AKA: Secret Bandit of Black Leopard
Director: Kim Si-hyun
Producer: Joseph Lai, Tomas Tang
Cast: Dragon Lee, Casanova Wong, Chui Man Fooi, Lee Ye Min, Cheung Ching Kwok, Gam Hei Wang
Running Time: 100 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Deciphering who directed what and when in the old school Korean kung fu genre is a head scratching exercise at the best of times. It’s common knowledge that many of the countries’ contributions to the genre were bought up by Godfrey Ho and Thomas Tang for overseas distribution, then given completely new titles and dubbed in English. Movies like Magnificent Wonderman from Shaolin and Strike of Thunderkick Tiger being prime examples. With Dragon Lee though, there’s an extra level of complexity added. Marketed as Korea’s answer to Bruce Lee, Ho and Tang knew a money maker when they saw one. As a result, not only did they buy the rights to Lee’s older Korean movies, but they also made some new ones with him as well.
With Tang acting as producer and Ho as director, a Dragon Lee movie like The Dragon, The Hero (aka Dragon on Fire) was a genuine production by the pair, and also starred the likes of John Liu and Philip Ko. Usually they would shoot in Korea and use mostly Korean crews to save costs, however it was Ho and Tang at the helm. So not only do you have all of the movies Ho had nothing to do with, stuck with a credit sequence which states ‘Directed by Godfrey Ho’, you also have some movies that actually were directed by him, just to complicate things even more.
Enter the Invincible Hero is of course one of the movies which states it was directed by Ho, however it seems in this case that it is in fact an all Korean production. Originally titled Secret Bandit of Black Leopard, it was directed by Kim Si-hyun, the man behind various Hwang In-sik movies such as The Close Kung Fu Encounter and Tomb for a Strongman.
What makes Enter the Invincible Hero worthy of note is that it features both Dragon Lee and Casanova Wong, both of whom share Bruce Lee connections. While Dragon Lee was marketed as the Korean Bruce Lee, starring in exploitation fare like The Clones of Bruce Lee and Last Fist of Fury, Wong famously shot a fight scene in a greenhouse against fellow Korean Kim Tai-jung. What makes the scene so unique is that it appeared in both Bruce Lee’s uncompleted final movie, Game of Death, when it was released in Asia in 1978, and also in the English language version of the sequel, Tower of Death, in 1981 (the same year Enter the Invincible Hero was released).
For reasons we’ll probably never know, Enter the Invincible Hero opens with a title sequence that plays over a fight scene between Dragon Lee and Choi Min-kyu, which is blatantly from a completely different movie. The giveaway sign is that Min-kyu is wearing a modern style yellow vest which practically yells 1970’s, and then as soon as the credits come to a close, it cuts to a period setting of a group of men riding horses through the countryside. What movie the opening is taken from I’m unable to identify, but it’s not the only time it happens. Later on Casanova Wong appears in a flashback scene which is also clearly from a different movie, that bizarrely ends with Wong balancing a bad guy by his head on the tip of his foot, before abruptly cutting off. Strange.
All of this is ok though, because it’s a Dragon Lee flick, and like most Dragon Lee flicks, he plays a kind of wondering nomad. Decked out in a white t-shirt and black pants, which seemed to be his wardrobe for an inordinate amount of his movies, soon enough he’s hoping to acquire some gainful employment from a well to do father and daughter. Of course, there’s some trouble from an unscrupulous gang of characters led by Choi Min-kyu.
While the 70’s style yellow vest from the credits has gone, Min-kyu’s attire is no less striking. He storms around shirtless for the most part, and whenever he has a scene the camera pays extra attention to his grossly protruding outie belly button. It’s clearly prosthetic, but seems to have some connection to his power, and whenever he gets angry he has a pendant around his neck that starts flashing, accompanied by shots which zoom in and out on the belly button. I finished a previous paragraph with the word strange, so I won’t do it again, but I’d like to.
I don’t know what it is with old school Korean kung fu movies and belly buttons. In Revenge of the Drunken Master there’s a whole fight scene which involves Eagle Han trying to stick his finger into the belly button of Johnny Chan, as it would exert some kind of power over him. Thankfully the belly button obsession is no longer a part of Korean cinema. Other body parts also get some worthy attention, there’s a barrel bellied villain, whose special move is to thrust his chest into whoever it is he’s fighting, and we also get a hunchback villain who incorporates the hunch into his fighting style. I don’t know who it is that plays the hunchback, however despite the comedic nature of his fights, the guy has some mean kicks which definitely impress.
Dragon Lee of course is the hero of the piece. Soon he’s wooing the father’s daughter, which naturally involves a scene of her bathing naked, and vowing to bring justice to the villains that are hassling them. The plot is remarkably similar to another Dragon Lee movie, Dragon’s Snake Fist, and while sources sight this movie as being made a couple of years prior, in 1979, I question if in fact they were made at the same time. In one scene Lee even has the same amusing Taekwondo uniform on, adorned with a badge of an oversized cartoonish yellow fist, that he wears in Dragon’s Snake Fist.
Like all Dragon Lee movies, the quality of the action ultimately dictates whether it’s worthy of a watch or not. Thankfully, Enter the Invincible Hero is a superior entry into Lee’s filmography. The fights come thick and fast, and Lee’s movements are sharp and crisp, often against multiple attackers at the same time. There’s a great fight involving chopsticks, and events build up to an extended finale that sees him taking on Min-kyu (who meets a grizzly end involving his belly button), a small legion of lackeys, a pair of beefed up bodybuilders, and Casanova Wong.
The prospect of Dragon Lee versus Casanova Wong should be enough to get any kung fu fans attention, and it doesn’t disappoint. The pair go at it for 5 minutes, and the fight is set to a soundtrack of drums, played in the rhythm of a heartbeat, which really adds to the tension of their showdown. What’s so great about it is that throughout the movie, there’s never any doubt Lee is going to come out victorious in the various fight scenes, even when he’s up against the more highly skilled fighters. However against Wong’s tornado like kicks, the whole scene has Lee visibly on the defensive, as he’s bombarded with a literal barrage of blows from every direction.
It adds a welcome element of danger, and is in no way a disservice to the other fight scenes that have come before, rather it is what a final fight should be – a showdown that takes things to the next level, pitting the hero against someone that outmatches him. While there are fans out there who dismiss the entire filmographies of any actor that was classed as a Bruce Lee clone, movies like Enter the Invincible Hero prove that, for those that do, they’d be robbing themselves of some solid kung fu entertainment. Perhaps just lose the whole belly button thing.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 8/10