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Monkey Kung Fu

88 Films // Unrated // March 13, 2022
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted March 22, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Directed by Mar Lo for the Shaw Brothers in 1979, Monkey Kung Fu (also known as Stroke Of Death) stars Siu-Tung Ching as a man named Wei Chung who, while in prison, is gifted part of a mysterious wooden totem by an aged, cyclopean kung-fu master named Ma Siu Tien who is essentially on death row. Chung decides to break out of prison and to find the other part of the totem so that he can ascertain its purpose and what it could possibly mean to him. Making things difficult, however, is the fact that Chung is chained to fellow prisoner Zhou (Hau Chiu-Sing), which makes their escape a bit tricky.

Regardless, they make it out of prison only to find themselves pursued by members of a violent gang of martial artists out to retrieve the totem for themselves. What Chung eventually figures out is that the totem is a key to unlocking the old man's secret fighting style, Monkey Kung Fu! Eventually freed from Zhou, Chung starts training to stop the bad guys from getting ahold of the goods and to defend himself from their sinister attacks!

Mar Lo's background directing comedy gives this film a lighter tone and you do have to wonder if this film had an influence on some of the pictures that Jackie Chan made shortly after. Regardless, it's an entertaining film that really lets Siu-Tung Ching strut his stuff. He moves quickly here, cat-like reflexes keeping him nimble even in the midst of heavy duty hand to hand combat. Right after the opening credits ,which feature some really nicely lit practice footage, we see him square off against the old man in the prison and the movie doesn't let up much from there. As such, the film is definitely light on plot but there's so much action in the movie that fight film fans won't be left wanting, and the vast majority of the fight choreography on display is really well done.

The fights also sometimes incorporate interesting elements, not just typical weapons but ‘found' objects such as a mat, a chain or, of course, any and all furniture available in that very familiar looking tea room setting where one such scene plays out. There's also a stand out sequence where Chung fights a prostitute in a brothel that takes place pretty much entirely without the two combatants leaving the bed.

The film is paced well and while not all of the humor in it hits its mark, much of it is pretty effective, allowing Siu-Tung Ching and the rest of the talented performers to work some slapstick into the fights. The movie does shift in tone a few times, getting serious when you maybe don't expect it to, but this winds up suiting the plot well enough that you probably won't mind so much.

The Video:

88 Films brings Monkey Kung Fu to Blu-ray framed in 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taking up 29.5Bs of space on a 50GB disc. Colors look quite good here most of the time (a few interior scenes less so) and black levels are fine but some softness seems to be inherent in the source materials. Overall though, this looks quite good. There's virtually no print damage, however, and the transfer is free of obvious compression artifacts and edge enhancement but it looks like some light DNR has been applied, smoothing things over a little bit.

The Audio:

24-bit LPCM 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.

The Extras:

Extra features begin with Audio commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Phil Gillon of the Podcast On Fire Network. This track discusses the film's export title 'Stroke Of Death,' the opening scene shot on the Shaw stages and how you immediately know it's a Shaw Brothers set, the impact that the film had on other kung fu comedies, details on the different cast and crew members that were involved with the production, the use of props in some of the key fight sequences, who did what behind the camera, the variety of action we see in the film, how certain martial arts films are ones you can appreciate over repeat viewings, the actual history of the monkey style of kung fu, the sets and locations used in the movie, the consistency of the action, the quality of the staging in a few key scenes, how the film gives you exactly what you want with its ending and quite a bit more. It's an enjoyable and informative talk that's definitely worth listening to.

Stunting Around: An Interview with Choreographer Tony Leung Siu-hung runs for fifteen minutes and goes into some detail about how he got into martial arts through his older brother which led to his getting work as a stuntman. He then talks about some of the people in the industry who influenced him, thoughts on the different fighting styles we see in martial arts films, having to modify fighting styles to work on camera in the context of the movies being made, the importance of knowing the story you're involved with, what happens when an accident takes place on set (he uses Iron Angels as an example) and what it's like working with American stuntmen and filmmakers.

An original trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options round out the extra features on the disc itself.

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 the film's poster art on one side and the newly created art on the reverse. Also included in the case is a very nicely illustrated full color insert booklet that contains an essay on the film titled ‘Going Ape Hong Kong Style: A Look Back At Monkey Jung Fu' written by Andrew Graves.


Monkey Kung Fu is a lot of fun, almost non-stop action from start to finish. It might not be deep, but it delivers some strong right choreography and moments of amusing humor. 88 Films' Blu-ray release looks really nice, sounds fine and contains some decent extras as well. It's a nice addition to their Shaw Brothers collection of releases and comes 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.

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