Terracotta’s Classic Kung-Fu Collection
Looking for something different this Christmas as a stocking filler or to add to the collection? Then why not check out these classic kung-fu films
There aren’t too many kung-fu films like Shanghai 13, if you are to be truthfully honest, where you forget you’re watching a kung-fu film, because you get caught up in the plot of the story, in this case it’s a cat and mouse espionage thriller.
Even though you know how it ends, as you’ve seen it before, it still gives you a feeling of what if it doesn’t work out this time? As the plot, which is very simple to be honest, is;
a patriot steals evidence that exposes traitorous government intentions and plans to take it to Hong Kong and make it public. As assassination target, he employs The Shanghai 13, to protect him. So unlike most kung-fu genre films, which you watch for the hi-kicking action and sometimes inhuman feats, this one goes through a web of deceitful characters, which you never know who is on the protagonists side until the last moment, and I love that. That feeling of being on your toes. And, I’m not always a fan of modern remakes, but with today’s standard of ‘dark’ cinema, I always think this would make a great remake, just a little expansion on the characters or why the evidence is so damning.
However, the charm of this 1984 classic, are the familiar faces, it’s like a who’s who of Hong Kong cinema, from; Jimmy Wang Yu (The One Armed Swordsman, 1976). Side note; I really was surprised to find out Jimmy had both arms...he hid that well. Chen Kua Tai (Killer Constable, 1980),Danny Lee Sau Yin (City on Fire), Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng (Five Deadly Venoms, 1978) Chang Ji Lung (Fearless Young boxer, 1979). Another side note; he’s not from Yorkshire!? Those dubs! There are more names to mention, but you get how star studded this film is and why it continues to be so popular. But wait! Lest we forget Infernal Affairs Andy Lau’s appearance, as the student.
The action is what you would expect from Chang Cheh, who was the 70’s director to martial arts films to what Jackie Chan is to Kung-Fu films. He directed other notable classics like; 5 Masters of Death, Invincible Shaolin and The Nine Demons (which we review below), to name a few.
It really is an exciting and fast-paced film and definitely the best of Terracotta’s kung-fu collection.
Director: Chang Cheh
Cast: Andy Lau, Jimmy Wang Yu, Chen Kuan Tai, Danny Lee, Ti Lung
Country: Hong Kong / 1984
Period drama with mild comedy undertones where an unreasonable tyrant, by the name of Master Chien (Danny Lee - Shanghai 13), takes what he can from the locals of his town. However, after a mine has collapsed, killing many of the townspeople and placing the deceased families in financial difficulty and not wanting to help, he is met by an angry mob of townspeople who want revenge and compensation for what will become a difficult time ahead. Of those people is Iron Fist King (Chao Hsiung) who stands his ground and tries to reason with Chien in vain. So he teaches the townsfolk how to fight like an army, whilst Chien finds rogue assassins to help him get rid of anyone who stands in his way.
Iron Fist King sees this and so passes on his knowledge to Lu (David Chiang - Blood Brothers) a young man looking to become a kung-fu expert, who then teams with the Kings daughter (Pearl Chang Ling - Wolf Devil Women) to fight against the many adversaries, which lie ahead.
One reason for rating this film highly, is that it has all the hallmarks of a classic 70s kung-fu film. The fighting scenes are what you love about the genre, where you get those ever so damming zoom in of the eyes before battle and then a close quarter technical hand-to-hand combat before all the flailing high-kicks and low seeps take over.
Chi Hungs’ face when he looks at Master Chen, who is head of security, after a dual is requested to test out Chi Hungs kung-fu skills is priceless...like really? What’s the point? Well it tickles me anyways.
