King Boxer (1972)

KingBoxer_1King Boxer [天下第一拳] (1972)
AKA Five Fingers of Death

Starring Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wong Gam-Fung, Tien Feng, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Yau Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Chiu Hung, Someno Yukio, Yeung Chak-Lam, Hung Sing-Chung, Bolo Yeung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Opening with the sound of an alarm, King Boxer lets you know straight away that it is a film to take notice of. As an advancement of the budding hand-to-hand genre, King Boxer is exactly the film the genre needed at this point in time. It builds on the foundation set by previous films — specifically The Chinese Boxer and Fist of Fury — and takes the genre closer to what it would later become. There’s no secret why this is the film that broke through to America and created a kung fu sensation; it’s an amazingly entertaining and well-made piece of work.

At the heart of the tale is the oft-told story of battling martial arts clans, but in King Boxer it’s the way the story is told that sets it apart. It is both rooted in martial arts traditions and something unique. It takes facets of the traditional kung fu film and orders them in a non-traditional way, resulting in a film that feels familiar, yet is never boring or predictable. It also explores its themes of jealousy, courage and cowardice much more fully than the traditional ’70s martial arts film, making King Boxer fulfilling on multiple levels.

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The Deadly Duo (1971)

TheDeadlyDuo_1The Deadly Duo [雙俠] (1971)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Wong Chung, Chan Sing, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wang Kuang-Yu, Cheng Lui, Chen Feng-Chen, Lau Gong, Yeung Chak-Lam, Bolo Yeung, Wong Pau-Gei, Lau Kar-Wing, Chan Chuen, Yau Lung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high.

threehalfstar


The Deadly Duo is a thrilling martial arts film, but not necessarily for the reasons generally associated with the genre. The fights, always the highlight of any martial arts film, are thrown in almost as an afterthought in The Deadly Duo. There’s a lot of action, but the fights are never the knock-down, drag-out battles fans of the genre come in expecting. And this is kind of weird in a Chang Cheh film, the man known for creating and popularizing the knock-down, drag-out, bloody-as-hell fight scene. But that’s the thing with Chang Cheh, he was always searching for a different way to make what most people would call very similar films. And it is in this slight innovation that the film shines.

The Deadly Duo is the first film in my Shaw Brothers review series to feature a group of fighters based on the five Chinese elements or Wu Xing. They are collectively known as the “Five Elements Great Fighters.” The group consists of River Dragon (Bolo Yeung), Golden Demon, Fire Demon Lui, and… Unfortunately, the wood and earth guys didn’t get cool names of their own in the subtitles, but the HKMDB entry lists them as Leopard and Mole. These five amazing fighters all work for the invading Ching forces, who have kidnapped the Sung Prince Kang. We are told at the beginning of the film that Kang later escaped and went on to become the first emperor of the Southern Sung Dynasty, so the end of our film is already laid out for us.

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Six Assassins (1971)

SixAssassins+1971-1-bSix Assassins [六刺客] (1971)

Starring Ling Yun, Ha Faan, James Nam Gung-Fan, Go Ming, Lily Li Li-Li, Siu Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Chai No, Cheung Ging-Boh, Yau Lung, Yun Il-Bong, Chan Shen, Hung Sing-Chung, Suen Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Fang Mian

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Cheng Chang Ho’s last movie was pretty fun.

threestar


Before I start watching one of these Shaw films that I know nothing about, I will usually watch a few seconds here and there throughout the movie to give myself an idea of what I’m about to sit through. It might seem like an odd practice, but I’ve found that doing this allows me to get a handle on my expectations, allowing me to take in the film without the high hopes that the fun titles might inspire. For Six Assassins it worked beautifully, because when I did this I saw deep, saturated colors and a lot of grand sets and costumes. This instantly reminded me of the Shaw Brothers films from the 1960s, and my expectations for the film plummeted. So when I watched the movie and I found out that it was actually really fun and not like those movies at all, I was even more enthusiastic about watching it than I would’ve been normally.

Six Assassins takes a little while to get going, as it throws a lot of dense storytelling at you immediately after the opening credits. But it boils down to this: the emperor’s brother is a royal asshole. He kills the lord of a peaceful part of the country, hoping to annex the lands and thus control the people who live there. But those people don’t take too kindly to that, so they enlist the help of the famed swordsman Mu Jun-Jie (Ling Yun). Mu drafts a small group of assassins to help him in his goal, and thus the tale of Six Assassins takes its shape.

