Founded in 1958 by Run Run Shaw, Shaw Brothers Studios has become synonymous with kung-fu pictures and chop-sockey action in general. Despite a strong catalogue of over 750 films, with genres ranging from historical epics and musicals to romantic comedies and horror, it is their prolific outpouring of martial-arts films that have captivated generations of American fans and set a formula that is still imitated to this day. While THE LIZARD has its fair share of high flying action, the film is more interested in tickling your funny bone than it is breaking it. So if you’re on the prowl for the next 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN you may want to keep browsing the isles of the martial-arts section. If however you are in the mood for an action comedy that surprisingly side steps many of the expected kung-fu conventions while maintaining material that would easily receive a PG-13 rating from the MPAA, then look no further.
Robbing from the rich (and by rich I mean all visiting Caucasians) and giving to the poor, The Lizard (Yueh Hua, COME DRINK WITH ME) ensures that the deprived and destitute are not walked over and forgotten by those in power. Hiding behind his alter ego Cheng Long, a stuttering police officer nicknamed Brother Dumb, The Lizard set his sights on a corrupt police chief (Lo Lieh) who a prostitution racket out of his fixed gambling casino. Aided by love interest Xiao Ju (Connie Chan), The Lizard teases and taunts the police chief, stealing precious items right out from under his nose. However, fate presents a twisted bit of irony when the chief’s cronies attempt to frame Cheng Long, accusing him of being The Lizard, leaving Xiao Ju and her grandpa to come to the rescue in an attempt to free Cheng Long from incarceration and maintain the legacy of The Lizard.
THE LIZARD is a serviceable action comedy that delivers a number of clever set ups, mostly by Yueh Hua as the bumbling cop Cheng Long. Resembling a 1930s Chinese Forest Gump, Yueh Hua’s clever antics are the film's standout scenes and appear to highlight the picture's emphasis on comedy over action. While there are several action scenes - including an extend nighttime brawl at the film’s conclusion - none of them are at all memorable, often falling apart next to silly, almost vaudevillian comedy bits. Even with martial arts direction by Yuen Woo-ping, the film's action consists mainly of the cast jumping around on hidden trampolines. A handful of action scenes are further derived of their impact by speeding up the film to make the action feel cartoonish, and the inclusion of a soundtrack that feels more appropriate for a 1970s prime time sitcom doesn’t help the first act either. There's a flash of nudity at the film's beginning and very little bloodshed, but where many of the punches may miss your gut it does provide one or two knee slappers that will appeal to fans of Jackie Chan and to Shaw Brothers completists.
Yuen Chor (aka Chu Yuan) began his cinematic career as a script writer in the late 1950s before quickly graduating to directing, eventually signing with Shaw Brothers in the early 1970s where he instantly placed his stamp on Hong Kong cinema with 1972’s INTIMATE CONFESSIONS OF A CHINESE COURTESAN. It is however his wuxia pictures, such as THE MAGIC BLADE and BAT WITHOUT WINGS that he's most often associated with. Familiar with both sides of the camera, Yuen Chor is also an accomplished actor, with a resume that includes a number of Jackie Chan films including THUNDERBOLT, TWIN DRAGONS and POLICE STORY 1 and 2.
1965 Yuen Chor worked with Connie Chan on the BLACK ROSE, playing a contemporary
Robin Hood role almost identical to that of Yueh Hua’s in The Lizard.
A hot commodity throughout the 1960s, Connie stared in numerous youth pictures,
comedies and action films, quickly becoming a teen idol known as the Movie-Fan
Princess. THE LIZARD would prove to be the last picture for Connie, ending an
illustrious career that lasted several decades. Her co-star Yueh Hua saw his
star rise instantly at Shaw Brothers after being cast opposite Cheng Pei-pei
in the swordswoman classic COME DRINK WITH ME. Yueh Hua would find steady work
well into the 1980s, staring in pictures such as AMAZONS VS. SUPERMEN and ENTER
THE SEVEN VIRGINS. Probably the most recognizable LIZARD co-star is villain
Lo Lieh, who filmed over seventy films for Shaw Brothers such as BLACK MAGIC,
BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS and KING BOXER/FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH.
Image Entertainment presents THE LIZARD in its original ShawScope 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Color is suitable and the picture has near a scratch to be seen, but the print does suffer from sporadic waves of grain. Audio features both the film's original Mandarin and English Dubbed soundtrack with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Personally I prefer the original Mandarin language track but it is funny to see the discrepancies between the English language track and the English subtitles, as what is spoken rarely matches up with what is read. Extras include 16 different Shaw Brothers trailers that have been remixed by Celestial Pictures for re-release, including THE WANDERING SWORDSMAN, THE BELLS OF DEATH and VENGEANCE IS A GOLDEN BLADE. (Jason McElreath)
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