Bootmasters John Liu and Hwang Jang-lee, fresh from taking the kung fu cinema world by storm in Ng See-yuen’s hit films THE SECRET RIVALS and SECRET RIVALS 2, trade kicks yet again in this kung fu spy movie from Taiwan. Though not their best work, it’s an entertaining effort that benefits from the high-quality action choreography of Yuen Woo-ping and a better-than-average story weaving exaggerated shapes fighting into Qing Dynasty-era political espionage. It’s also an unusual kung fu movie due to the onscreen presence of Seasonal Films’ executive and Hwang Jang-lee student Roy Horan as a kung fu-fighting Russian general named Tolstoy. In yet another nod to THE SECRET RIVALS, he is flanked by two laughably brutish bodyguards played by fellow Caucasian martial artists Phil Cohen and Robert Kerver. Seemingly their sole purpose is to make Westerners look like nothing more than knuckle-dragging barbarians. In the film, Tolstoy arrives in China posing as a pistol-wielding diplomat but is actually there to meet with traitorous Qing General Shan-tung (Hwang Jang-lee) to discuss plans for a Russian invasion. After a Qing operative is killed by Shan-tung’s men while uncovering the plot, the Imperial court sends their top agent, Shao-tin (John Liu) to investigate. To ferret out the conspirators and stop them, Shao-tin teams up with his street-wise martial arts brother (Yeh Fei-yang) and a young pickpocket (Huang I-lung). When the kid is killed their mission becomes a quest for vengeance. With the first half focused on plotting and lesser known and less-talented co-stars, the film is slow to build up to any noteworthy fighting action. But by the middle portion, focus shifts to Hwang Jang-lee and John Liu, both of whom have incredible kicking abilities that are on full display. The end fight is split into two parts with Hsu Hsia, better known for his role as the stick-fighting master in DRUNKEN MASTER, acting as the warm-up baddie before Hwang takes the stage wielding an iron fan and kung fu cinema’s deadliest feet. Horan also shows up at the end and is completely outclassed and sidelined by his mentor. Still, he does get to have a memorable duel with Yeh who matches throwing knives with Horan’s single-shot pistols. The final match up pitting Hwang versus Liu and Yeh is decent but too much of a lesser repeat of the main fights in the SECRET RIVALS films. In addition, all three stars are noticeably doubled often by Corey Yuen and Yuen Biao, both of whom also appear throughout the film as different fighting extras. Aside from mention of “Snake and Hawk” techniques used simultaneously by the villains, there is little emphasis on fighting styles. However, viewers will see a mixture of traditional animal forms, Taekwondo, acrobatics, and handling of weapons that include the spear, sword and chain sickle.
Corey Yuen • Genre: Kung Fu • Hsu Hsia • John Liu • Roy Horan • Snuff-Bottle Connection (1977) • Yeh Fei-yang • Yuen Biao • Yuen Woo-ping