If you are a fan of Singapore Kung Fu flicks than you are most likely a fan of the flicks that came out of the Shaw Brothers Studios. Sir Run Run and Runme Shaw created a group of artists that defined this action packed genre. With a stable of actors proficient in many forms of martial arts their films are still numbered among the best action movies around. By using the same actors in most of their films there was a consistency unheard of in the marital arts film industry. Over time these actors developed a chemistry that extended beyond the incredible fight scenes to actually tell a real story with believable characters. The Shaw Brothers gave us tales of male bonding, dedication, enlightenment and of course, revenge. Although they were making films from before World War II it was in the seventies that the greatest of their films were produced. At this time the Hong Kong cinema craze was affecting audience around the world. With the fantastic stunts and wires that help the actors defy gravity no Shaw Brothers film was ever boring. Now the ‘Weinstein Company’ and ‘Genius Products’ is bringing four of the best of these Kung Fu masterpieces to DVD. Released under the ‘Dragon Dynasty’ label as special editions if you are a fan of the genre make sure to clear off some shelf space, you will want to get all four films.
The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (1978)
Liu Yu-te (Gordon Lau Kar-fai, also billed as Gordon Liu) is a peaceful student of ethics working hard at his studies. His life is forever changed when Manchu soldiers commanded by the nefarious General Tien (Lo Lieh) attack his town leaving most of Liu’s friends and family dead. While revenge is foremost on his mind he realizes that he is no match for the general and his killers. Liu journeys to a Shaolin Temple to become monk and learn the skills of Kung Fu. Only then would he be able to avenge the deaths of his family. At the temple he is accepted for training and renamed San Te. For the first year of his training it seems that all he is given to do are menial tasks around the temple. Finally the real training starts. He is told that he must work hard in order to pass through the 35 chambers of training. Each one is harder than the next and potentially more dangerous. Every chamber pushes the young man to greater heights of speed and agility. His determination is unheard of and he completes the training in a record time of five years. He even creates a new weapon, a staff in three sections much to the amazement of his masters. The time finally comes for his last test. He has to defeat one of the masters and take his place in charge of one of the chambers. Instead he wants to teach the techniques he has learned to the people. This results in his expulsion from the temple. He goes out to the world to train a force that will permit him to get his revenge.
King Boxer (1972)
For most of his life Chao Chih-hao (Lo Lieh) has been apprenticed to his elder master (Wen Chung Ku). The master feels that he has taught Chao everything he possibly can and arranges for him to continue his training in another school. This is a difficult decision for Chao since he has become attached to his aged teacher as well as having fallen in love with his beautiful daughter Yin Yin (Ping Wang). Since the only way to improve his skills and win the hand of the fair maiden is to go off to the new school Chao agrees. On the road to his new school and master Chao comes to the assistance of a beautiful young girl, Meng Tien-hsiun, saving her from a marauding group of local thugs. She falls in love with the handsome fighter but he manages to resist her advances. Chao gets to the school and meets his new master, the stern and foreboding Sun Hsin-pei (Fang Mien). Chao is initially given drudge work but finally gets to advance in the martial arts. Once he has learned humility his is taught the ultimate fighting technique, the Iron Fist. Now he is ready to face a rival school. This school is run by the diabolical Ming Dung-shun (Tin Fung) who is not above bringing in ringers from Japan.
My Young Auntie (1981)
This film is a change of pace for the Shaw Studios concentrating more on a female character. Young and beautiful Ching Dai-nan (Kara Hui) is very reserved and an expert in martial arts. Much to her dismay she is wed to an elderly but rich land owner. The marriage is far from a loving one and when hubby dies Dai-nan finds herself in possession of his will. She is sent to Canton in order to find a relative to help. This relative, Yu Jing-chuen (played by the director Chia-Liang Liu) is instructed to help keep the fortune away from the money hungry brother of the dead husband, Yu Wing-sang (Johnny Wang Lung-wei). Once in the household Dai-nan finds a house divided between the ancient traditions and new ways. The son of Yu, (Hsiao Hou), has turned his back on the old ways and now demands to be called ‘Charlie’. Reluctantly Charlie has to show proper respect to his young aunt because of the position she holds in the family. He tries to change her formal ways by taking her to a costume ball where the two start to get along. When a group of Wing-sang’s men break in to the house and steal the deeds it is up to Dai-nan and Charlie to get them back and save the family.
One-Armed Swordsman (1967)
When the martial arts school, The Golden Sword, is attacked by a rival school a servant, Fang Cheng (Feng Ku) is mortally injured saving his master Qi Rufeng (Feng Tien). Grateful for the heroic art Rufeng takes Cheng’s son, Fang Gang (Yu Wang) as a student. Gang is bullied by the other students because of his low family status but the boy remains strong and determined to be the best. His faithfulness to his master pushes him to leave the school so as not to bring dishonor to the old master. Outside the school Gang is attacked by his former classmates including their leader, Qi Pei-er (Yin Tze Pan). In the fight Gang is seriously wounded; losing his right arm. He stumbles away only to fall off a bridge into the water. There he is rescued by a young woman, Hsiao Man (Chiao Chiao) who nurses him back to health. They fall in love but Gang still regrets his inability to practice his martial arts. Hsiao gives him an old Kung Fu manual from her parents and Gang adapts the techniques to his one armed status. The only catch is he promises Hsiao not to use the abilities in a fight. This changes when his former master is attacked killing many of his students. Gang must choose between his love of Hsiao and his devotion to his former master.
In all these are martial arts films to own. If you are a fan of the genre then these movies have to be part of your collection. For those just getting into Hong Kong action flicks this is a great start. The best way to go is to get them all and enjoy.