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 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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The Valiant Ones (1975)

The Valiant Ones [忠烈圖] (1975)

Starring Pai Ying, Hsu Feng, Roy Chiao, Han Ying-Chieh, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Ng Ming-Choi, Sammo Hung, Hao Li-Jen, Lee Man-Tai, Yuen Biao, Yeung Wai, Lau Kong, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Chiang Nan, Chow Siu-Loi, Chao Lei

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: High. King Hu!


I enter each unseen King Hu film with equal amounts of trepidation and delight. I’ve loved every one of his films that I’ve seen, so I guess I’m worried that the spell will break and I’ll hit one that just doesn’t do it for me. The Valiant Ones is not that film; it’s a stone-cold killer of a movie. It’s a real shame that a film as good as this one is languishing in obscurity, but that’s how it goes. If nothing else, it allows me to dream of a future restored edition that will continue to raise King Hu’s status among fans of world cinema. No matter how low-res and full of video noise the old master is for The Valiant Ones, the power of King Hu’s filmmaking overrides it all to entertain as only he can.

The Valiant Ones tells a story of pirates and the chivalrous knights tasked with stopping their pirating ways. According to the film’s intro, Japanese ronin teamed up with bandits in the 13th Century to create fearsome pirate bands that tormented the land and sea. The Valiant Ones is set in the 16th Century, when the pirates had multiplied to the point that the government lost any kind of control over the regions they inhabit. There have been multiple attempts to eradicate the pirates, but it has always proved unsuccessful. Now a chief of a Southern clan needs to reach the capital and must be escorted through the pirate-infested land. For this task, General Yu Da-You (Roy Chiao) assembles an experienced team who are up to the challenge, including a husband and wife duo (Pai Ying and Hsu Feng) who are lethal and absolutely unstoppable.

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Deaf and Mute Heroine (1971)

Deaf and Mute Heroine [聾啞劍] (1971)

Starring Helen Ma Hoi-Lun, Tang Ching, Shirley Wong Sa-Lee, Wu Ma, Lee Ying, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Yeung Wai, Tang Ti, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Wu Ma

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


Deaf and Mute Heroine is exactly the type of movie I hope for when I delve deep into the obscure and forgotten films of the past. Not only is it an entertaining film, it delivers one of the best wuxia finales of the era. The last 15 or so minutes are non-stop, and stuffed full of incredible, impressive wuxia filmmaking. It all feels so ahead of its time too, at least in terms of the amount of wuxia fantasy that is attempted and realized on-screen.

The film opens with a fight, as the Deaf Mute Heroine defeats a set of bandits and steals their booty of 300 pearls. These pearls set in motion the villains’ desire to hunt down and kill the Deaf Mute Heroine, as well as the other components of the story. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Deaf and Mute Heroine has an actual story! We’re supposed to be content with just knowing that the Deaf Mute Heroine is a force of good in the world, working to thwart these evildoers by stealing their pearls. Anything else, including any backstory on the main character, is to be supplied by your imagination.

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The Hand of Death (1976)

KMJ0246The Hand of Death [少林門] (1976)
AKA Countdown in Kung Fu, Dragon Forever, Strike of Death, Shao Lin Men

Starring Dorian Tan, James Tin Jun, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, John Woo, Chu Ching, Yeung Wai, Wilson Tong, Gam Kei-Chu, Ko Keung

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


From what I could gather, The Hand of Death was actually made well before New Fist of Fury, but for some reason it didn’t get released until after. According to his autobiography, Jackie Chan had made this film and then moved in with his parents in Australia, taking jobs as a construction worker. Months later, he received a telegram asking him to be the lead in New Fist of Fury. His father allowed it on one condition: that Jackie had a two-year time limit to “make it,” or else Chan must come back for good. And two years after New Fist of Fury, Chan had indeed become a star. But not with this film (and also not with Lo Wei), so I’ll hold that story for later!

The story in The Hand of Death is simple, yet multilayered and oddly structured. At the heart of the film is the often-told struggle between the Shaolin Temple and the Manchu. In this version, an evil warlord names Shih Shao Feng controls the region with an iron fist (not a literal one), and his group of eight badass bodyguards. The Shaolin priests know that he is looking to intercept a man named Zhang Yi (John Woo) who holds a map important to the cause, and who must not be allowed to land in enemy hands. So they send Yung Fei (Dorian Tan) to save Zhang Yi and kill Shih Shao Feng. Along the way there’s a number of sidetracks and flashbacks as new characters are introduced, but that’s the gist of it. The way characters were introduced and given ample time felt like a wuxia film to me, while the rest of the film is definitely straight-up kung fu.

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