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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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 Winged Tiger (1970)

The Winged Tiger [插翅虎] (1970)

Starring Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Angela Yu Chien, Annette Sam Yuet-Ming, Fang Mian, Ngai Ping-Ngo, David Chiang, Law Hon, Tong Tin-Hei, Cheng Lui, Wong Tat-Wah, Cheng Miu, Yip Bo-Kam, Yeung Chak-Lam

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderate. I’m interested to see Chen Hung Lieh in a good guy role.


If you told me that five years after the genesis of the traditional martial arts genre with Temple of the Red Lotus that film’s screenwriter would finally get a chance at both writing and directing, I would have guessed it would be something of a train wreck. Looking at Shen Chiang’s previous scripts, they range from OK (The Thundering Sword) to a little better than OK (The Silver Fox). So imagine my surprise when I sat down with The Winged Tiger and found myself fully immersed in a world of martial intrigue and wuxia heroics. The Winged Tiger is a great film, and one that is sure to excite genre fans.

There are two martial arts manuals that together contain the power to create an unstoppable martial artist. The chiefs of the major clans have gotten together and decided that they must be stolen and destroyed, as one of them is in the hands of the King of Hades (Tien Feng), while the other resides with the Winged Tiger. As you might guess from his name, he dresses in bright orange and black clothes and can fly because his costume has underarm wings that recall visions of flying squirrels. Anyway, the clan chiefs ask the Flying Hero (Chen Hung Lieh in his first hero role) to get the manuals back at all costs (including tricking the King of Hades into thinking he’s the true Winged Tiger) to avert a major martial crisis.

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Dead End (1969)

Dead End [死角] (1969)

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, David Chiang, Chen Hung Lieh, Angela Yu Chien, Chen Yan-Yan, Goo Man-Chung, Fang Mian, Guo Hui-Juan, Cheng Miu, Poon Oi-Lun, Yip Bo-Kam

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. I’m excited to see this one. Looks great.


For Chang Cheh’s fifth 1969 release (out of six), he decided to take another crack at a contemporary setting. Unlike the playful nature of The Singing Thief though, Dead End is a depressing, meandering take on the French New Wave style of film about troubled youths. It’s not a style you’d initially think of Chang Cheh tackling, but his solid track record should be enough to get asses in seats. Looking back on this film from the future, it also has the added distinction of being the first starring role for Hong Kong legend Ti Lung, as well as the first film to pair up the on-screen duo of Ti Lung and David Chiang, a team so successful at the box office that they, along with Chang Cheh, were known as the Iron Triangle. I wish I could tell you that this first team-up was something special, but unfortunately, at least for me, it was sorely lacking.

Ti Lung plays a young man employed as a typist by an insurance company. As the opening credits roll, it’s clear he hates his boring job. He turns in an assignment and then sullenly walks to the high-rise window, either taking a quick break to watch the traffic below or to contemplate jumping. It’s never made explicitly clear on purpose, but given the following film, I’d guess that both weren’t far from the truth. Where Ti finds no love in his work, he does enjoy hanging out with his mechanic friend David Chiang, and riding around in their old car affectionately called Old Master. The car is the means by which Ti Lung achieves childlike happiness, and one day it leads them to meet Li Ching, a rich girl stranded on the road next to her broken-down Mercedes-Benz coupe. As any film viewer can tell you, the troubled youth/rich girl romance is destined to end poorly and the tale in Dead End is no different.

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Twin Blades of Doom (1969)

Twin Blades of Doom [陰陽刀] (1969)

Starring Ling Yun, Ching Li, Chen Hung Lieh, Yau Ching, Cheng Lui, Gai Yuen, Cheng Miu, Lam Kau, Fang Mian, Hao Li-Jen, Lau Gong, Hung Lau, Lee Ho

Directed by Doe Ching

Expectations: Moderately high. The name sounds fun.


