AKA: Shaolin Hero
Director: Sun Chung
Producer: Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong
Cast: Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Guk Fung, Si Si, Yue Wing, Johnny Wang, Dick Wei, Eddy Ko Hung, Peter Chan Lung, Yuen Bun, Yeung Chi Hing, Bruce Tong
Running Time: 100 min.
Sun Chung isn’t as well known as fellow Shaw Brothers kung-fu directors Chang Cheh and Liu Chia-Liang, but his films are equal to their best. In some ways, he combines the styles of the two directors, with Liu’s mature sense of pacing and Chang’s love of bloodshed and exotic weaponry. Sun also injects a little experimentation into the film, using still-shots and slow-motion to accentuate the action. This experimentation doesn’t always work, but it’s still nice to see someone pushing the envelope, even back in the old-school days.
Another unusual aspect of the film is the post-modern, out-of-order narrative. Like latter-day movies such as Ashes of Time and Legend of the Wolf, Avenging Eagle jumps from the present to the past in a free spirit, as Ti Lung tells Fu Sheng about the various missions he and his fellow Eagles were sent on. The Eagles themselves each specialize in a different style or bizarre weapon, giving the movie an all-around comic-book vibe, which is all a guy could want from an old-school film.
Fu Sheng has the best weapon: he wears a pair of metal bracelets, which he can place along the soles of his boots. Hidden inside the soles are a pair of wicked blades, which attach to the bracelets, giving his character the nickname “Double Blade.” Ti Lung fights with a three-section staff, which he uses to clobber just about anyone. Main villain Ku Feng, as the evil leader of the Eagles, fights with a pair of claw-like metal gloves.
Sun Chung adds some suspense into the film by clouding Fu Sheng’s character in mystery. It isn’t that big of a shock when we find out who he really is in the end, but I’m still not going to ruin it for the first-time viewer. Fu Sheng gets the best role, joking with his opponents right before he kills them. Ti Lung plays it more straight-laced as a guy trying to come to grips with the emotionless, cold-blooded killer he’s been raised to become, and trying to start a new life for himself. And Ku Feng, as usual, takes it over the top (in a good way) as the maniacal master of the Eagle clan. There’s a great scene at the end where he tries to turn Ti Lung against Fu Sheng.
Like most Shaw movies, there’s more of a concentration on weapons-fighting than actual kung-fu combat. But the ferocity on display and the bloody deaths more than make up for any lack of martial arts. The fighting isn’t as intricate as that of a Venoms movie, but Ti Lung’s an old pro, and can hold his own. Fu Sheng throws some good moves too, but doesn’t get to show off as much as he did in the superior Chinatown Kid.
Just as good as the Venoms’s best , Avenging Eagle proves that the Shaw Brothers were still at the top of their game, even toward the end of their movie-making empire. With its charismatic leading actors, witty rapport, hateful villains, and out-of-this-world weaponry, this one is a definite source of delight for the old-school kung-fu fan.
And if that isn’t enough of an incentive to pick up a copy, I’ve even read that the DVD release is in pretty good quality, albeit full-frame and slightly cut (roughly 8 minutes have been excised from the DVD release, I’ve read, but I’m not sure what parts have been cut out, as I have an uncut, letterboxed copy of the movie on video. Don’t get too jealous, though; the picture quality on my version sucks, and the audio’s all out of whack).
Joe909’s Rating: 9/10