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King Eagle (1971)

KingEagle+1970-1-bKing Eagle [鷹王] (1971)

Starring Ti Lung, Li Ching, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Cheng Miu, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Chung, Cheng Lui, Lau Gong, Chan Sing, Yau Lung, Lee Sau Kei, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Tung Li, Hung Lau, Tang Chia, Chan Chuen

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m interested to see what Chang Cheh can bring to a wuxia film after his other films.


It’s never a surprise to enjoy a Chang Cheh movie thoroughly, and King Eagle is a great piece of work from the master. It’s definitely minor in his massive filmography, but King Eagle sets itself apart by focusing mostly on its story. Written by the illustrious and always dependable Ni Kuang, King Eagle is a wuxia film that focuses on a growing conflict within the Tien Yi Tong clan, and how a single, wandering swordsman known to the martial world as King Eagle (Ti Lung) is drawn into their business.

The headmaster of the Tien Yi Tong clan is murdered, and the call goes out across the land to assemble the chiefs so that a new headmaster can be named. What most of the chiefs don’t know is that the 1st Chief (Cheung Pooi-Saan) is the one responsible for their master’s death! King Eagle is informed of this by a dying soldier, and even though he has no stake in the matter and he’d rather just go about his own business, the 1st Chief and his minions antagonize him and try their best to kill him because of what he knows.

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The Flying Dagger (1969)

The Flying Dagger [飛刀手] (1969)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Lo Lieh, Yeung Chi Hing, Cheng Lui, Shum Lo, Cheng Miu, Wu Ma, Lam Kau, Chui Chung-Hok, Ku Feng, Yau Ming, Lau Gong, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Yau Lung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate. Chang Cheh, but I’ve never really heard of this one.


Before I get into the review proper, let me just say this: I loved The Flying Dagger. It’s not as good as Chang Cheh’s best stuff, but it’s a lot of fun and well worth your time. In Chang Cheh’s memoir he mentions filming this concurrently with Golden Swallow, so for some unexplained reason The Flying Dagger‘s release was held back until after Chang had filmed and released The Singing Thief & Return of the One-Armed Swordsman. Who’s to say what went down, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is Lo Lieh, and the ridiculous amount of badass he exudes in this film.

The Flying Dagger opens with a beautifully shot black and white intro sequence (which is somewhat reminiscent of Onibaba with all the tall grass), where a young couple are assaulted by a rogue bandit. He kills the man and then rapes and kills the girl, but before he can cleanly make his escape Cheng Pei Pei shows up and annihilates him. What she didn’t know when she killed him was that he was the son of noted evil clan leader Jiao Lei (Yueng Chi Hung), also known as the Flying Dagger because of his amazing prowess with throwing knives. Jiao makes it his personal vendetta to completely wipe out Cheng Pei Pei’s family to avenge his son’s death, because y’know… he’s just evil like that. Along the way, anti-hero Yang Qing (Lo Lieh) gets mixed up in the middle of the two factions, and it’s in his character that the film truly shines.

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The Magnificent Swordsman (1968)

The Magnificent Swordsman [怪侠] (1968)
AKA Vagabond Swordsman

Starring Wong Chung-Shun, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Cheng Miu, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ma Ying, Chiu Hung, Shum Lo, Chai No, Ng Wai, Lee Ka-Ting, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Yau Lung

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Cheng Kang

Expectations: Fairly high. Griffin Yueh Feng delivered a pretty good looking film before in Rape of the Sword.


While many martial arts films are influenced by Sergio Leone’s westerns, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one as deeply indebted to the genre like The Magnificent Swordsman is. The film is a mash-up of the stories from Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, resulting in a more Western-leaning Chinese version of Kurosawa’s Fistful of Dollars remake Yojimbo. Jesus, I need to take a moment after deciphering that one. For the most part it works, but because everything has been done before (and better), The Magnificent Swordsman isn’t as good or exciting as it should be. Don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining and fun to watch, but the lack of originality really hurts this one from being the film it could have been for viewers that have seen the films mentioned. On the other hand, if you haven’t seen those (and why the hell haven’t you?), then you’re likely to get a lot more out of The Magnificent Swordsman than I did.

The direction from Griffin Yueh Feng and Cheng Kang is very good, filling the frame in interesting ways and with intriguing angles. Like Yueh Feng’s previous film Rape of the Sword, it exhibits a very defined style with all the snap zooms and whip pans you’d expect from a Shaw Bros. film. The difference is that I feel Yueh Feng was one of the influential guys in creating what would become that “standard Shaw Bros shooting style” as his films feature it throughout with confidence and passion, while other Shaw films of the era merely flirt with the techniques.

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