the star that never was, Conan Lee, Yuen Kwai's magically demented
directorial debut is pure entertainment from the opening frame.
To summarise the plot is not the easiest of tasks, as the storyline
appears and disappears in a way the film's ninjas could only dream
But as with many films of this period, a plot was the last thing
you were watching the movie for...
Filled with almost limitless imagination and directed with the incredible
verve which Yuen Kwai has become renowned for, the weapon to weapon,
hand to weapon and hand to hand combat is stunning.
Highlights include the incredible stilt fight at the film's start,
and the epic Lee and and Sanada pagoda battle.
Wang Jang-Lee is drafted in to provide a final adversary, but never
really cuts loose with the footwork we've all come to love.
Acting-wise, Sanada is far more accomplished than Lee, and handles
the moments of melodrama well.
Lee, the man with an ego far larger than his talent, looks awkward
when not pummeling the rest of the cast.
However, his physical grace more than makes up for it with many
superb combat sequences punctuating the convoluted plot.
One particularly impressive element of the film is its scale. Whilst
never taking your breath away, the use of outdoor locations and
large, beautiful structures, such as Uncle Foo's water-mill and
Ching's (Conan Lee) pagoda abode, provide a varied environment for
the action to take place.
For a film made 20 years
ago, the print's condition is remarkable. The extensive removal
of dirt and marks pays dividends, leaving a print which betrays
Artifacts remain largely nonexistent, and grain is surprisingly
rare, although at times a very obvious shimmering effect can be
seen in the background detail..
Black levels are deep throughout, but due the absence of shadow
detail, the night sequences can be somewhat indistinct.
The lovingly designed costumes featured throughout look excellent,
as the transfer's colour reproduction is of a consistently high
If there is one aspect of the print which does cause some disappointment,
it's the fluctuating detail levels.
Whilst this is no fault of HKL, the print's condition means that
shots can be crisp detailed one moment, and soft and blurry the
from the occasional use of the front surrounds, the Cantonese 2.0
soundtrack is almost totally centre focused.
This is no bad thing, as dialogue is reasonably clear and distinct.
However, from the film's fabulously hokey opening score, the track
exhibits a rather 'raw' sound quality which affects much of the
a disappointing set of subtitles are provided by HKL.
For much of the time, their translation is spot-on, whilst at others
it's totally incorrect.
It seems as though the film's English soundtrack has been used at
times as the template for the subtitles, and therefore bears little
resemblance to the Cantonese dialogue.
Also, the subs at times are too Westernised for their
own good, making them feel at odds with the film's period time-frame.
Lacking some much-needed input from the cast and crew, Bey Logan
is left to comment only briefly on certain scenes, and their filming
techniques, and instead talks rather uninvolvingly about the actor's
and director's backgrounds.
This is a below-standard commentary from someone who sounds like
they're tiring of regurgitating the same facts on each subsequent
Two rather short, though interesting, text-only biographies are
found in this section.
Sadly, the two leads who I would be far more interested in reading
about - Lee and Sanada - are conspicuous by their absence.
The 'Bull Devil' (2 mins 17secs)
This 4:3 ratio, VHS quality clip is an extension of the superb stilt
The way the scene has been edited is somewhat different to that
found on the featured print, as the 'Bull Devil' meets out a heavier
beating to the festival's Gods.
The Spiritual Boxer (2mins)
Another extension, this time focusing on the supposed spiritual
power of Master Leong.
By evoking the spirit of the Monkey King in a member of the watching
crowd, Leong alludes to possessing some actual San Da ability, rather
than looking like the fake he does in the film.
Return To The Pagoda (40secs)
This very short scene features Sanada's character displaying his
Kung-Fu skills, as he talks to Ching.
UK Promo Trailer
An oddly cropped presentation of the extremely enjoyable Mandarin
trailer is offered by HKL. a 2.35:1 image is cropped at either side
of the TV to present a literal 'letterbox' image.
This Japanese teaser trailer, looking like a 3rd generation pirate
video, does a good job of highlighting the film's gloriously OTT
Ng See-Yuen and Roy Horan (24 mins)
Alternating between the two interviewees, this specially commissioned
feature makes for great viewing as both men discuss the film.
Of particular interest are their opinions and stories regarding
Conan Lee. It seems that the arrogance and egotistical nature which
has been become synonymous with this man is solidly based in fact.
This is an excellent extra which focuses solely on the film, and
it's actors, and is all the better for it.
Police Story 2 Mr.Vampire
Naked Killer Police Assassins/Yes,
Madam! Red Wolf
Once Upon A Time In China 3
Hong Kong: 1941 Magnificent
Butcher Encounters Of
The Spooky Kind
Iron Fisted Monk
terms of plot and acting this 1982 film offers little in the way
of innovation. However, the same cannot be said of its action choreography.
Yuen Kwai offers rarely anything but breathtaking action in his
superb directorial debut.
An excellent visual presentation, backed-up by some very welcome
extras, have the shine taken off them by an outbreak of subtitling
All in all, however, this cracking 1982 movie is well-worth the
price of admission.