Top 10 1972–1973 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

This list has been a long time comin’, and I’m overwhelmed to finally reach this stage in my review series! As I mentioned in the previous Shaw list (1970–1971), if everything had gone to plan, I would’ve dropped this one sometime in 2014! Real life took precedence over Shaw Brothers, though, as I saw my care-giving role progressively increase over the last couple of years. I’ve recently turned a corner in speeding up this Shaw train, in terms of re-establishing a routine for getting a review out once a week, so perhaps the next list (1974–1975) will actually come within the next year. If nothing else, it feels great to be back to once a week, I always feel like the reviews are better if I see the movies in closer proximity to one another. This list, one the other hand, contains a spread of movies I reviewed from August 2013 to last week, so I’m going to blame any lapse of memory or details on this.

1972 was an incredibly strong year for Shaw films, so this list contained some hard choices. They weren’t as hard as they could’ve been, though, as 1973 wasn’t all that great — especially in direct comparison to the 1972 films! Each year had over 20 films, so I briefly considered doing a Top 20, or a Top 10 for each year, but if I did that the 1973 list would be padded with some Good/OK movies, and I’m not interested in a list with movies that I think are just OK. If you’re interested in what’s below the cut and you don’t want to troll through my review archive, I have ranked lists on Letterboxd for every year I’ve finished already. You can find 1972 here and 1973 here.

As usual, I’ve included links to iTunes/Amazon/YesAsia/DDDHouse for easy access by those intrigued enough to check some of these out. The availability is all current as of the posting of this list.

OK, enough of my caterwaulin’, let’s get to the list!


#10 Pursuit (1972)
Directed by Cheng Kang
Reviewed January 10, 2014

pursuit

Pursuit was the second of three Shaw Brothers films released in 1972 based on sections of the classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh (AKA The Water Margin). It focuses on the story of Yueh Hua’s character, Lin Chong AKA Panther Head. Where The Water Margin is a grand epic tale of the 108 Liang Shan bandits, Pursuit dials it back and delivers a wonderful exploration of a single member of the clan, in the years prior to where we met him in The Water Margin. Another fantastic piece of cinema from Cheng Kang, Pursuit is the perfect companion film to The Water Margin.

Pursuit is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD, which is not currently available from Amazon, but if you check that link from time to time it might come up for sale. Amazon does have the VCD, though, and YesAsia still has the Region 3 Taiwanese DVD release available. eBay is also a great option for your DVD searches.

#9 The Devil’s Mirror (1972)
Directed by Sun Chung
Reviewed January 17, 2014

devilsmirror

The Devil’s Mirror is a total blast. All you need to know is that it combines wuxia, martial arts action and black magic. If that doesn’t make you immediately excited to see the film, I can’t help you. It was also Sun Chung’s first film for the Shaw Brothers, and he would later go on to direct many classics, including a flick among the best of the genre: The Avenging Eagle.

The Devil’s Mirror is unfortunately out of print and currently unavailable everywhere. eBay is your best bet at this point, but also keep your fingers crossed while you pray to the Celestial gods that could, at some point in the future, release the film to digital platforms such as iTunes.

#8 The Boxer From Shantung (1972)
Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li
Reviewed August 30, 2013

boxerfromshantung

Genre legend Chen Kuan-Tai made his starring debut in The Boxer from Shantung, and he couldn’t have done it in a better film. Casting a newcomer in the role of the fresh-faced kid looking for a leg up in the world, works not only for the film, but to introduce the audience to Chen’s newfound talent. Behind the camera, the film also marks John Woo’s first credit as an assistant director! It’s a great movie, well-worth your time, especially if you like Chen Kuan-Tai and a good “gangster on the rise” story line.

The Boxer from Shantung is available on an All Region HK Blu-ray from DDDHouse or YesAsia, a Region 3 DVD from Amazon (here & here), and a VCD from Amazon. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon, and other top digital platforms (meaning: I don’t want to do anymore searching 🙂 ).

#7 The Pirate (1973)
Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh-Li
Reviewed April 29, 2016

thepirate

The Pirate is an excellent film that deserves a bigger audience. Ti Lung and David Chiang are wonderful together in every film they’re in, but their character dynamics in The Pirate are among my favorites. They play off each other as both antagonists and as respectful martial arts practitioners, making for a film where your allegiance is spread between them to the point of not wanting either of them to lose. The choreography is also some of the best work released by the Shaw studio up to this point. Highly recommended!

The Pirate is available on an out-of-print Region 3 HK DVD, which can be purchased at YesAsia. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon, and other top digital platforms.

#6 The Blood Brothers (1973)
Directed by Chang Cheh
Reviewed November 16, 2015

bloodbrothers

As soon as I saw The Blood Brothers, I knew it would make this list. It’s a fantastic martial drama that showcases Chang Cheh’s ability to craft affecting drama. This elevates the final battle considerably; it’s not just a fun action scene, it’s the culmination of the film’s dramatic arcs. Ti Lung and David Chiang both turn in stellar, award-winning performances, too. See it, y’all!

