Independent kung fu moviemaker Joseph Kuo directs this exceptional kung fu classic filled with top-tier fighting from action directors Corey Yuen and Yuen Cheung-yan that depicts the efforts of an aging Bak Mei kung fu master to prove his skill against seven of China’s top regional champions. While traveling about the country to each dueling location with his daughter and top three students, Shangkuang Chang (Jack Long) is relentlessly pursued by a vagabond named Hsia Hsiao-ying (Li Yi-min) who is desperate to be his pupil. After Hsia risks his life to help the old master fend off assassins, Chang devotes the remainder of their journey to training the young man. A quick study, Hsia surpasses the other students in skill in time to defend his ailing master’s honor during the final challenge. Upon returning home, Shang picks the young man as his successor but Hsia, having just learned from an eye witness that Shang killed his father years before, turns on his master. Supporting Hsia is a mysterious stranger (Mark Long) bearing a hidden agenda and the final three forms of Bak Mei that, once written in a kung fu manual passed on by his master, were stolen from Chang years before. The character Shangkuang Chang is very loosely based on real-life Bak Mei grandmaster Cheung Lai-chun who was widely regarded as one of China’s top martial artists during his life and was known to have engaged in numerous competitive fights. Beyond this, the film is pure fiction though certainly entertaining. The plot’s emphasis on travel and mostly non-lethal dueling makes it fairly unique and refreshing by genre convention. More to the point, the film’s plentiful action is some of the best the genre has to offer. With Bak Mei kung fu as its foundation, the choreography is fast, powerful and direct. Emphasis is placed on aggressive open-hand forms with limited kicking but liberal inclusion of acrobatics. This is something that the Chinese opera-trained action directors excel at, as does leading man Jack Long who tears up the screen with a dynamic performance rivaled by co-stars Li Yi-min and Mark Long. All three also appeared together in Kuo’s grindhouse hit THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING but this is easily their best work. Corey Yuen stands out from among Jack Long’s opponents in a masterful weapons duel that turns increasingly frantic as Long disarms or entraps each of his weapons. Despite employing a few fanciful fighting tricks like exaggerated ground slides and flying kicks, the film offers up heavy doses of largely gimmick-free shapes fighting all skillfully executed with minimal doubling or unnecessary exposition. In short, this film delivers serious kung fu action like no other and should not be missed.
REVIEW: 7 Grandmasters, The (1978),
Bak Mei • Corey Yuen • Genre: Kung Fu • Genre: Shapes • Jack Long • Joseph Kuo • Li Yi-min • Mark Long • Seven Grandmasters (1978) • Yuen Cheung-yan