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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Vengeance! (1970)

Vengeance! [報仇] (1970)
AKA Kung Fu Vengeance

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Wang Ping, Alice Au Yin-Ching, Ku Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Chuen Yuen, Hoh Ban, Chan Sing, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Hung Lau, Lau Gong, Wong Chung, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Shum Lo, Chen Kuan-Tai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Super high. I’ve wanted to see this forever.


In my review for Chang Cheh’s The One-Armed Swordsman, I mentioned that Chang had thrown down the gauntlet with that film, challenging the genre to step up to the plate and create meaningful action cinema. Vengeance! is another of these pinnacle moments in the history of the genre, with Chang Cheh thoroughly tired of the status quo and looking for new inspiration. He found it in a new time period, the 1920s early Republic era, and setting the film during this tumultuous period in Chinese history makes for the perfect setting of a martial arts film. As political struggles divided China into factions and eventually led to the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) between the Republic and the Communist forces, Vengeance! is set in an unnamed Chinese city where criminals have banded together to control the land. I don’t claim to be a history scholar, but a general knowledge of this helps to inform the setting of the film in the viewer’s mind, even if these broad struggles don’t specifically come into play during the story.

Vengeance! opens with a Peking opera, echoing (and perhaps mocking) the used and reused traditional period setting of many Shaw Brothers films. Ti Lung is the lead actor, skillfully demonstrating his martial skill in a tragic play where he is assaulted by many combatants and is eventually killed rather violently. All the while, Ku Feng is upstairs hitting on Ti Lung’s wife, and when Ti finds out, he’s pissed. He travels to Ku Feng’s martial arts school, breaks their sign (is this perhaps the first sign-breaking in martial arts history?) and proceeds to school everyone that comes near him. The criminal bosses don’t like being fucked with though, so they plot an ambush for Ti Lung and violently murder him. This is roughly the opening fifteen minutes, and already we’ve had a finale quality fight scene. Where does Chang Cheh take it from here?

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Heads for Sale (1970)

Heads for Sale [女俠賣人頭] (1970)

Starring Lisa Chiao Chiao, Chan Leung, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Chen Yan-Yan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Cheng Lui, Chan Sing, Tung Li, Chai No, Hung Lau, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Low, despite a great title.


Heads for Sale opens with a song. This is not generally a good sign, and it immediately made me think this would be a throwback film to the early days of the genre when it was all pageantry and colorful music numbers. Thankfully, this is not the case, but the film suffers horribly from disorganized storytelling and a cast of characters so large and broad that it becomes tedious to keep up with everyone. Just when you think they’ve thrown everything they can at you, Heads for Sale introduces four new villains about 12 minutes before the film ends. And these aren’t villains that the film has been alluding to throughout like ominous string-pullers lurking in the dark, they’re just four brothers looking for vengeance on two of their brothers killed earlier in the film. It’s never clear who their brothers are either, but I’m going to assume they were the two guys beheaded about halfway through the movie. So yeah, the storytelling isn’t as strong as it could be.

In any case, the story begins with Hua Bilian (Lisa Chiao Chiao) waiting patiently for word that Luo Hongxun (Chan Leung) will accept her hand in marriage. The thing is: Hua’s father has a bad reputation as a bandit, so no one wishes to marry Hua. When an emissary arrives with the bad news, Hua flips out, suits up and heads over to Luo’s home to settle the score. A woman scorned, and all that. What she’s not aware of is that Luo actually cares deeply for her, it’s his mother that said no and sent the emissary away empty-handed. Cue some misunderstandings, followed by a bunch of fights and you’ve pretty much got an idea of what Heads for Sale is all about.

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The Wandering Swordsman (1970)

The Wandering Swordsman [遊俠兒] (1970)

Starring David Chiang, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Lui, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wu Ma, Chan Sing, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Bolo Yeung-Tze, Tung Li, Nam Wai-Lit, Tung Choi-Bo

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. After Have Sword, Will Travel this one should be pretty good.


