• Martial Arts Movie Marathon Vol.1



    Martial Arts Movie Marathon Vol. 1
    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: May 20, 2014
    Cast: Angela Mao, Sammo Hung, Carter Wong
    Year: 1974/1975
    Purchase from Amazon

    Shout! Factory and Fortune Star have joined forces to bring this four-pack of obscure kung fu films to DVD.

    The Manchu Boxer - 1974

    A martial arts master named Ku Ru-Zhang (Tony Liu) is disowned by his father after he delivers a killing blow to an opponent. Forced into exile, Ku is attacked in a forest by an assassin. After defending against the attack and subduing the assassin, Ku tries to heal his attacker, but the man is overcome by illness. Before he dies, the man asks Ku to find his estranged wife and daughter. Ku visits the pair, claims to owe a debt to the dead man, and takes on a job at the local lumber mill to pay off his debt. Meanwhile, a scheming martial artist named Mr. Chin wants to hold a boxing tournament, and hires two men (including a babyfaced Sammo Hung) to kill the kung fu masters who are invited before they can compete, thereby securing Chin's victory. Ku takes on a job to pay his debt to the dead man's wife and daughter, and meets another martial artist named Wei, who encourages Ku to fight in the tournament but Ku refuses to use kung fu to fight. Eventually, Mr. Chin and his henchman force Ku to fight back and enter the tournament.

    The Manchu Boxer is an obscure film, and it's easy to see why it doesn't have more of a cult following. There's a lot of unnecessary exposition and setup before the film arrives at the actual story. Director Ma Wu spends far too much time establishing Ku as a character, in spite of the fact that Tony Liu has next to no charisma or likeability in the role. The performances from the rest of the cast are bland, and even Sammo Hung isn't lively enough to give the film some personality. The camerawork in the film is uninspired, the fight choreography is unmemorable, and the story isn't interesting or well realized enough to keep the film from dragging. The last twenty minutes of the film provides non-stop tournament fighting, but chances are good that you'll have checked out by then. The Manchu Boxer is a minor, forgettable entry in the Kung Fu genre and it is easily the weakest film included with this set.


















    The Skyhawk - 1974

    A young man named Leo (Carter Wong, appearing here as Carter Huang) is attacked by five men and easily defeats them, while he is observed by the Chinese folk-hero, Skyhawk aka Wong Fei-hung (Tak-Hing Kwan), and his assistant Fei Fei (Sammo Hung). Leo is challenged and defeated by the master of the bandits who attacked him, and Skyhawk and Fei Fei come to his aid. They take Leo to an old friend of Skyhawk's to heal his wounds. Following his recovery, Leo begs Skyhawk to take him on as a student. Skyhawk teaches Leo kung fu, but makes him promise he won't use it to kill. Meanwhile, there are some subplots involving a takeover of the town where the story is set by an evil warlord, and the master of the bandit's revenge against the Skyhawk.

    Along with its excitingly choreographic action sequences, the cast of The Skyhawk is its strongest asset. Sammo Hung is charming and funny as Fei Fei, Carter Wong brings both intensity and charisma to his role, and Tak-Hing Kwan is a delight as the elderly but surprisingly agile Skyhawk. Wong and Hung often fight together, and it's a joy to see these actors act together despite their very different onscreen personas.

    Stylishly directed by Chang Ho Cheng, The Skyhawk delivers classic Golden Harvest kung fu and all leads to a thrilling conclusion. There's a lot of variation in terms of fighting locales and situations, and a new fight scene or martial arts demonstration happens every ten to fifteen minutes or so. Even if the main story is somewhat forgettable, the action scenes keep the film moving and the fists and feet flying. If you love 70s kung fu films, especially those about the legendary Wong Fei-Hung, The Skyhawk will make a great addition to your collection.



















    The Association - 1975

    After discovering her parents have been murdered by a moneylender, a young woman named Fan Yin (Angelo Mao Ying, in a dual role) fights and delivers a death blow to her parent's killer. She's then arrested, presented before a firing squad and shot, but not before explaining to Detective Huang Tien-hsin (Yu Byong) that her parents were the victims of a conspiracy. From there, Huang is called to the scene of a woman who died because of a botched back alley abortion. Huang is convinced that the woman was murdered, and decides to investigate.

    Meanwhile, a cult of women in hooded robes place a naked woman on an altar while a nude priestess in a sheer pink outfit performs a ritualistic sexy dance and struts her stuff around the altar to the sounds of psychedelic funk rock. The woman's sexy shaking hypnotizes the woman on the altar and puts her to sleep, and the priestess opens the woman's legs to perform an abortion on the woman but is stopped by Detective Huang before she can begin. Huang fights a bunch of the cult members, and it turns out that the abortion cult is a front for an international prostitution ring, and is connected to a powerful General. After attempting to raid the brothel on his own unsuccessfully, Huang discovers that Fan Yin had a twin sister, a special agent named Fan Chu. Huang teams up with Fan Chu to take down the prostitution ring and the Association behind it.

