Top 10 1976–1977 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

1976 and 1977 were wonderful years for the Shaw Brothers studio, filled with an abundance of great films that made narrowing this list to 10 a challenging proposition. Wuxias, largely following the patterns set by the films of King Hu and Chang Cheh, had fallen out of favor by the early ’70s, but Chor Yuen’s 1976 film Killer Clans — and the many that followed it — injected new life and new ideas into a faded genre. Chor’s unique re-focusing of the genre towards literary adaptations and tales showcasing mental fortitude over purely physical abilities made him a driving force in the industry, and the next monumental figure in the history of the wuxia genre. Meanwhile, Lau Kar-Leung released his next two films during these years, pushing the realistic kung fu seen in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films to new heights. During this period, Chang Cheh was also forced to reckon with the fact that he was no longer the driving force of Hong Kong action filmmaking, as his time in Taiwan came to a close.

These years also saw the rise of other Hong Kong cinema luminaries outside of the Shaw system. Sammo Hung’s first directorial effort, The Iron-Fisted Monk, was a huge hit, Richard Ng became a star with both the #1 & #2 film of 1977 (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress & Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All!), and the Hui Brothers continued their blockbuster dominance with 1976’s The Private Eyes. Jackie Chan was also on the verge of superstardom with the looming release of Yuen Woo-Ping’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow a few months into 1978, but during 1976–1977 he was still making a string of films for Lo Wei. Other non-Shaw fan favorites released during these years include: The 18 Bronzemen, One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine (Master of the Flying Guillotine), The Secret Rivals, The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious, The Invincible Armour, Snuff-Bottle Connection, Broken Oath, and many, many more. With this introduction, I hope to paint a brief picture of these years in Hong Kong cinema, both to refresh memories or to spur new fans to dive deeper. 🙂

As usual, I’ve included links to iTunes/Amazon/DDDHouse for easy access if you’re looking to get the films. The availability is current as of the posting of this list. eBay is always a good option, as well, if my links don’t turn up any results. If you’re interested in what’s below the cut and you don’t want to troll through my review archive, I have ranked lists on Letterboxd for every year I’ve finished in the Shaw Brothers Chronological review series. You can find 1976 here and 1977 here.

OK, OK, let’s get to the list!


#10 Judgement of an Assassin (1977)
Directed by Sun Chung
Reviewed August 10, 2018

Judgement of an Assassin was Sun Chung’s first wuxia since 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, a film I absolutely adore. Sun’s return exists in a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities of Chang Cheh’s The Brave Archer, delivering fun and exciting choreography in a wonderful package. It feels like an underseen film, and that should definitely not be the case. With its near-perfect combo of entertaining action and a beautifully structured story, this is a movie that all Shaw Brothers fans should see.

Judgement of an Assassin is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay, and keep your fingers crossed that Celestial may release the film digitally sometime in the future.

#9 The Shaolin Avengers (1976)
Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)
Reviewed December 8, 2017

The Shaolin Avengers is top-notch Shaolin Cycle; a fantastic movie that cohesively combines the stories of Fang Shih-Yu and Hu Huei-Chien into one thrilling, entertaining package. Its greatness lies in its structure; the film opens with its finale, fading in and out into flashbacks that show how our heroes and villains all came to this particular battle. The structure removes a lot of the tension inherent in a traditional revenge story, but this is the point. Instead, I pondered the nature of life, how small moments remind you of people or places, and how important preparation is to success. The Shaolin Avengers is a film of pure entertainment that builds up more of the Shaolin mythology of the earlier films, or in other words, it’s every thing I could want out of a Shaolin Cycle film.

On disc, The Shaolin Avengers is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon Prime, and other top digital platforms.

