The Chinese Boxer (1970)

The Chinese Boxer [龍虎鬥] (1970)
AKA The Hammer of God, Der Karate-Killer, Cinque dita di morte

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Cheng Lui, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chai No, Kong Ling, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Wong Ching, Tung Li

Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu

Expectations: High. You don’t enter the first legitamite kung fu movie without high expectations.


It’s not every day you get to witness the birth of a film genre, but The Chinese Boxer is just that. This is the first legitimate kung fu film, and boy is it a good’un. It definitely doesn’t reach the heights that the genre would later ascend to, but it is a stunning début for the genre and a highly influential film. While Chang Cheh brought martial arts into the republic period with Vengeance!, changing out the wuxia swords for knives and a bit of unarmed combat, Jimmy Wang Yu took it to the next level by completely removing the weapons all together (except for one fight where Wang Yu must battle multiple samurai).

The Chinese Boxer features a story you’ve heard a million times before if you’re a big martial arts fan, and this film is essentially the genesis of the trope: some assholes from one school decide to challenge another school, thus killing the master of our main character and setting him on the path to vengeance. While tales of rival schools are forever popular within the genre, my heart holds a special place for films that pit rival styles against each other, and The Chinese Boxer is — as far as I know — the first film to feature the eternal struggle between kung fu and karate. It may not feature any actual Japanese people playing the roles of the Japanese karate masters, and their fighting style may actually be closer to kung fu than karate in the choreography, but the idea alone of kung fu battling karate was enough to put a broad smile on my face.

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The Iron Buddha (1970)

The Iron Buddha [鐵羅漢] (1970)

Starring Ling Yun, Fang Ying, Wong Chung-Shun, Chen Hung Lieh, Yau Ching, Yue Wai, Fan Mei-Sheng, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, Yen Chun, Lee Sau Kei, Go Ming, Shum Lo

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: High. Sammo Hung choreography is generally fastastic.


It’s always fun when I discover a more “modern” martial arts film amidst the old school wuxia. It wouldn’t be fair to call this anything but a wuxia film, but its sensibilities are definitely progressive rather than regressive, and that’s always a good thing when it comes to this review series. The Iron Buddha isn’t a great film, or even a genre great, but it is remarkably fun, high-class entertainment that will satisfy those looking for a great diversion from your normal, not-flying-around-and-jumping-fifty-feet-into-trees life.

The Iron Buddha starts off uniquely as the rapist Xiao Tianzun (Wong Chung-Shun) is caught red-handed, but let free by a merciful martial arts master who is familiar with the reputation of the rapist’s teacher. He does not leave the rapist unscathed, though, carving a deep cross on his chest to mark him as an evildoer. Three years later, Xiao tracks down the man who gave him the scar, rapes his daughter while he watches and then kills him! Without missing a beat, he then murders the man’s entire school of students, save one rather resourceful guy who happened to be away from the group. This student becomes our main character, Luo Han (Ling Yun), and he’s out for some serious revenge! Now that’s a classic kung fu setup if I’ve ever heard one!

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The Secret of the Dirk (1970)

The Secret of the Dirk [大羅劍俠] (1970)

Starring Ching Li, Chang Yi, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Hsieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Wong Ching Ho, Chiu Hung, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low.


Hsu Cheng Hung apparently got with the program and finally delivered a compelling martial arts film! Throughout this series I’ve seen a number of his films (all of them up to this point, in fact), and just about every time I’ve been disappointed. As the genre slowly shifted focus from costume drama to action film, Hsu Cheng Hung films were generally throwbacks to the way martial arts films started, with songs and a general lack of excitement. He’s had a few moderately enjoyable movies, but The Secret of the Dirk is hands down the best film I’ve seen from him. It gives me hope that the films to follow will continue this forward momentum. If nothing else, I won’t start his next film with a resigned sigh and an, “OK, let’s get this over with” attitude.

I’m not going to break down the story beats here, because, like almost all wuxia films, it’s a needlessly complicated section of a larger narrative. The only things you really need to know is that 20 years ago some treasure was hidden and now the Black Tiger bandits want to find it. The people it rightfully belongs to are also on the hunt for it, as those who knew where it was are out of commission. This makes it sound like a true adventure film, which it isn’t, but that’s the basic narrative drive of the story. The storytelling gets a bit muddled during the first half because so many characters are thrown at you with little explanation, and I had a hard time keeping track of everyone. I thought one girl was a different character for about half the movie, and then when I figured out that she wasn’t, it also became clear that it didn’t matter.

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Valley of the Fangs (1970)

Valley of the Fangs [餓狼谷] (1970)

Starring Li Ching, Lo Lieh, Chan Leung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wang Hsieh, Chen Yan-Yan, Tung Li, Lee Pang-Fei, Shi Xiu, Kim Chil-Seong

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully I like it better than Heads for Sale.


Another week, another moderately enjoyable Shaw Brothers wuxia film! The light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than it ever has been before, but these old school wuxia films are still really sapping my energies. Valley of the Fangs isn’t so much a bad film as it is one that’s not all that unique. As all of these Shaw Brothers films are essentially shot in the same locations and on the same sets, they have the tendency to run together. And when the direction isn’t all that interesting, they really run together, so in a few days I will have a hard time distinguishing my memories of Valley of the Fangs from the sea of films that came before it.

