Top 10 1974–1975 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

1974 and 1975 were great years for the Shaw Brothers studio. They partnered with international studios to co-produce films more than they ever had before, they finally released a lot of unfinished projects, and Chang Cheh went to Taiwan to form Chang’s Film Co. There Chang Cheh made some of his best work, most notably the genre-shaking Shaolin Cycle which ushered in a new era of kung fu film thanks to Lau Kar-Leung’s mission of bringing real martial arts to the silver screen.

Narrowing down any list is something of a challenge, but this one was a unique beast. All of my Shaw lists are fairly Chang Cheh heavy, and this list is no different. In fact, it sets a new precedent! I never intend for any one filmmaker to dominate a list like this, and I’d honestly be more happy with a wider cross-section of filmmakers. But if I’m going to be honest and make a list of my Top 10 films from 1974–1975, then it just has to be 70% Chang Cheh. I liked a lot of other movies from these years, but no one else making martial arts films at the Shaw studio was on par with Chang Cheh at this point in his career. I imagine Lau Kar-Leung and Chor Yuen will help diversify the next list, but only time will tell. 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 1974 here and 1975 here.

As usual, I’ve included links to iTunes/Amazon/YesAsia/DDDHouse for easy access if you’re looking to get them. The availability is current as of the posting of this list. eBay is always a good option, as well, if the links I have here don’t turn up any results.

Also: I actually managed to get these two years of my Shaw series done on schedule, so hopefully I can keep the train rolling to deliver the next list (1976–1977) roughly one year from now!

OK, OK, let’s get to the list!


#10 The Spiritual Boxer (1975)
Directed by Lau Kar-Leung
Reviewed June 3, 2017

Besides the great Chang Cheh films, Chang’s tenure in Taiwan also inadvertently gave us the directorial career of Lau Kar-Leung. I’m sure it would’ve happened at some point regardless, but the films of the Shaolin Cycle gave Lau that extra push to fight Chang for his vision to come to the screen. The two legends had a falling out, so producer Mona Fong offered Lau Kar-Leung a job directing a film of his own back in Hong Kong. Lau jumped at the opportunity and The Spiritual Boxer, one of the first true kung fu comedies, was born. It’s definitely not as refined or iconic as his later work, but it’s a fantastic debut that really entertains. It also introduces us to a new star, Wong Yu, who carries the film with his comedic charm and exceptional physical performance.

On disc, The Spiritual Boxer is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD, which is still available from DDDHouse or 3rd Party sellers on Amazon. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon Prime, and other top digital platforms.

#9 The Golden Lion (1975)
Directed by Ho Meng-Hua
Reviewed June 9, 2017

If you told me at the beginning of this chronological endeavor that I would one day look back with nostalgia on the early Shaw wuxias, I would have never believed you. As much as I love seeing the genre mature, I really came to love those early Shaw wuxias for their unique flavor. To my surprise, they had a few of them lying around unfinished from 1971, so whenever they popped up I welcomed them with open arms. I enjoyed them all, but The Golden Lion blew me away. I love the way it’s structured, with the main character slowly losing his strength over the course of the movie while the villains continually increase their pressure on apprehending him. The tension is thick and the action is powerful, and The Golden Lion is one of my favorite films from Ho Meng-Hua.

On disc, The Golden Lion is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD, which is hard to find, but it is available (and very overpriced) from 3rd Party sellers on Amazon. eBay is your best bet at this point, but also keep your fingers crossed while you pray to the Celestial gods who may, at some point in the future, release the film to digital platforms such as iTunes.

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Top 10 Shaw Brothers Wuxia Films @ ShawBrothersUniverse.com!

 

How’s it going, Emulsionaires! I teamed up with Matt from Blood Brothers Film Reviews to write up a list of the Top 10 Shaw Brothers Wuxia Films for the official Shaw Brothers site! Check it out here and enjoy! And feel free to let me know what we got wrong in the comments. 😛

Marco Polo (1975)

Marco Polo [馬哥波羅] (1975)
AKA The Four Assassins

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Richard Harrison, Shih Szu, Lo Dik, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Leung Kar-Yan, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Li Tong-Chun, Carter Wong, Tang Tak-Cheung, Ting Wa-Chung, Chang I-Fei, Lee Ying, Chan Wai-Lau, Han Chiang

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. New Chang Cheh always gets me excited.


It’s fair to assume that a film titled Marco Polo would be centered around Marco Polo, the trader who became a trusted advisor to Kublai Khan, the Mongol leader who completed the conquest of the Song Dynasty and established the Yuan Dynasty. In Chang Cheh’s film, though, Polo is merely a small component. He is at the heart of the plot, but he honestly doesn’t do much more than glare at some people now and then. This really bothered me, and I spent a good portion of the movie trying to understand why the film might be titled after a character who does so little. I eventually came to a conclusion (which I’ll get around to), but it’s one that will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. At this juncture, I’d call it an uncharacteristically weak film for Chang Cheh, which is to say that I liked it a lot instead of flat-out loving it. 🙂

Upon returning from a three-year mission, Marco Polo presents a report of his travels to Kublai Khan. Meanwhile, a pair of Chinese rebels make their way into the court and attempt to assassinate the Khan. One is killed, and the other, Zu Jianmin (Carter Wong), manages to escape. Since he is injured and cannot move too quickly, the Khan asks Marco Polo and his three personal bodyguards (Gordon Liu, Leung Kar-Yan & Johnny Wang Lung-Wei) to kill Zu and his allies when he reaches his home. This proves to be a bit harder than anticipated, as Zu’s four sworn brothers (Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan & Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung) escape and begin harsh training to improve their martial arts skills.