    The Association is an unusual kung fu film, but don't let that put you off from watching it. Quite the contrary, this really is a hidden gem from Golden Harvest and its worth picking this set up The movie's English dub is hilarious. Characters often have Cockney accents for no reason. At one point a character refers to a Detective Huang as “Guv'na.” The dub makes the film sound more like a Dick Randall production than a Golden Harvest film. With its gratuitous nudity, rape scenes, lesbian sex, voyeurism, nipple-torture and more, The Association is a sleazy exploitation film occasionally feels like a kung fu variation on the pink films that were popular in Japan during this era.

    The Association was clearly influenced by Dirty Harry and Magnum Force and the vigilante cop films of the early 1970s. Korean-born actor Yu Byong plays Detective Huang like a kung fu Dirty Harry. and Byong is willing to go to extreme lengths to bring down the Association. Sammo Hung plays Huang's partner, Tiger. It's a minor role but it's nice to see Sammo in yet another role in this four-film set. Also directed by Chang Ho Cheng (The Skyhawk), The Association sports some really colorful, eye-catching cinematography. It is easily the best looking film included in this set both in terms of the quality of the film print and of the cinematography itself. If you're bothered by gratuitous nudity and sleaze, The Association won't be your taste, but fans of seventies exploitation should check this one out.



















    The Dragon Tamers - 1975

    The second film from masterful action movie director John Woo (The Killer, Hard Boiled), The Dragon Tamers kicks things off with a massive catfight and some bare-breasted mudwrestling during the opening credits. The brawl is stopped by Nan Gong (James Tien), a teacher at a local Taekwondo School. Meanwhile, a man from China (or “Chine-er,” as the dub calls it) named Fan Zhongjie (Carter Wong) crosses paths with the Taekwondo school girls, and they try to fight him but he easily evades their attacks. Zhongjie has traveled to Korea to challenge a Tae Kwon Do master named Shen Rongzheng (Ji Han-Jae) to a match. Before he can face the master, Fan visits another Tae Kwon Do master named Ban-Mui, in the hopes that he can improve his skill before facing Master Shen. Meanwhile, Fan gains the affections of Shen's daughter Mingmei (Ching Chang-Shou), who is also desired by Nan Gong, a student of Shen's and a teacher his Tae Kwon Do school. However, Mingmei's feelings for Fan and his dedication to improving his kung fu for its own sake is put to the test when he seriously wounds Shen during their duel. Meanwhile, a rival school is forcing others to join their school, and attacks any who refuse to join them. Romantic melodrama, catfights, and excitingly choreographed Tae Kwon Do action ensues.

    The Dragon Tamers still has the look of a mid-70s Golden Harvest production, but it hints at the high energy action and stylish camerawork that John Woo would come to be internationally known for with the release of A Better Tomorrow in 1986. The film frequently uses rapid camera zooms, slow motion effects, and lots of quick cuts to make the action seem more than humanly possible. The plot of the film is somewhat convoluted, and the romantic melodrama that occupies the second half drags the film down somewhat, but the final fight scenes near the end of the film more than make up for its somewhat tedious second act. Fans of John Woo who haven't seen this will want to check out The Dragon Tamers as its an early indication of his evolving craft as a filmmaker.






















    Audio/Video/Extras

    These four films have been included on two DVD discs in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The video quality of each film varies, with the two oldest films (The Manchu Boxer, The Skyhawk) faring the worst in terms of video and audio transfer quality. The Manchu Boxer looks worn and dirty, and is covered with specks and scratches on the print. The colors of the film are muddy and drab, and overall looks significantly worse than the other three films included. The Skyhawk looks somewhat better preserved, with much less wear and tear on the print and more vibrant colors. The Association is a much more colorful and visually interesting film, and thankfully, it also looks the best out of the four. The Dragon Tamers has the look of an older Chinese kung fu film, but again, it wasn't visibly damaged or degraded, and colors looked natural. None of these films boast any amount of fine detail, but every one other than The Manchu Boxer is watchable and can be enjoyed with the prints used by Shout! Factory.

    Each film comes with an English Mono and Mandarin Mono language option, and it's here where the quality varies most widely from film to film. The Manchu Boxer sounds horrible, and the English dub is so difficult to hear that you'll be turning on the subtitles just to understand what's going on. The Mandarin dub of The Manchu Boxer is just slightly better than the English. The sound in the English dub of The Skyhawk is quiet and strained, but the Mandarin dub is clear and at a nice volume in relation to the mix. There's a strange issue with the English dub of The Association about 3/4s of the way through the film, where it sounds like the audio source is cutting in and out. This problem doesn't seem to happen with the original Mandarin option, but overall sound quality of that dub is worse overall than this momentary issue with the English language track. Finally, in addition to having drastically better sound quality, the English dub of The Dragon Tamers also features an original, funkier, and altogether better soundtrack. Even though they simplify the dialogue and change all of the characters names, the English dub is the only language option I would recommend for watching The Dragon Tamers.

    Trailers for each film are included, but there are no other special features.

    The Final Word

    Even though the audio and video quality of the older films on this set leaves something to be desired, fans of Golden Harvest kung fu and especially John Woo will want to pick up this inexpensive four-pack of entertaining martial arts films.
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Jason C's Avatar
      Jason C -
      The Association is an unusual kung fu film, but don't let that put you off from watching it. Quite the contrary, this really is a hidden gem from Golden Harvest and its worth picking this set up
      I'll second that. THE ASSOCIATION is a blast.
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