The Blood Brothers is available on US DVD from Amazon, and an out-of-print Region 3 HK DVD which is still available at DDDHouse. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon, and other top digital platforms.

#5 The Black Tavern (1972)
Directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho
Reviewed May 9, 2014

blacktavern

The Black Tavern is Grade-A, choice-cut kung fu, filled to the brim with devious villains and fun wuxia thrills. It’s essentially a variation on King Hu’s Dragon Inn, but it’s a much more action-oriented film that subverts your expectations just as much as it entertains. A must-see film!

The Black Tavern is unfortunately out of print and currently unavailable everywhere. eBay is your best bet at this point, but also keep your fingers crossed while you pray to the Celestial gods that could, at some point in the future, release the film to digital platforms such as iTunes.

#4 The 14 Amazons (1972)
Directed by Cheng Kang
Reviewed February 7, 2014

14amazons

I absolutely adore The 14 Amazons. It boasts a great, well-told story, it’s action-packed and it’s a load of epic fun. What more do you need to know? Lisa Lu won a Golden Horse award for her performance, and the film also scored Best Director and Best Sound Effects. A stunning film from start to finish… highly recommended!

The 14 Amazons is available on an out-of-print (and ridiculously priced) US DVD from Amazon, and an out-of-print Region 3 HK DVD which is still available at DDDHouse. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon, and other top digital platforms.

#3 Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)
Directed by Chor Yuen
Reviewed February 28, 2014

intimateconfessions

With Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, Chor Yuen takes many disparate elements — both trashy and thoughtful — and brings them together for a film unlike anything I’ve seen. It’s part wuxia, part rape/revenge, part prostitution melodrama, part exploitation, part mystery, and part cat-and-mouse thriller, and it does all of these simultaneously and perfectly. It is an ambitious film that achieves it all, and artfully as well. You may have seen this story in film before, but I doubt you’ve seen it told as succinctly and entertaining as it is in Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. Highly recommended to anyone interested in world cinema; it’s really something to behold.

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is available on US DVD from Amazon, and an out-of-print Region 3 HK DVD which is still available at DDDHouse.

#2 King Boxer (1972)
Directed by Cheng Chang Ho
Reviewed December 20, 2013

kingboxer

Americans aren’t necessarily known for their open attitudes toward foreign films, so it took a special film for the kung fu genre to break through on US soil. King Boxer is that film, and boy what a good one it is. Opening with the sound of an alarm, King Boxer lets you know straight away that it is a film to take notice of. Cheng Chang Ho had previously made four films for the Shaw Brothers, and each one was more entertaining and artistically made than the last. King Boxer is the culmination of everything Cheng had been working towards at the Shaw Brothers studio, and it remains a stunning film 44 years later.

King Boxer is available on US DVD from Amazon, and an out-of-print Region 3 HK DVD which is still available at DDDHouse. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon, and other top digital platforms.

#1 The Water Margin (1972)
Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh-Li
Reviewed September 13, 2013

watermargin

The Water Margin is easily one of my favorite Shaw Brothers films. The book it is based on is a classic of Chinese literature, written in the 14th century. It has inspired and entertained the Chinese people ever since. It’s a massive tome, encompassing hundreds of characters and their individual tales, as well as the overarching story of them all. Chang Cheh’s adaptation brings a small slice to the silver screen, focusing on the tale of how Lu Junyi the Jade Unicorn (Tetsuro Tamba) and his protégé Yen Qing (David Chiang) came to join the 108 Liang Shan bandits. Almost every actor employed by the Shaw studio pops up in this movie, resulting in a true martial arts epic that feels every bit as huge and sprawling as it should. Highly recommended!

The Water Margin is available at Amazon for purchase by itself on DVD, and in a four-film DVD box set along with Vengeance is a Golden Blade, The Wandering Swordsman, and Have Sword Will Travel. You can also still get the Region 3 HK DVD from DDDHouse.


What do you Shaw fans think? Did I get it right? Is your favorite from this era placed too low, or omitted altogether? Sound off in the comments below, which are always open and accepting your thoughts!

Hopefully, I’ll be back with another of these lists in about a year or so when I complete 1974–1975, AKA Phase 4 of my chronological Shaw Brothers review series!

2 comments to Top 10 1972–1973 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

  • james lawrence

    The year 1972 73 are important for me bruce lee was huge david chaing and ti lung mao ying and chen kwan tai and wang yu …..mang fei chan man wei and dont forget Wang yu…..here in the usa l was watching the partridge family brady bunch listening to jackson 5 and the osmond bros then in 1973 bruce changed my life and he wiped them all out of my mind.and for 40 years he never left….

    • Yeah, they were big years for sure! I’m younger than you are, but I grew up watching Bruce and I had a similar moment when I first saw Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx. It totally changed my life.

      Thanks for checkin’ out the list and leaving a comment!

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