Magnificent Wanderers (1977)

Magnificent Wanderers [江湖漢子] (1977)
AKA Magnificent Kung Fu Warriors

Starring David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Li Yi-Min, Shan Mao, Yeung Chung-Man, Lee Ying, Lam Fai-Wong, Han Chiang, Wong Cheong-Chi, Yu Heng, Cho Boot-Lam, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lu Feng

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Moderate.


Ever the innovator, Chang Cheh’s final film under the Chang’s Co. banner was new ground for the director. Magnificent Wanderers brings together “Chang Cheh” and “comedy,” two concepts that seemingly couldn’t be further apart. I love a good kung fu comedy, but I never imagined Chang Cheh would throw his hat into that ring. Nothing about Chang’s films suggests he had any interest in making a comedy, in fact, the kung fu comedies that arose from this era seem like a specific reaction to the ultra-seriousness of Chang Cheh’s genre-defining work. I don’t know what compelled him to attempt a comedy, but judging from Magnificent Wanderers I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t a great fit.

Lin Shao You (Fu Sheng), Shi Da Yong (Chi Kuan-Chun), and Guan Fei (Li Yi-Min) are three poor nomads who make a living by hustling with a rigged fortune-telling stand. After a successful day, Lin suggests they all visit a real restaurant for once. They are stopped before they can sit down, but the well-known millionaire, Chu Tie Xia (David Chiang), claims they are his friends and invites them to dine with him. So begins a friendship upon which the rest of the film is built. There isn’t really much of a plot to the film; it’s more about the general struggle between our heroes (who are attempting to meet up with the rebellion) and the Mongols. This doesn’t accurately represent the movie that well, though, as the tone is always lighthearted and jovial. It’s a comedic struggle with bungling, farcical Mongol villains.

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The Naval Commandos (1977)

The Naval Commandos [海軍突擊隊] (1977)

Starring Lau Wing, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Shih Szu, Ti Lung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lu Feng, An Ping, Woo Kei, Shan Mao, Lee Sau-Kei, Chu Jing, Kwok San-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, David Tang Wei

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Pao Hsueh-Li, Wu Ma, and Liu Wei-Bin)

Expectations: Pretty high.


The Naval Commandos was one of the last movies Chang Cheh made in Taiwan before returning to the Shaw studio in Hong Kong. It was produced in cooperation with Taiwan’s Central Film Company, and like 7-Man Army, the Taiwanese military assisted with the filming by providing vehicles and other tools of war to make the film realistic. This is evident throughout the film, but it is the most prominent during the film’s introduction and frame story. It depicts a training exercise simulating the many pieces involved in a successful beachfront invasion (similar to the D-Day invasion shown in Saving Private Ryan or The Big Red One). It works beautifully to set the stage for the wartime action drama to follow, as well as serving as a large-scale display of power for the Taiwanese military.

This introduction is great, and it perfectly frames the film, but the film’s primary story is far more interesting. Many years prior during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the Chinese Navy was less advanced, the Japanese cruiser Izumo (referenced as Izuma in the subtitles) was docked in Japanese-controlled Shanghai in preparation for further attack on China. The Chinese Navy had nothing that could stand up to the Izumo in direct battle, so it is decided that a small group of men aboard a torpedo boat will try to perform a sneak attack disguised as a fishing boat. Getting there is not so easy, though, as there is a huge field of mines to be crossed and Japanese patrols to elude. It is a valiant plan in theory, but unfortunately it is derailed before it even has a chance of success. The men arrive in Shanghai, undeterred and focused on finding a new method of sinking the Izumo.

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7-Man Army (1976)

7-Man Army [八道樓子] (1976)
AKA Seven Man Army

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Li Yi-Min, Chi Kuan-Chun, Pai Ying, Ting Wa-Chung, Leung Kar-Yan, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Miao Tian, Fung Ngai, Chen Ming-Li, Wang Ching-Ping

Directed by Chang Cheh (with co-directors Hsiung Ting-Wu & Wu Ma)

Expectations: Moderate.


