Total depression.

Every attempt of the hero ends up in despair. The people totally defeated by evil. This is an adaptation of the novel written by a member of Communist Party of China. The film was released in one year before of the year 1997.

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  • 導演:蕭笙
  • 編劇:蕭笙工作室
  • 原著:燕子李三傳奇
  • 動作設計:林滿華/范展鴻
  • 監製:胡錦
  • 攝影:黃家輝/何克威
  • 配樂:温中甲/梁志華
  • 領銜主演
    元彪 … 燕子李三
    朱茵 … 金蘭
  • 主演
    徐錦江 … 洪來福
    馬宗德 … 唐玉麒
    高雄 … 張祿
    袁茵 … 落霞
    王嗔 … 虎蛙
    王伯昭 … 薄祐
  • 出品:香港金鼎影業
  • 日期:1996年
  • 片長:96分
  • 日本版
    黒影 ブラック・シャドウ
    Maxuam 2002年06月25日 DVD
  • English title: The Hero of Swallow

The legend of Yanzi

There is an urban legend in China. There was the "Phantom thief" called 燕子李三 (Yanzi Li-san) who was one of the top ten experts of Kung Fu in the late Qing Dynasty era, the 1930s. He has the extraordinary talent for the acrobat. He is the master of 輕功 (Qinggong) acquired in Shaolin Temple.

He always left the proof of his success of stealing on the spot. The brush painting of the swallow. He was briefly called by the people as "Swallow" which is the motif of the rapid and elegant warrior. You may remember 金燕子 (Golden Swallow). According to the most believed legend, he was arrested in 1935 and died in prison in 1936.

The adaptation of the novel by a mamber of Communist Party of China

燕子李三 was at firest cinematized in Taiwan 1972. Then, this film in 1996 and another two films were made in 2013. This 1996 version is the adaptation of the novel "燕子李三傳奇" by the author 柳溪 who was a member of Communist Party of China since 1949. The original novel was written in 1984. I can’t suppose the reason why the director dared to pick this novel, whether the offer from the production or the proper will of the director. It’s important to remind that this film was released in just before the arrival of the year 1997.

The bad ending

A Wuxia film starred by Yuen Biao with Athena Chu, it looks enough promising. However, this film remains obscure. There are certain causes that I recognized while and after seeing the film.

This is the story of the hero who failed his attempt. Yuen Biao plays the protagonist "Swallow". His fiance was dishonored and sold by the corrupt officer. He decided to fight against the injustice and aiding the exploited people. He is desperately trying to find out his fiance.

蕭笙《神偷燕子李三》1996 - 元彪和朱茵
Yuen Biao and Athena Chu are once in the same screen.

The director Siu Sang is famous from the 80s TV series. He was already 69 years old, this storyline is a little too much used and stereotype for a film of the late 90s, but is a good old-school action till the middle part. Then, the story is rolling down to the perfect tragedy. His fiance was murdered when he finally found her. Furthermore, he was beaten and arrested by the police. His legs, the wings of the swallow were broken. The hero lost everything. Just before his execution, the film ends into the despair.

This is not what we expected

This film may be a "satire" that implies Hong Kong after the year 1997. The people was dominated by the depressing atmosphere in real. It’s intensely depicted in Made in Hong Kong for example. However, I really wonder why the filmmaker decided to declare such irony in this sort of film. We can never guess it from the poster or the cover. Once again look the poster, there is a sentence "給您帶來新刺激!". It roughly means "It’s bring you to a fresh stimulation!". Have you ever stimulated by the despair?

What the audience expected was an "Exhilarating action film" to supply the energy for tomorrow. We are diving into the film and syncing ourselves with the heroes. Let’s back to the year 1996, we need hope more than ever!

Yuen Biao is often not visible due to the mask

Yuen Biao is demonstrating his marvellous Kung Fu, nevertheless his face is often hidden by the mask. We can’t recognize well who he is. It makes the fighting scene anonymous. This is a bad direction.

Swallow’s first battle against "the bouncer of a brothel" is the worst. This is a high difficulty Kung Fu scene, the required action is complex and long. However, why the legendary hero was struggling against such a nameless punk? Besides, we don’t recognize well if the hero is Yuen Biao or not. After all, Swallow failed to revenge on his true enemies. He was even defeated. There is no catharsis.

A few screen appearances of Athena Chu

Athena Chu plays the heroine, but she is merely a guest. She rarely appears on the screen. Her role is activated from the final part of the story and she is soon murdered. This is the huge disappointment.

Anyway, why so many Yuen Biao and Athena Chu faces at the bottom of the poster? The screen appearance of Athena Chu is more or less 10 minutes in total. What about Elvis Tsui and Eddy Ko? Their characters were very active whether tortured or murdered.

蕭笙《神偷燕子李三》1996 - 徐錦江
Elvis Tsui plays a comrade of Swallow. His remarkable action is to be tortured.
蕭笙《神偷燕子李三》1996 - 高雄
He should have been the greatest enemy, but he was accidentally shot down by the soldiers.

Mainland China actresses

There are two lesser known actresses, 王嗔 and 袁茵. They are most likely from Mainland China. 王嗔 might be a pseudonym. I can’t find any information about her. She is the actual heroine. She is cute and can do action further. Her Kung Fu is featured in just before the climax. Her appearance was the sole aspect that satisfied me in this film.

袁茵 doesn’t have notable activities. Anyway, HKMDB is sometimes displaying the wrong information. 翁虹 and 鍾淑慧 are not in this film. I’m always checking the casts and staff at the closing credit. Baidu Baike is correct and detailed.

Japanese version

蕭笙《神偷燕子李三》1996 - 日版DVD

This film was not released in cinema, but in VHS and DVD. The Japanese publisher is especially insisting the film budget. They say that’s 30 million HKD. So, this is about 3.8 million USD. It’s not surprising at all.

Also, they are remarking that this is the 20th anniversary film of the production "Hong Kong Golden Tripod Film". Who cares? They even don’t know Focus Films. Who knows this production in Japan?

Why such pointless promotion? It’s a same old story. This Japanese publisher is trying to swindle the customers. They show the large amounts of money in the foreign currency with a foreign company’s name. It’s quite ambiguous, therefore it’s effective for a naive customer. He will believe that’s somewhat important.

Japanese publishers rarely see the film that they are selling. They always invent their own title, synopsis and cover. The original title is often lacking from the cover. When I found an interesting DVD, but I have the difficulty to know what it is. So, I use the website which reveals the original film from the mysterious Japanese version. It’s often wrong, but gives me a clue at least. I absolutely need the Internet anywhere. I always appreciate the innovation of the mobile phone.