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Invincible Warriors (4 Movie Set)
Return of the Tiger (1979)- This Bruce Li flick has Li cast as Chang Wong, an undercover cop out to bust a drug ring. Any plot logic takes the backseat to funky 70's fashions, music, and general revelry in the disco decade setting. Angela Mao is Li's assistant, Lu Feng is a currpot dope running martial school head, but the real co-star is Paul "Crimewave, Bluto in Popeye" Smith, who plays the other drug dealer Chang is out to bust. Actually, that is a stretch, I'd say the real star of the film is Li's clothing, single color leisure suits, track suits, wide collars, a casual parade of both nauseating yet giggle inducing fashions.
Anyway, with its Anglo bad guy and sleazy 70's silliness, this is the kind of film most martial purists shy away from and relegate to being an embarrassment. But, film is entertainment, after all, and while the good martial fight fan in me frowns on the film, the exploitation freak inside me twitches with glee. C'mon, how can you resist? Li oils himself down Shaolin Challenges Ninja style and flips around a gym, using the gymnastic equipment before taking on a fat henchman, who is often seen wearing a gray track suit with the words "FAT TOM" on the front. Li is chased by some hitmen on dirt bikes, who bash him with sticks, jump over him, try to do wheelies into him, and such. And then theres the big finale, in which Paul Smith outshines everyone, doing the stereotypical "big guy" fighting stuff- like being hit by a little guy who cant move him, using the belly bounce, having a whole group of guys try to tackle him, crashes through brick walls, picks up large objects and throws them, tears his coat off by flexing, all while grunting like Frankenstein's Monster. If you ask me, that is pure good, empty-headed entertainment.
Screaming Tiger (aka. Wang Yu: King of Boxers, Ten Fingers of Steel, 1973) Jimmy Wang Yu plays, Ma Tai Yung, a Chinese fighter who has traveled to Japan in order to find the man who slaughtered his village and family. He befriends a lovely pickpocket, a Japanese kendo expert, and a Korean fighter also out for revenge. Turns out the man responsible for everyone's problems (Lu Feng) is the head of a martial school and robbery syndicate who traveled to China to learn some skull crushing martial arts. Different from the typical Wang Yu Vs. dirty Japanese films because this one actually has Wang Yu team up with some sympathetic foreigners.
In the first ten minutes of the film, Wang Yu is twice encircled by bad guys, who he then trounces, each time dramatically throwing his bag down to the ground before doing so. It has some of the obligatory, "Jimmy showing the Japs who is boss business", like when he takes on some sumo wrestlers. There is a long stretch in the middle of the film where Jimmy is absent and his cohorts deal with the bad guy. Then, naturally, everyone ends up dead, but not before they tell Jimmy that Lu Feng killed them as well as his family. We now come to the great finale, a finale so good it makes the rest of the cumbersome, so-so film all worthwhile. No doubt taking a nod from the fantastic Robert Aldrich/Lee Marvin/Ernest Borgnine film Emperor of the North, Wang Yu and Lu Feng go toe-to-toe on a train. In some precarious, pre-Jackie Chan stuntwork, Wang Yu even hangs off the edge of the train and a bridge. But, it doesn't end there, they tumble off a bridge and fight on slick river rocks, sliding down them, all the while pummeling each other. It is a really brutal, dirty fight, and Wang Yu, Lu Feng, and their stuntmen do a great job considering the difficult location and produce a great finale martial fans will applaud.
It should be noted that the DVD only runs 1 hr and 15 mins so this (and some awkward transitions, abbreviated music- including stolen music from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly- and numerous plot holes) appears to be an edited version.
Snake and Crane Secret (1978)- Two sons of a martial master are split up when their father is killed and both are raised by separate masters. One son, Meng Fei, is raised by a monk, who holds a secret manual that has the name of revolutionaries in it. The grand big daddy evil, Master Hung, wants the book and so do the revolutionaries, so Meng Fei becomes a target for both of them. After Meng Fei infiltrates the bad guy's inner circle, he discovers that his brother is one of Master Hung's men. The two brothers unite to seek revenge for the death of their father.
Pretty average kung fu film. Directed by veteran Wu Ma, who also has a cameo as a drunken master after the book. Plenty of fighting and lots of weapons combat, acrobatics, and comedy, like Meng Fei at first giving Master Hung a book of pornography instead of the fighting manual. The usual plotline, shenanigans, training scenes with the two brothers, and the eventual showdown. Decent but forgettable.
Rage of the Masters (aka The Hero, Wang Yu: The Destroyer, Rage of the Tiger, 1974)- Jimmy Wang Yu plays Tiger Wong, the son of a martial master and compete mamma's boy, who promised his dad he'd keep his skills a secret and not enter a life of fighting. When the dirty Brother Lueng and his Thai kickboxers start eliminating all of the virtuous martial schools so he can run his gambling and extortion, the remaining refuges from these schools come to Tiger Wong for help.
In the usual Wang Yu fashion, he actually doesn't do much until pretty much everyone is dead, leaving him to go after all of the bad guys in the finale. Not the greatest Jimmy Wang Yu movie because it is very talky and melodramatic. Most of the fighting throughout the bulk of the film doesn't even involve Jimmy. Even his sickly mother proves more impressive as she takes on a room full of bad guys, tossing axes, logs, and floor tiles at the random baddies. The most memorable thing about the film is the Thai kickboxers, who wear the most ridiculous outfits, yellow muscle shirt tank tops, sometimes capes, and very tight red hotpants.
I'm pretty sure this version is cut too. There is a lot of knife fighting in the finale (Wang Yu no doubt taking pointers from Duel of the Iron Fists) and Wang Yu fighting the main bad guy and the kickboxers is pretty brutal. The sloppy editing looked to be censored a bit here and there in these scenes, snipping out some bloodshed and bone breaking.
The DVD: Brentwood
Picture: Only Screaming Tiger isn't full-screen. All are pretty basic tape transfers. Screaming Tiger is a still squished and not quite right widescreen. There is the usual wear and tear, faded color, lack of definition and sharpness, print damage and such. But, anyone familiar with budget titles shouldn't be surprised. Its basic EP vhs quality but without the EP wear and tear when you're re-watching it. The best looking one in the bunch is Return of the Tiger. The worst was probalby Screaming Tiger, a shame since it is the best film in the bunch.
Sound: All the films feature a basic Mono English dub versions. All of them are pretty low volume, with occassional hiss, drop-off and other such distortions. The worst dub is Rage of the Masters, done with a bunch of bored, mealy-mouthed voice artists.
Extras: Chapter Selections... thats it
Conclusion: Well, they aren't great kung fu movies, but if you are any kind of die-hard fan of kung fu films, they are certainly worth a watch. Qualitywise it is crud, but then agian, it wasnt that long ago kung fu fans would've paid $20 for vhs of each of the films in pretty much the same low quality. This is the sort of thing you're only going to pick up if you are a chop socky fanatic who'd rather spend $10 on the movies and adding them to your collection rather than renting them.