Deadful Melody (1994)
DEADFUL MELODY (I can't decide if that's a deliberate pun on deadly/dreadful or just really poor English!) came towards the tail end of the post-SWORDSMAN Wu Xia revival, and is largely an excuse for Brigitte Lin to reprise her Asia The Invincible performance, this time with the aid of a magical lyre that amplifies the user's Qi or something... the net effect being that when Brigitte plays it people explode in coloured smoke. The plot is a familiar one... the keepers of the lyre are killed by rival martial artists who seek to rule the Jiang Hu (ownership of the lyre apparently makes one the de facto leader), but the young child escapes with the lyre and many years later returns to take revenge. Yuen Biao is the security guard tasked with escorting the lyre (an obvious decoy to draw out those that would steal it) and Brigitte Lin is the vengeful offspring. There's various clans whose masters desire the lyre, and they all try to get it in none too original or complicated ways. The story is basically classic Wu Xia from I Kuang, who's written enough wu xia scripts to know how it's done.
Deadful melody is definitely a fun film, but definitely definitely not original and it all feels a bit cheap - the production values sometimes make it feel more like a TV show than a film, though it's probably not much worse than something like THE EAST IS READ. One obvious problem that hinders the film is the voice acting on the Cantonese track - the voices don't sound right for the characters, and the delivery feels somewhat removed from the action on screen. I found myself wondering if I was meant to be watching it in Mandarin, but that was not an option on the DVD so I couldn't see if it fit the film better. Some of the camera shots also felt too close up and cramped, making me wonder if the DVD was cropped, but there were no obvious signs such as missing mouths in close-ups, so I assume it's just the way it was filmed - probably trying to go for the Ching Siu-Tung stylised vibe and failing.
It's hard to call any film with Brigitte Lin and Yuen Biao in the cast "second rate", but I guess the phrase "second tier" is at least appropriate for this film... it simply isn't at the level of production of the Swordsman or The Bride With White Hair films, but it sits along the lower budget films of the era like Butterfly And Sword without looking too shabby. If it weren't for Brigitte Lin doing what she did best it might have ended up third tier though. Even the presence of Yuen Biao doesn't really bring it up, and in fact might bring it down a little... I never felt he suited the new wave wu xia films - even though he appeared in some great ones, it felt like they would have been just as good with pretty much anyone in the role (which you definitely can't say about the more grounded martial arts films he appeared in). He's definitely not bad, and doesn't ruin the film, but not necessarily the best choice for the part. Carina Lau does good here, with a much sassier character & performance than I'm used to seeing from her. The rest of the cast don't really have much to do except look the part, which they all do - Elvis Tsui and Wu Ma are the only villains that stand out though, and Peter Chan Lung is great as Biao's sifu but not actually in the film much (due to his character's trait of always arriving too late, no doubt!).
Conclusions: even though there's plenty to pick apart in the film and say "that doesn't come up to scratch", it has a charm & energy that transcend any technical quibbles, and any fan of new-wave wu xia and mad wire-fu should be able to get caught up and enjoy the ride. It's not exactly a classic, and definitely won't appeal to those who aren't a little fond of the genre to start with, but it's well worth a watch for those who are!