Director: Lau Kar-Leung
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Cast: Liu Chia-Liang, Liu Chia-Yung, Liu Chia-Hui, Hui Ying-Hung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Hsiao Hou
Running Time: 107 min.
By JJ Hatfield
This film is truly a masterpiece and I do not idly toss about such high praise! The story is completely different but it ranks up there with the absolute best in the company of Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and Disciples of the 36th Chamber. Yes it is that good! The film opens to a black background as a man rides a horse bareback into view. Hsiao Ho (Mad Monkey Kung Fu, Disciples of the 36th Chamber) the best martial artist, acrobat, expert with all weapons amazing man proceeds to dazzle the viewer with his prowess! I have never seen so many weapons used so well in such a short period of time.
Lau Kar Leung doesn’t just make up ideas for movies, he uses real events from different periods in China as the basis for most of his films and this is no exception.
Some viewers who may think a premise is silly or stupid would do well to have a bit of general information about China and the basic major facts about the area and the time period. In all of his films, including some you might have not given much thought to he managed to work in some history or way of life in China. This movie focuses on a very turbulent time of serious changes that would have a far reaching effect. There was indeed a group of primarily young people who believed that if they focused and practiced very hard they could withstand any injury or weapon, even bullets. They would be unaffected by the foreigners invading their land with guns.
As difficult as it is to understand there were men who honestly believed they were impervious to bullets. They already held a reputation of being unharmed by swords or spears and other weapons so it wasn’t that much of a leap some thought to expect bullets would not harm them either. The Dowager Empress wanted to use unarmed men to fight the intruders with guns. The Boxers would save an enormous amount of money if they could take on guns with just their bodies. Unfortunately good but deluded men died. The cells kept things very quiet because if the Dowager Empress discovered the truth she would have disbanded the organization and had all members killed.
The movie really depends on the Boxer cells and their believability. It’s imperative that people believe and understand that these men (perhaps women too) did indeed possess extraordinary powers. That is what made the “magic” work. They worked and trained hard and possessed astonishing skills. It was the very “magic” that was real that allowed them to convince others they had super – human abilities.
Chief Li, the go – between for the Boxers and the Dowager Empress informs the cell leaders that Lui Gung, another cell leader has betrayed them. He not only gave up being a Master of the Boxers but disbanded every cell member in different directions to seek peace and harmony despite what they were taught. This seemed to be the only course of action to take to save their very lives. Chief Li makes certain the cell leaders understand the gravity of Lui Gung’s betrayal, and that he must die. Li doesn’t want to send in a large force because it might alert their target. Instead he wants the cells to send in one man each to kill Lui Gung. In addition the man who goes to kill him, successful or not must be killed as well to leave no trace. The Master of the Magic Fighters sends in the best of the best, as the other cells do the same.
This movie should be considered part mystery as there are a lot of people who are not necessarily telling the truth about who they are or why they are there. Some are in disguises, some use their money and others their guile to try and bring out Lui Gung. Hsiao Ho hit gold when he choreographed a fight between Tieh Hau and Fong Shau Ching in a cramped attic. It might not have been a death match but it was amusing and great fighting too! This fight introduced a number of weapons you certainly don’t see in many martial arts films.
Lau Kar Leung was working with probably the best all time cast. With his brother, Hsiao Ho, Gordon Lui, Kara Hui and Alexander Fu Sheng what more could you ask for? To be fair to Fang Shau Ching (Kara Hui) did keep up the extra deception rather well, all things considered, and she also had a legitimate reason for doing so. The viewer is more willing to suspend disbelief if it is somehow believable in the storyline.
As I have said on numerous occasions Lau Kar Leung is a genius. When you have a decent basic plot the action fills in any feeling of incompleteness. Especially given that Lau used real events or incidents to base the films on. Even practicing with weapons is wonderful to watch not to mention the fighting! The choreography is stunning, especially since much of the movie is spent fighting or training to fight. You also get a look at a number of weapons being used in the introduction. But you never get tired of seeing the assortment of weapons! Or people using them! It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
Lau Kar Leung knows what looks great that’s for damned sure!
This film was the absolutely perfect place to fully explore Lau’s family martial arts form. Although a great deal of fighting in other films was using the same form, the action demanded extraordinary things moving quickly. And the remarkable thing is that he did all of that without once sacrificing any other part of the film!
The cinematography was excellent, always keeping the frame full of detail. The fights were tight and had long takes without a cut. It has always been a goal of directors and other members of the cast and crew to find a way to get their own style of martial arts on celluloid. This film was ideal to show once and for all what was so important to Lau Kar Leung and his brother – their family form. It is fascinating to see the dazzling display of cool weapons and what could be done with them by a person with great skill. Most of them are used in the rather extended two part finale. I’m not complaining by any means. I had the impression they had sparred more than a few times growing up and now considered it a labor of love to show so much of their family style. The form is not only about violence and killing but also contains ethical and moral philosophies. But the two sides of kung fu are not easily woven together. Violence – and yet sometimes violence brings about peace. If justified it is not mere pugilism but a note of harmony.
JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 9/10
By Kenneth T
This movie has very, very long dead spots and a really goofy scene in the middle were they’re trying to draw out Le Kung (the Master); But it’s all worth the wait because what happens at the end is one of the best on-screen weapons fight ever made. I also enjoyed the the trickery that was used all throught this movie. Like voodoo, magic, spring loaded weapons, etc.
This movie had about four fights:
First of which was a duel between Hsiao Hou and Liu Chia Yung’s ventrilliquism and voodoo where he controls a man against him (I loved it and the way he was shaking the doll looked exactly like what the guy was doing).
Nevermind make that five fights:
Hsiao Hou have a fight in the attic with Hui-ying Hung which was short but good. 3rd fight was between Hsiao Hou, Liu Chia Liang, and Hui-Ying Hung (by this time they had all become friends) against Liu-Chia Hui. Liu Chia Liang shows Liu-Chia Hui he’s not as good as he thought he was and reveal to Hsiao Hou that he does know how to fight. Very entertainting fight. 4th fight between Hsiao Hou, his master (I think Alexander Fu Sheng) and Liu Chia Liang is great and gets you ready for the last fight. Finally we get to the last fight which is about a 10 min battle to the death using all 18 weapons (I think the skip 1 or 2 but mostly all of them) between Liu Chia Liang and Liu Chia Yung.
Would be the best weapons movie ever made, but there are better ones. Mainly Odd Couple, but this is a Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu’s Review. Anyways, Liu Chia Liang skills are unmatched with weapons aleast. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Liu Chia Liang is one of the best things that happen to HK cinema ever.
Bottom Line: This is just a really cool movie about magic and weapons and anyone will love it.
Kenneth T’s Rating: 8.5/10