The Sentimental Swordsman (1977)

The Sentimental Swordsman [多情劍客無情劍] (1977)
AKA Sword of Emotion

Starring Ti Lung, Ching Li, Derek Yee, Yueh Hua, Candice Yu On-On, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ngaai Fei, Yuen Wah, Ku Wen-Chung, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Shen, Wang Sha, Shum Lo, Lee Sau-Kei, Fung Hak-On, Alan Chui Chung-San, Chiang Nan

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Been looking forward to this one for a while.


Partway through The Sentimental Swordsman, I thought about how it was Chor Yuen’s fourth film of 1977 (of five total). To craft one film of lasting appeal in a single year is a commendable feat, but to make at least four of them is truly incredible. I’ve written similar things about the high standards and prolific genius of Chang Cheh, but not until encountering this period of Chor Yuen’s output has any director come close to replicating Chang’s feat. The Sentimental Swordsman isn’t my favorite of Chor’s 1977 films — that honor still rests with Clans of Intrigue — but I do feel it’s the most well-crafted of the group, with Jade Tiger a close runner-up. They’re all made with a similarly high level of quality, though, allowing fans to endlessly debate which wuxia should be crowned leader of the Chor Yuen martial world.

The film opens with our hero, Li Xunhuan (Ti Lung), traveling by horseback across the snow-covered landscape, accompanied by his trusty servant Chuan Jia (Fan Mei-Sheng). They have lived peacefully outside the martial world for the past 10 years, but are returning upon hearing the Plum Blossom Bandit is back to his old tricks. Things get interesting when Li meets Ah Fei (Derek Yee), a wandering swordsman, and the two strike up a fast friendship. While these new friends dine at an inn, the feared swordsman duo of Black Snake (Alan Chui Chung-San) and White Snake (Fung Hak-On) attempt to rob another set of diners: a security bureau entourage transporting the Gold Threaded Vest, an item promising immunity from the Plum Blossom Bandit’s deadly darts. Ah Fei thwarts them and takes the vest, sending the martial world into a frenzy to identify the Plum Blossom Bandit and recover the vest.

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The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977)

The Iron-Fisted Monk [三德和尚與舂米六] (1977)
AKA Iron Fisted Monk, San Te & Chong Mi-Liu

Starring Sammo Hung, Chan Sing, James Tin Jun, Lo Hoi-Pang, Chu Ching, Wang Hsieh, Fung Hak-On, Yeung Wai, Dean Shek Tin, Yen Shi-Kwan, Wu Ma, Casanova Wong, Eric Tsang, Chin Yuet-Sang, Chung Fat, Chiu Hung, Fung Fung, Lam Ching-Ying

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to see this again.


Sammo Hung left the Shaw Brothers studio in the early 1970s to help kick-start Golden Harvest as an actor, stuntman, and action choreographer. Golden Harvest kept him very busy in the years leading to The Iron-Fisted Monk, giving him ample opportunity to hone his new skills and develop new ones simultaneously. I don’t know if Sammo finally felt he was up to the task of directing his own film in 1977, or if Golden Harvest finally relented to his requests, but the finished film demonstrates that Sammo was definitely ready to add a new feather to his cap. I first saw this film a few years ago when I watched my way through Sammo’s entire directorial filmography; at the time I thought it was a pretty good debut, but not especially great. At some level, I still agree with myself, but watching the film within the context of its Shaw contemporaries reveals it to be a more impressive movie than it initially appeared.

Chong Mi-Liu (Sammo Hung) is a mischievous student at the Shaolin Temple. He began studying there after Manchu thugs bullied his uncle and killed him. Chong was unable to fight them off, but thankfully the revered Shaolin monk San Te (Chan Sing) — the same character that Gordon Liu plays in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin — takes control of the situation and shows the thugs the power of Shaolin training. Chong is like many heroes out for revenge, though, and waiting for the completion of his training is just not an option. Chong remembers how Hu Hui-Chien — the folk hero Chi Kuan-Chun plays in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films — left Shaolin early, so he decides to do the same. For those keeping track of Shaolin lore, according to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin San Te was the monk who trained Hung Hsi-Kuan, so this and Chong’s knowledge of Hu would place this film sometime after the majority of the Shaw Brothers Shaolin films. The Chinese title of The Iron-Fisted Monk is a lot like those Shaw films, as well, simply stating the characters names: San Te & Chong Mi-Liu. Any disappointment about there not being an iron-fisted monk can be attributed to yet another misleading English title. Apparently, both characters are Chinese folk heroes (the original trailer states as much), but I couldn’t find any specific info on Chong.