But I don’t want to be too harsh. Valley of the Fangs is better than I’m giving it credit for, and while it’s not pure fun like The Winged Tiger, it does have enough to keep you entertained. There’s a world of difference between keeping you entertained and actually exciting, though, so I can’t help but be a little disappointed with this spectacularly titled film. And — spoiler alert — there’s not really any fangs to be found in the valley.

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A Taste of Cold Steel (1970)

A Taste of Cold Steel [武林風雲] (1970)

Starring Chang Yi, Yau Ching, Essie Lin Chia, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung Lieh, Wong Chung-Shun, Ku Feng, Wu Ma, Hung Lau, Simon Chui Yee-Ang, Fang Mian, Lee Kwan, Wang Hsieh, Lee Wan Chung, James Tin Jun

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: Moderate. I like Yueh Feng, but the last movie was disappointing.


A Taste of Cold Steel is, like its title suggests, about an amazing sword that everyone wants to get their hands on. As soon as they see the radiant purple glow that emanates from it, they will stop at nothing to have it. It’s a slight variation on the theme of the martial world fighting over a world-class sword, but A Taste of Cold Steel sets itself apart in a couple of interesting ways.

First, the blade actually glows purple every time it’s unsheathed on-screen. People’s faces and everything around them glows marvelously purple; this is definitely a candidate for Prince’s favorite martial arts film (if he engages in such primal pleasures as this). It looks to have been achieved with a spotlight carefully highlighting the sword, but most of the time you can’t really tell and it looks quite fantastic and realistic.

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The Heroic Ones (1970)

The Heroic Ones [十三太保] (1970)
AKA 13 Fighters, Shaolin Masters, Thirteen Princes

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Chin Han, Pao Chia-Wen, Lo Wai, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Sung Tuan, Wong Pau-Gei, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chan Chuen, Lau Kar Wing, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Hung Sing-Chung, Lan Wei-Lieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lee Hoi-Lung, Bolo Yeung-Tze

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. It’s Chang Cheh, and it warranted a US Blu-ray release, it’s gotta be good.


And here I am again, checking out a Chang Cheh movie and being completely blown away. At this point in the Shaw Brothers series, I feel like I know what’s coming my way, and I expected The Heroic Ones to be another take on the traditional swordplay genre by Chang Cheh. Instead it proved to be a historical epic, and completely unlike any previous film in the series. If there’s one thing to be learned from this, it’s that I should never expect a Chang Cheh film to be simply “another take on” whatever genre I suppose the film to be by the rather uninformative box art.

The film’s plot is complicated, but never hard to understand. It is hard to quickly explain, though, concerning itself more with the relationships between brothers than focusing on the actual beats of the plot. Ku Feng is a barbarian king who has 13 princes (seemingly gathered from varying places, not actual sons) and he finds himself up against a bad group of rebels who have taken over the Imperial capital city of Chang’an. The rebel general (played by a bald Bolo Yeung) stands guard at the gate, but 13th Brother (David Chiang) takes him out in a fun battle resembling the classic “David vs. Goliath” struggle. Bolo looks menacing with his head shaved, and he reminds me of Abobo from the video game Double Dragon. This is perhaps not a coincidence, as the other Abobo-like character in Double Dragon, Bolo, supposedly gets his name from Bolo Yeung’s character in Enter the Dragon, named… wait for it… Bolo. Anyway, this fight with Bolo is perhaps the film’s best moment of choreography, but its greatest moment of action is still yet to come.

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Swordswomen Three (1970)

Swordswomen Three [江湖三女俠] (1970)

Starring Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi, Lo Lieh, Chang Yi, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Wong Chung-Shun, Fang Mian, Liu Wai, Yeung Chi Hing, Lee Wan Chung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Hao Li-Jen, Suen Lam, Lee Siu-Chung

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: High. The Winged Tiger was super fun.


While Swordswomen Three starts off with a lot of promise, it never successfully tells a compelling story or delivers the action thrills you’re expecting. This was Shen Chiang’s third film (and second martial arts film), but it’s riddled with all kinds of horrible storytelling and editing, making portions of the story nearly unintelligible. I’m somewhat prone to missing things in movies if I’m not entirely engaged, but there was one section of this movie that I literally rewound about five times and still didn’t have a clear understanding of what happened. The only answer is that it’s just poorly made, and in this specific case, it was mostly the editing that confused me.

Swordwomen Three tries to tell the story of two battling martial arts clans, one with the title of the Number One Clan from a recent tournament held every decade, and the other led by an upstart Lo Lieh who will stop at nothing to take the title from the other clan. He doesn’t want to wait till the next tournament because he doesn’t need to, he’ll just murder the other clan and everyone will obviously know he’s the best. Standing in his way, though, are the three swordswomen sisters of the title (played by Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi and Violet Pan Ying-Zi). Also on the side of good is Chang Yi, the son of the master of the leading martial clan, and friend to the swordswomen.

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