The Mighty One [童子功] (1971)
Starring Ivy Ling Po, Liu Ping, Ling Yun, Go Ming, Lung Fei, Hsieh Hsing, Cheung Yee-Kwai, Shaw Luo-Hui, Yuen Sam, Chan Yau-San, So Gam-Lung, Wa Luen
Directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong
The Mighty One kicks off with a bang as a group of devious villains stride up to a pleasant, peaceful homestead. They are the Notorious Five of the Dragon Valley, led by the red-faced Brother Fang, and they seek the missing pages of The Mighty Creed (AKA The Mighty Power of Five Masters). But the aged, retired swordsman who lives at the home refuses to give up the manual’s location, so Brother Fang kills him while the Notorious Five playfully beat up the old man’s children, throwing one into a tree and pinning another to the floor with a dagger.
The basic framework of this scene continues on through the rest of The Mighty One, as the Notorious Five go around the countryside asking about the manual and kicking ass when no one has any answers. Enter Water Knight Hsiang Kuei (Ling Yun) and Hsiao Chu (Ivy Ling Po), the only two to give the Notorious Five and Brother Fang a challenging fight. No one knows who these two are or where they came from, which means they’ve never seen a Shaw Brothers film, as anyone who has will immediately know exactly who these two are. While their identities are obscured throughout most of the movie, I don’t think it was the filmmaker’s intent for it to be a big twist, as it’s not revealed as such.
So with a basic framework like that, it can only mean one thing: lots of fights. And while there’s some sped-up footage, these fights are largely very enjoyable thanks to a whole mess of crazy wuxia feats on display throughout. I’ve seen my share of fun wuxia thrills, but The Mighty One was the first to feature telekinesis. Our heroes, through means unexplained, have the ability to move objects with their minds and their outstretched hands; it’s a joy to watch. The force is strong with these two.
The finale fight is by far the craziest and the most inventive, as our heroes must finally defeat Brother Fang (after attempting a few times throughout the film). The only problem is that Brother Fang is invincible, or at least it seems that way. In any case, the fight rages on for quite some time, delivering more than its share of fun wuxia feats. I’ll never tire of these moments of crazy kung fu powers. The finale also takes place in a new location, too, a rocky valley at the base of a giant, sheer cliff face with a cave lair door in the side of the mountain! Pretty cool, if you ask me.
But there is a difference between a lot of fights and a lot of great fights, and unfortunately many of the fights in The Mighty One are only great while you’re watching them. Most of them just don’t stick with you, so the film feels more minor than better films with more consistently great fights throughout (or fewer fights of better quality). This is a pretty good criticism to have of a movie, though, and no matter how forgettable the fights may be, they’re all very well-choreographed and exciting at the time.
If you want all the wuxia thrills without getting invested in a deep, convoluted storyline, then The Mighty One is a great pick. It may not be one of the top Shaw films, but it’s consistently entertaining and a joy to watch.
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog: we’re going back in time to pick up a couple of rare 1971 films that I missed because I messed up and because they are hard to find (but mostly because of me). First up on the rare train is Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong’s first film for the Shaw studios (The Mighty One was his second): Mission Impossible! See ya next week!