Man of Iron [仇連環] (1972)
AKA Dirty Chan, Warrior of Steel
Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Ching Li, Wong Chung, Chu Mu, Tin Ching, Bolo Yeung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Pao Chia-Wen, Chiang Tao, Li Min-Lang, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheung Ging-Boh, Chan Chuen
Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li
Man of Iron immediately sets itself up as a sequel to The Boxer from Shantung, but the only returning character is the street where everything happens. I’ve also heard the film referred to as a remake of the previous film, but this is also a misnomer as the stories are vastly different. The Boxer from Shantung is a re-telling of the classic gangster tale Scarface, but Man of Iron bears little resemblance to this rag-to-riches gangster tragedy. Instead, we just have Chen Kuan-Tai playing a character who wants to move up in the gangster hierarchy, but the characters themselves, while sharing some similar goals, are pretty far from being actually similar.
Man of Iron is set 20 years after the end of The Boxer from Shantung. The street and the people who populate it have moved on, and new gangs have grown to control the area. There are two major gang bosses: Chang Gen Bao (Chu Mu) and Yu Zhen-Ting (Yeung Chi-Hung). One day, Yu Chow-Kai (Tin Ching), the son of the gang boss Yu, is gambling and has all of his money taken by Qiu Lian-Huan (Chen Kuan-Tai), a man with a small gang of friends that’s tired of being small time. Yu’s son is a man who has inherited his place in the gangster world, so he is easily bested and intimated by Qiu, a man who has fought to be where he is.
Qiu also takes a liking to the younger Yu’s girlfriend, Shen Ju-Fang (Ching Li). He’s the type of guy that takes what he wants, so he decides that now is the time to push back against the bigger gangs. He first rides his motorcycle to Shen’s house, and after beating up the Yu gangsters outside the residence, he drives his motorcycle right through the front window of the building. I guess that’s one way to try to impress a girl! This is the first salvo in Qiu’s attempt to challenge the old bosses of the street, and because he’s such a suave badass, you actually believe that he stands a chance against them, even though in every fight he’s basically single-handed against a group of 30+ thugs.
All this probably sounds like it makes for a thrilling little tale of the streets, and while it is rather entertaining, it’s not all that unique or special in its own right. The Boxer from Shantung may have had a well-worn story that made it predictable and a bit ho-hum at times, but it is a far superior film without a doubt. What Man of Iron makes up for with having an original story, it loses in having an original story that’s not all that engaging.
But thankfully action films do not succeed on engaging stories alone, and that’s where the fights come in. The fights themselves are all quite fun and well-choreographed, with reckless energy and brutality that goes a long way. For instance when Chen Kuan-Tai is thrown against a wall and he lands on a thug, he doesn’t simply hit the guy once and move on. No, he elbows him viciously a couple of times in the stomach, grabs him by the collar, throws him into an open car door and slams the door on his body a few times. Then there’s the fight when Chen uses a bicycle as a weapon, at one point smashing a thug’s head through the spokes of the wheel… all before he rips off the bike’s chain and starts using that as a weapon! So yeah, the fights are quite enjoyable.
There’s also the dope music score, which utilizes an awesome funk tune as Qiu’s theme. Every time he’s walking towards the camera (or his destiny), the theme plays, getting everyone in the audience thoroughly pumped for some prime Chen Kuan-Tai ass-kicking. It should be noted that this song is only on the original subtitled version of the film, as the dubbed version completely replaces the score with similar but much less awesome music. The different music on the dubbed version is also not synched to the action nearly as well. The only reason I can think that this would’ve been done is that the original music was something lifted illegally from another source (as Shaw Brothers and the Hong Kong film industry have a habit of doing), and it was necessary for release in the US to change it to something without licensing fees. But really, who knows? I just needed to come up with a reason to justify why anyone would remove the awesome, awesome funk song for something clearly inferior. The original song is so great I made an MP3; here, have a listen!
Man of Iron may not be a great film, but it is an enjoyable one that contains a lot of great, inventive fights. The drama is a little forced and the story itself could have used some work, but it’s an action movie that delivers fun action so you can’t complain too much. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan of Chen Kuan-Tai or gangster-based kung fu tales!
Next up in this chronological jaunt through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chor Yuen’s The Lizard! See ya then!