Sammo Hung and Yuen-Woo-ping (director)
07 October 2019 (released)
08 October 2019
Actor, producer, stuntman, director, choreographer… Hong Kong action man Sammo Hung is all that… and a legend in his own right! This 3-disc Blu-ray box set contains three of his best films (in a brand new 2K restoration) – two of them period and one set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
First up is THE IRON FISTED MONK (1977) which also marks Hung’s directorial debut. Here he is a mischievous character called Hawker who is sent to the local Shaolin Temple by the Iron Fisted Monk (Chang Sing) after Monk saved his butt from the nasty Manchus – a dynasty. Life at the temple is not for Hawker mind you and after highly disciplined training in the skills of martial arts by his instructor (James Tien), he plans on running away… which he does… only to be caught by four other monks. Confronted by his Master he is forced to take the ‘four tests’ (an sequence of martial arts skills) and only then he’s free to go. At the same time a particularly evil and powerful Manchu official (Fung Hak-on) indulges in his favourite pastime: raping young women! His first victim is the sister of Liang (Lo Hoi-pang) who is so traumatized she commits suicide shortly after. Liang swears bloody revenge, at the same time he knows he can’t do much against the Manchus, as they seem above the law (a bit like our Prime Minister). Initially the finger of guilt points at Hawker but thanks to the intervening Iron Fisted Monk the revenge-thirsty Liang quickly realises he has a potential ally in Hawker… and together they set out to bring the Manchus to justice which gives plenty of scope for simply jaw-dropping action as the trio teach the workers in a local dye factory (who are constantly terrorized by the Manchus) the art of Kung Fu fighting… Easier said than done and soon Hawker and Liang come to realize just how dangerous their enemy is when the pillaging Manchu official kills Liang’s wife and mother. After further fighting and the butchering of almost all the workers at the dye factory Liang too succumbs to his injuries. Now it’s up to Hawker and the Iron fisted Monk to bring the Manchus to justice once and for all…
The film stands out from the usual martial arts fare as it is considerably darker in tone, not to mention the graphic depiction of rape and general violence. As ever, the action is pretty much relentless and Sammo Hung proves his undisputed talent both for directing, acting and the stunt choreography.
THE MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER (1979) is, despite violence and one rape, more light hearted in tone with witty one-liners (well, as far as the Americanised subtitles go!) and once again plenty of awe-inspiring martial arts action although Sammo Hung did not sit in the director’s chair here – it was Yuen-Woo-ping. Sammo Hung plays Butcher Wing, a student of Wong Fei-hung (Kwan Tak-hing) whose loudmouth antics and general pranks land him in trouble on a regular basis. Butcher Wing’s long-lost brother Lam (Chiang Kam) arrives in town with his pretty wife Yuet-mei (Tong Ching) looking for his brother although all he has is a photograph of Butcher Wing as a teenager. It’s not before long when vile Ko Tai-hoi (Fung Hak-on reprising his role as a rapist and general bad guy) kidnaps Yuet-mei though there is a witness. After some initial hiccups Butcher Wing and his brother Lam are finally reconciled and we also see the welcome return of ‘Drunken Master’: Beggar Po (Fan Mei-sheng) who always manages to stay above every situation no matter how much wine he just drank! Together the embark on a mission to free Yuet-mei, once again easier said than done thanks to the scheming Ko Tai-hoi and evil Master Ko (Hoi Sang Lee). The showdown is nothing short of spectacular, with all the stunts carried out in breakneck speed (just watch the calligraphy pen sequence towards the beginning!). What is particularly amazing is the overall physical dexterity of the rather stocky Sammo Hung.
The odd one out is EASTERN CONDORS (1987), directed again by Sammo Hung though made considerably later. That’s not the only difference. The actors from his previous two films are absent here and it’s also much more of a ‘straight’ action film rather than a martial arts flick. Set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the films starts with American Officer Colonel Lam given a top-secret mission by the US military (does this remind of ‘Apocalypse Now’?). The mission seems straightforward enough: enter Vietnam to destroy an old US army bunker filled with missiles before the Viet Cong get their hands on the deadly weapons. Knowing full well the dangers involved, Lam isn’t willing to send his soldiers to Vietnam. Instead a motley crew consisting of Chinese-American convicts – led by Tung Ming-sun (Sammo Hung) will soon be sent on their way. Any survivors (chances unlikely) are promised a pardon, U.S. citizenship plus $200,000. Among the crew are ‘Stuttering Keung’ – the first one to die after the group has been dropped from a US Army helicopter over ‘nam. Bad start indeed but it soon gets worse when Colonel Lam finds out too late that the mission had in fact been abandoned. Stuck in the Vietnamese jungle a fierce and bitter fight for survival begins, made even more complicated after the group encountered some tough-as-nails Cambodian guerrilla fighters co-led by a woman (former Miss Hong Kong Joyce Gondenzi – who ended up marrying Sammo). In fact, there are several women among the guerrillas and it’s nice to see women kicking some butt in this film as opposed to just getting raped. With the Viet Cong hot on their heels, the group take refuge in a tiny town where they encounter more colourful characters including Weasel (Chieh Man-yeh) and apparent uncle, Yeung, who acts as if not quite right in the head. It’s only a question of time before they all get captured and held in a POW camp (nod to ‘The Deer Hunter) though some of the prisoners manage a daring escape. Unfortunately one of the Cambodian guerrilla women turns out to be a traitor. Now it’s the Vietnamese military pursuing the steadily diminishing group, with the final showdown between Sammo Hung (naturally!) and a creepily giggling Vietnamese General (Yuen Wah) whose sole weapon is… a fan! In fact Fung Hak-on, who portrayed the villainous rapist in the previous two films, also used a fan as a weapon of defence. Never trust a Chinese man holding a fan then!
Martial arts purists might end up slightly disappointed here as we witness explosions and machine gun action galore, with martial arts kicks in the backseat. Still, EASTERN CONDORS (a tribute to ‘The Dirty Dozen’) is high-octane entertainment for action fans and fans of Sammo Hung.
Also included is a selection of interesting Bonus Features.