The Water Margin (1972)

watermargin_10aThe Water Margin [水滸傳] (1972)
AKA Seven Blows of the Dragon, Outlaws of the Marsh

Starring David Chiang, Tetsuro Tamba, Toshio Kurosawa, Ku Feng, Chin Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Ti Lung, Lily Ho Li-Li, Pang Pang, Tung Lam, Wu Ma, Cheng Lui, Paul Chun Pui, Chen Kuan-Tai, Danny Lee, Wu Chi-Chin, Lee Hang, Lau Dan, Lei Lung, Zhang Yang, Leung Seung-Wan, Lo Wai, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Cheng Miu

Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh Li

Expectations: High.


The Water Margin is a classic of Chinese literature, a novel written in the 14th century that has inspired and entertained the Chinese people ever since. That’s quite the run for a novel, and judging by the amount of quality storytelling in Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, it’s with good reason. The novel, also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, is about a group of 108 men and women who came together at Liang Shan Mountain in an effort to fight the corrupt Imperial ruler. Chang Cheh’s adaptation attempts to bring a small slice of the overall story — chapters 64-68 — 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 group. At the same time, Chang casts virtually ever actor employed by the Shaw studio, resulting in a true martial arts epic that feels huge and sprawling. Certain characters might not get much screen-time or development — Chen Kuan-Tai is on-screen for less than 10 seconds, drinking a bowl of wine — but it is made very clear that this is a teeming world full of rich characters. We may not be privy to all the details, but you can rest assured that every character has a motive and a rich backstory.

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The Angry Guest (1972)

AngryGuest_1The Angry Guest [惡客] (1972)
AKA Kung Fu Killers, The Annoyed Guest

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chang Cheh, Ching Li, Kurata Yasuaki, Fong Yan-Ji, Chan Sing, Bolo Yeung, Woo Wai, Yau Ming

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.


I imagine if you’re reading this you like Shaw Brothers movies. What I’m unsure of is your affection for Sean Connery-era James Bond films. If you happen to be one of those people who enjoys both, I think you’ll get quite the kick out of Chang Cheh’s The Angry Guest. The film is a direct sequel to 1971’s Duel of Fists, taking that film’s reunited brothers on another thrilling journey in an exotic country. Last time it was Bangkok, Thailand, as Fan Ke (David Chiang) was in search of the brother he never knew he had, Wen Lieh (Ti Lung), and this time we’re on our way to Tokyo, Japan.

But for fans of Duel of Fists‘ realistic approach to capturing Muay Thai boxing on-screen, don’t expect any of that to make it into the sequel (outside of a scant few moments during the training intro). After defeating the crime boss Chiang Ren (Chan Sing) and breaking his leg at the end of Duel of Fists, the brothers came back to Hong Kong. Fan Ke resumed his career as an architect that stands around Hong Kong construction sites and points at things, and Wen Lieh took to training the students at the family’s kung fu school. But when Chiang Ren escapes from prison, he hooks back up with his gang, murders Wen’s mother and friend, and takes his girlfriend (Ching Li) hostage. But Chiang Ren’s Japanese boss, Yamaguchi, isn’t satisfied with his performance against the brothers before, so he has the kidnapped girl brought to his base of operations in Tokyo.

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The Boxer from Shantung (1972)

boxerfromshantung_6The Boxer from Shantung [馬永貞] (1972)
AKA Ma Yong Zhen, The Shantung Boxer, The Killer from Shantung

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Cheng Kang-Yeh, David Chiang, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Ku Feng, Tin Ching, Wong Ching, Mario Milano, Chan Ho, Lee Man-Tai, Liu Wai, Shum Lo

Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High.


Ma Yong Zhen (Chen Kuan-Tai) has recently moved to Shanghai from the country with his best friend, and he’s sure that the good days will come. A chance meeting with local crime boss Master Tan Si (David Chiang in a fantastic small role) introduces Ma to a different way of life, one that he’d like to live for himself. Yes, The Boxer from Shantung is a Shaw Brothers version of the Scarface story (11 years prior to Brian De Palma’s famous remake), but honestly, the crime story — while skillfully told and engaging — is also one of the film’s weaknesses for modern viewers. We’ve just seen this kind of film far too many times to truly lose ourselves in all the characters’ struggles, although with all the fun martial arts battles, you could definitely do a lot worse than The Boxer from Shantung.

The film is notable for introducing the world to Chen Kuan-Tai, and there couldn’t have been a better story for him to debut with. By showing his character’s rise, we are able to watch Chen Kuan-Tai flex his acting skill along with his martial abilities. He is skilled in both regards, and almost single-handedly makes The Boxer from Shantung a remarkable film to watch. Chen exhibits no nervousness or shaky acting. He is a force of resolute, badass charm throughout the film, exuding star power and raw energy. Throughout the film he always retains his decency, so the character never falls so deep into self-destruction that he becomes unlikeable. This role could have easily gone to Ti Lung to make this yet another Ti Lung/David Chiang/Chang Cheh film, but Chang Cheh wisely cast the newcomer in the role of the fresh-faced guy looking for his big break. With an actual fresh face in the role, we’re sucked into the story all the more and the film feels distinct and different from the previous films of Chang Cheh.

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The Deadly Duo (1971)

TheDeadlyDuo_1The Deadly Duo [雙俠] (1971)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Chen Feng-Chen, Lau Gong, Yeung Chak-Lam, Bolo Yeung, Wong Pau-Gei, Lau Kar-Wing, Chan Chuen, Yau Lung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.


