Lang Zi Yu Wu Nu (1987)

Directed by: Wu Min-Hsiung
Written by: Liu Sung-Pai
Producer: ?
Starring: Ma Sha, Doris Lung, Cheung Yu-Yuk, Shut Chung-Tin, & Chen Hung-Lieh

Advantages of possessing a passion towards Taiwanese genre cinema? You get to experience gems that matches iconic poster imagery and you even take a chance on movies with merely poster imagery to go by. So no official English title (if it ever was given one) exists for this Ma Sha drama in question (rough translation leans towards The Vagabond And The Cabaret Girl. Or Dancing Girl. Thank you to Kevin, Sylvia and Tony for their input on this) and the cropping compromises the appreciation of the frame (and its subtitles) to a degree. It is rejuvenating to go in blind for once and therefore not a terrible disappointment to confirm to yourself that the poster was the best thing about it. Passion over quality oddly enough.

Released from prison after a murder that rattled his family to the core, Han Jyh Shiang (Ma Sha) tries to do good helping out the family of a sworn brother and staying out of trouble. But when he’s named the manager of a club, jealousy is triggered in the former manager (Chen Hung-Lieh)...

Much of the proceedings leans more towards a director trying to follow the template of how to make melodrama rather than bringing a personal vision. So experienced action and kung-fu director Wu Min-Hsiung (Stormy Sun) ticks off content such as the best of times-montage for the opening credits, the abrupt cut to the murder in question and then we’re off into the drama of an ex-con. Admittedly Ma Sha gets a refreshing role quite far removed from the gangster movie-mould we usually see him in and there’s a kindness present within, making the heart of the movie stand out despite execution being very impersonal. He’s not terribly natural however but nevertheless, the mild mannered nature and theme of the film can be admirable for some stretches.

When there’s darkness and violence on the horizon, the movie doesn’t showcase a whole lot of bite though, making one wish a hard action-push would at least been present in combination with drama. But Wu does neither very well, whether in the brief elevator attack, during Ma Sha and Cheng Hung-Lieh’s confrontation on the train tracks (there’s one hell of a gung ho stunt in this sequence however) and even the knife attack leading to the demise of a main character fails to register.

Considering Ma Sha’s usual screen persona, at least the content suggests makers were trying to renew it but these are not the people for that task. Not even its unusually positive nature that remains almost unsquashed by violence and nihilism can elevate matters but again, taking a chance on the fine piece of poster art crafted for the movie is a venture that’s worth it. For under the radar Taiwanese cinema, it is.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson