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Iron-Fisted Monk, The
In Sammo Hung's directorial debut Iron-Fisted Monk (1977), the roly poly martial star/director/and action choreography wonder stars as a revenge seeking guy named Luk (or "Husker" as the back cover and most prints call him, though this discs subs opt for the name "Luk"). He has spent many years at the Shaolin Temple training to become a martial master in order to get justice for the death of his father who was killed by some bullying Manchu thugs. Luk was rescued form that incident by a wily monk, Sam Tak (Chen Sing- Rage of the Wind), and taken under the temples care.
Deciding that he is ready for the outside world, Luk leaves the temple and ventures out into the world- a world still overly ripe with greedy, evil Manchu's teasing children, head butting old women, and generally rape-murdering as they see fit. One of the lone spots of resistance is a profitable dye factory, wherein Luk finds a job instructing the workers in Shaolin's martial ways and a friend in a worker named Liang (Lo Hoi-pang) who shares Luk's hatred of the Manchus due to their rape/murder of his sister. When the dye factory foils the Manchi's plots to run them out of business, it soon leads to a confrontation of weapons, fists and feet, eventually resulting in Luk and monk Sam Tak into a duel with the despicable lot.
Iron-Fisted Mink is an assured debut and, in the years that followed, Sammo would really make his mark as director and performer in a wave of comedic leaning kung fu films. But, for his debut Sammo casts himself as the traditional kung fu hero, in the Bruce Lee vein he is already a badass when we meet him, and his motivations are explained in a perfect flashback, then it gets right into his pounding the heads of some Manchu's. So, this is one of those kung fu films that really keeps to the meat of the story: you see the bad guys being bad and the good guys semi-tolerating it while some larger confrontations arise. When, you've got your nasty villain (and damn, these are some of the nastiest Manchu's in kung fu filmdom) and your noble good guys, and some great fights, what more do you really need?
Sammo actually shares his spotlight with the great Chen Sing, one of the better b-list leads and supporting performers, who gets to shine in a good guy role for a change. Chen Sing's looks usually relegated him to sneering villain or tough guy Charles Bronsonish roles, but here Sammo Shows a side of Chen Sing rarely seen, that of the amiable mentor who doesn't mind bending the rules a little. The two square off with the Manchus' in a fine finale, and by the closing frame you could tell that Sammo's future behind the camera would hold some promise.
The DVD: Fox/FortuneStar. First I'd like to take a stab at the British, whose Hong Kong Legends edition of Iron-Fisted Monk has a rape scene cut out. Being rape friendly Americans, the scene is in tact on Fox's disc. Joking aside, it is pretty disturbing, but Sammo can surprise you like that.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. While it does show its age, especially with some heavy grain, the print is pretty good shape and the details are all quite good. The colors and sharpness are strong. Aside form the heavy grain, the contrast suffers in some of the darker scenes, particularly a couple of interior scenes that look like they weren't shot with perfect exposure in the first place.
Sound: English and Cantonese DTS or 5.1 Dolby Surround tracks or original Cantonese mono track. Optional English subtitles. The original language choice is great, definitely plays to the old school kung fu fan. The remixing on the other tracks is not as severe as past Fox/FortuneStar releases. The action fx doesn't have that hokey, overblown remix condition, and it seems they just enhanced the crashes, punches, and kicks with a deeper sound than the tinny original track.
Again, Fox shows improvement by not using "dubtitles." Now you get variations to choose from, like this comparison of a merchants rant at the Manchu's- Dub: "Who do you think you are? Eat shit and die! I hope you have deformed children." Whereas the subtitles offer the more colorful, "Bastard. I hope your son has two assholes. You'll be busy all day long." For my tastes, "Eat shit and die!" is the kind of thing we've all heard before, but "I hope your son has two assholes."? C'mon, that's going to be my insult of choice from now on.
Extras: New and original Iron-Fisted Monk trailers plus trailers for other Fox old school HK releases.
Conclusion: While a little rough around the edges, a fine transfer of an entertaining school kung fu film. Some kung fu flicks have good fights but lackluster stories or pacing but Iron-Fisted Monk moves briskly with some solid fights and a decent story. A great purchase for fans looking for some old school chop socky entertainment.