The Young Rebel is a 1975 action-drama film produced by Shaw Brothers, starring real-life bash brothers and besties, David Chiang and Ti Lung, the latter whom is also the director.
In a change of pace, for once Chiang and Lung took a dive in a different genre, a non-wuxia movie, but a contemporary film set in the present. The second film directed by Lung since the previous year's Young Lovers on Flying Wheels, this time instead of casting himself in the lead role, Lung brought in his best friend, David Chiang, probably as a return to favour considering Chiang had Lung starring in his directorial debut, The Drug Addict, also from the previous year.
Chiang plays the titular rebel, Xiang Rong, who grows up in the slums of downtown Hong Kong in the mid-70s after his father's death. Being the sole provider for his mother and sister, Xiang Rong is forced into a menial, boring job as a delivery boy, with his only true supporter being his childhood bestie, Gen Lai (Ti Lung). But after finding out Gen Lai is skilled in kung fu, and convincing Gen Lai to earn him a spot in the kung-fu academy, Xiang Rong quickly rises in the kung-fu academy with his skills, becoming their star student and the best fighter, but also the most dangerous, where a year later he was ultimately expelled due to his extremely violent tendencies. With both friends going separate ways, while Gen Lai went the lawful route and joins the police force, in a twist of fate, Xiang Rong ends up joining a local triad. Naturally, it's NOT going to end well.
The film is noted for being unusually ambitious, spanning over a period of three years instead of just a few months. Also known for being part of a delinquent youth sub-genre popular in Shaw Studios back in the mid-70s.
The Young Rebel Contains Examples of:
- Accidental Murder: Which kicked off Xiang Rong's Start of Darkness; what was supposedly a routine errand for Xiang's new boss, Mr. Cheng, quickly turns into a full-blown fistfight between Xiang, Cheng's lackeys and several members of a rival gang, ending with Xiang unintentionally beating two other punks to death.
- Affably Evil: Mr. Tou Cheng is the main villain of the picture, but he's affable, soft-spoken, and a man of his words given how he paid Xiang Rong the promised money after the latter reluctantly murdered another man under Cheng's orders.
- Asshole Victim: While he's not a villain by any means, Xiang Rong's ex-boss from the supply store is still rude, unsupportive, and often forces his employees into overtime and never commending them on their jobs, but constantly berates them for the most insignificant of errors. So audiences wouldn't feel too upset when a bunch of hooligans beats him up, and then robs and trashes his store for good measure.
- Bash Brothers: Xiang Rong and Gen Lai, played by real-life bash brothers David Chiang and Ti Lung.
- Beef Bandage: After the fight with a group of punks, Xiang Rong is shown holding a slab of frozen beef to his cheek where a nasty bruise is.
- Berserk Button: NEVER interrupt Xiang Rong when he's in the middle of a training session, especially when he's beating up a sandbag while imagining he's beating up his ex-boss. Two students telling him to cool it ends up receiving punches to the face as a result of Misdirected Outburst, and Xiang even ends up pummeling his best friend Gen Lai and his sifu in the martial arts school.
- By-the-Book Cop: Gen Lai, the best friend of Xiang Rong and his closest supporter in harsh times, is revealed to be a policeman after the second Time Skip, but he's a lawful officer.
- Call-Back: Earlier in the film when Xiang Rong is a lowly delivery boy, he accidentally rams his bike into the car of a rich, Caucasian man, where after paying a hundred bucks for the damage, he gets slapped by the white guy because he's just a "lowly delivery boy" (Xiang returns the slap after getting back up though). Several scenes later after the second Time Skip depicting Xiang's rise in Mr. Cheng's mob, he's now a wealthy man being chauffeured by an underling, when a random delivery boy accidentally rams his bike into Xiang's car. Xiang's chauffer is quick to threaten the delivery boy with a slap, but Xiang intervenes, telling his mook to cut it out while helping the delivery boy back to his feet.
- Deadly Dodging: In the final battle, one of Mr. Cheng's thugs tries to attack Xiang Rong with a pair of shears, only for Xiang to dodge and let the thug stab one of his partners in the gut.
- Disappeared Dad: Xiang Rong's father died in an accident involving a lorry prior to the film, and being the sole male of the family, it's up to Xiang to provide everything for his mother and sister.
- Dual Boss: Another live-action example, at the end of the final battle, right before facing Mr. Cheng, Xiang Rong have to fight Cheng's Co-Dragons, one who wears shoes with hidden spikes, and another muscular brawler who attacks with his fists. Xiang Rong utterly destroys them both all the same, the former with a Neck Snap and the latter via Groin Attack.
- Edible Bludgeon: One of Xiang Rong's fights have him beating up a bunch of robbers with a frozen lamb leg. And winning.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Xiang Rong, ultimately, despite becoming a tough-as-nails mobster and merciless killer, still loves his mother, to the point of betraying Mr. Cheng after Cheng threatened Xiang's mother when Xiang tries to leave the mob.
- Framing Device: The film starts and ends with Gen Lai and Xiang Rong in a moving police vehicle, with most of the movie being a flashback as Xiang Rong remembers his past. The film would later reveal that Gen Lai is a policeman, Xiang Rong is a mobster who had committed murder, and a Reveal Shot at the end shows that Xiang Rong is handcuffed to Gen Lai.
- Groin Attack: Xiang Rong does this more than once during his fights, including taking down one of Mr. Cheng's Co-Dragons fatally by smashing his nuts.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Xiang Rong, once he starts kicking and punching. Watching him beating up a punching bag, his best friend Gen Lai and his sifu are alarmed at how his constantly uncontrollable violent outbursts, combined with his newly-learnt kung-fu skills, makes him a menace to society.
- How We Got Here: The film opens with Xiang Rong and Gen Lai in the back of a police vehicle, speeding towards an undisclosed destination. After a brief dialogue scene, the movie then shifts to three years ago on Xiang Rong's past, how he went from a lowly delivery boy to a kung-fu student and eventually going on a killing spree as a mob enforcer.
- Imagine Spot: During Xiang Rong's training, he's shown beating up a punching bag, while imagining he's beating up his ex-boss in the supply store, and enjoying every second of it.
- Left Stuck After Attack: The first of the Co-Dragons Xiang Rong fight in the finale wears a pair of Tricked-Out Shoes with nails underneath, but missing a kick, the henchman ends up embedding his shoes into a tree stump instead. Xiang Rong uses this as a chance to hit back, killing his opponent.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Xiang Rong had this reaction when he found out he unintentionally murdered two people during the gang brawl scene. But Xiang's boss, Mr. Cheng, simply congratulates him on a job well done and coerces him into another assasination assignment afterwards.
- Nice Guy: The only character in the movie that fits here is Gen Lai, a loyal friend, fellow student of Xiang Rong, frequently helps his friend in job searches, getting him a place in the kung-fu school and maintaining his trust in Xiang Rong, even after learning his friend is a mob enforcer and possible murderer. Gen even shows compassion to a snatch thief by convincing the thief to turn himself in, rather than commit suicide.
- Rags to Riches: Xiang Rong's character arc, from becoming a low-ranking delivery boy constantly berated by his former boss, to joining a martial arts school where he becomes a capable fighter, and eventually, in a twist of fate, ends up a mob enforcer and reluctant assassin, where he's one of the highest-paid mobsters due to his efficiency in killing.
- Real Men Don't Cry: Referenced early in the film, when Gen Lai notes how Xiang Rong, sitting next to him in a police vehicle, shows no emotion at all. Xiang said he lose all emotions and never shed a tear, even in his father's passing years ago.
- Relative Button: Mr. Cheng loves doing this, telling Xiang Rong how would his mother and sister respond if they found out the truth that Xiang is now a deadly, murderous mob enforcer, and often asking (when Xiang shows reluctance on taking on Cheng's assignments) maybe he should arrange for his mooks to pay Xiang's mother a "visit".
- Slashed Throat: One of the victims assasinated by Xiang Rong, under Mr. Cheng's orders. Via a shaving razor blade Xiang hidden under his shoe.
- Talking Down the Suicidal: Gen Lai, in the scene where he's revealed to be a cop. After chasing a purse snatcher to a cliffside and retrieving the stolen purse, confronting the thief who is threatening to jump off a cliff onto a railway, Gen instead coaxed the thief to turn himself in, telling him how much he will suffer if the railway train didn't kill him and he's better off in prison, where he can apply for a fair parole. It works, the thief climbed back to the railing's other side and raises his hands to be handcuffed.
- Time Skip: Two relatively short ones in the movie; depicting Xiang Rong living a miserable life as a delivery boy for two years, and then his days of training in a kung fu school for another year.
- The Triads and the Tongs: Mr. Cheng, Xiang's new boss, works for the Tongs.
- Tricked-Out Shoes: Two examples.
- Xiang Rong had his weapons confiscated when meeting a rival mob boss in an assassination mission, but Xiang has a razor blade hidden in his shoe. He used that razor to eliminate his target via Slashed Throat.
- In the final battle, one of Cheng's two Co-Dragons who favours kicks wears shoes with hidden nails underneath. But this one isn't as effective.
- Unskilled, but Strong: Xiang Rong, who is a Book Dumb borderline illiterate rebel (the film states he was in school for 3 years) but a quick learner when it comes to kung fu. His extremely volatile tendencies to break out in a violent rage helps.
- Unstoppable Rage: Xiang Rong, due to his built-in temper and fury. Once he starts fighting, he simply couldn't stop beating up his intended target and leaving literally everyone in his way a crumpled heap all over the place, as a dozen dojo students found out the hard way.
- What You Are in the Dark: A repeated theme in Xiang Rong's story arc, when he started off as a punk and low-life, who quickly earned the trust of a mob boss and get to enjoy a life of luxury and power after becoming a top enforcer, but deep down inside he's still in constant self-loathing because at the end of the story, he's still an uneducated brute who only knows how to talk with his fists.