As I mentioned in my review of Boxer Rebellion, Chang Cheh had become tired of making so many Shaolin movies in a row that he sought something fresh to sink his teeth into. He decided on the war film, a genre you don’t see a lot in Hong Kong film. Boxer Rebellion was shot second but released first, and it’s an atypical war picture that focuses on the boxers who believed themselves invulnerable to the foreigners’ guns. 7-Man Army is more a traditional war film that is an opposite in ways to Boxer Rebellion. 7-Man Army is about a small group of men who know exactly how fragile their lives are, but in the defense of their country they have no choice but to continue fighting.

7-Man Army tells a true story set a couple of years after the Mukden Incident, in which the Japanese staged a bombing to facilitate an invasion of China. The events depicted in the film were during the 1933 Defense of the Great Wall, specifically around the Gubeikou area. After a battle, the Chinese took back this section of the Great Wall, but seven men were all that remained of the Chinese forces. Cut off from all communication to their reinforcements, the men dug in and withstood multiple assaults on their position. These brave men were commemorated with a monument on the site of their burial, which can be visited via the Gubeikou Great Wall Kangzhan Memorial Hall (see #3 on the on-site map). There is also a monument on Kinmen Island, off the coast of Taiwan, called the Badu Tower. It’s also worth noting that the film’s Chinese title (and Wikipedia entry) cites the location as being the Badaling region, roughly 65 miles southwest of Gubeikou. In any case, Chang Cheh is once again fictionalizing a part of Chinese history for the masses, and 7-Man Army is quite successful in this task (despite what Chang says about the film being an artistic failure in his memoir).

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Marco Polo (1975)

Marco Polo [馬哥波羅] (1975)
AKA The Four Assassins

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Richard Harrison, Shih Szu, Lo Dik, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Leung Kar-Yan, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Li Tong-Chun, Carter Wong, Tang Tak-Cheung, Ting Wa-Chung, Chang I-Fei, Lee Ying, Chan Wai-Lau, Han Chiang

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. New Chang Cheh always gets me excited.


It’s fair to assume that a film titled Marco Polo would be centered around Marco Polo, the trader who became a trusted advisor to Kublai Khan, the Mongol leader who completed the conquest of the Song Dynasty and established the Yuan Dynasty. In Chang Cheh’s film, though, Polo is merely a small component. He is at the heart of the plot, but he honestly doesn’t do much more than glare at some people now and then. This really bothered me, and I spent a good portion of the movie trying to understand why the film might be titled after a character who does so little. I eventually came to a conclusion (which I’ll get around to), but it’s one that will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. At this juncture, I’d call it an uncharacteristically weak film for Chang Cheh, which is to say that I liked it a lot instead of flat-out loving it. 🙂

Upon returning from a three-year mission, Marco Polo presents a report of his travels to Kublai Khan. Meanwhile, a pair of Chinese rebels make their way into the court and attempt to assassinate the Khan. One is killed, and the other, Zu Jianmin (Carter Wong), manages to escape. Since he is injured and cannot move too quickly, the Khan asks Marco Polo and his three personal bodyguards (Gordon Liu, Leung Kar-Yan & Johnny Wang Lung-Wei) to kill Zu and his allies when he reaches his home. This proves to be a bit harder than anticipated, as Zu’s four sworn brothers (Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan & Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung) escape and begin harsh training to improve their martial arts skills.

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Disciples of Shaolin (1975)

Disciples of Shaolin [洪拳小子] (1975)
AKA The Invincible One, The Hung Boxing Kid

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chen Ming-Li, Wang Ching-Ping, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Han Chiang, Fan Sau-Yee, Hui Lap, Cheung Siu-Kwan

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.


Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films are among my favorite productions in the entire Shaw Brothers catalog, so whenever I see a new one I get extraordinarily excited about it. Disciples of Shaolin did not disappoint, although it is far more subtle in its greatness than I expected. It’s a great martial arts picture, but more importantly it is primarily a character-driven drama. As such, it’s one of Chang Cheh’s most nuanced and focused films. Especially at this time in his career, Chang made a lot of films that were large-scale and wide-reaching. Even his explorations into modern romance and delinquency never felt quite as tightly focused on a single character as Disciples of Shaolin focuses on Fu Sheng’s character, Guan Feng Yi.

