The first film from Golden Harvest, featuring Angela Mao’s debut appearance, a mythical journey and kung fu dinosaurs…
The Angry River was Angela Mao’s first screen appearance, and the first film produced by Raymond Chow’s Golden Harvest studio. As many viewers would know, Golden Harvest have produced hundreds of films since the beginning, so it was an interesting watch for me to see where they first came from.
Following two warring factions, the Lunar Sect and Liangyi Castle, Lan Feng (Angela Mao) sets out on a quest to win a legendary ‘black grass’ herb that’s capable of healing her father, who was poisoned by the Lunar Sect. Along the way she befriends several great kung fu artists, and gets into some blazingly fun fights. Whilst the film itself is named after one of the many obstacles on the ‘thousand kilometre’ journey that Mao goes on to recover the herb, the appearance of the river itself (more of a babbling brook in it’s timid nature) is minimal in the film and it’s selection for the film title is an odd one.
As with any first film, there are tentative baby steps in the filmmaking and getting to know your craft. Too few close-ups of the main characters (which came to be heavily relied upon in later films to show emotion), lots of ultra-wides and pans through jumping wirework, a rapid-fire plot that leaves no room at all for padding between scenes or extra subplots (which I think was developed into later films naturally to extend the running time). With some early career appearances from Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, and the film has truly stellar fighting from Feng Yi (though it’s evident to see where the fight choreography is still untamed and growing, with more longer ‘full body’ shots from behind actors that mostly hide the punches, instead of the frontal extreme close-ups that audiences grew to recognise as the traditional ‘Golden Harvest’ style in later films).
The film was shot in Taiwan, featuring some beautiful landscapes with punchy drum-based musical scores. The fight choreography is understandably raw, but the lack of skill (in the beginning of film production) is naturally made up for by the complete plethora of wirework and action scenes on display. The action here was a lot more brutal than I’ve seen in later Golden Harvest films, though that adds to the experience of a rollicking good time. At one point we get an insane fight underground with a prehistoric dinosaur assaulting Angela Mao, for that alone I laughed out loud and thought highly of the film. For your first feature, why not go completely crazy and set a precedent for the future?
The constant excitement in The Angry River is the reason I rate it so highly, with the plot bounding along at a rapid pace and the pure craziness of several scenes adding to the enjoyment. One scene you’re fighting giant lizards, the next see’s a sibling racing around vowing to avenge his murdered brothers (and in turn is instantly hit by a poison dart at the end of his posturing speech). It’s comedy matching the heights of Shakespeare; whilst the action is raw enough to forgive as there’s almost an overkill of fight scenes and gore, plenty to sate any viewers’ taste. For the first film from Golden Harvest, The Angry River is worth checking out for any film fan; just make sure you pick up the remastered DVD.