A dark and occasionally gory film that delivers a real punch in terms of action and storyline. An unexpected gem…
In Qing dynasty China the treasury of Empress Dowager Cixi has been plundered to the tune of 2 million taels. Chief constable Ling (Chen Kuan-tai) is assigned the task of apprehending the culprits in 10 days. Well known for his skills and ruthlessness, Ling pulls together a small team to chase down the criminals. So begins a journey into darkness, where both sides suffer great loss, and Ling eventually uncovers a conspiracy that has been relying on his reputation.
Now I could talk about all sorts of things in this review. For example, I could talk about the interesting way that the focus is on characters that in other films would be the villains of the piece – Manchurian occupiers that are oppressing the Han Chinese populous. These are characters painted in shades of grey – just who are the bad guys, and who are the crooks?
I could talk about the way this film feels much more akin to Japanese Chanbara swordplay films rather than Chinese Wuxia, with the execution of some of the sequences being gory and brutal, and occasionally deliberately confusing (fights in darkness with just the flash of a blade or the sound of metal striking metal to clue you in on what is going on).
I could mention how this really is one of the most visually brutal Shaw Bros. films I have seen, with swords penetrating flesh and appearing to be weapons rather than props to support martial arts action.
I could write about the intense performance of Chen Kuan-tai, an anti-hero who says little, and is utterly dedicated to his cause, who even when realises the conspiracy he is uncovering has been protected by his actions, barely softens his approach.
I could look at how clear it is that John Woo watched this film and took the sequence of a blind girl being unaware of the reality of the men around her and used it in The Killer some 9 years later. Moreover I could make mention of how this is a much darker retelling of Chang Cheh’s 1969 film The Invincible Fist.
Instead I will just say this. Killer Constable is a dark, morally ambiguous, visually interesting and utterly downbeat film. My only question would be – why are you reading this review, when you should be hunting down and watching this cinematic classic.