Just like Smuckers, with a name like Twin Blades of Doom, it has to be good, right? Unfortunately not, as this is one of the most disjointed, boring Shaw Brothers films I’ve seen in a while. It’s not for lack of trying, the film exhibits lots of potential for greatness throughout, but at every turn the filmmakers choose to go in exactly the opposite direction. A lot of what’s wrong with this film can be traced back to its director, one Doe Ching.

Doe was a very successful, award-winning director during the 50s and 60s, specializing in melodrama, comedies and musicals. By the time Twin Blades of Doom was made, those genres had all faded in popularity and the focus of the Shaw Brothers had shifted primarily to the wuxia pian genre of swordplay, revenge and martial struggles. Doe Ching was pressured into making a martial arts film by the Shaws and the result is Twin Blades of Doom. You never want to resign yourself into making a film without any passion behind it, so the lackluster results are understandable. On top of all that, Doe Ching was very ill with stomach cancer and actually had to leave the shoot mid-way through. The film was finished up by Griffin Yueh Feng (a very competent martial arts director), but even he couldn’t salvage the film. If all that wasn’t enough of a downer, Doe Ching died only four months after this film was released, making Twin Blades of Doom his final work.

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Death Valley (1968)

Death Valley [斷魂谷] (1968)

Starring Yueh Hua, Angela Yu Chien, Chen Hung Lieh, Lo Wei, Wong Wai, Chiu Hung, Lee Kwan, Han Ying Chieh, Ng Wai, Cheung Hei, Wong Ching Ho, Lee Sau Kei

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate, I enjoyed the previous Lo Wei film I watched The Black Butterfly.


This one kind of snuck up on me. My thoughts about it kept evolving as I watched, starting at “This is OK,” then moving on to “This is pretty good,” until finally settling on “Hey, this is coming around nicely. Well done, Lo Wei!” And it’s mostly due to the well-developed, enjoyable characters that populate the film. I don’t say that very often with these Shaw Brothers movies and in the grand scheme of things the two main swordsmen characters aren’t very deep, but they are both intriguing and fun to follow around as they move through the adventure. That’s about all you can ask from a genre film character and these two guys (and a whole host of fun supporting characters) really brighten up what is otherwise a rather average movie.

At the plot level, Death Valley is another in a long string of mistaken identity films, with one righteous hero being mistook for one stone-faced bandit and vice versa. The catch here is that prior to the mistaken identity hijinks, the two characters meet and strike up a brotherly friendship. Suddenly as the two men are thrown into situations where they are thought to be the other, they learn about who the other man is and weigh this information against what they experienced firsthand. It makes the proceedings much more interesting than they have a right to be and how well it all works is a credit to the strength of Lo Wei’s storytelling abilities, both behind the camera and with the pen.

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The Black Butterfly (1968)

The Black Butterfly [女俠黑蝴蝶] (1968)

Starring Lisa Chiao Chiao, Yueh Hua, Tien Feng, Yeung Chi Hing, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Lo Wei, Ma Ying, Chen Hung Lieh, Cheung Yuk-Kam, Han Ying Chieh, Fang Mian, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Low, but hopeful, as Lo Wei is a notable director in later martial arts history.


The Black Butterfly is a movie with more potential than actual, quality goods. It starts off as a slight retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale, with the Black Butterfly stealing taels of gold and silver from the rich and then redistributing the wealth to the less fortunate. Some research uncovered that this is also a period remake of the 1965 Chor Yuen film, The Black Rose, but I haven’t seen that so I can’t specifically comment on the differences. Anyway, the entire first hour is concerned with this Hood storyline and frankly it’s pretty ho-hum and boring. Not a whole lot happens, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some interesting elements at work. The film is slick and professional in its direction, with Lo Wei composing beautifully constructed shots and moving the camera around with grace and purpose. Some of these lesser Shaw Brothers movies feel as low-budget & hasty as they probably all were, but The Black Butterfly definitely belongs to the group that transcends that quality and looks like a million bucks. It’s amazing what quality camerawork will do for a film.

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