Continue reading Top 10 1976–1977 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films →

Winner Takes All! (1977)

Winner Takes All! [面懵心精] (1977)
AKA 泥鰍吃猛龍

Starring Richard Ng, Lok Shut, Rosalind Chan Yee-Hing, Tang Ching, Dean Shek Tin, Max Lee Chiu-Chun, To Siu-Ming, Addy Sung Gam-Loi, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ho Pak-Kwong, Karl Maka, Guy Lai Ying-Chau, Hon Kwok-Choi, Sammo Hung, Yue Tau-Wan, Peter Chan Lung, Hsiao Ho

Directed by Karl Maka

Expectations: Excited, but I don’t really know what to expect.


Winner Takes All! was independently produced, but it is the final film of 1977 that I’m covering as part of my chronological Shaw Brothers series. I chose to review it because it was widely successful in 1977, reaching #2 at the Hong Kong Box Office, incorporating comedy and kung fu in a way that would soon sweep the Hong Kong industry with the 1978 release of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. Upon watching Winner Takes All!, though, I realized that its place in Hong Kong cinema history is far greater than simply “doing well at the box office,” as it represents another step in the dominance of Cantonese cinema in the wake of Michael Hui’s successes. In the three years prior to this (1974–1976), a Michael Hui-directed movie — all starring himself and his brothers — dominated the top spot of the Hong Kong box office. Hui would again top the charts in 1978 with The Contract, but he did not release a film in 1977.

Richard Ng is one of Hong Kong’s most famous and recognizable comedians. I’ve seen him in so many movies, it almost feels like he’s always been around. He apparently started on the Hui Brothers TV show in the early ’70s, and received his first major film role in Michael Hui’s 1976 smash-hit The Private Eyes. 1977 was the year Ng was cemented into Hong Kong cinema history, though, as he starred in both the #1 film (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress AKA Money Crazy) and the #2 film, Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All. Like this film, all of Michael Hui’s films were filmed in Cantonese, and along with Chor Yuen’s mega-hits The House of 72 Tenants (1973) and Hong Kong 73 (1974), they were the impetus for the industry to shift towards the Cantonese language. In addition, Hui’s directorial debut, 1974’s Games Gamblers Play, essentially saved Golden Harvest from bankruptcy and paved the way for comedy’s rise as a dominant genre in Hong Kong cinema, both coupled with kung fu and not.

Continue reading Winner Takes All! (1977) →

The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 97 – Drunken Master II

This week on the Silver Emulsion Podcast, Stephen and I are talking about one of the greatest kung fu films of all time, the one and only Drunken Master II. Directed by the legendary Lau Kar-Leung and starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui and Ti Lung, this is what movies are all about! Listen and enjoy! 🙂

Watch Drunken Master II along with us on Blu-ray, DVD or Amazon Instant Video!

Also: the show is on iTunes! So if you feel like subscribing there, or rating/reviewing the show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Music Notes

Intro:

  • Tsukasa Masuko – In-Game
    • From the NES game T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage (VGMPF)

Outro:

  • Jackie Chan – The Drunken Master (Cantonese Version)

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using.

Pursuit of Vengeance (1977)

Pursuit of Vengeance [明月刀雪夜殲仇] (1977)
AKA Moonlight Blade: Vengeance on a Snowy Night (literal translation of Chinese title)

Starring Ti Lung, Lau Wing, Lo Lieh, Paul Chang Chung, Derek Yee, Shih Szu, Wai Wang, Ku Kuan-Chung, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Chen Ping, Lam Fai-Wong, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wa Lun, Chan Shen, Ngaai Fei, Yue Wing, Liu Wai, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Keung Hon, Wong Ching-Ho, Shum Lo, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Mama Hung

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High. Can Chor Yuen go five for five in 1977?


