This is a terrific kung fu actioner that was a huge hit upon release and popularized Korean Taekwondo in kung fu cinema thanks to outstanding performances from power-kicking newcomers Hwang Jang-lee and John Liu. It also established filmmaker Ng See-yuen and his fledgling Seasonal Films Corporation as serious contenders in the genre alongside leading action directors at Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest. Heavily inspired by stylized Italian Westerns, THE SECRET RIVALS blends forms-based kung fu and Taekwondo kicking with an adventure story filled with colorful fighting heroes and villains, topped off with a rousing Spaghetti Western soundtrack. Don Wang, another newcomer, plays a southern fist-trained Chinese government agent named Shen Ying-wei who is sent to Korea to track down Prince Huo, the man responsible for the theft of a large sum of gold. In besting a martial arts contest, he’s hired as the culprit’s new bodyguard. His mission is complicated by the arrival of the Ferocious Wolf Hsiao Yu-fei (John Liu), a northern kicking expert determined to avenge the murder of his family by Prince Huo’s chief protector, the Silver Fox (Hwang Jang-lee). Their rivalry intensifies when they both fall in love with a local innkeeper’s daughter. As Prince Huo uncovers Shen’s true identity, the two men must decide whether or not to set aside their differences in order to defeat the Silver Fox. Filmed in South Korea, THE SECRET RIVALS offers a refreshing change of setting and costume from the typical kung fu movie, which is also fitting given action director Tommy Lee’s emphasis on Korea’s top martial art, Taekwondo. Hwang’s performance as an aged, white-haired Crane Fist master with lightning-fast kicks is phenomenal and rightly set a new standard for fighting villains in kung fu movies. Liu went on to match legwork with Hwang in a number of movies hereafter but their duel at the end of this film remains one of their best. Wong Tao also makes a great first impression with a well-rounded performance highlighted by his good looks, charisma, explosive screen fighting power, and some impressive nunchaku handling. This film was followed by a sequel released the following year with Yuen Woo-ping stepping in as action director and Tino Wong replacing Wong Tao as the southern fist fighter.
Kung Fu Cinema recommends the U.K. DVD release of THE SECRET RIVALS from Soulblade which includes a clean anamorphic widescreen picture, original Mandarin and English dub tracks, optional English subtitles, and an audio commentary from Toby Russell and Don Wang. However, this release is now out of circulation in stores.REVIEW: Secret Rivals, The (1976),
Crane Fist • Don Wang Tao • Genre: Kung Fu • Genre: Shapes • Hwang Jang-Lee • John Liu • taekwondo • The Secret Rivals (1976) • Tommy Lee