The Spiritual Boxer (1975)

The Spiritual Boxer [神打] (1975)
AKA Naked Fists of Terror, Fists from the Spirit World

Starring Wong Yu, Lin Chen-Chi, Kong Yeung, Shut Chung-Tin, Fung Hak-On, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ng Hong-Sang, Ngaai Fei, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha Ping, Chan Mei-Hua, Wong Ching-Ho, Keung Hon, Lee Sau-Kei, Shum Lo, Tin Ching, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ti Lung, Wilson Tong, Ho Kei-Cheong

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: High.


The Spiritual Boxer marks the directorial debut of one of the most influential figures in all of martial arts movie history: Lau Kar-Leung. Along with frequent partner Tang Chia, Lau began work at the Shaw studio choreographing Shaw’s first color martial arts film: Temple of the Red Lotus — a job they secured after pioneering Hong Kong’s first wirework in the Great Wall film The Jade Bow. Over the next 10 years, Lau’s collaborations with Chang Cheh resulted in a slew of iconic and lasting martial arts films that defined the genre. Lau’s goal throughout his film work was to bring more true-to-life representations of martial arts to the screen, and this ambition eventually led to Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle of films. These films represented the closest Lau had come to realizing his dreams, and his strong, definite ideas led to a falling out with Chang Cheh during the filming of Disciples of Shaolin (though I’ve also seen it cited as being during Marco Polo, which Lau is not credited on). Producer Mona Fong then invited Lau Kar-Leung to return from Chang’s Film Co. in Taiwan to direct a movie of his own at the Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong. Obviously, he took the offer and The Spiritual Boxer was the result.

The film begins near the end of the Qing dynasty with an intro showcasing the history of the “spiritual boxer,” a martial artist who could become invincible to all weapons after being infused with spirits of legend. Chen Kuan-Tai and Ti Lung make wonderful cameos as the spiritual boxers showing off their skills to the Empress Dowager Cixi, but the film isn’t about them, or this time, or even a spiritual boxer of the same ilk; it’s actually about a young apprentice, Hsiao Chien (Wong Yu), who travels the land with Master Chi Keung (Kong Yeung) performing spiritual boxing rituals. What their audiences don’t know is that they are just performers trying to earn a living from the reputation of the spiritual boxers, and when this trickery doesn’t go as planned it leads to much of the film’s conflict & comedy.

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The Taxi Driver (1975)

The Taxi Driver [的士大佬] (1975)

Starring David Chiang, Wong Chung, Lin Chen-Chi, Shut Chung-Tin, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wu Chi-Chin, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Tung Lam, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, Lai Man, Helen Ko, Dana, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate.


Pao Hsueh-Li was a protege of Chang Cheh, but his films often just feel like lesser versions of something Chang Cheh would’ve made. The Taxi Driver is different. It’s the first of Pao’s films to really get under my skin, and it gives me hope that his films going forward might carry a similar style and artistic slant. The film’s focus on then-modern social problems does make it feel somewhat related to Chang’s delinquent youth pictures, but since the characters in The Taxi Driver are adults it’s more evolved. It’s actually a lot closer in tone to Kuei Chih-Hung’s The Tea House and Big Brother Cheng, and it also includes a few dangerous real-life stunts, heralding the coming waves of Hong Kong stars that would define themselves with their insane stunts.

The Taxi Driver is Chen Guang (David Chiang), a good man working hard to stay afloat in modern Hong Kong. He rents a room in a house owned by an older woman, and he’s saving up to marry Heung Lai Ching (Lin Chen-Chi). His job dictates that he’s out a lot of the time, though, ferrying various types of people in all manner of situations around the town. The film does a great job of setting up the struggle of the taxi driver’s job, illustrating how the driving is the easy part and that it’s more about dealing with the odd personalities in need of a ride.

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The Imposter (1975)

The Imposter [七面人] (1975)

Starring David Chiang, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Danny Lee, Chen Ping, Shut Chung-Tin, Tung Lam, Wu Ma, Ku Feng, Tin Ching

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate.


