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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Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (1980)

halfaloaf_4Half a Loaf of Kung Fu [點止功夫咁簡單] (1980)
AKA Karate Bomber

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Kim Jeong-Nan, Kam Kong, Lee Hoi-Lung, Ma Ju-Lung, Miao Tian, Lam Chiu-Hung, Dean Shek Tin, Julie Lee Chi-Lun, Lee Man-Tai

Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Interested. I remember this one being good.

twohalfstar


Originally shot between Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin and Magnificent Bodyguards, Half a Loaf of Kung Fu was shelved by Lo Wei after screening it and deeming it unfit for public consumption. But a few years later, when Jackie Chan shot to superstardom, Lo Wei didn’t care so much about it not being up to his standards. When it was released, it was a pretty good hit, even outgrossing Jackie Chan’s far superior film from earlier in 1980, The Young Master. But while I can understand the intent of Jackie Chan and Chen Chi-Hwa with the comedy of Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, I’m honestly more on the Lo Wei side than I would’ve thought I’d be prior to re-watching this one for the first time in probably 15 years.

Half a Loaf of Kung Fu is not a traditional kung fu film, it is an active attempt to parody and make light of the stoic seriousness that the genre is generally built upon. It does a fair job of that, but at the same time it’s also fairly subtle in how it does this. The plot points are essentially the same as they are in many other similarly themed films: a highly sought-after treasure (here it’s the Evergreen Jade and the Elixir of Life) is being transported by a security bureau across the country, and every bandit on Hong Kong’s side of the Mississippi is out to claim the treasure for themselves.

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Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin (1978)

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin-2Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin [蛇鶴八步] (1978)
AKA Arts of the Snake & Crane, Shaolin Kung Fu

Starring Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, Kam Kong, Kim Jeong-Nan, Lee Wing-Kwok, Lau Nga-Ying, Miao Tian, Lee Man-Tai, Miu Tak-San, Tung Lam, Wong Gwan, Liu Ping

Directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Moderately high.

On the general scale:
threestar

Just in terms of action:
threehalfstar


Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin opens with an incredible martial arts display by Jackie Chan, first showing off his solo staff work and then battling two staff wielders while armed with a sword and baton. This five-minute intro alone is better than To Kill With Intrigue, but let’s do our best to forget that film and focus on the greatness before us. Jackie’s staff work is incredible, and the mock fight offers up a great way to whet your appetite for the film at hand. These kinds of pure martial arts displays didn’t survive into the modern era of kung fu film (unfortunately), so it’s a real treat to see Jackie strut his stuff so cleanly and without distraction. Even if the film offered up nothing more than this intro, it would still be a notable early Jackie release. I’m not saying anything bad about the overall quality of the Lo Wei period in Jackie’s career (OK, maybe I am), I’m just trying to illustrate just how much I loved the intro.

The film kicks off proper as we fade into the story of eight masters coming together to pool their talents and create the hybrid kung fu style, The Eight Steps of the Snake and the Crane. They entrusted the book of this style and the Badge of the Nine Dragons (an emblem denoting the leader of the entire martial arts community) to their appointed leader, who, after a quick martial arts display and fight, vanishes along with the rest of the eight masters. Dun dun duhhhhh! The martial world is in frenzy mode, and we are introduced to Jackie’s character on the bank of a snowy river, attacked by some ruffians who believe he holds the precious book. Turns out he does have the book, but he quickly dispatches with these petty villains. 10 minutes in, and already two martial arts displays and two fights (and they’re all good). If you’re sensing a pattern emerging, you’re correct… and the hits just keep on comin’.

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Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)

Shaolin-Wooden-Men_bcfa0519Shaolin Wooden Men [少林木人巷] (1976)
AKA 36 Wooden Men, Shaolin Wooden Men …Young Tiger’s Revenge, Shaolin Chamber of Death, Wooden Man

Starring Jackie Chan, Kam Kong, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Chiang Kam, Cheung Bing-Yuk, Miu Tak San, Liu Ping, Li Min-Lang, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Miao Tian, To Wai-Wo

Directed by Lo Wei (per the credits)
Actually directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


I’ve always enjoyed Shaolin Wooden Men. I generally stayed away from most of the early Jackie films during my youth, because I had grown tired of wasting money on sub-standard prints of sub-standard movies. But Shaolin Wooden Men was always one of the good ones to me, and going back to re-watch it was a great experience. I liked it more than ever, and it’s baffling to me that this one doesn’t have a better reputation. But people’s perceptions are what they are, and I won’t try to break down why they didn’t like it, I can only comment on why I did. And really, there’s so much here to like.

Shaolin Wooden Men opens in thrilling fashion featuring five masters of Shaolin sparring with Jackie Chan in a darkened room, lit only by candles. They spar for a good long while, showcasing different animal-style kung fus (and no, that doesn’t mean a messy kung fu with grilled onions, In-N-Out fans), and when Jackie defeats them all he tries his luck with the chamber of the wooden men. There’s just something about these wooden men that makes me smile, but they have the opposite effect on Jackie in this scene. He tries his best, but his best barely gets him past the first couple of wooden men. He is defeated… but then he wakes up! He is but a lowly, mute student of Shaolin, still early in his training. He has far to go before he will reach the chamber of the wooden men.

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