I expected to enjoy Pursuit of Vengeance, but the film surprised me and outdid every expectation I had for it. In researching the previous Chor Yuen films based on Gu Long’s Little Li Flying Dagger series (The Sentimental Swordsman & The Magic Blade), I read a basic plot synopsis of the novel that Pursuit of Vengeance is based on, Bordertown Prodigal (邊城浪子, Biancheng Langzi). It mentioned that the main characters, Ye Kai (Lau Wing) and Fu Hong-Xue (Ti Lung), both had love interests, and that the events of the book are what leads Fu to becoming the disillusioned, hard-boiled swordsman we see in The Magic Blade. So naturally I expected some sort of typical romantic storyline within the dangerous Chor Yuen martial world. The film is far removed from this, though, with nary a single love interest to be found. The film definitely does not need them, but because I was expecting it to figure in somewhere along the line, I spent the film looking for the seeds of this non-existent sub-plot and wound up admiring how cleverly plotted and perfectly paced the film is without it.

Like any good wuxia, Pursuit of Vengeance is full of twists that shouldn’t be revealed in wholesale by the likes of me. The Wan Ma clan is inviting swordsmen to their school, and they refuse to take no for an answer. When Fu Hong-Xue says he will not visit, the emissary for the clan says that he will remain there in the road, waiting for Fu’s acceptance, as long as it takes. Of course, this can’t be an innocent gesture, and Fu is too savvy to agree. Ye Kai is also invited, as are others, and it becomes clear that a specific group of people are being pulled together by the Wan Ma clan. What is their purpose? Who is in pursuit of vengeance? You’ll have to watch the movie! It’s too good for me to delve any deeper into the story, suffice it to say that many things are not what they seem and it will take our heroes’ every wit and sense to survive.

Continue reading Pursuit of Vengeance (1977) →

Chinatown Kid (1977)

Chinatown Kid [唐人街小子] (1977)
AKA Chinatown Kung Fu

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Sun Chien, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lo Meng, Jenny Tseng, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Siu Yam-Yam, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Ching-Ho, Lo Dik, Chiang Nan, Yue Wing, Wang Han-Chen, Ku Kuan-Chung, Teresa Ha Ping, Kara Hui, Tsai Hung, Wong Lik, Chiang Sheng, Dick Wei, Wang Ching-Liang, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Lu Feng, Chin Chun

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Interested to finally see the longer cut.


Chinatown Kid is a great Chang Cheh film with a strong following, but it’s one of the few films that had a restoration tarnish its legacy. The story goes that when Celestial went to their Shaw archives to remaster Chinatown Kid, the only print they found was an alternate version that was much shorter, featuring re-shot scenes and a unique ending. This was back in the early 2000s, so at this point, nearly 20 years later, it’s probably safe to say that this shorter version is the only one that will ever be officially released by Celestial. It’s unfortunate because it’s almost assuredly not Chang Cheh’s original cut, but it is better than nothing. For this review, I watched the film twice: once with Celestial’s shorter version (which I’ve seen before), and once with the Venomsfan custom edit that combines a full-length VHS with a couple of extra scenes only found in the Celestial cut.

The story remains fairly constant across the two versions. Tang Dong (Alexander Fu Sheng) is an illegal immigrant who has just arrived in Hong Kong to help his aging grandpa. Finding a job is a struggle without a Hong Kong ID card, but Tang Dong is resourceful, street smart, and willing to work hard to make ends meet. He is largely driven by a materialistic desire to have cool stuff (like a digital watch), but he’s a nice guy at heart. Meanwhile in Taiwan, Yang Jian Wen (Sun Chien, in his debut role) has just returned home from two years service in the army. He shares Tang Dong’s willingness to work hard for his goals, but his family isn’t poor, and he is more book smart and responsible. Both characters end up in San Francisco by very different means (one studying abroad, the other running from the law), and they quickly befriend one another while working at a restaurant.

Continue reading Chinatown Kid (1977) →

The Sentimental Swordsman (1977)

The Sentimental Swordsman [多情劍客無情劍] (1977)
AKA Sword of Emotion

Starring Ti Lung, Ching Li, Derek Yee, Yueh Hua, Candice Yu On-On, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ngaai Fei, Yuen Wah, Ku Wen-Chung, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Wang Sha, Shum Lo, Lee Sau-Kei, Fung Hak-On, Alan Chui Chung-San, Chiang Nan

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Been looking forward to this one for a while.