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Deadly Angels (1977)

Deadly Angels [俏探女嬌娃] (1977)
AKA Bod Squad, Women Detectives

Starring Lau Wing, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Siu Yam-Yam, Evelyn Kraft, Dana, James Nam Gung-Fan, Kim Jeong-Nan, Shut Chung-Tin, Si Wai, Cheng Miu, Lee Hoi-Sang, Chin Chun, Gam Biu, Fung Hak-On, Chan Shen, Wu Ma

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but part of that is the print quality.


In 1980s Hong Kong cinema, the “Girls with Guns” sub-genre of action was very popular. I’ve seen Deadly Angels referred to as the progenitor of the genre, and perhaps that was the case, but there were definitely similar films made prior to this (1974’s Virgins of the Seven Seas is the one that immediately comes to mind). The film’s success is also up for debate, as the Movieworld box office site lists it as the top Hong Kong film of the year, while the HK Urban Council’s 1984 book A Study of Hong Kong Cinema in the Seventies (1970-1979) doesn’t show it at all in their Top 10 Box Office listing. I have previously found slight discrepancies with Movieworld’s site, and the film’s seven-day run would correspond more accurately with a less successful film, so I’m leaning heavily towards the HK Urban Council. Whether it was successful or not, Deadly Angels has fallen into obscurity and is only available in low-quality VHS prints. I’m sure the film would play better in its original language, remastered and in its intended ratio, but the film was a co-production with the South Korean company Woosung Productions, and if I’m not mistaken Celestial hasn’t remastered any of Shaw’s major co-productions (due to licensing issues, I’m guessing).

Deadly Angels opens with a woman walking into a darkened room. A man asks, “Did you bring the stuff from Hong Kong?” She answers to the affirmative, the man walks out of the shadows and violently rips off her bra. Small packets containing diamonds are ripped out of the bra’s lining, and before the woman can leave the room, a throwing knife plunges into her neck. To combat such a violent and ruthless criminal organization, the police must come up with something special. The gang only uses showgirls to smuggle their stolen diamonds out of the country, so the team must be composed of beautiful women. Good thing the Hong Kong police has Evelyn Kraft on its force, as she has assembled a “special action squad” of three foxy females ready to take on organized crime. I didn’t catch their character names, but they are played by Nancy Yen Nan-See, Siu Yam-Yam, and Dana. Each one carries a unique weapon in addition to their firearm and martial arts expertise: a small spiked ball on a long chain, a mini-crossbow, and a slingshot disguised as a hair tie (with explosive-shot earrings)! All this adds up to a James Bond meets Charlie’s Angels meets the Shaw studio sort of thing, and it’s pretty darn entertaining at its heights.

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Challenge of the Masters (1976)

Challenge of the Masters [陸阿采與黃飛鴻] (1976)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Kong Yeung, Lau Kar-Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Kar-Wing, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Chiang Tao, Wong Yu, Fung Hak-On, Wilson Tong, Shut Chung-Tin, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: High. I love this one.


Challenge of the Masters tells the story of a young, headstrong Wong Fei-Hung (Gordon Liu). His father, Wong Kei-Ying (Kong Yeung), refuses to teach him martial arts, but that doesn’t stop Fei-Hung from attempting to learn and cajole his father’s students into accepting him as one of their own. His father believes him to be too undisciplined and temperamental to be a true practitioner of the martial arts, and true to form Fei-Hung’s headstrong nature gets him into trouble often. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if they kept it within the walls of their home, but Fei-Hung refuses to listen to reason and sneaks into the town’s annual competition between kung fu schools.

Lau Kar-Leung slowly builds the character of Wong Fei-Hung during this early phase of the film, as well as building up the martial world that surrounds him. Fei-Hung’s father is a teacher, but he is largely uninterested in the petty struggles between schools. He spends his days at home, living a quiet life of kung fu and pleasantries. Kei-Ying’s teacher, Lu Ah Tsai (Chen Kuan-Tai) similarly lives quietly outside the hustle and bustle of the town’s martial politics. They keep to themselves, but for some reason — perhaps old grudges — Master Pang (Shut Chung-Tin) and his school seem determined to undermine and devastate the Wong school at every opportunity. Meanwhile, Officer Yuan (Lau Kar-Wing) has come to town looking for the fugitive Ho Fu (Lau Kar-Leung), who has recently just arrived to visit Pang’s school. These sub-plots are part of Wong’s story of growth, but they also exist outside of it, showing us that the martial world is complicated and ever-moving.

