Prior to the arrival of Bruce Lee in Hong Kong in 1971, the most popular Asian action star was the mercurial Jimmy Wang Yu, who thrilled Eastern audiences with a series of rousing and violent pseudo-epics set for the most part in China’s brutal past with many of them pitting the hero against Japanese invaders. This is the case with 1973’s Beach of the War Gods, a thrilling and well-made drama that looks better on this Eureka Blu-ray release than it has ever done before to Western audiences.
The movie opens in 1556 when a small coastal village is under constant attack from a vicious army of Japanese pirates led by a particularly nasty individual who happens to be a feared master swordsman. It is at this point that we witness the arrival of a mysterious stranger walking towards the village along the bleak beach of the title; this is Hsia Feng, played by Wang Yu, who also impressively directs this thunderous action opus.
Wang Yu swiftly assesses the situation the meek villagers find themselves in, and when some of them are threatened by seven of the pirates in the village square, he dispatches them all in the blink of an eye, revealing himself to be no slouch with bladed weapons himself. He decides to establish himself as the village’s protector and begins to enlist an impressive bunch of mercenary fighters to join him in his fight against the pirates and also trains the villagers into a formidable fighting force who stand up against their enemy in an impressive and lengthy battle that takes up the second half of the film.
Beach of the War Gods is presented in its Chinese version with English subtitles and also in a dubbed English version – the dialogue is perfunctory at best and never intrudes upon the spectacular martial arts action, which is what the movie is all about when all said and done. There are some pretty strong anti-Japanese sensibilities voiced in this film in common with Chinese cinema of that era that can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable in the 21st century. The trailer for the film makes much of the fact that it has an all-male cast, and it’s true that there are no women seen from beginning to end.
The disc also includes an in-depth appreciation of the work of Jimmy Wang Yu by critic and movie historian Tony Rayns and also a rare and welcome interview with Wang Yu filmed in 2001 in France.
BEACH OF THE WAR GODS is released on Blu-ray by Eureka on October 23rd.