The Thunderbolt Fist (1972)

TheThunderboltFist_2The Thunderbolt Fist [霹靂拳] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Chuen Yuen, James Nam Gung-Fan, Wong Gam-Fung, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Chen Feng-Chen, Gam Kei-Chu, Wong Ching-Ho, Chu Gam, Kam Kong, Gai Yuen, Shum Lo, Hsu Yu, Kong Lung, Chow Yu-Hing, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Stephen Tung Wai

Directed by Chang Il-Ho

Expectations: Moderate, but I’m pumped because I haven’t seen a Shaw film in months.

twohalfstar


Up until the last 20 minutes or so, The Thunderbolt Fist is a fairly boring and average Shaw Brothers film. Since I’m a huge fan, I still had a good time watching it, but this definitely isn’t the film to jump into the Shaw Brothers on. I shake my head once again as to how Shaw films like this find their way to a US DVD release, while legitimate classics are still only available in Hong Kong. Anyway, The Thunderbolt Fist!

Since this isn’t an innovative film, The Thunderbolt Fist is a pretty basic Chinese vs. Japanese tale. It begins with the ridiculously evil Japanese riding into a quiet Chinese town. They assault the townspeople, take over their businesses and strong-arm their way into controlling the supply lines, forcing the Chinese to buy and sell their goods from them. When a lowly picker of ginseng pleads for mercy, the wicked Japanese swordsman chops off his hands in one quick swipe!

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The Imperial Swordsman (1972)

imperialswordsman_1The Imperial Swordsman [大內高手] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Chuen Yuen, Yue Wai, Cheng Miu, Tung Li, Lee Wan-Chung, Tang Ti, Wong Chung-Shun, Liu Wai, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Kam Kong, Woo Wai, Siu Wa, Ma Ying, Tong Tin-Hei

Directed by Lin Fu-Ti

Expectations: High.

threestar


The Imperial Swordsman is a seriously ambitious film, one that reaches so high that it would be almost impossible to achieve what it sets out to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shaws saw this film as something of a test run for more ambitious FX-filled films that would follow in its wake. As such, it showcases some excellent and beautiful model work that helps to broaden the scale of the film immensely, setting the scene with grand fortresses built atop mountain cliffs that tower above deep, flowing rivers.

Set during the Ming Dynasty, the emperor has learned that one of his own is working with the Mongolians in an attempt to invade China and take over the country. To stop this devious plot, the four imperial swordsmen (played by Shu Pei-Pei, Yue Wai, Lee Wan-Chung & Liu Wai) are deployed to recover evidence of the traitor and bring him to justice while he’s traveling. The Chief Imperial Inspector Yin Shu-Tang (Chuen Yuen) has already been working in the area, so they are to join up with him and thwart the traitor (who is hoping to hideout with his bandit buddies in their mountain fortress).

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The Long Chase (1971)

thelongchase_7The Long Chase [俠士行] (1971)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh, Li Ching, Pang Pang, Wang Hsieh, Chiu Hung, Tong Tin-Hei, Law Hon, Chuen Yuen, Lee Siu-Chung, Wong Ching-Ho, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Someno Yukio, Man Lei

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Low.

threehalfstar


The Long Chase offers a different take on the heroic brotherhood stories that populate many other Shaw Brothers films, and it comes as a welcome variation. I don’t know that everyone would be as enthusiastic about this one as I am, but it must have hit me on the right day, as it was start-to-finish entertainment. The film opens at night, as the Prime Minister and his envoy are about to travel through town. Unbeknownst to the guards and their leader (Lo Lieh), a sneaky swordsman dressed all in black sneaks around the town in order to assassinate the Prime Minister. He crawls through ditches in seemingly plain sight of the guards, but I guess his movements were so good that they were imperceptible to the guards. That, or guards are just woefully incompetent in films. Probably that.

As a side note, these ditches that the assassin (Yueh Hua) crawls through are most likely the ditches dug in the sets for the cameras to capture low angles of the streets and whatever action is occurring on them. After so many of these films, the sets become fairly familiar and it seems as if I’ve seen every angle and viewpoint, so it’s always nice to see a new piece, especially one with a technical background such as this.