After the wonderful and brilliant Have Sword, Will Travel, Chang Cheh made this film, but instead of using the fearsome duo of budding stars Ti Ling and David Chiang, he decided to make this one Chiang’s first starring role. Who knows what Ti Lung was off doing (his only films from 1970 are the ones that came after this and featured both Ti and Chiang), but regardless The Wandering Swordsman is an average, and fairly clichéd genre effort from the master Chang Cheh. I’d definitely rather see a somewhat lackluster effort from Chang than one from another director though, so The Wandering Swordsman does manage to entertain for the most part.

The film opens with David Chiang cleverly spying on two bandits. He plays with them from the grass, making them question if they’re alone. He’s so good that they don’t know he’s there, which he clearly gets off on. When the moment is right, Chiang strikes and takes the gold the men stole, in order to, y’know, give it to the poor. We got ourselves a regular Robin ‘ood! The first half continues along in this playful manner, but then it ditches the Robin Hood storyline for a more traditional wuxia “bandits vs. security company transporting treasure” story. It’s just that here David Chiang as Wandering Swordsman (Yes, that’s his name in the movie) gets caught up in the middle by being absolutely fucking stupid.

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Have Sword, Will Travel (1969)

Have Sword Will Travel [保鏢] (1969)
AKA The Bodyguard

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, David Chiang, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching Ho, Ku Feng, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Chan Sing, Wong Chung, Cheng Lui, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high? The first martial arts film by Chang Cheh with Ti Lung and David Chang? This should be spectacular.


Oh man, this one might be a long one. I think I took more notes for this one than I ever have for any previous review. Have Sword, Will Travel is the first martial arts film to feature the duo of Ti Lung and David Chiang, and boy what a film to kick off their wuxia careers. Chang Cheh’s previous martial arts film was The Invincible Fist, and while this film doesn’t quite reach those heights, it comes damn close.

Written by noted martial arts scribe Ni Kuang (who had previously written The One-Armed Swordsman and The Invincible Fist for Chang Cheh), Have Sword, Will Travel is yet another example of the man’s stunning writing ability. No one looks to this genre for quality writing (in fact, most people regularly lambaste it for its shitty writing), but they clearly haven’t experienced a great Ni Kuang script.

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The Invincible Fist (1969)

The Invincible Fist [鐵手無情] (1969)

Starring Lo Lieh, Li Ching, David Chiang, Fang Mian, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Wu Ma, Cheng Lui, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Lau Gong, Chui Chung-Hok

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate. Chang Cheh is always fun.


In Chang Cheh’s memoir he talks a lot about the period of creative soul-searching that was 1969. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, he became fed up with straight wuxia films after Golden Swallow and wanted to find himself a new niche that would excite creatively. He had tried a contemporary picture, The Singing Thief, which I enjoyed immensely but is generally looked down upon by most reviewers and even Chang himself. He tried to subvert the wuxia genre by focusing on an anti-hero in The Flying Dagger. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed that film, but Chang felt it to be a disaster. He tried an over-the-top action sequel in Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, which was incredibly successful, but Chang writes it off as a mere variation on a theme in his memoir. The Invincible Fist, though, he expressed a love for, and a sadness that the box office didn’t reflect the quality of the film he produced. Looking back at the many Chang Cheh films released in 1969, The Invincible Fist is by far the best made of the bunch, and definitely worthy of your time and praise. I’d never even heard of this movie until I embarked on this review series, and that’s a crying shame for a film this good.

Again Chang Cheh seeks to do something different within the wuxia swordplay genre with The Invincible Fist, but it’s not the hand-to-hand fighting you might expect from a title such as The Invincible Fist. Instead, the figurative invincible fist refers to our main character, a bounty hunter played by Lo Lieh, on the trail of a skilled team of bandits. Lo commands a small group of his own (with his brother played by none other than David Chiang in his first major role), but it’s really all about Lo Lieh and his incredible skills as both a martial performer and an actor. He plays the hard-nosed, detective-like character with a badass calm that’s both impressive and chilling. He’s no one to fuck around with, striking fear and admiration in the hearts of all that pass his way.

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