Even having just watched these four films, I have to make an effort to remember their individual characteristics. Though the plot varies from film to film, there are so many repeatedly used narrative devices in kung-fu films that it becomes easy for them to blend together. This is particularly true of the four Golden Harvest films in this Martial Arts Movie Marathon, mostly due to the fact that they were all made in a two year period and many share cast members. Despite their occasionally uninspired plot twists, each of these four films is entertaining in its own way.
There are two films to a disc in this 2-disc set, with the first including the strongest of the four films in the set. The second disc is still entertaining, though the sexploitation elements of the story can distract some from the martial arts. The first two films, on the other hand, take a more conservative approach to the action. These films include The Manchu Boxer (1974) and The Skyhawk (1974).
The Manchu Boxer was shot in
but is in every other way a typical martial arts epic about a pacifist fighter
forced to take arms against an unjust tyrant attempting to fix a local boxing
tournament. Starring Liu Yung (also known as Tony Liu) as the reluctant
fighter, The Manchu Boxer also features legend Sammo Hung in a small role. Hung
also directed the action sequences in the film, which are less impressive than
the film’s compelling melodrama, however contrived it may be in order to force
our hero into the ring. This film was originally released in the South Korea
as “Masters of Martial Arts.” United States
The Skyhawk features a martial arts character that would be reincarnated decades later with Jet Li cast in the role. Wong Fei Hung is played by Kwan Tak Hing in The Skyhawk, though the real protagonist of the film is Hsiao Shih-tzu, played by Carter Wong (Huang), who is a student to The Skyhawk alongside Sammo Hung as the unfortunate best friend. If there is one certainty in kung-fu films, as sure as the bad guy will fall at the end of the film, there is usually an instigating death or rape that causes this justice to be avenged, and the best friend rarely makes it out unscathed.
The second disc includes two films that amp up the exploitation levels of the film, with increased nudity and sex scenes coming at the cost of action and plot coherence. They are a bit trashier than the more traditional kung-fu films in the first disc, but no less entertaining for one reason or another. One of the films is also notable for being the second feature from famed director John Woo. The second disc includes The Association (1975) and The Dragon Tamers (1974).
The Association is the weak link in the collection, mostly because of the preoccupation with female nudity over action sequences. Many kung fu films use rape as a reason for the otherwise peaceful protagonist to go on a rampage at the end of the film, as was the case with The Manchu Boxer, but The Association seems to revel in the exploitation of these sequences. The film is peppered with women abused sexually, stripped and raped in nearly every other scene. Some of this is just indulgent camp, while the storyline involves an international prostitution ring to help justify the abundance of flesh.
The Dragon Tamers (a.k.a. The Young Dragons) also has somewhat of a campy storyline that features rivals in a group of female kung-fu students who often end up in a state of undress mid-battle with each other. The opening sequence has them rolling in the mud until breasts inevitably flop out of loose garments. Fortunately, these exploitation sequences are minimized when the kung-fu action comes into play. It is difficult to see any of John Woo’s style in this early feature, but it is an entertaining addition to this low-quality collection of lost and forgotten classics.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 6.5/10