The Imposter is a movie that’s fairly hard to classify. It definitely has enough action to qualify as a martial arts film, but it feels more like a movie that has martial arts instead of a true martial arts film. If that makes any sense. Anyway, the star of the film is David Chiang and his many disguises, so if you’re not into David Chiang, you could skip this one and not miss too much. But for those still on-board, the cast is stacked with top-shelf Shaw talent and David Chiang fans should enjoy the ample opportunities he is given to jump in and out of characters throughout the movie.

Tseng Yung (Danny Lee) has been wrongly imprisoned by the police chief Captain Lo Gin Yin (Chen Kuan-Tai). Tseng’s brother, Tseng Kan (Wong Chung), bribes a guard to let him talk with Yung, who tells Kan to find an illusive man named Ge Liang (David Chiang), as he is the only one capable of proving his innocence and saving his life. In basic terms, this is the whole movie in a nutshell, since finding Ge Liang is a prolonged multi-step process, and then proving Tseng Yung’s innocence is similarly complex. The one constant is David Chiang and his ever-changing disguises, influencing the other characters to do whatever he needs them to. Ge Liang is not just a master of disguise, he is a master manipulator as well.

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Five Tough Guys (1974)

fivetoughguys_1Five Tough Guys [五大漢] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Hellcats

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Wai Wang, Shut Chung-Tin, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung, Ku Feng, Lily Ho Li-Li, Ling Yun, Omae Hitoshi, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching, Yeung Chi-Hing, Kong Yeung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but the title is fun.

twohalfstar


There is an abundance of promise in Five Tough Guys. A dense, unique script from the illustrious Ni Kuang deals with the changing times when guns supplanted the years of training and expertise of kung fu masters. A group of excellent actors fill the roles, with superstar Chen Kuan-Tai heading up the cast, Ku Feng as the main antagonist, and Fan Mei-Sheng’s best role since The Water Margin. And the fights are choreographed by the experienced and notable pair of Lau Kar-Wing (brother of Lau Kar-Leung) and Huang Pei-Chih (brother of Tang Chia). The elements for a great film are clearly here, but unfortunately director Pao Hsueh-Li fails to bring them together into a cohesive package.

Like many of Ni Kuang’s scripts from this era, Five Tough Guys is based in part on Chinese history. The story is set during the early days of the Republic of China (around 1915), centered around General Tsai Song-Po (Ling Yun) and his rebellion against General Yuan Shikai. Yuan was the first formal president of the Republic of China, but at the time depicted in the film he was also attempting to restore monarchy to China by naming himself Emperor. He would eventually do this, which led to the National Protection War, but these events don’t occur during the course of Five Tough Guys. The film is just focused on the flight of General Tsai through enemy territory so that he can forward the rebellion’s cause.

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Rivals of Kung Fu (1974)

RivalsofKungFu_1Rivals of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻義取丁財炮] (1974)

Starring Shut Chung-Tin, Sek Kin, Lily Li Li-Li, James Ma Chim-Si, Bruce Le, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan, Cheng Miu, Kam Kwok-Leung, Kong Ling, Chan Shen, Lin Wen-Wei, Tong Chung-San, Keung Hon

Directed by Wong Fung

Expectations: Low. The title sounds good, but I’m wary.

threestar


Rivals of Kung Fu feels like a film that could have been made a few years earlier, especially in terms of how it focuses on story over action. Not that Shaw films of 1974 don’t have good stories, but Rivals of Kung Fu exhibits a unique quality that sets itself apart from just about every Shaw film I’ve seen. It is a cause-and-effect story that slowly moves forward on small details and slight misunderstandings, telling of a rivalry between your favorite Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung (Shut Chung-Tin) and nearby school leader Master Shen Chiu Kung (Sek Kin). It’s very deliberate and purposeful, and I don’t think it’s something that will appeal to everyone. There’s no action whatsoever until a little over 30 minutes in, and after that extended sequence, there’s not a lot that would fall under the traditional umbrella of what we think of when we think “action movie.”

