Warriors Two [贊先生與找錢華] (1978)
AKA Mr. Tsan and Money-Changer Wah (Literal Translation)

Starring Leung Kar-Yan, Casanova Wong, Sammo Hung, Dean Shek Tin, Fung Hak-On, Lee Hoi-Sang, Tiger Yang Seong-Oh, Yeung Wai, Choe Moo-Woong, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: I love this one.

Warriors Two is one of the great kung fu films of 1978, if not the entire ’70s. It’s easily Sammo Hung’s best film up to this point in his directorial career, and it would be flawless if it lost the Sammo/Dean Shek fight during the finale. It’s not bad, per se, it just deflates the crescendo and creates a plateau where I patiently wait to return to the main villain’s demise. But Sammo is a professional, and its inclusion was a choice. He wanted the tension broken by humor, and the choreography is unique. Besides, it probably played better in 1970s Hong Kong when kung fu comedy was in its early days.

The lineage of Wing Chun is explained during the film’s opening, leading us to Leung Tsan (Leung Kar-Yan) and Money-Changer Wah (Casanova Wong), and wouldn’t you know it, the film’s Chinese title translates to Mr. Tsan and Money-Changer Wah. Both characters were real people important to the proliferation of Wing Chun throughout the world. Leung Tsan was born in the 1820s, and was known as the King of Wing Chun in Foshan. He is one of the earliest Wing Chun practitioners with a historical record that proves he actually existed. Money-Changer Wah was born in the 1830s, and, after learning from Mr. Tsan, went on to become Ip Man’s first Wing Chun teacher. If you didn’t know it going into Warriors Two, you know by the end of the intro that this is more than a martial arts movie, it’s a Wing Chun movie, and it takes the art seriously.

As someone interested in the philosophy of the martial arts, the approach Warriors Two takes to showcase Wing Chun fascinates me. Sammo Hung and writer Sze-To On (who, according to the HKMDB, wrote 257 films from 1954–1992, including a majority of Kuei Chih-Hung’s filmography) crafted a story light on narrative complexity, but this is exactly what the film needed. It allows the space necessary to impart the foundational teachings of Wing Chun to the audience as Money-Changer Wah learns them. The new translation on the Eureka UK Blu-ray helps these ideas come across better than previous subtitles, as well. The training in Warriors Two isn’t simply a new technique to defeat the villain; Wah learns a whole new approach to the martial arts. Where cinematic training sequences are often abstract and visual in their techniques, in Warriors Two they are direct, practical, and philosophical. Warriors Two further subverts genre expectations by laying out how certain characters’ skills are better suited to take on certain villains, and then forcing them to think on their feet as they fight someone else. Genius!

Sammo’s smart camerawork — even outside of the action — moving to create new shots within a single take in clever ways, is a real directorial strength. This was common practice in Hong Kong to save on editing time, but Sammo’s deployment of his craft feels fresh, cinematic, and modern. Coupled with his impeccable shot selection, framing and editing, it’s no secret why Sammo Hung is regarded as one of the pillars of the Hong Kong film industry. Oh, and he choreographed all the fights, too? He’s a dynamo! Who’s to say why this film made roughly twice as much as Crippled Avengers at the local box office — they released within a week of each other — but I think the concept of the “choreographer director” is a fair guess.

Prior to Lau Kar-Leung breaking off from Chang Cheh in 1975, choreographer directors weren’t commonplace. In 1978, they collectively delivered the biggest action movies of the year, with every martial arts film in the Top 10 coming from either Yuen Woo-Ping, Lau Kar-Leung or Sammo Hung. No one understands action like a choreographer, and the moviegoing populace could feel the difference, whether they consciously knew it or not. In this way, you might say the Venom Mob were held back by their association with Chang Cheh, although they probably needed an experienced captain; judging by their post-Shaw careers, none of the Venoms seemed particularly interested in directing.

Warriors Two is a movie that gets better every time I watch it. Leung Kar-Yan specifically impresses in his first major starring role, performing Wing Chun in a way that tangibly reflects the character’s status as the most skilled practitioner. I can’t speak to the accuracy of any of the actors’ movements, and I know Leung Kar-Yan isn’t a martial artist, but they all sell their Wing Chun mastery to these untrained eyes. I absolutely love spending time learning Wing Chun with these characters, and the incredible escalation of action during the final 30 minutes is glorious. This basic structure recurs in a majority of Sammo’s directorial work, and I’m always impressed by it. Not only is Warriors Two one of my favorites of the ’70s, it’s probably the best Wing Chun movie of all time.

Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the last Shaw film of 1978 (but I still have one more non-Shaw for the year): Lau Kar-Leung’s Heroes of the East! Oh shit! See ya then (hopefully soon)!