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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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 Big Fellow (1973)

TheBigFellow_1The Big Fellow [龍虎地頭蛇] (1973)

Starring Charles Heung, Suen Ga-Lam, Chen Ming-Li, Tsai Hung, Cliff Ching Ching, Hsu Tian-De, Leung Fung, Lam Chung, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Ching Kau-Lung, Lee Yung-Wai

Directed by Wu Min-Hsiung

Expectations: None. I guess I expect the fellow to be big, but beyond that…

twostar


1973 was a great year for Hong Kong films, but that’s no thanks to The Big Fellow. It’s not that it’s especially bad, it’s just incredibly generic. There is absolutely no attempt to develop the main character; he is merely a dude that knows kung fu who wants a job. That’s literally all we ever know about this guy! They don’t develop the other people either, but for a main character I thought it was quite a feat to go through 90 minutes and still only know the one thing you learn about the guy in the first minute. To say The Big Fellow isn’t intellectually stimulating is a major understatement. The film exists purely to guide this shapeless character through a series of fights, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a kung fu movie, it’s hard to sit through 90 minutes of that when the choreography is less than stellar.

There is a story here, though, it’s not much of one, but it is present. Basically, our hero gets a job on the docks and he angers the triad guys there, so they frame him for murder. Pretty standard stuff. It also rips off The Big Boss a bit by having a big boss orchestrating everything that must be defeated at the end. The major difference is that the big boss here is present throughout nearly the entire film. The film also seems to be titled after him, but when you plug the film title’s Chinese characters into the always completely accurate Google Translate it comes out as Dragon and Tiger Snakes. I’m gonna guess the English title was mistranslated/specifically changed to emulate The Big Boss.

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