Problem is, Meng Leung's woman, Ellen (yes, the dub gives everyone else a Chinese name except for the girl) doesn't want to marry a guy who is getting into fights all the time. Struggling with this, he takes a dive and goes on a drunk after her flirty cousin comes around. Meng Leung's master gets into a tussle with Ellen's cousin and his buddies, who all happen to members of the 5 Tigers, a non-corrupt martial gang. The master is accidentally killed. Meng Leung is the kind of guy who is fond of saying things like, ‟My fists are the only law I like,‟ and he sets about getting revenge by killing off the 5 Tigers.
While this is just a low budget, very c-level kung fu film, Iron Ox actually has a pretty inspired plot. The film is devoid of a hero character. Meng Leung's revenge quest is very bull-headed, misguided, and wrong. You actually root for the 5 Tigers and the films final message is one of how violence corrupts and eventually shatters the main character.
Very low-grade production standards, crummy sets, fairly choppy editing and basic direction. The fight scenes are okay, just below average, of the stand-and-bang variety, and do show some strains of imagination, especially Meng Leung's face-off's with the 5 Tigers, each of whom he tracks down individually and has some kind of interesting backdrop, be it a forest, fighting on a rolling cart, or balancing on top of poles.
Jade Hairpin: The opening titles boast it being ‟Jade Hairpin Alliamce.‟ The extended opening sequence has would-be warrior Hsu Yuan-ping trying to sneak into the Shaolin Temple so he can learn kung fu. Why he feels arriving there late at night and sneaking in will gain him any favor with the monks is lost on me. Anyway, he gets his ass kicked and wakes the next morning to find himself discarded on the outskirts of the temple. He breaks into a little boarded up building where he finds a disgraced and imprisoned former monk. The about to be executed monk osmosis-burns all of his martial art knowledge into Hsu Yuan-ping and entrusts him with a sacred scabbard.
Boy, that sure was a lot of time devoted to the simple setup that this guy knows kung fu. Especially since the film introduces about thirty more characters over the next ten minutes and doesn't really have Hsu Yuan-ping fight that much until the very end.
This convoluted nature of the film, its piling upon piling of subplots and characters, no doubt, has to do with ‟Jade Hairpin‟ being one of those Chinese, multi-novel, classic stories of danger, action, drama, and intrigue. It is only really a hurdle due to the pure volume of characters and how quickly it moves (plus the subtitles didn't help- more on that later).
Minus the subplot tangents, the basic breakdown of the film is this: A powerful martial arts group, The Nanhai, has, just by being so good, irked most of the martial world who want to steal their secrets, which are contained in a book being transported by Miss Hsaio and some Nanhai warriors. Hsu Yuan-ping and a couple of sisters called The Two Lovelies of Ghost Valley are the most sympathetic, meanwhile a bigwig bad guy has all the heads of five or six martial clans ambush the Nanhai and try to steal the book.
I completely lost interest in this one. I'll admit it. I mean, I took notes and everything but they aren't doing me a lick of good. There just wasn't enough imagination going on in the action to make me perk up and try to follow the labrtyhine story (which again was not so much complex as it was convoluted). It is usually the kind of film I'd enjoy. Colorful good guys in an against the odds struggle against several wacky outfitted villains, complete with booby trapped dungeon finale. But, I found myself wished I were watching a similar, better film, like Shaolin Kung Fu Mystagoge
The DVD: Video Asia.
When I first began reviewing DVD's five years ago, I'd regularly encounter a cheapie vhs-to-DVD transfer of a kung fu film and give it a mediocre passing grade. Of course, times have changed and quality standards have risen. Back then, a term like ‟anamorphic‟ was not understood outside of tech heads.
When it comes to kung fu films, as much as things have changed, they have also remained the same. While Celestial over in Hong Kong has done a pretty good job remastering hundreds of Shaw Bros titles, the indies and more marginal kung fu films still have a spotty track record when it comes to getting good transfers. Tracking down solid elements is tough and the genre is so fringe, remastering those elements is not always cost effective.
So, for kung fu films, the grey market still exists. The spotty transfer, bad encoding, and because companies just aren't likely to invest much effort into the titles, many fans still grin and bear it or just cut out the middle man and make their own vhs-to-dvd transfers and trade between each other.
Which brings me to Video Asia, a company so bad the folks over at HKFlix actually have put up a disclaimer warning about the low quality of the offerings. Buyer Beware, indeed.
Picture: To my surprise, both films were anamorphic... but, not really. Iron-Ox is clearly a fullscreen print that has been matted with widescreen bars and made faux-anamorphic. There are several scenes where you actually have only the corner of an eye or a persons ear on one side of the screen, the rest is flat space. So, technically, Iron-Ox is anamorphic cropped fullscreen. Jade Haipin, likewise, is also a bit cramped but thankfully the framing is a bit better so less image is lost.
Both films look bad. No, I take that back. Jade Hairpin looks worse for wear but watchable, and Iron-Ox looks like complete dog shit. Iron-Ox has a print that is a fuzzy sea of diluted, muddy, greenish puke. I've run across many a sub-standard kung fu flick print on those mega bargain bin DVD sets of kung fu films, and I have to say that this transfer may be the worst one of run across, at least in the top three.
Sound: Mono. Iron-Ox is English dubbed. Jade Hairpin is in Cantonese with white, burned-in English and Chinese subtitles. Both are fussy, slightly distorted tracks, marred by age and the transfer element quality. The subtitles on Jade Hairpin are quite hard to read and frequently cut off at the sides so small words will be lost and larger words half seen.
Extras: Nothin' really. A ‟Insta-action‟ feature breaks the films down into nothing but fight scenes. For instance, the ‟Insta-action‟ version of Jade Hairpin lasts a mere seventeen minutes.
Conclusion: Even at bargain bin prices there is no real good reason to buy this set. Iron-Ox's print is so poor it is about as fun to look at as watching a child die of dysentery. Even though these are both low grade kung fu films, they don't deserve transfers this bad.