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The Bloody Escape (1975)

The Bloody Escape [逃亡] (1975)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Shih Szu, Wai Wang, Wu Chi-Chin, Chiang Tao, Chan Shen, Li Min-Lang, Yeung Chi-Hing, Pao Chia-Wen, Wong Ching-Ho, Lei Lung, Chen Wo-Fu

Directed by Sun Chung (and Chang Cheh to some degree)

Expectations: High.


The Bloody Escape was one of the many films released in 1975 that had actually sat around unfinished for a while. Some magazine scans on Cool Ass Cinema show that the film started shooting as a solo directing gig for Chang Cheh, but from another scan in a post on the Kung Fu Fandom message board we can see that Sun Chung was cited as a joint director from the beginning of the project. For some reason the film wasn’t finished at that time, though, leaving Sun Chung to finish it up for its eventual release in 1975. The film’s on-screen credits list Sun Chung as the sole director, but all the online databases and even Chang Cheh’s memoir list Chang as the film’s co-director (and co-writer). How much of the film is Sun Chung and how much is Chang Cheh is something we may never know, but in terms of feel The Bloody Escape definitely doesn’t give off the usual vibe of a Chang Cheh film.

What it does feel like is a variation on what is probably Sun Chung’s most well-known film, The Avenging Eagle… three years before that film came out! So I suppose it’s actually the other way around, but I imagine almost everyone watching Shaw films nowadays came to the films in the “incorrect order.” In any case, The Avenging Eagle is one of the best Shaw Brothers films out there, bearing a wonderful story and script by Ni Kuang, so an earlier, lesser version of that film starring Chen Kuan-Tai is quite the find among the many nooks and crannies of the Shaw catalog.

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Men from the Monastery @ ShawBrothersUniverse.com!

Hello, faithful Emulsionites! Just wanted to post a short note here about my new gig writing for the official Shaw Brothers site run by Celestial Pictures: ShawBrothersUniverse.com. My first post went up a couple of weeks ago, and it’s about one of my favorite subjects: Men from the Monastery and its place in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle! Go check it out, and be on the lookout for more like it to follow!

The Fantastic Magic Baby (1975)

The Fantastic Magic Baby [紅孩兒] (1975)

Starring Ting Wa-Chung, Lau Chung-Chun, Chiang Tao, Cheung Chuen-Lai, Woo Gam, Tsai Hung, Fung Hak-On, Ku Kwan, Teng Jue-Jen, Chen I-Ho, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Chao Li-Chuan, Siu Wong-Lung, Lee Lung-Yam, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. Chang Cheh and Journey to the West!


In a career full of intriguing and entertaining films, Chang Cheh’s The Fantastic Magic Baby is one of his most interesting and unique. On the surface, it is an adaptation of a story from the Chinese classic Journey to the West, but it quickly reveals itself to be much more than that. Like Chang’s Shaolin Cycle films, The Fantastic Magic Baby honors and preserves the legacy of a Chinese tradition, showcasing the beautiful movements of the Peking Opera as only a Chang Cheh film could.

For those unfamiliar with Journey to the West, the basics are all present in the film. The Monk Tripitaka (Teng Jue-Jen) is traveling to retrieve sacred Buddhist scriptures from India with his companions Sun Wukong the Monkey King (Lau Chung-Chun), Bajie AKA Pigsy (Chen I-Ho) and Sha Seng AKA Sandy (Yeung Fui-Yuk). Demons and other devious entities catch wind of their travels and seek to imprison them in order to eat the monk’s flesh, which can supposedly prolong their lives 1,000 years. In this particular story, it is Princess Iron Fan (Woo Gam) and the Ox Demon King (Chiang Tao) who desire the monk’s flesh. They send their son Red Boy (Ting Wa-Chung) — the fantastic magic baby of the title — to capture Tripitaka for their pleasure. Red Boy is perfect for the mission because he has recently mastered the Three Types of True Fire, which are so powerful that not even the Monkey King can withstand them.
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Disciples of Shaolin (1975)

Disciples of Shaolin [洪拳小子] (1975)
AKA The Invincible One, The Hung Boxing Kid

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chen Ming-Li, Wang Ching-Ping, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Han Chiang, Fan Sau-Yee, Hui Lap, Cheung Siu-Kwan

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.


Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films are among my favorite productions in the entire Shaw Brothers catalog, so whenever I see a new one I get extraordinarily excited about it. Disciples of Shaolin did not disappoint, although it is far more subtle in its greatness than I expected. It’s a great martial arts picture, but more importantly it is primarily a character-driven drama. As such, it’s one of Chang Cheh’s most nuanced and focused films. Especially at this time in his career, Chang made a lot of films that were large-scale and wide-reaching. Even his explorations into modern romance and delinquency never felt quite as tightly focused on a single character as Disciples of Shaolin focuses on Fu Sheng’s character, Guan Feng Yi.

Guan arrives in town in search of his brother, Wang Hon (Chi Kuan-Chun). Wang works at the local textile mill, dutifully operating one of the weaving machines. Guan is a poor man, but he’s a happy-go-lucky guy regardless (as you’d expect with Alexander Fu Sheng). Wang is his polar opposite, living life with a strict sense of duty and responsibility. On the way in to see Wang, Guan couldn’t help but notice the poor quality of kung fu being taught to the employees, so when he asks Wang to get him a job at the mill, his first suggestion is to take over teaching kung fu. To this notion Wang flatly refuses, advising Guan that it would be prudent to hide his abilities. Wang does not elaborate on his reasoning, but his stern face communicates the grave nature of his request.

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