One of Shaw Brothers’ and action director Lau Kar-leung’s finest kung fu movies depicts the fictional exploits of Hung Fist founder Hung Hei-gun and his lifelong mission to kill the traitorous Bak Mei. Based on folklore popularized in martial arts novels of the 1940s and ’50s, the film follows Tiger Fist exponent Hung Hei-gun (Chen Kuan-tai) as he and other rebels opposing the Qing Dynasty escape the burning of the Fukien Shaolin Temple by Manchu Governor Kao Chin-chung (Chiang Tao) and his martial arts master Bak Mei (Lo Lieh), one of Shaolin’s famous Five Elders. Depicted in the opening credits, Bak Mei kills the temple’s headmaster and fellow Elder Jee Sin (Lee Hoi-sang) during a duel. While Tong Qian-jin (Gordon Liu) covers their escape, Hei-gun and other rebels go into hiding as a Chinese opera troupe traveling China’s waterways on a red junk. Shortly before the rebels are forced to abandon their boat and scatter as a result of growing threat from Manchu authorities, Hei-gun marries Fang Yong-chun (Lily Li), a street performer specializing in Crane Fist forms. The couple settles down to raise a son named Hung Wen-ding. Still troubled by the death of Jee Sin, Hei-gun resumes his Tiger Fist training in preparation for a duel with Bak Mei. Despite two attempts and extensive training with an iron dummy that simulates the body’s inner flow of qi energy, Hei-gun is unable to penetrate Bak Mei’s Iron Body kung fu. It’s left to his son Wen-ding (Wong Yue) to combine fragmented knowledge from his father’s damaged Tiger Fist manual with his mother’s Crane Fist training to create a fighting style that, when combined with the study of qigong, allows him to find Bak Mei’s one weak point which the white-browed master is able to move around his body at will. In the process, Wen-ding inadvertently develops the Tiger Crane style of kung fu. This is a highly entertaining film that was a hit upon release. It popularized the esoteric art of iron body qiqong in kung fu cinema and also made white-haired kung fu masters the new villains of choice. This resulted in numerous copycat films and spinoffs including Lo Lieh’s excellent sequel CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS. Fighting action is excellent throughout with Gordon Liu, Chen Kuan-tai, Wong Yue, and Lo Lieh all turning in standout performances that favor open-hand forms and esoteric abilities. Lau even briefly appears onscreen as a fighter wielding a three-section staff. Lau’s skill in portraying real and exaggerated kung fu in a colorful light is phenomenal. The concept of Bak Mei using his testicles, usually a weak point on any male, as a lure to entrap his opponents is a unique highlight of the film, as is frequent light comedy, diverse settings and the charming presence of Lily Li as a romantic foil for Chen’s stubborn character. These latter assets compliment the film’s action, making this a recommended entry point into the world of kung fu cinema for general audiences.
REVIEW: Executioners from Shaolin (1977),
Bak Mei • Chen Kuan-tai • Crane Fist • Genre: Kung Fu • Genre: Shapes • Hung Fist • Hung Hei-gun • kung fu manual • Lau Kar-leung • Lily Li • Lo Lieh • shaolin temple • Shaw Brothers • Tiger Crane Fist • Wong Yue