing your brother down and even bandits, murderers, and rapists are not so low as the treacherous. In Masked Avengers, there is the central fight between the forces of crime and the law, but more importantly there is the threat of dishonest men who call you brother. When the cook's secret is revealed in the film he is redeemed as a “brother” to Zeng Yun but revealed as a criminal, in the film's eyes the former is much more important leaving the latter matter redeemed. Cheh's films always celebrate the chivalrous criminal over the filial betrayer.

Masked Avengers is a hoot. Gloriously bloody with some amazing moments of evil from the gangsters that equates them with Satanists and occultists. We see the gang taking good men on and outnumbering them, skewering decent men in the back, perpetrating sneaky ambushes and generally running rings around the decent law men after them. My favourite moment involves the gang placing their pray tied up on a revolving Buddha whilst they throw spears at them. The gang desecrate, fornicate and party and are charmingly unrepentant. Their pursuers are earnest good men fooled by vice and lies, and impatient to put the world to rights. One by one, the virtuous are tricked and killed until the remaining law men are outnumbered and lured into an impossible trap. In this final reckoning, the honourable and the treacherous face off and torrents of blood drown the frame.

Of the later Cheh films, Masked Avengers is one of the best choreographed with excellent duels between sword and trident, and terrific wire work and tumbling from the cast. The story itself hinges on a secret that once revealed may not completely absolve its subject and the dimness of the virtuous seems to be endless as they fall for ambush after ambush. This all is rendered irrelevant because the action is so frenetic and the identification with the heroes is so strong because of the malevolence of the villains. Great sequence gives way to great sequence and the quality of the martial arts is superb with Philip Kwok being particularly graceful and lithe in both fights and demonstrations of his ability with the trident. Most importantly the film works because the excellent choreography climaxes with terrific gore and physicality; the masked avengers kill with brutality and are served bloody justice too.