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The Spiritual Boxer (1975)

The Spiritual Boxer [神打] (1975)
AKA Naked Fists of Terror, Fists from the Spirit World

Starring Wong Yu, Lin Chen-Chi, Kong Yeung, Shut Chung-Tin, Fung Hak-On, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ng Hong-Sang, Ngaai Fei, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha Ping, Chan Mei-Hua, Wong Ching-Ho, Keung Hon, Lee Sau-Kei, Shum Lo, Tin Ching, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ti Lung, Wilson Tong, Ho Kei-Cheong

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: High.


The Spiritual Boxer marks the directorial debut of one of the most influential figures in all of martial arts movie history: Lau Kar-Leung. Along with frequent partner Tang Chia, Lau began work at the Shaw studio choreographing Shaw’s first color martial arts film: Temple of the Red Lotus — a job they secured after pioneering Hong Kong’s first wirework in the Great Wall film The Jade Bow. Over the next 10 years, Lau’s collaborations with Chang Cheh resulted in a slew of iconic and lasting martial arts films that defined the genre. Lau’s goal throughout his film work was to bring more true-to-life representations of martial arts to the screen, and this ambition eventually led to Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle of films. These films represented the closest Lau had come to realizing his dreams, and his strong, definite ideas led to a falling out with Chang Cheh during the filming of Disciples of Shaolin (though I’ve also seen it cited as being during Marco Polo, which Lau is not credited on). Producer Mona Fong then invited Lau Kar-Leung to return from Chang’s Film Co. in Taiwan to direct a movie of his own at the Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong. Obviously, he took the offer and The Spiritual Boxer was the result.

The film begins near the end of the Qing dynasty with an intro showcasing the history of the “spiritual boxer,” a martial artist who could become invincible to all weapons after being infused with spirits of legend. Chen Kuan-Tai and Ti Lung make wonderful cameos as the spiritual boxers showing off their skills to the Empress Dowager Cixi, but the film isn’t about them, or this time, or even a spiritual boxer of the same ilk; it’s actually about a young apprentice, Hsiao Chien (Wong Yu), who travels the land with Master Chi Keung (Kong Yeung) performing spiritual boxing rituals. What their audiences don’t know is that they are just performers trying to earn a living from the reputation of the spiritual boxers, and when this trickery doesn’t go as planned it leads to much of the film’s conflict & comedy.

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The Fantastic Magic Baby (1975)

The Fantastic Magic Baby [紅孩兒] (1975)

Starring Ting Wa-Chung, Lau Chung-Chun, Chiang Tao, Cheung Chuen-Lai, Woo Gam, Tsai Hung, Fung Hak-On, Ku Kwan, Teng Jue-Jen, Chen I-Ho, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Chao Li-Chuan, Siu Wong-Lung, Lee Lung-Yam, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. Chang Cheh and Journey to the West!


In a career full of intriguing and entertaining films, Chang Cheh’s The Fantastic Magic Baby is one of his most interesting and unique. On the surface, it is an adaptation of a story from the Chinese classic Journey to the West, but it quickly reveals itself to be much more than that. Like Chang’s Shaolin Cycle films, The Fantastic Magic Baby honors and preserves the legacy of a Chinese tradition, showcasing the beautiful movements of the Peking Opera as only a Chang Cheh film could.

For those unfamiliar with Journey to the West, the basics are all present in the film. The Monk Tripitaka (Teng Jue-Jen) is traveling to retrieve sacred Buddhist scriptures from India with his companions Sun Wukong the Monkey King (Lau Chung-Chun), Bajie AKA Pigsy (Chen I-Ho) and Sha Seng AKA Sandy (Yeung Fui-Yuk). Demons and other devious entities catch wind of their travels and seek to imprison them in order to eat the monk’s flesh, which can supposedly prolong their lives 1,000 years. In this particular story, it is Princess Iron Fan (Woo Gam) and the Ox Demon King (Chiang Tao) who desire the monk’s flesh. They send their son Red Boy (Ting Wa-Chung) — the fantastic magic baby of the title — to capture Tripitaka for their pleasure. Red Boy is perfect for the mission because he has recently mastered the Three Types of True Fire, which are so powerful that not even the Monkey King can withstand them.
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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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