During the 1970s the Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong produced some of the most iconic action films ever made, revolutionising the genre through the backbreaking work of top-shelf talent. The new Limited Edition Blu-ray box set from Arrow Video presents twelve jewels from the Shaw crown, all released within the 1970s – here’s a look at all the titles included in the lavish release, featuring kickass kung fu killers, crazy kaiju knockoffs and culture clash comedies.
KING BOXER (1973)
This is the legendary actioner that set the kung-fu film craze on fire in the UK. With a strong cast led by Shaw Brothers stalwart Lo Lieh, this iconographic martial arts movie has fantastic fight choreography, and beautiful sets which look absolutely stunning on Blu-ray.
Lo plays a kung-fu student eager to please his master and defend the honour of the martial arts school. There are a plethora of wonderful fight sequences, sometimes exceedingly violent for the period, and a couple of eye-popping moments that have to be seen to be believed.
THE FIVE VENOMS (1978)
This is arguably the best martial arts movie from director Chang Cheh – a visual feast of action, and one of the most influential productions that came from the Shaw Brother studio. The martial arts content is plentiful, but it’s not just fighting for fighting’s sake. The complexity and mystery of the movie balances nicely with the kung-fu action.Featuring household names to connoisseurs of Shaw Brothers movies, the film’s production values are exemplary – this is true old-school kung-fu at its magnificent best.
THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972)
This is one of the rare early martial arts movies that steps away from ancient China, and is set in 1920s Shanghai, with the classic tale of a man’s rise and fall in the gangster underworld. The Tong gang fights are all bloody, and the use of hatchets in said action sequences is intriguing. Chen Kuan Tai gives a tremendous performance, as does John Cheung as his loyal friend and servant. The real villains of the movie, ‘The Four Champions’ do not disappoint. The icing on the bloody cake is the 3-minute finale revenge fight, a real eye-opener from director Chand Cheh. You’ll wince as you watch, and it’s a great climax.
FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS (1974)
This Shaolin story, brilliantly directed by Chang Cheh, brings together five of the top Shaw Brothers martial arts acting heroes: Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Ti Lung and Meng Fei. This great cast of Chinese martial arts legends means a nonstop stream of amazing kung-fu action, making it a cut above the lower-budgeted Shaolin movies that came out around 1973.
DIRTY HO (1979)
Directed by Liu Chia-Liang, this is a kung fu action comedy with Gordon Lui taking on the lead and with Wong Yue as the title character. It’s one of the great martial arts team-up movies, the story of a prince and a thief getting together to foil an assassination attempt on Gordon Lui’s life. The first half of the film is mainly comedy – in the second half things get more serious and the true martial arts team goes into top gear. This is a feast of kung-fu team-up action with the two main stars giving an epic martial arts performance.
HEROES OF THE EAST (1978)
A martial arts hidden gem from the Shaw Brothers movie stable, directed by Lau Kar-Leung. The film starts off as a romantic Chinese comedy with a backdrop of martial arts. However, stick with it and it turns into a total fight-fest, with themes of honour, respect and understanding between Chinese and Japanese cultures. Gordon Lui and Yuka Mizuno star in this outstanding martial arts classic.
CHINATOWN KID (1977)
Chang Cheh directs this fast-paced actioner, mainly set in 1970s San Francisco. The film is an excellent showcase for the talents of the late Hong Kong martial arts star Alexander Fu Sheng, whose comedy and kung-fu recall Jackie Chan. The main theme of the film is the rise and fall of a gangster, and includes all the five actors who eventually would be known as ‘The Five Venoms’.
SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1976)
This offering was the closest Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh came close to making a true martial arts epic. The film mainly focuses on the training of an enthusiastic and determined group of students, who have waited to join the monks by kneeling outside the gates of the temple for days. The movie concludes with a tremendous battle, with all the actors locked in numerous battles, filmed over the entire breadth of the Shaw studio backlot overlooking Clearwater bay. It’s a masterpiece of choreography, action and storytelling from one of the leading directors in this genre. Two words say it all: ultimate entertainment.
CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS (1976)
Out of all the Shaw Brothers directors, Liu Chia-Liang is up there with the greats. He takes this martial arts adventure on a more intricate and unexpected path than the norm, and has major stars of this time playing against type. Gordon Liu gets to play Wong Fei-hung, and although he starts off as a bit of a comedic character, when he goes away to train with a master the film expands his martial arts repertoire to great effect. Gordon works well with Chen Kuan-Tai as his teacher, and their fighting/sparring sessions are exceptional.
EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1977)
This second helping from director Liu Chia-Liang sees him delivering some strongly-choreographed scenes of martial arts action. A lot of screen time is taken up with Chen Kuan-Tai training hard in ‘tiger style’ kung-fu, with a training tool in the shape of a steel man that projects ball bearings to help defeat the villain of the movie. Said villain is played by late great Lo Lieh, a bizarre white-haired monk who has special bodily powers that prevent him from being hurt. This is a great example of a vintage kung fu with a taste of all genres and a must for any martial arts connoisseur.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977)
A strange production from Shaw Brothers, seemingly cashing in on the success of the Hollywood production of King Kong. This is just a fun monster movie – non-stop lunacy, and lots of explosions and fires, and of course there is a beautiful girl in distress. Plus, there is a load of destruction of cars, buildings and people who get in his way. The model miniature work is nothing short of spectacular. Fast, fun and entertaining – you’re in for a real treat.
CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1978)
Another kung-fu offering from director Chang Cheh, with all the main characters from The Five Venoms, released in some countries as The Return of The Five Deadly Venoms. It actually has no link to its predecessor, and stands on its own merits, showing that just because one has a disability does not mean you cannot overcome the odds and defeat your enemy. As well as the fantastic bloody action, and breathtaking martial arts skills on display, the plot to this movie is intense and makes for a totally solid viewing experience for martial arts fans.