5 Pattern Dragon Claws | aka Thundering Fist (1983) Review

"5 Pattern Dragon Claws" UK DVD Cover

"5 Pattern Dragon Claws" UK DVD Cover

AKA: 5 Pattern Dragon Claws
Director: Godfrey Ho, Kim Si-Hyeon
Producer: Thomas Tang
Cast: Hwang Jang Lee (Wong Cheng Li), Dragon Lee (aka Mun Kyong-sok, Keo Ryong, Guh Ryong), Philip Chan, Kitty Chui, Chris Yung, David Ding, Terry Wong, John Lung, Ronald So, James Lau, Wilson Lee, Sean Shin, Bruce Chan, Jacky Kim
Running Time: 86 min.

By Joseph Kuby

Average Kung Fu movie with few good moments!

This is really mediocre stuff when held in comparison to most genre efforts yet I found it watchable (and even likeable) due to its simplicity and somewhat intriguing storyline as I was curious to see who would live (kind of like Born Invincible except with less repetitive choreography, though that film was certainly more better in some ways).

The film’s story is somewhat cliche though it’s not predictable (the who-will-die and what-will-happen-next slant that the director chooses makes the proceedings more tolerable). The movie plays out like a Kung Fu Macbeth (lots of revenge, blood, a person who betrays his friends due to his lusting for power and a power obsessed maniac wanting to claim ruler of everything), even moreso than Fist Of Fury (a film which Bey Logan referred to as a Kung Fu Macbeth in his audio commentary for said film).

Any kind of cult classic status this film gains is due to the presence of Hwang Jang Lee who really holds the screen with a formidable screen presence that’s burning with charisma. But then again, one gets this sense that he could do this type of stock role in his sleep (which also applies to his kicking as well – something that would have us losing our sleep over would be something Hwang could do in his sleep).

The film’s production values may not be all that big but they’re competent at best. I know that not every single film can have Shaw Bros. style production values but this film at some points just lacks that certain texture in set-design and costumes, though the film has enough of that to create an atmosphere that the viewer can believe and be absorbed in during the midst of viewing.

The film’s real major problem is the soundtrack that’s used for the final fight scene as it sounds like someone had mixed three scores together! (and I don’t mean that as a critical remark but it literally does sound like that)

The dubbing is laughable in some ways but not annoying so as to distract the viewer from the story.

The action is very typical of the era this was made in (the early traditional Kung Fu movie era i.e. post Bruce or basically from 1973 – 1977), slow-paced and static but still somewhat enjoyable (despite the average choreography); it’s strikingly enjoyable as we draw closer to the end where all of a sudden the fight scenes are now of the quality of something by Yuen Woo Ping.

The last few fights in particular really do feel like something choreographed by members of the Yuen clan – notably with imaginative touches such as two fighters revolving their opposite legs around one anothers (to imagine this, point your index fingers towards each other and spin them around each other to catch the drift of what I’m saying).

There was one inventive thing that the final fight scene had going for it and that was the use of insert shots of lightning (complete with thunder sounds) to show the sheer strength and supernatural force of Hwang Jang Lee’s kicks – a nice touch (though one may argue that this was done to hide the fact that they couldn’t afford fancy visual effects).

Star Wars fans, mainstreamers (mainstream audience members) or arthousians (arthouse audience members) will either cry blasphemy or be amused as they hear segments of the Star Wars soundtrack (though the theme won’t be spotted here unless you watch Magnificent Bodyguards).

There’s two other films (and maybe more) which use the Star Wars score – Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow (with Jackie Chan again) and My Life’s On The Line (which I will review sometime in the future). Both films use the exact same score that’s used as Luke Skywalker is about to destroy the Death Star.

This was the first new Kung Fu film I saw when I arrived in Colne (a town in East Lancashire – Lancashire being a county based in England) thanks to a very friendly neighbour (I got into the genre of martial arts/Hong Kong films in the summer of 1998 when I saw Jackie Chan’s Police Story but moved to Colne in 2001) so naturally there was a nostalgic tinge that creeped up upon me as I saw the film for the second time.

This is one of the few good films Godfrey Ho ever made, which isn’t saying much considering two things…

1) The film was also directed by Kim Si Hyeon, who also directed Dragon Lee in a Kung Fu/Wuxia pian* movie called Dragon Lee Vs. The 5 Brothers (a.k.a. ‘Five Brothers’ or ‘Five Disciples’) which was an Australian/South Korean co-production and which also starred Yuen Qiu (from Kung Fu Hustle and The Man With The Golden Gun) who had appeared with Dragon Lee in two other productions by Kim – Dragon’s Snake Fist and Dragon, The Young Master (both of which have Godfrey credited as presenter).

2) The overall quality of Godfrey’s filmography (including this film) as he’s been best known as the Ken Russell** of Hong Kong cinema, though his usage of stock footage and ability to mix various film footages gives him the status (which he and Phillip Ko truly deserve) of being the Roger Corman of Hong Kong cinema.

Also, the attitudes of the Shaw Brothers (Run Run Shaw and his brothers) were similar to that of Roger’s in regards to their ethics concerning filmmaking, except they churned out more classier movies than Corman ever did. To validate this, here’s a good explanation about the Shaws…

Despite offering an array of classics, Run Run, Runjy and Runme were considered to be the Roger Cormans of China in that not only did they give many future stars and renowned directors their first jobs (allowing them the opportunity to learn the ropes by working on a multitude of productions in a few-frills environment) but due to their business ethic.

An average of seven features was always in production, while the dubbing rooms were shared on a tight scheudle of three shifts daily. They could wrap up a production in three days; a big budget extravaganza might require a week. The films were often shot without a written script, more or less made up by the crew as they went along and edited directly on camera with few retakes.

The emphasis was on ‘fist and pillow’ – violence and sex. This is confirmed by Run Run’s direct approach to filmmaking:

“If audiences want violence, we give them violence. If they want sex, we give them sex. Whatever the audience wants, we’ll give them.”

The budgeting was so cheap that a director was lucky if he earned half of the amount budgeted to pay for the fake blood required for the violent scenes. The whole casts & crews were underpaid too.

Overall, Five Pattern Dragon Claws is a Kung Fu potboiler that’s at it’s best when watching at social occasions with friends or people in general to laugh and drink with.

* Wuxia pian is a term used to describe the swordplay genre in Chinese cinema. It’s used to describe films which feature swordplay/fantasy.

** One of Ken Russell’s sons is Toby Russell, one of the founders of Eastern Heroes (which originally started as a UK Jackie Chan club before becoming a UK Hong Kong action movie club). Toby is now one of the founders of the UK DVD labels Vengeance Video and Rarescope. Rick Baker (his associate/partner-in-crime) is one of the founders for Dragon DVD and Soulblade.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 4.5/10

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One Response to 5 Pattern Dragon Claws | aka Thundering Fist (1983) Review

  1. i have loved your films the way i love my mother

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