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Beggars Have No Equal

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 08/04/2009

“Beggars Have No Equal” is a very annoying movie. It is in the lower range of production values typical of 1970s Taiwan action cheapies, poor action choreography with generally worse execution and a beggar who is more annoying than anything else. Lumbering along with a familiar plot device—two competing groups of tough guys are trying to get their hands on a book—it fails in making this most basic motivation for cinema slaughter credible or even comprehensible. It begins as the story of an evil ruler who wants to extend his control, a group of soldiers loyal to him, the heads of the eight branches of martial arts who are unhappy under his suzerainty, a noble doctor and his even more noble daughter but changes direction entirely in the last 10 minutes or so, finishing with enough mistaken identity for a Shakespeare comedy, more sudden plot twists than an afternoon soap opera, along with madness, selfless altruism and suicide.

Doris Lung Chun-Erh, whose presence is the reason I watched this movie, and Chan Sing deliver their usual professional performances which only makes them stand out even more from the ineptitude surrounding them. The action choreography involved a lot of jumping around while waving one’s arms so it was impossible if the stuntmen executing it did a good job or not since they would have looked silly no matter how skilled they were.

The choppy editing—probably at different points during its journey from the big screen through video tape, television broadcast and DVD—and horrible subtitles made the already muddled story harder to follow. It looks as if in order to fit into a broadcast time slot or onto a certain length of tape several short scenes were cut. Since they seem to have been scenes that provided transition or character motivation the audience must jump (for example) from a scene in the palace to an ambush in the forest without finding out who is ambushing who and if the ambushers are following the orders of the evil ruler or are the second group trying to get the magical book. The subtitles are not the dumb but funny ones that we all get a laugh from occasionally. They are incomprehensible and confusing, giving just enough information to be irritating—I kept expecting to read something that would help make sense of this mess but they never quite rose to that level.

Doris Lung Chun-Erh made a stack of these movies in Taiwan from 1971 to 1980. In “Beggars Have No Equal” her role was the highly trained and deadly martial arts heroine, a role she did quite often. Her character was slow to trust those around her but extremely loyal once she decided a person trying to help her was honorable. She would act impulsively once in a while, befriending someone who just happens along. In this case it was the beggar who becomes her trainer, sharpening her already formidable skills. She is spunky and determined to right wrongs while being as ruthless and lethal as a cobra.

Chan Sing is the villain, the person behind all the slaughter and able to defeat any five enemies in combat. His obsession with the medical book and willingness to stack up bodies of enemies and by-standers to get it is mentioned very briefly in the prolog. Chan, stripped to the waist and looking fit and buff if a bit thick, is seen practicing kung fu forms. He finishes his exercise and sits at a table and picks up a book. Turning a page, he has a look of incredulous horror, as if he had just read of his unavoidable appointment in Samarra. What he has discovered is that to learn the next level of kung fu he needs a certain book which is a shocking development and one that had never been used in Hong Kong period action movies before "Beggars Have No Equal". The book is owned by a doctor who travels through the land helping his fellow man.

Chan and Lung--or their characters--are brought together because Lung is the doctor’s daughter. Chan is worried that the doctor, a person of righteousness and probity (as well as great fighting ability) will put an end to his dictatorship. The doctor is invited to have tea with an underling who, shortly after the tea is served, tells the doctor that he isn't wanted in the area. The doctor refuses to heed the warning and they fight. The doctor is getting the upper hand until his vision blurs--he has been poisoned. He is defeated and killed but not before he sees his opponent rip off a clever mask and show himself to be none other than Chan Sing, who then calls together all of his henchmen and sends them after the doctor's daughter, the only person who now stands in his way.

Things limp along with badly done fight scenes alternating with exposition that reveals nothing until the big finale where everything gets revealed.

Recommended only for fans of Doris Lung Chun-Erh although based on other of her movies this should be far down on the list.

Reviewer Score: 2