If there’s one guy who deserves a whole lot more love and recognition in Hong Kong film circles, it has to be Yu Rongguang. “Yu who?” you might ask. My point exactly. American viewers might recognize him as one of the Chinese guards in Shanghai Noon, but chances are probably not. Despite having starred in some true martial arts/HK action classics (i.e. My Father Is a Hero and the mind-blowing Iron Monkey), he probably stills remains a relative unknown to most people, even those who are fairly knowledgable when it comes to HK cinema.
Although certainly no Donnie Yen or Jet Li, Rongguang’s a very competent onscreen fighter, as anyone whose seen Iron Monkey can attest, thanks to his Peking Opera training. However, he’s also very capable when it comes to delivering a serious, non-kung fu performance (such as the duty-bound Yuan general in Musa). What’s more, he’s also a pretty decent-looking chap (in addition to being an actor, he’s also worked as a model). Considering all of this, it’s a shame the man hasn’t been able to get more roles, and more significant roles, than he has up to this point.
In all honesty, I probably never would’ve rented Deadend of Besiegers if Rongguang hadn’t been the leading actor. Although I was somewhat swayed by the film’s supposed “classic” status, it was the chance to see Rongguang in a prominent role that tipped the scales in the movie’s favor. And while it’s no Iron Monkey (but then again, what is?), Deadend of Besiegers is still a very entertaining and engaging, if somewhat dated, kung fu flick.
Rongguang plays Wuwechimatao, one of Japan’s greatest warriors. After he’s defeated by a European boxer (a loss made all the more shameful by the fact that the guy looks and acts like a bad Shakespearean actor), Wuwechimatao travels to China in order to study new martials styles and improve his skills. But when he arrives, he discovers to his chagrin that the ship he boarded is actually a Japanese pirate vessel intent on — surprise — looting and pillaging.
During the pirates’ late-night raid, he manages to elude his dastardly countrymen and rescue a young girl from their clutches, only to accidentally kill one of the villagers before finally escaping. The next day, while trying to figure out how to return to Japan, he befriends Xiao, the young girl he saved the night before. Immediately sensing, in the way that only children in movies can, that Wuwechimatao isn’t a bad guy at all, she decides to help him and hides him away until he can figure things out.
At this point, I should mention that normally, I’m opposed to little kid hijinks in kung fu movies on general principle (anyone who wonders why need only see New Legend of Shaolin). But Wuwechimatao and Xiao’s relationship is actually one of the movie’s best aspects. Much of that has to do with the young actress who plays Xiao with considerable feistiness and spirit. There’s some great chemistry between her and Rongguang’s Wuwechimatao, resulting in some pretty cute and funny scenes (such as when she tries to teach Wuwechimatao Chinese and ends up resorting to swear words).
While trying to escape from the pirates and the villagers, Wuwechimatao encountered Cui Gu (Cynthia Khan), a lovely woman skilled in the “Dog’s Fist” style of kung fu. Hoping to learn the style to add to his repertoire, Wuwechimatao convinces Xiao to take him to Cui Gu — who just so happens to be her older sister. Although reluctant at first, believing him to be one of the Japanese pirates, Cui Gu eventually consents — much to the chagrin of her fiancé, who is the son of the villager Wuwechimatao accidentally killed.
Meanwhile, the Japanese pirates are planning to somehow make it into the village and steal its valuable treasure. Although one of the villagers is helping them, their plots are foiled at every turn by Cui Gu and Wuwechimatao, whom the pirates had believed to be dead. The pirates, however, plan one final assault during the upcoming festival. Despite their hatred and distrust of him because of his nationality, the villagers soon find themselves relying on Wuwechimatao to help them destroy the pirates once and for all.
One of the most intriguing aspects of Deadend of Besiegers is the way that it handles its Japanese/Chinese relationships. The Chinese view the Japanese as thieves and rogues, while the Japanese opinion of the Chinese isn’t much better. It isn’t surprising that Wuwechimatao’s Chinese cohorts have a hard time coming around, even when he takes great pains to prove that his intentions are honorable. A good portion of the movie is spent with the Chinese characters trying to overcome their fear and mistrust. Although the movie, being an action comedy, certainly doesn’t delve too deeply into the socio-politics of the situation, it does add some welcome depth to the film.
And I was pleasantly surprised by the fairly chaste manner in which the film handles the burgeoning relationship between Wuwechimatao and the betrothed Cui Gu. While there are some romantic interludes between the two, as well as a little sexual humor, the movie wisely doesn’t dwell on that stuff, nor does it become too melodramatic or prurient.
After all, most people aren’t going to watch Deadend of Besiegers for commentary or romance, but rather for action, pure and simple. And Deadend of Besiegers delivers quite nicely in that department. Filmed in 1992, before wires became de rigueur for any and all kung fu movies, Deadend of Besiegers has plenty of unadulterated martial arts action (although there is some wirework and film trickery to help the characters look even more bad-assed). Parts of the film do look rather dated (it is over 10 years old), and the action is certainly not as frenzied as, say, a Yuen Woo-Ping film, but it’s still enjoyable (and it’s worth noting that Rongguang was also one of the film’s action choreographers, and does a decent job).
Add to all of this some stunning cinematography, courtesy of the Chinese countryside, and some great cultural elements, like the colorful village festivals the occur throughout the film, and Deadend of Besiegers makes for a pretty solid flick if you’re looking to score a bit of kung fu action some evening. If you haven’t seen a Rongguang flick before, then start with Iron Monkey or My Father Is a Hero. If you have seen those flicks, and found yourself wondering about that Rongguang fella, you could certainly do a lot worse than Deadend of Besiegers.
You could watch Supercop 2.