From early, solid martial arts in 1972's Prodigal Boxer, storytelling competence in Thou Shalt Not Kill...But Once to showcasing Elsa Yeung as a man hating leader of amazon women in The Country Of Beauties (aka Island Warriors), Ulysses Au was there before and during the Taiwan new wave era of the late 70s/early 80s (even directing the landmark movie The First Error Step in 1979) and back in period territory for 1984's Be Careful Sweetheart. The solid elegance on display is deceptive as this turns out to be a blend of fantasy, swordplay, art and humanity in a mix that doesn't contain elements spelling doom for a picture. In fact it makes sense swordplay heroes are brought down from stoic to humane.
The Yin Feng clan, headed by Chief Sheng (Han Ying-Chieh - The Big Boss, The Fate Of Lee Khan) are set to execute Wai Kai (Adam Cheng) and Ling Er (Brigitte Lin) for breaking the rules stating love isn't allowed. Saved by friends and bodyguards Feng Chu and Feng Chi and now the target of the entire martial world, the lovers try to settle down. Soon Ling Er gets the feeling Wai Kai is carrying issues of doubt. Clan brother Lu Cheng (Derek Yee) also makes it a trio on the run after deciding to protect the couple rather than bringing them in...
You would think we're dealing with a sequel here as Ulysses Au starts mid story but as with any subsequent elements and twists in the film, Au doesn't fall into the trap of making this Wuxia story complicated beyond human comprehension. Oh Be Careful Sweetheart IS unexpected but we get why. All this is also from a Taiwan cinema clearly enjoying a genre groove as Au showcases his widescreen elements very well via costumes, sets and has Fung Hak-On on board for action directing carrying a belief that it can be done. Therefore the wirework when it hits is larger than life by hoisting actors and stuntmen incredibly high into the air but the grounded hand to hand and sword to sword combat excites greatly. In particular the leading man Cheng and Yee comes off as very fluid and impressive plus Fung is working with Au to make other scenes of action and violence make sense emotionally. It's part of the dramatic beats and they are wise to integrate Brigitte Lin into the action this way as it's such a key for Be Careful Sweetheart.
Very much largely a misguided romance, it's interesting how Wai Kai and Ling Er soon become aware they have acted with their emotions and not heads because when reaching a hideout essentially the 'what now?' question is asked. Oh there's a honeymoon period of sorts where the duo's confidence as invincible fighters make certain sections more comedic (but not in an intrusive way) before it all comes crashing down and it's mainly Adam Cheng's character who feels rather than thinks and therefore starts doubting the most. Leading to the fun and games being interrupted by death and intense, emotional betrayal.
It's this isolation literally for the characters, the quiet drama between two and then three as Derek Yee's Lu Cheng becomes a crucial part that impresses the most despite flirting with heavy melodrama. Definitely due to the fact that Au makes the movie feel less genre-oriented and by bringing in a humanity within the fantastique (no better casting choice than Brigitte Lin then, a veteran of drama). Her emotional breakdown experiencing betrayal makes her an empty shell while it's Lu Cheng tending to her and it's a rare intent for these Wuxia stories to play up the emotions and human factor without annoying with melodrama (even though when Lin throws herself at and between trees in the bamboo forest, matters are getting silly).
Sure tying up the movie means some dip into the expected but again, without dumbing down the genre, Ulysses moves and excites us as the scope is equally small and grand, leading to tickling of several of our emotions. One of which we didn't expect.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson