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(1972)
The Lizard


Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 05/03/2007

“The Lizard” has scores of extras, opulent costumes, well done sets—everything that one expects from a Shaw Brothers semi-classic. Lo Lieh is Chen Can the chief investigator for the police and is the person who runs the town. He is a savage in a suit who kills without remorse and collects gambling debts by selling women into sexual slavery. The Chief is a person you love to hate and Lo Lieh brings every bit of evil to the fore. He and his superiors have only one real problem—the criminal known as The Lizard, a masked man who punishes imperialistic foreigners, especially the English and Japanese, by stealing from them and humiliating them. A very accomplished burglar, he is able to get into well guarded and apparently inaccessible rooms. We first see him in the bedroom of an English couple looting the wall safe. Earlier the audience had overheard two people complaining that a foreigner had abused and humiliated a local citizen—obviously this foreigner. The couple had come upstairs unexpectedly, she wearing a filmy negligee which she shrugs off while he doesn’t loosen his tie or unbutton his smoking jacket. The Lizard watches them while the audience watches The Lizard watch them. This scene has a number of functions: it shows the moral superiority of the Chinese over their degenerate and debauched occupiers; it introduces The Lizard as more than a thief but also as an avenger, and it supplies some gratuitous female nudity.

This robbery is potentially a disaster for the police force. The bedroom should be the safest part of the English couple’s house, the place where they disrobe (or not disrobe) to make love and the room in which the safe containing their jewelry and other valuables is located. The Lizard has penetrated to the heart of their little castle and gotten away cleanly, leaving his logo—a red plastic lizard—to taunt them. He also has a large fan base—the lovely Yo Xiao Ju, who we first see practicing kung fu, gets weak in the knees when she thinks of him. If Chinese police officers walking their beat stumbled across The Lizard there is a better chance they would bow in respect than try to arrest him. Obviously these people are not pro-crime--Yo Xiao Ju is quite well off. She lives with her grandfather, a police official, in a large house and the constables are sworn to uphold the law and take their oaths seriously. But they are opposed to the continued occupation of their country by imperialist powers and The Lizard is both a person and a symbol to express their discontent. Since Chief Chen Can is a tool of the Japanese he is more endangered by the success of his reptilian foe than anyone.

He is in Japan when the next outrage occurs—Officer Cheng Long, the secret identity of the Lizard, is arrested although his second in command the vile interpreter King Yun Bao thinks he is framing Cheng. Yo Xiao Ju, her grandfather and a sympathetic cop steal a ceremonial sword presented by the Emperor from its place of honor at the Japanese consulate, tying the theft to The Lizard. Since Cheng Long is in custody when the sword was stolen (and returned) he obviously isn’t the Lizard.

We had met the Japanese Consul before this, at an event in which The Lizard, with the help of Y Siao Ju, embarrasses the Director of Police and his wife at a reception in their honor. The Director is no more than a lackey for the occupying powers, fawning over the Japanese ambassador and his wife when they arrive and gushing about the English Consul who didn’t attend but sent his regards. The presumed target for The Lizard is a diamond necklace worn by the director’s wife, memorably overplayed by Lydia Shum Tin-Ha, but what The Lizard actually accomplishes is the humiliation of the Director, of Chen Chan and particularly the Japanese ambassador who, when he urgently needs to use the toilet, is followed and watched by three of Chen’s deputies.

What comes through more than anything is that the Lizard is a champion of the Chinese people against both alien invaders and the local officials who profit from their presence and that he is welcomed by many if not most of his countrymen. That he was played by Yueh Hua is a strength of the movie and also a weakness. As Brother Dumb, a stuttering and not very competent police officer he shows that any Chinese citizen can effectively resist the occupiers. But Yueh Hua is simply too big and gawky looking to be credible as a hero who scales walls and leaps from balconies. Other actors were physically suited for their parts but did some cegregious overacting. Lo Lieh only needed a prop bullwhip and a mustache he could twirl to become Snidely Whiplash. He was over the top from beginning to end. Ma Kim-Tong’s Interpreter King could have been a cardboard cutout with “toady” stamped on it, always the sycophant with his superiors and vicious with those under him. We don’t expect Lydia Shum Tin-Ha to be subtle was a lot less funny the tenth time she did it than the first.

The lovely Connie Chan Po-Chu was quite winning and very convincing as Yo Xiao Ju and Yeung Chi-Hing brought the necessary gravitas to his role as her grandfather. The fight scenes were unconvincing and contrived looking—they needed to grow organically from the narrative and not appear simply dropped in.

By no means a bad movie but not recommended very highly.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: sharkeysbar
Date: 08/12/2006
Summary: Getting licked by The Lizard

The Lizard is a great film with plenty of kung fu action, good humour, "real bad" bad guys and a happy story line to boot. I enjoyed it greatly and thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting an enjoyable 100 minute film.
While it isn't anything unique or novel, it is well made in all aspects and you can't help but cheer on The Lizard when he fights the evil foreigners and their corrupt local puppets. I particularly liked the casino scenes, lots of fun and humour, but probably not far from the reality even today of lots of unofficial casinos.
It was made in 1972, so if you make allowances for the age it was made in, you will enjoy it. I will definitely be watching this again and cheering on The Lizard again too!

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: duriandave
Date: 07/07/2005

The Lizard was Connie Chan’s final farewell to the silver screen. It is ironic that the last film of Cantonese cinema’s most beloved teen superstar is a Shaw Brothers, and thus Mandarin-language, production. Although Connie is reunited with director Chor Yuen, who worked with her many times during the sixties, The Lizard is significantly different from those other films and indicative of the changes that occurred as Hong Kong cinema entered the seventies.