Available to buy here
Director: Chen Ming-Hua
Cast: David Chiang, Danny Lee, Pearl Ling Chang, Chao Hsiung
Release: Taiwan / 1979
Let’s get this out the way, the noticeable fact that Dragon Lee bares an uncanny resemblance to Bruce Lee and in the opening credits, there is a small homage to Bruce Lee with a sample from Enter the Dragon, which is also the tag line for this film. The film starts and sets the backbone of the story with an impressive, although somewhat cheap location for a fight, between two young rival masters on a beach, which is choreographed well. However, the main plot is set years later as the two masters, who are both old now, run their own school in their respective style of kung-fu (snake fist and crane) and watch as their most advanced students move on to start their own schools.
The plot runs along the classic storyline, much like Karate Kid, where you have Master Chu Man Kings humble and more passive school who are focused on the art and discipline, whereas the rival school, run by Master Wai is more focused on dominance and ego. So in the end what you have is Wai's siblings (Yuen Qui - Kung-Fu Hustle & Kim Ki Hong) seeking to take revenge for the crippling of his father by the hands of Wu’s (Dragon Lee) Master Chu (Kim Ki Ju) whilst discrediting the style and teachings of the snake fist style in any damaging way he can.
It has to be noted that out of all five films in the collections, this is probably the best for music with a mix of early synth electronica and classic 70’s action funk..
Available to buy here
Director: Godfrey Ho, Kim Si-hyeon
Cast: Dragon Lee, Yuen Qiu, Kim Ki Hong
Release: Hong Kong / South Korea / 1979
‘The spirit is more important, than the kung-fu.’
- Dragons Snake Fist
Hero of Shaolin, comes across like it should be a better movie than it is. You have the traitor in the clan, who seeks fortune over virtue. The mysterious death of the high Abbot. A mission by a band of Shaolin monks to take a golden sutra from one part of China to Tibet, so you know that the journey will be met with hidden dangers.
So already your appetite is whet, but where this film falls short in my favour is the camp comedy character of 4th brother and his cheeky ways. Really apart from some bad fx, which you can forgive, the annoyance for 4th brother does let the film down. The story is strong enough to carry on without him, and much like Shanghai 13, I do feel a remake of this film wouldn’t go unnoticed. Maybe not so much a remake, and although the stories are completely different, I feel a directorial leaning towards Lone Wolf and Cub would make this film on point.
You’ve got the snow and winter season, which creates a bleak atmosphere. The banding and unity of brothers to avenge the death of their abbot. Ninjas and supernatural forces become obstacles to overcome on their mission, which takes them far and wide along lonely planes of land. So you get the idea that this film has all the fat but no unfortunately no trimmings.
Available to buy here
Director: Cheung Kei, Tai Chi Hsien
Cast: Alexander Lo Rei, Kim Fan, Wong Lung, Eagle Han Ying
Release: Taiwan / 1984
During a ceremonial feast, a seemingly wealthy family is betrayed and poisoned by family butler master Ying and his group of bandits. As the family are slowly massacred in a bloody fight, only the two friends Gary and Joey (I know...don’t even think about it) are the only ones who have a chance of survival. Joey lucks out, but finds himself in the pits of hell and having to exchange his soul for the powers of the Black Prince, known as the nine demons, which he can use to help avenge his family’s death and save the life of his childhood friend Gary. However, with great power comes great responsibility and the power of the underworld seems to prove too much for young Joey, whose initial kindness and good will slowly blackens.
The story line is good, as well as some of the fight sequences, and it sets itself up to be a classic film, but in reality, you can tell this was an experimental or somewhat lazy time for Chang Cheh, the director, the synth score is really erratic and psychedelic and the poor visual fx really let this film down, massively. If Chang hadn’t made classics like, Shanghai 13 or 5 Elements Ninja, then you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this was an early film in his career, but if comedy acting and bad screenplay are your thing, then you won’t have a problem with this film at all.
Available to buy here
Director: Chang Cheh
Cast: Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Cheng Tien Chi, Chung Yi Li, Yu Tai-Ping
Release: Taiwan / 1983
Buy the collection directly from Terracotta and check out our martial arts/ kung-fu titles from our online store.