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The Himalayan (1976) March 5, 2010

Posted by Cal in : 1970s films, Kung Fu , trackback

Director: Wong Fung  Main cast: Angela Mao; Dorian Tan; Chan Sing  Territory: Hong Kong

A scheming murderer employs a look-alike to marry into the Chang family so that he can steal their wealth and govern their provinces.  But the bride is also a formidable fighter, and when teamed up a newly outcast member of the clan becomes a force to be reckoned with.

The Himalayan looks unlike any other Hong Kong film, thanks solely to the exterior shots.  The film claims to be showing a lost Tibetan martial art and was filmed in Tibet and Nepal, although I’m not entirely sure a Hong Kong crew would have been permitted in Tibet at this time.  The film sets out at the beginning to add as much local colour and custom, and this does the film credit to some degree.

However, at heart The Himalayan is a stock kung fu flick from the 70s, and the tale of revenge, greed, lost honour and redemption will not surprise anyone but the most casual viewer of the genre.  One the one side, we have the evil Kao (Chan Sing), who kills his brother to install a more malleable double in the Chang family.  He’s your usual pantomime villain who laughs arrogantly at every single thing that comes out of his enemies’ mouths and kills without mercy.  On the other side, we have the lovely Chang Ching Lan (Angela Mao) and the wronged Hsu Chin Kang (Dorian Tan), who inadvertently got caught up in a sex scandal and got chucked out of the clan.

the-himalayan.jpg Angela Mao has a bit of a bad day 

Although the story may be slightly uninspired, the action scenes in The Himalayan are pretty damn excellent.  Angela Mao is almost nowhere to be seen in the first forty-five minutes of the movie, while we are shown the depths of Kao’s villainy and some exposition scenes.  We do, however, have a splendid flashback that shows a young Chang showing her stuff, and believe you me, these kids are great to watch.  She does take more of a starring role in the second half of the movie to justify her billing, though, and thanks to superior choreography, convinces in the action heroine role.

But it’s Dorian Tan who steals the show with an awesome display of legwork.  I have to admit I’m not terribly familiar with his work, only having seen one of his starring roles before (there’s no prize for guessing which one, sadly), but on the strength of this, I just can’t believe he wasn’t a massive star.  True, he is being directed by Sammo Hung, and Sammo can make a star of even the most limited of action hero hopefuls, but even so Dorian Tan is nothing short of superb in this. 

I’m not sure who the titular Himalayan is in this movie, but if I had to guess, I’d say it is the “Eagle” monk who takes in the two wayward heroes and teaches them how to defeat the evil Kao late in the film.  There’s a prologue that claims that a school of kung fu originated far from Shaolin called Mi, and this was displayed here, but I doubt very much if this is the case.  The training scenes that were becoming popular at this time take up the last third of this movie, and while they are not terribly exciting, the varied backdrops tend to add atmosphere. 

The film runs at nearly two hours in length, and while it doesn’t really justify the running time, there are enough distractions if your mind starts to wander.  There is a massive cast of extras that would one day go on to be huge Hong Kong and international stars, and it’s always fun spotting the likes of Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah standing around in the background. 

I’ve made The Himalayan sound like a bit of a mixed bag, but while it does have some mundane points (and a rather obvious and gratuitous sex scene), the good far outweighs the bad.  I’ll say it again: Dorian Tan really is exciting to watch in this film, and that’s all the recommendation you should need.

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