Apr 2, 2020

Martial Arts Month: Days 1 and 2

Invincible Super Chan
Dir: Yang Sun
This was one of the titles requested for this series of reviews, and it turns out to be an ideal place to start. Invincible Super Chan is essentially what I thought all martial arts movies were before I discovered martial arts movies.

Chan is angry because his master was murdered. He seeks revenge, and is then a target himself because of his newfound reputation.

The version I was sent to watch is 81 minutes long, which is nine minutes shorter than the running time quoted on Imdb. It shows. The editing is haphazard beyond belief. Apparently, this film attracted some controversy on release and was nearly banned (this may be hyperbole, it’s hard to tell), but it definitely seems to be censored, with many images of blades showing everything but the strike, so we get the often disorienting spectacle of cutting straight from knives just flying through the air with no discernible target to people writhing on the ground, stabbed. This isn’t to say Chan needs to stab people, indeed patting them lightly on the back makes them go flying, such is his strength. His jumps are also hilarious, less wuxia wirework and more like something out of MST3K subject, Pumaman.

The violence is non stop and pretty inventive (ramming a stone down someone’s throat is fairly novel, as is the use of an exploding flag as a weapon), but even though it’s endearingly bonkers, hilariously badly dubbed and entertaining for its rickety production values, you’d never mistake Invincible Super Chan for a good film. An entertaining one though… that’s another matter.

Iron Fisted Monk
Dir: Sammo Hung
I’ve never felt that, at least in the West, Sammo Hung has entirely got his dues. He’s one of the greatest martial arts stars, choreographers and directors of all time and Iron Fisted Monk, his 1977 directorial debut, shows that talent in nascent form.

The plot isn’t the tightest Hung ever put to screen, but it sees him training at Shaolin Temple, where he went after his uncle, whose noodle shop he worked in, was murdered by the Manchu. He leaves the temple early, along with a monk who is his senior (Chen Sing) and they end up pursuing a Manchu official (Hung’s frequent co-star and here co-choreographer, Fung Hak On) who has been leaving a trail of rape and murder in his wake.

In contrast to his opera school brother and frequent collaborator Jackie Chan, Hung’s films have always been notable for their hard edges. That’s more true of Iron Fisted Monk than even Hung’s own later work. The choreography is big and classical, but it’s also hard hitting, with plenty of bloody injuries depicted. More surprising is the level of exploitation content, particularly a very nasty and fairly violent rape scene that had to be cut by over a minute for the first UK DVD release (the recent Blu Ray, which I watched for this, is uncut).

What shows through is Hung’s directorial talent. He never quite balances the slapstick of early scenes with the nastiness that runs through the rest of the film, but both are well captured. One particular match cut in the rape scene, from Dean Shek raising his hand to one woman to Fung Hak On slapping the rape victim is especially (if disgustingly) effective. The action is plentiful and flows beautifully. In this respect Hung is already a master of his craft and while he gets many of the best moments he’s not above ceding the spotlight to Chen Sing. The finale shows off the best filmmaking, with Hung’s fluid camera often gliding between the two fights taking place in the same room.

Sammo Hung would make better films than Iron Fisted Monk, but as a statement of intent and a demonstration of his skills both in front of and behind the camera, this was an excellent start. 

1 comment:

  1. Now want to see both of these for very different reasons. Will try to track down the uncut version of both.