The Deadly Duo is a thrilling martial arts film, but not necessarily for the reasons generally associated with the genre. The fights, always the highlight of any martial arts film, are thrown in almost as an afterthought in The Deadly Duo. There’s a lot of action, but the fights are never the knock-down, drag-out battles fans of the genre come in expecting. And this is kind of weird in a Chang Cheh film, the man known for creating and popularizing the knock-down, drag-out, bloody-as-hell fight scene. But that’s the thing with Chang Cheh, he was always searching for a different way to make what most people would call very similar films. And it is in this slight innovation that the film shines.

The Deadly Duo is the first film in my Shaw Brothers review series to feature a group of fighters based on the five Chinese elements or Wu Xing. They are collectively known as the “Five Elements Great Fighters.” The group consists of River Dragon (Bolo Yeung), Golden Demon, Fire Demon Lui, and… Unfortunately, the wood and earth guys didn’t get cool names of their own in the subtitles, but the HKMDB entry lists them as Leopard and Mole. These five amazing fighters all work for the invading Ching forces, who have kidnapped the Sung Prince Kang. We are told at the beginning of the film that Kang later escaped and went on to become the first emperor of the Southern Sung Dynasty, so the end of our film is already laid out for us.

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Duel of Fists (1971)

duel of fistsDuel of Fists [拳擊] (1971)
AKA Striking Fist, Duel of Fist

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Chan Sing, Ku Feng, Woo Wai, Parwarna Liu Lan-Ying, Wong Chung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yau Ming, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.


Duel of Fists is similar to The Anonymous Heroes in that it’s ultimately a minor Chang Cheh film, but that doesn’t stop it from being highly entertaining and interesting in its own right. Despite having a similar title to The Duel, the story in Duel of Fists is much more straightforward. But where Duel of Fists breaks ground and offers Chang Cheh another opportunity to step up his game is in its location shooting, taking the Shaw team on the road to Bangkok and offering up the exotic sights of 1970s Thailand to enthrall viewers. The film also explores the subculture surrounding the Muay Thai boxing circuit, becoming one of the first, if not the first, film to feature the style. I can’t find any information on any films prior to this that featured Muay Thai, but as info is hard to come by on these films I think it’s best to say it’s “one of the first” instead of making unfounded, broad claims.

The film opens at Songkran, the Thai New Year festival traditionally held from April 13th–15th and celebrated by throwing water on random strangers. We are given a taste of things to come, before being quickly whisked back to Hong Kong, where David Chiang plays a civil engineer. One day, his father confesses on his deathbed that he once had an affair with a Thai girl during one of his business trips, and he asks David to find his half-brother that he never knew he had. So off Chiang goes, and we go with him to experience the exotic culture and country, as well as a different breed of martial arts film.

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The Anonymous Heroes (1971)

AnonymousHeroes+1971-1-bThe Anonymous Heroes [無名英雄] (1971)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Ku Feng, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Lee Wan Chung, Lee Sau Kei, Chan Sing, Cheng Lui

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate.


One might expect illustrious director Chang Cheh to follow-up his incredible film The Duel with another thrilling tale of heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but The Anon — OK, you got me. Yes, The Anonymous Heroes is yet another Chang Cheh film centered around heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but this one is unlike anything he had directed previous, I promise! The themes may be similar, and huge Chang Cheh fans can probably guess the ending without seeing a frame of film, but The Anonymous Heroes is completely worth your time as it’s a hybrid of many different genres. Here we have gunplay, martial arts, heists, general action, comedy… it’s pretty close to everything Chang Cheh had done in his previous films, all rolled into one! What a value!

David Chiang and Ti Lung play a pair of brothers who don’t do a whole lot with their lives. Ti Lung spends his days stealing and gambling (with the help of Ching Li, a female friend), and is prone to bouts of anger. David Chiang enjoys stealing from the rich soldiers in town, and then spreading the wealth around by supporting the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners. One day, they attract the interest of a revolutionary, played by Ku Feng, who asks if they would help him to steal 3,000 rifles and 280,000 rounds of ammo from the soldiers. Since they have nothing better to do and it sounds fun, the brothers and Ching Li agree to help Ku Feng with the insane task of pulling off the heist.

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The Duel (1971)

theduel_posterThe Duel [大決鬥] (1971)
AKA Duel of the Iron Fists, Duel of the Iron Fist, Duel of the Shaolin Fist

Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Yue Wai, Wang Ping, Chuen Yuen, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yeung Chi Hing, Hung Lau, Wong Ching Ho, Hoh Ban, Lee Wan Chung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Lau Gong, Chiu Hung, Yau Ming

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.


The Duel is an incredible martial arts motion picture. It might not be the type of movie that will convince non-martial arts fans of the greatness of the genre, but it will definitely delight and entertain those already in love. The Duel features so much flat-out awesome action, while also telling a very succinct and morally charged revenge tale, it’s truly one of Chang Cheh’s best films. I’m tempted to say that The New One-Armed Swordsman is a better movie, but The Duel is clearly the more awesome of the two. There is never a dull moment in The Duel, and whenever you think there might be, a whole host of henchmen sneak around the corner and assault our heroes. It’s simply a joy to behold.

The basic story of The Duel is centered around a family. When the patriarch is murdered in a public place, the elder brothers send younger brother Ren Jie (Ti Lung) away so that he can take the fall for the crime. He vows to find the killer when he returns, but before his time away is up a bunch of henchmen show up to murder him. The funny thing is: he recognizes their leader as one of his family members. This sets Ren Jie on a path of retribution, uncovering a thick web of intrigue and betrayal. Also along for the ride is The Rambler (David Chiang), a hired fighter that helped Ren Jie’s family take out a rival family during the film’s incredible opening sequence.

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