Guan arrives in town in search of his brother, Wang Hon (Chi Kuan-Chun). Wang works at the local textile mill, dutifully operating one of the weaving machines. Guan is a poor man, but he’s a happy-go-lucky guy regardless (as you’d expect with Alexander Fu Sheng). Wang is his polar opposite, living life with a strict sense of duty and responsibility. On the way in to see Wang, Guan couldn’t help but notice the poor quality of kung fu being taught to the employees, so when he asks Wang to get him a job at the mill, his first suggestion is to take over teaching kung fu. To this notion Wang flatly refuses, advising Guan that it would be prudent to hide his abilities. Wang does not elaborate on his reasoning, but his stern face communicates the grave nature of his request.

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The Young Rebel (1975)

The Young Rebel [後生] (1975)
AKA The Rebel Youth

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chiang Nan, Lin Jing, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Lo Dik, Lee Hoi-Sang, Eddy Ko Hung, Chiang Tao, Fung Ngai, Wan Man, Ming Ming, Tino Wong Cheung, Cheung Chok-Chow

Directed by Ti Lung

Expectations: Moderate. Ti Lung’s other film was pretty enjoyable.


The Young Rebel is yet another film within the delinquent youth sub-genre popular with Chang Cheh. Here it is Ti Lung behind the camera, though, and while the results aren’t up to Chang levels, The Young Rebel is without a doubt a more successful and sophisticated film than Young Lovers on Flying Wheels (Ti Lung’s directorial debut). It shows a lot of artistic promise and ingenuity, and it makes me a bit sad to think that Ti didn’t continue this line of his career. I suppose if he had that also means he might have stepped back from acting some, and since he still had so many iconic films to come, it probably all worked out for the best. In any case, I enjoyed The Young Rebel a lot, and I think it’s definitely worth the time of any Shaw fan.

The film begins on a curious, dour note with Xiang Rong (David Chiang) and Gen Lai (Ti Lung) riding in the back of a car. Xiang asks Gen if he remembers the time when his father was run over by the truck and Xiang didn’t cry. That’s not the kind of thing someone forgets, and this sends us back in time to that fateful moment. With Xiang’s father dead, Xiang is now the man of the house and responsible for the care of his aging mother and young sister. Xiang is still a young man himself, hardly ready for this level of responsibility. His good friend Gen Lai helps him to get a job as a bicycle delivery man at a local market.

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Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

fiveshaolinmasters_1Five Shaolin Masters [少林五祖] (1974)
AKA Five Masters of Death

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Mang Fei, Leung Kar-Yan, Fung Hak-On, Tsai Hung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Chiang Tao, Li Chen-Piao, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Lo Dik, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: The highest. Chang’s Shaolin Cycle is dope.

threehalfstar


Like Heroes Two and Men from the Monastery, Five Shaolin Masters tells a tale about refugees from the burning of the Shaolin Temple. Hung Hsi-Kuan and Fong Sai-Yuk ended up in Kwangtung in the south of China, but the heroes of Five Shaolin Masters fled north to Central China. Structurally, the film also takes a page from Shaolin Martial Arts in that our five heroes must train tirelessly to defeat seemingly invincible enemies. And like this suggests, Five Shaolin Masters ends up feeling like a blended version of all of Chang Cheh’s previous Shaolin Cycle films.

Due to this repetition of themes and structure, Five Shaolin Masters does not reach the heights of either Heroes Two or Shaolin Martial Arts, though it does come close thanks to power of the action. The complexity and dynamism of the choreography by Lau Kar-Leung and his brother Lau Kar-Wing bring the film’s relentless action to brilliant life, culminating in the five stunning, concurrent fights that make up the film’s finale. This is pure martial bliss, and I can’t imagine a martial arts film fan not getting a huge jolt of enthusiasm from this lengthy section of the film, if not the whole thing.

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