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Legendary Weapons of China (Special Edition)
One of the most entertaining kung-fu movies that the world famous Shaw Brothers cranked out in the early eighties is Legendary Weapons Of China, directed by and starring Chia-Liang Liu. The movie revolves around Lei Kung (played by Chia-Liang Liu himself), a member of the Yi Ho Society who has been sent to the province of Yunnan where he winds up disappearing after breaking up his school to protect his students from the dangers of the changing martial arts scene.
Master Li Lin-ying isn't happy at all with Lui Kung's disappearance and so he calls in three of his finest fighters, a trio of assassins named Lei Ying (Chia Yung Liu), Tieh Hau (Hsiao Hou) and Ti Tan (Chia Hui Liu, better known on western shores as the instantly Gordon Liu!). These three deadly martial artists see Lei Kung as a traitor and are tasked with finding him and putting him out of business permanently. The Yi Ho society might have a few skeletons in their closet, however, and Lei Kung isn't the type to go down without a fight...
Those expecting anything revolutionary in terms of story or plot will be disappointed but the direction and fight choreography on display more than makes up for that in a big, big way. From the opening sequence in which a sleek female combatant dispatches a bunch of male opponents with her martial skills against a black backdrop through to the intense final thirty minutes, the moves on display in this movie are very, very impressive. The film also benefits from some nice lighting and camerawork, and from infusing its fairly standard storyline with some stranger supernatural and black magic elements. This helps to set it apart from the pack a bit, which is never a bad thing at all.
There are moments where the film stumbles, primarily in terms of its attempts at comic relief, most of which are groan inducing and not particularly funny but if you're able to look past these bits, most of which are quite insignificant, you can definitely enjoy this one for the fun fight film that it is. Fans of weapons combat will dig this movie, as it features a fair bit of 'kung fu guy versus gun guy' action and a few interesting ideas such as a fighter who uses Voodoo dolls to make people fight for him. Gordon Liu's scene is a highlight, and watching him square off against Chia-Liang Liu makes for a pretty intense bout that stands out in a film full of standout fight scenes. This is definitely a high note in the later era Shaw Brothers martial arts pictures. It may not be deep, but it's fast paced and as entertaining as you could hope for.
88 Films brings Legendary Weapons Of China to Blu-ray framed in 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taking up 34GBs of space on a 50GB disc. Colors look quite good here and black levels are fine but some digital noise reduction appears to have been applied, some detail is on the soft side and the image is seemingly free or natural looking grain. There's virtually no print damage, however, and the transfer is free of obvious compression artifacts and edge enhancement.
24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono options are provided in both a Chinese language option with English Subtitles and in an English dubbed track with English SDH subtitles. The Chinese track plays best, it suits the film more and it sounds quite clean with no audible issues. The English track is fun in the goofy sort of way that dubbed tracks tend to be for older Shaw Brothers movies.
Extra features begin with an audio commentary by ‘Asian cinema experts' Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. They cover the film's dramatic opening, it's production schedule and release history, Chia-Liang Liu's work both as an actor and as a director, how he was a tough bastard who made movies that were tough bastard movies, how his work compares to the Venom and Chang Cheh movies, the use of violence in the film and its impact, the quality of the lighting and cinematography in the movie, how some costumes work where others don't, how paper umbrellas really won't slow you down if you jump off a building, (just ask Jet Li), Alexander Fu-Sheng's work in the picture, how it isn't all that unusual even today to see monk's on the metro in Hong Kong, the different weapons that appear in the movie and plenty more.
A second commentary track features ‘Asian cinema expert' Frank Djeng and actor/martial artist Michael Worth. They talk about their love of Shaw Brothers' output, how the film parodies certain aspects of some of Chang Cheh's better known films, background details on the different cast and crew members that worked on the film, the depictions of unusual abilities like hypnosis in the movie, the different martial arts set pieces and how they show off the skills of some of the cast members, the comedic elements of the film, elements of Chinese mythology that are worked into the story and the importance of Gordon Liu's work in the film.
A third commentary sees Djeng flying solo. This track right from the start is more analytical and not necessarily a scene-specific track. He talks about the significance of the original Chinese title, the use of black magic and trickery in the film and how that ties into the story and Chinese culture, the different fighting styles in the film, historical elements from China's history and how they work their way into the movie, how acceptance of martial arts movies in the west changed the Hong Kong and Chinese action movie scene pretty much overnight, the impact and influence of the Shaw Brothers' output in this arena and quite a few other topics.
The disc also includes a featurette called Eighteen Weapons: David West On Legendary Weapons Of China which runs for thirteen minutes and goes over how the film was made towards the end of the Shaw Brothers' kung-fu run, what sets the movie apart from other martial arts films, how he first encountered it, the sense of humor on display during parts of the movie, the historical background that the film is set against, the theme of martial arts versus technology the film plays with, some of the film's more memorable moments and more.
Gordon At Shaw: An Interview With Actor Gordon Liu By Frederic Amrboisine is a fifteen minute piece from 2004 with the legendary actor who talks about visiting France, his thoughts on The Legendary Weapons Of China and the character he played in the movie, the establishment of the 'Liu Crew,' performing some of the stunts and fight scenes in the movie, what it was like working alongside the other cast and crew members on the film, thoughts on fighting with weapons versus without, the importance of exercising and practicing kung-fu and of training.
Titus At Shaw: An Interview With Producer Titus Ho By Frederic Amrboisine that lasts twenty-five minutes. He speaks about how he first came to work with the Shaw Brothers studio, the specifics of his work for the company in various different aspects, some of the different colleagues that he worked with over the years, what the studio was like in the mid-eighties, some of the actors he preferred working with, why the Shaw Brothers heads started to wind down production during this period, connecting with Johnnie To and working with him, dealing with censorship issues, and the impact of Chinese-language and Asian cinema worldwide.
Finishing up the extras are a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.
This release also comes packaged with a slipcover, some reversible cover sleeve art (featuring newly created art by "Kung-Fu Bob" O'Brien on one side and the original one-sheet art on the reverse) and, folded up inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase, a nice double-sided replica of two of the film's poster art styles. Also included in the case is an insert booklet containing an essay titled "A Strange Call To Arms" by Andrew Graves and some nice archival images.
Legendary Weapons Of China is a really entertaining film that is highlighted by some impressive fight sequences and a few really strong performances. 88 Films' Blu-ray release looks and sounds quite solid and features an impressive array of extra features as well. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.