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The Duel (1971)

theduel_posterThe Duel [大決鬥] (1971)
AKA Duel of the Iron Fists, Duel of the Iron Fist, Duel of the Shaolin Fist

Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Yue Wai, Wang Ping, Chuen Yuen, Ku Feng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yeung Chi Hing, Hung Lau, Wong Ching Ho, Hoh Ban, Lee Wan Chung, Wang Kuang-Yu, Lau Gong, Chiu Hung, Yau Ming

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

fourstar


The Duel is an incredible martial arts motion picture. It might not be the type of movie that will convince non-martial arts fans of the greatness of the genre, but it will definitely delight and entertain those already in love. The Duel features so much flat-out awesome action, while also telling a very succinct and morally charged revenge tale, it’s truly one of Chang Cheh’s best films. I’m tempted to say that The New One-Armed Swordsman is a better movie, but The Duel is clearly the more awesome of the two. There is never a dull moment in The Duel, and whenever you think there might be, a whole host of henchmen sneak around the corner and assault our heroes. It’s simply a joy to behold.

The basic story of The Duel is centered around a family. When the patriarch is murdered in a public place, the elder brothers send younger brother Ren Jie (Ti Lung) away so that he can take the fall for the crime. He vows to find the killer when he returns, but before his time away is up a bunch of henchmen show up to murder him. The funny thing is: he recognizes their leader as one of his family members. This sets Ren Jie on a path of retribution, uncovering a thick web of intrigue and betrayal. Also along for the ride is The Rambler (David Chiang), a hired fighter that helped Ren Jie’s family take out a rival family during the film’s incredible opening sequence.

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The Lady Hermit (1971)

TheLadyHermit+1971-118-bThe Lady Hermit [鍾馗娘子] (1971)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Shih Szu, Lo Lieh, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Chiu Hung, Chuen Yuen, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Siu-Chung, Law Hon, Woo Ka-Kei, Siu Wa

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m hoping this is a Cheng Pei Pei/Ho Meng-Hua collaboration to remember.

threestar


Ho Meng-Hua made many films with Cheng Pei Pei, always to entertaining, if somewhat less-than-stellar, results. With The Lady Hermit, both talents turn on their A-Game and deliver a film that’s actually worthy of the star’s wonderful charisma. The Lady Hermit is easily one of Cheng Pei Pei’s best films, and although it wasn’t entirely my cup of tea, it contains a lot of fun and martial intrigue.

Cheng Pei Pei plays the titular character, who’s doing her best to stay out of the limelight. But when a young, ambitious girl (Shih Szu, in her first film) comes to town proclaiming that she will find the Lady Hermit and become her student, it begins a chain of events that eventually leads to Cheng Pei Pei being outed from her cushy hiding spot. Such is the martial world. Add in a bit of a love triangle between Cheng, Shih and Lo Lieh, and all the pieces are in place. There is of course a villain as well, but in this film the focus is more on the three heroes than any villain shenanigans (but there’s still that too, villain shenanigans fans).

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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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The Golden Knight (1970)

The Golden Knight [金衣大俠] (1970)
AKA Nine Golden Knights

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, Kao Yuen, Fan Mei-Sheng, Shu Pei-Pei, Hung Lau, Cheng Miu, Ku Feng, Wong Ching Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Cheung Chok Chow, Wang Hsieh, Lee Siu-Chung, Chuen Yuen, Yeung Yip-Wang, Hsu Yu

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng

Expectations: High, been waiting for the next Yueh Feng movie for what seems like forever.


The Golden Knight is the perfect example of a martial arts film that would have been great if it had been made a few years later. If that were the case, the boring fights would’ve been exciting, and the great backstory about stolen kung fu manuals and murdered masters would’ve delivered something truly spectacular. To be fair, there’s a good number of films from this era that do just that though, so The Golden Knight doesn’t really have an excuse. I guess I’ll just chalk it up to Griffin Yueh Feng looking to make more of a throwback, story-focused wuxia film while incorporating some elements of the newly rising kung fu genre.

The Golden Knight is not really about a golden knight as you might expect. It’s about Yu Fei Xia, an orphaned swordswoman accused of murdering members of the Golden Knight organization to get revenge for her father’s murder. She’s under the impression that the clan leaders all got together and murdered her dad, but there’s definitely more than meets the eye in this twisting, overly complicated story. Along the way to the truth she meets up with one of the golden knights (Kao Yuen) who believes her story and tries to help her.

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