The key to understanding this difference lies in the film’s writer/director, Wong Fung. By this point in his career, Wong had been active in the Hong Kong film industry for nearly 25 years. Many of those years were spent as a screenwriter on over 100 films, with around 40 of these scripts for the original Wong Fei-Hung film series starring Kwan Tak-Hing. Wong Fung directed a few of the later films in that series, as well! I haven’t seen any of those films, but it’s probably not a dangerous stretch to say that Rivals of Kung Fu is probably a stylistic continuation of the series. Also of note: Sek Kin seems to have been the villain in most, if not all, of those Wong Fei-Hung films, so his presence as the villain in Rivals of Kung Fu here is significant.

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The Escaper (1973)

TheEscaper_1The Escaper [十段高手] (1973)

Starring Hung Chiu-Hung, Lau Tak-Yan, Cindy Tang Hsin, Yee Yuen, Sit Hon, Meng Ti-Chen, Shan Mao, Shut Chung-Tin, Lee Keung, Got Siu-Bo, An Ping, Wu Kuo-Liang, Chiang Sheng

Directed by Lee Tso-Nam

Expectations: Zero. Super rare and probably for a reason. Hahaha.

twostar


Out of the hundreds of films released by the Shaw Brothers, only a few were not remastered and released to DVD by Celestial. The Escaper is one such film, but after many searches I was finally able to source a copy. It was without subtitles, but in such cases one doesn’t have the leeway to be picky. And as it turns out, The Escaper is still fairly easy to understand without the finer story points that dialogue would bring.

Obviously, I can’t give a real synopsis of what this film is about, and since it’s so rare I can’t find one anywhere else on the net either. So here goes nothin’! The Escaper opens in prison. A group of three inmates mount a daring escape attempt, but they are quickly thwarted by a badass guard with a whip and locked back in their communal cell. Not for long, though, as another guard comes to them with a basket containing a rope and a cell door key. He appears to make some kind of deal with the inmates, and before you know it he’s distracting the other guard so the inmates (who become the film’s heroes) can use the provided tools to make their escape… this time for good.

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The Champion (1973)

TheChampion+1973-57-bThe Champion [豪客] (1973)
AKA Shanghai Lil and the Sun Luck Kid, Karate King, Chivalrous Guest

Starring Chin Han, Shih Szu, Lung Fei, Yee Yuen, Shut Chung-Tin, Lee Wai, Chi Fu-Chiang, Cheng Fu-Hung, Hsieh Hsing, Chan San-Yat, Blacky Ko Sau-Leung

Directed by Chu-Got Ching-Wan & Yeung Jing-Chan

Expectations: Not much, even though I like Shih Szu a lot.

twostar


The Champion is probably better known by its US release title, Shanghai Lil and the Sun Luck Kid, but neither title really fits this rather mediocre martial arts movie. I guess Chan Han’s character could be considered a champion of the persecuted coal miners in the film, but since the miners are nothing more than shirtless extras pushing mine carts even this is something of a stretch. In any case, just know not to expect any kind of tournament or competition, and definitely don’t look forward to the adventuresome buddy picture that Shanghai Lil and the Sun Luck Kid suggests.

In actuality, The Champion is about Lu Fu (Chin Han), an innocent man recently released from prison after serving a term in the place of his brother. In the three years that Lu Fu has spent locked up, his brother Lu Tei Pao (Lung Fei) has taken over the coal mine, which in effect means that he is in control of the entire village. He is a ruthless man who purposefully set up his brother to get him out of the way, and I think he also killed his parents shortly thereafter. Not that it really matters, but the storytelling isn’t the clearest about that last bit. What does matter is that Tei Pao wants Lu Fu dead now that he’s out of prison, and the repeated attempts on his life from Tei Pao’s various lackeys is what makes up the majority of The Champion.

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