Hong Kong Action Movies

Bury Me High: Film Review

I love martial arts films – particularly those from South East Asia (starting with Hong Kong but expanding over time to Thailand, Korea, and Malaysia), thanks to role-playing games – with two, in particular, starting me down this path.

The first was Dragon Fist by Chris Pramas, which seeded my love for wuxia. The other was Feng Shui, which expanded my love to the entire Ur-genre. However, when trying to sell people on Feng Shui, I had to downplay why the game had that title – the concept of a variety of factions from through history, past and future, doing battle over “Feng Shui Sites” – places of great magical power where those who hold them can shape the flow of destiny. If I had seen Bury Me High, I would have had a lot more confidence and just told people to watch this instead.

The film’s premise is laid out in a sequence in what appears to be meant to be the ’60s or ’70s – it’s not specified – in the fictional country of Carrinan, which is meant to be in the general area of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. A general or other VIP (it’s not made entirely clear) brings in a Feng Shui expert that will find him a burial site for his father that will give him great wealth. The expert finds 3 sites in close proximity to each other. One grants Wealth, one grants Wisdom, and the third grants Power. However, the one that grants Power will do so at the cost of countless lives.

The Boss is fine with the price – the Feng Shui expert is not. He decides to hide his plaque with the information on where the Power site is and skips out, with the help of one of The Boss’s men. He manages to escape, but his ally dies in the process. the Expert makes arrangements for his father to be buried at the Wisdom site while the man who helped him, and whose children are now orphans, will be buried at the Wealth site to make sure they’re provided for.

Jump to the present of 1991. Anna Wong (Moon Lee Choi-Fung), the daughter of the man buried in the Wealth cave has made a fortune in the tech sector. The son of the Feng Shui expert – Wisely or Wei-Si-Li (Chin Ka-Lok) is a hot-shot computer hacker. Wisely has passed his father’s books and tools off to his friend Chen Chang Ching (Tsui Siu-Ming) – who has a name that I swear to god I’m not making up, I’m taking it from hkmdb.com. Anyway, Ching has become a professor of Geomancy at UCLA, presumably in the Asian Languages and Cultures Department.

However, Wong and Wisely’s fortunes have waned as of late – Wong’s company’s finances are on the decline, and Wisely has been diagnosed with a brain tumor – not one that will kill him, but one that will impact his mental capacity. Ching determines that Wisely and Wong are suffering their fates due to neglect of their filial duties — they have neither tended to their parents graves, nor have they re-interred them in the past 25 years, and so the benefits of their locations have faded.

So, the three return to Carrinan, right as the general of the country’s military, General Nguen, overthrows the current dictator in a coup. Some investigation reveals that the General is a Feng Shui expert in his own right (or at least employs a lot of them), and has buried his father in the Power site. So, the three join forces with a rebel group to beat the General, and in so doing honor their parents, as Adventure ensues.

The film definitely shows its budget – it’s not quite at Shaw Brothers levels of involved set design – this is a Golden Harvest film and they tend to prefer location shooting over involved back-lots. However, the film’s climax is a massive pitched battle with a ton of extras, sweeping camera angles, big explosions, and even tanks.

The film also just has some stylish photography. There’s a thing you get in Hong Kong movies of this vintage where there’s a lot of heavy use of colored lighting, colored gels in parts of the frame, and so on that helps visually build a mood in a stylistically unrealistic manner. It’s different from Mario Bava using color to deliberately create the look of the cover of a Giallo novel. However, it’s still the same idea – building a sense of calculated unrealism to emphasize the mood of the scene. It’s like the anti-Michael Mann.

The fight scenes themselves are very nicely done. While Ching’s aptitude in martial arts, considering his career path, strains credulity a little, and he’s also played by the director – he’s also played by one of the two fight choreographers. In particular, Siu-Ming basically takes the opportunity to slip in a fight scene in the movie where he and the other action director, Cho Wing (who plays one of General Nguen’s lieutenants), basically just go. It’s a well done fight scene, which is incredibly well paced and also edited with the other fight scenes in a way to not take away from the film’s actual climax. So, considering we get that fight – I’ll cut the movie some slack in that regard.

I liked this film a lot, and well, I strongly recommend you pick it up if you can find a copy – especially if you’re planning on running Feng Shui and are actually wondering how to implement the “Feng Shui” part of the setting. I really with the movie got a Blu-Ray release, but with the thumb China has on Hong Kong and its film industry, particularly when it comes to depictions of fantasy, I don’t know if we’ll ever get that.

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