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Sunday, April 17, 2016

JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED -- Movie Review by Porfle

Compared to a Shaw Brothers film such as HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD, 1985's JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED seems positively sedate.  Despite some comedy here and there, it's mainly a tale of tragic romance with intermittent swordplay and some surprisingly adult elements.

The madame of a classy brothel, Big Sister, gets in hot water with an evil client named Mr. Duan after he cruelly breaks in a new girl whose best friend, Shui-erh, an orphan whom Big Sister has raised since childhood, throws a snake at him. 

Shui-erh is actually the illegitimate daughter of a prince who's next in line to become Emperor, and Big Sister figures that this scandalous information will be valuable to the second-in-line prince so she reveals it to him in return for squaring things with Duan. 

Second Prince sends the Three Knights--Fei-hsia, Xi Ma Cross, and Swallow 13--to capture Shui-erh so he can show her to Dad, while First Brother sends bad warrior Shan and two murderous Black Dragon Order swordswomen, Spicy Double Wind Eel and Monkey Lin, to kill everyone in the brothel.

Shui-erh escapes into the woods and is helped by a handsome young fisherman whom she calls "Knight."  It turns out that he is the younger brother of Spicy Double Wind Eel, which complicates things a bit. 

Shui-erh and Knight fall in love while living in the secluded beach shack of a kindly mute girl, but Shui-erh becomes jealous of her and runs away, falling into the hands of the Three Knights. 

Fei-hsia, who is in love with Shan and under his hypnotic spell, makes off with Shui-erh before she can be taken to the palace and delivers her to Shan at the Mysterious Fire Village, where a fierce battle between Shan and the Knights takes place over the fate of the future princess.

Director Chuen-Yee Cha's JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED has few major action setpieces compared to most Shaw Brothers films, and there isn't a lot of effort put into making the characters' fighting skills look all that convincing. 

The main emphasis is on the love story, which is less than riveting.  Much of the middle part of the film resembles one of those BLUE LAGOON-type flicks about young lovers cavorting in the wild, with Shui-erh's spoiled brattiness getting a bit trying after awhile. 

The lack of chemistry between the two actors is obvious when they kiss--she keeps her lips pressed firmly together as though being forced to eat spinach, while he practically tries to suck her entire face into his mouth.

Still, leather-clad babe Monkey Lin is entertaining whether taking on a bunch of inept guys just for fun or having it out with Spicy Double Wind Eel when she tries to kill her brother.  Most startling is the sequence in which Monkey and Spicy slaughter the prostitutes of Big Sister's brothel, and the final battle at Mysterious Fire Village is impressively staged. 

There isn't much wirework here and fantasy elements are kept to such a minimum that when animated light beams eminate from Shan's eyes as he hypnotizes Fei-hsia, it seems almost out of place.

What sets this film apart is the nudity and softcore sex.  An early scene with Big Sister and her brothel partner gettin' it on is totally gratuitous, but the fact that she's so gorgeous makes it my favorite part of the movie. 

Mr. Duan's session with the virgin Xio Cai is considerably less romantic, as he whips and even brands her while roughly availing himself of her supple body.  Later, things get sappy during Shui-erh and Knight's idyllic wilderness interlude, which even includes one of those cutesy montages set to the tune of a bad 80s power ballad.  This entire sequence slows the movie down and it doesn't pick up again until we get to the Mysterious Fire Village.

After recently watching several Shaw Brothers films which are loaded with wall-to-wall action and fantasy, JOURNEY OF THE DOOMED comes as a letdown.  It does have its charming moments and a certain amount of excitement, but it isn't a film I'll feel compelled to revisit any time soon.

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