He must fight one woman in order to save another.
To Kill With Intrigue has the spirit of a Bruce Lee film, but in the person of a misused Jackie Chan, so the result is a mildly entertaining martial arts mishmash. Slid onto disc with studied indifference by Columbia TriStar, any fans of the film are likely to be severely disappointed.
Facts of the Case
Young Cao Le (Jackie Chan) is having a bad day. After learning that a band of "Killer Bee" bandits, led by an enigmatic, scarred woman, Chin Chang Yin (Feng Hsu) is coming to lay waste to the Le household, he cruelly forces his pregnant girlfriend, Chin Chien to flee. In the ensuing battle, his father, mother, and all other members of the family are killed except for Cao Le, curiously spared by Chin Chang Yin.
Cao Le then begins his quest to find his true love, Chin Chien, whose fortunes are complicated by her guardian, Chin Chin, once Cao Le's best friend but now his own man. Matters are further confused when Cao Le is saved and befriended by the Dragon Trading Company, whose retinue is chasing Chin Chin in order to recover a priceless article that he stole from a Company expedition. As Cao Le struggles to find Chin Chien, he is also stalked by Chin Chang Yin, whose tormenting of Cao Le is matched by her own odd obsession with him. As Cao Le ends his quest, he finds that things are not always as they seem, and people can suddenly turn into strangers in the blink of an eye.
Before Jackie Chan became a success, he took a chance at stardom by selling his soul (or at least a ten year contract) to noted director Lo Wei (The Chinese Connection, Fists of Fury). Apparently, Lo Wei was not a man renowned for an open, adaptive creative process, but rather stubbornly stuck to his own ideas and well-trodden formulas. Unfortunately for Jackie Chan (and the audience), Lo Wei was determined to force the young Chan into the Bruce Lee mold without regard to Chan's true talents of athleticism, insanity, and comedy.
I discovered this after I had volunteered to review To Kill With Intrigue, thinking that I liked Jackie Chan films (much to my wife's chagrin), so I would probably enjoy this one, right? Sigh. This is so unlike the more recent Chan films that I have enjoyed that I had to remind myself that yes, this is the same Jackie Chan. There are certainly any number of martial arts fight scenes in To Kill With Intrigue, but these are so deliberate and ponderous, lacking the fluid, breathtaking energy and manic choreography of Chan's films. Not having experience with Bruce Lee films or his fan base, I can only surmise that Lee aficionados would consider To Kill With Intrigue as possibly enjoyable but certainly derivative.
This is not to say that Jackie Chan is a total flop in To Kill With Intrigue. Though struggling against an ill-fitting role, a confusing script and bare bones budgeting, he still shows us glimpses of his future success and gives Cao Lei a likeable quality that the character desperately needs. That is the worst tragedy of To Kill With Intrigue, namely a mystifying story. If you can follow the rapid switches of the sketchy plot, then maybe you can explain what on earth is going through Cao Lei's head. You love your pregnant girlfriend so much that you drive her away in order to save her (and still pine for her), but are oddly attracted to the girl who wants to torment you and kill your girlfriend, and when you fight, you seem more than willing to let yourself take a good beating. Huh? Well, maybe let's just admit To Kill With Intrigue does not stand up to a close exegesis of the plot, and just leave it at that!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The anamorphic video probably looks worse the larger the screen you use. Portions of the film, perhaps using different film stock, are distinctly different than other portions, sometimes even within the same scene. The other flaws are quite numerous, including slight but evident shake and shimmy of the frame here and there, instances of color over saturation and under saturation, and a plethora of flecks, blips, blots, and all manner of film defects.
The worst flaw of the mono audio track is not what you might expect. For a film of some age, made cheaply and for a limited market, you would expect a mono track suitable for dialogue but not for rich music, pleasing sound effects, and use of your other five speakers. Quite by accident, I was switching between the Chinese and English audio tracks when I discovered that the actors were speaking English on both tracks starting at the 53:00 mark until about 56:40! Such a flaw is inexcusable and indicates an indifference to quality that astounds me.
The only extras are the trailers for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Gen-X Cops, and The One. I get the feeling that Columbia TriStar treated this DVD release little different than a VHS release by just slapping the transfer on a disc and shoving the product out the door. Well, maybe chop-socky fans are going to know all about To Kill With Intrigue and how it fits in the career of Jackie Chan or the oeuvre of director Wei Lo, but the rest of us are left at a loss. I can hardly imagine that some biographical information or production notes or something couldn't have been included to make To Kill With Intrigue more accessible to a wider audience at minimal cost.
Come on, Columbia TriStar, if you are going to do a DVD release, then at least recognize that this is not VHS on a disc and respect both the format and the potential audience!
If you are a take-no-prisoners fan of martial arts films, or are looking to complete your Jackie Chan film collection, perhaps you will wish to add To Kill With Intrigue to your shelf ($19.95 retail). For the rest of you, rent it as a curiosity, but don't go out of your way.
The Court finds only modest fault with To Kill With Intrigue, but Columbia TriStar needs a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to wake it up and treat even niche films like this with respect.
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