Most prominent is the fact that Connie, although receiving top billing, plays second fiddle to Yueh Hua who stars as the title character, a virtuous thief who steals only from wealthy foreigners. That casting decision would have never happened back in 1965, when in fact Connie played a similar character in Chor Yuen’s The Black Rose. But the times had changed since then: the masculinization of Hong Kong cinema spearheaded by director Chang Cheh was in full swing.

Nevertheless, Connie still gets plenty of opportunities to show off her martial skills. Energetic and complex, the fight scenes are definitely the film’s main draw. The story is good and all the actors put in good performances, especially Lo Lieh as the corrupt police chief; but the film feels sluggish whenever Connie is not on screen, which unfortunately happens more often than I would like.

Perhaps I should be more grateful. After all, this is the only Connie Chan film that has been digitally restored and released in its original aspect ratio with English subtitles. It’s sad, and again ironic, that it will probably be the only one of her films to receive such dignified treatment. Many of her earlier and better films are thankfully available, but often times only on VCD, frequently with missing scenes, and almost always without English subtitles. The Lizard is by no means a disappointing film, but I believe that another one of Connie’s final films, I’ll Get You One Day, is a more fitting farewell from Hong Kong cinema’s top teen idol and action hero.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: dleedlee
Date: 09/03/2004

To offer a different perspective from MrBooth’s, I found THE LIZARD entirely enjoyable and was not disappointed in this Chor Yuen work. If you watch the movie from the perspective that it’s an action film laced with a touch of romance instead of considering it as a martial arts film hindered by a storyline between fights, it works quite well. I think the current genre description of ‘martial arts’ is not correct anyway. It’s really more a period action film. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of martial films in general, nor the few Chor Yuen wuxia films I’ve seen, either. So, in comparison, I found THE LIZARD delightful. In my mind, there’s not enough context or story in most martial arts films to make me care about why the action is occuring in the first place. How do you boil down a Gu Long or Jin Yong novel into two hours (at most) of movie? That Chor Yuen is also responsible for the script of THE LIZARD and manages to tell a solid, detailed and coherent story with its large cast and numerous plot twists and is still able to throw in a good number of fight scenes attests to his talents.

I especially liked the gambling scene and the birthday robbery scene, and in particular, the rooftop fight between The Lizard and Lo Lieh, the corrupt police chief. And while some people may not like the mix of action and the generally light hearted tone, I liked the (literal) bathroom humour and the low brow double entendres in the wedding night scene when Connie joins The Lizard on a escapade.

Initially, I held off on picking up the title on video because I thought watching Connie Chan in a Mandarin dialogue movie would put me off, but suprisingly, it didn’t and I found her chemistry with Yuen Hua as Cheng Long quite effective. No doubt, Chor Yuen made the most of Shaw’s resources, the film looks gorgeous and the costumes and sets lushly eye-popping, especially if you’re used to watching Connie Chan’s and Chor Yuen’s black and white classics (such as their collaboration in The Black Rose films or her Lady Black Cat films). They should have made a sequel reteaming the director and the two leads.

I think it’d be fair to say THE LIZARD is a bridge between Chor Yuen’s classic Cantonese films and his later wuxia efforts under the Shaw banner. In my opinion, it’s a shame Chor Yuen didn’t get to continue making more films like this for Shaw Brothers.

And, finally, how about the Pink Floyd music cues from One of These Days (I'm going to cut you into little pieces)? It seems to be a very popular piece that’s so often used during the ‘70s and ‘80s in Hong Kong films and TV series.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 05/23/2003

Everybody likes Robin Hood because he stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Even rich people like Robin Hood, since he died a long time ago and is unlikely to steal anything from them.

Though perhaps not as globally popular as Robin Hood, The Lizard also steals from the rich (foreigners) and gives to the poor (Chinese), making him something of a local hero. One of his biggest fans is young Connie Chan, an idealistic kung fu-fighting young woman - but, like everyone else, she has no idea who The Lizard really is. He's rather disliked by some people, of course, including Lo Lieh - a corrupt but smart chief of police who uses his power and his connections with foreign diplomats to accumulate personal wealth and women.

The intrigue in Chor Yuen's 1972 film THE LIZARD is of a much more straightforward nature than that of any of his Gu Long adaptations, being a pretty simple game of Cat & Mouse between main hero Yueh Hua and main villain Lo Lieh. These two characters are fairly well matched in intellect and in kung fu, but are unfortunately surrounded by a bunch of idiots who tend to make a mess of things. The lack of intelligence displayed by most of the characters robs the film of much of the tension and excitement it could potentially have had.

THE LIZARD has obvious similarities to Yuen Wo Ping's IRON MONKEY, and features fight choreography from Wo Ping's brother Yuen Cheung Yan. The choreography is very impressive... far beyong the skills of any of the performers though, and years ahead of the filming and editing techniques that could disguise this fact. Hence, whilst easy to admire on an intellectual level, it looks rather clumsy and awkward in practise. It's very dated when compared to IRON MONKEY, but that's only fair since it came over 20 years earlier and didn't feature anybody with the martial arts skill of Donnie Yen or Yu Rong Guang. Connie Chan is great to watch anyway though.

The relatively modern setting means that we don't get the beautiful sets and costumes that characterise Chor Yuen's beautiful wu xia films - though some scenes do score highly in those respects and the film generally looks very good.

In general, THE LIZARD is definitely a lesser Chor Yuen work, lacking the beauty or poetry or the intricacy of films like CLANS OF INTRIGUE. It's quite a decent film in its own right though, so Chor Yuen fans should definitely consider picking it up to complete the collection.

7/10

Reviewer Score: 7