Partway through The Sentimental Swordsman, I thought about how it was Chor Yuen’s fourth film of 1977 (of five total). To craft one film of lasting appeal in a single year is a commendable feat, but to make at least four of them is truly incredible. I’ve written similar things about the high standards and prolific genius of Chang Cheh, but not until encountering this period of Chor Yuen’s output has any director come close to replicating Chang’s feat. The Sentimental Swordsman isn’t my favorite of Chor’s 1977 films — that honor still rests with Clans of Intrigue — but I do feel it’s the most well-crafted of the group, with Jade Tiger a close runner-up. They’re all made with a similarly high level of quality, though, allowing fans to endlessly debate which wuxia should be crowned leader of the Chor Yuen martial world.

The film opens with our hero, Li Xunhuan (Ti Lung), traveling by horseback across the snow-covered landscape, accompanied by his trusty servant Chuan Jia (Fan Mei-Sheng). They have lived peacefully outside the martial world for the past 10 years, but are returning upon hearing the Plum Blossom Bandit is back to his old tricks. Things get interesting when Li meets Ah Fei (Derek Yee), a wandering swordsman, and the two strike up a fast friendship. While these new friends dine at an inn, the feared swordsman duo of Black Snake (Alan Chui Chung-San) and White Snake (Fung Hak-On) attempt to rob another set of diners: a security bureau entourage transporting the Gold Threaded Vest, an item promising immunity from the Plum Blossom Bandit’s deadly darts. Ah Fei thwarts them and takes the vest, sending the martial world into a frenzy to identify the Plum Blossom Bandit and recover the vest.

Continue reading The Sentimental Swordsman (1977) →

The Battle Wizard (1977)

The Battle Wizard [天龍八部] (1977)

Starring Danny Lee, Tanny Tien Ni, Lin Chen-Chi, Shut Chung-Tin, Chiang Tao, Keung Hon, Wai Wang, Si Wai, San Shu-Wa, Gam Lau, Teresa Ha Ping, Leung Seung-Wan, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Ko Hung, Hung Ling-Ling, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Excited because that title is fantastic.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Some titles evoke worlds of wonder, others are dull and inspire confusion, but The Battle Wizard brings about very specific expectations of a magically adept sorcerer casting furious spells. Much to my delight, that is pretty much exactly what the film delivers (within the context of how magic is portrayed in the wuxia genre). Wuxia comes in varying degrees of fantasy, and The Battle Wizard is full-on, balls-to-the-walls fantasy. If that’s your thing, you will be hard-pressed to find a better example from this particular era. Chor Yuen’s The Web of Death comes to mind as a similarly well-realized vision of wuxia fantasy, but The Battle Wizard is much more wild and over the top. For me, this is a recipe for my new favorite wuxia, but your particular tastes and tolerance for late ’70s Hong Kong FX will dictate whether the film hits for you in the same way.

The Battle Wizard is based on the Jin Yong novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (天龍八部), originally serialized from 1963–1966. Both works share the same Chinese title, which has apparently given translators a rough time over the years, with one alternate translation reading Eight Books of the Heavenly Dragon. No matter what you call it, The Battle Wizard runs a very slim 73 minutes, so it may come as a surprise that the novel is actually Jin Yong’s second longest work, only just shy of the character count of The Deer and the Cauldron. This is somewhat misleading, though, as Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils is broken into three separate, but interwoven stories, and The Battle Wizard is only attempting to adapt the first of these. Also, like previous Jin Yong adaptations, The Battle Wizard feels closer to a comic book than to traditional wuxias or Chor Yuen’s Gu Long films.

Continue reading The Battle Wizard (1977) →

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