The latest Martial Arts Marathon release from Shout! Factory features four Golden Harwest films from the mid-seventies; The Skyhawk, The Dragon Tamers, The Manchu Boxer, and The Association.
The Skyhawk stands out especially among the films presented here, but not because it’s necessarily better. The film follows Wong Fei-hong (Kwan Tak-hing) and two of his pupils (Carter Wong and Sammo Hung) as they take on a local kingpin (Hsiung Chao).
Wong Fei-hong is a Chinese historical figure who became a folk hero (think Davy Crockett, but with kung fu). Actor Kwan Tak-hing starred at Fei-hong in at least 77 films (the exact number depends on who you ask) and The Skyhawk came rather late in his run as the character. The reason I single it out among an otherwise sub-par collection of kung fu movies is because of how cynical and modern The Skyhawk really is relative to other Golden Harvest films of the era.
Rather than being a malevolent gang leader, the bad guy in The Skyhawk is a union leader who strong-arms local factory workers and owns a casino. And although the plot has a predictable outcome, Fei-hong is portrayed as a very flawed character, whose decisions ultimately lead to the death one of his young students.
The Dragon Tamers was the second directorial effort of John Woo. It exhibits of little of the Hardboiled director’s later flare for directing action, with frantic camerawork juxtaposed against liberal use of slow-motion. Woo fans will recognize the director’s style as still evolving in The Dragon Tamers, however.
The Manchu Boxer is more or less forgettable. There are a few moderately well-choreographed fight scenes, beyond that I can’t say much for The Manchu Boxer. It’s a relatively obscure Golden Harvest release for a reason.
The Association is another modern-influence kung fu film featuring appearances by Mao Ying, Carter Wong, and Sammo Hung. Though The Association is probably the best film in this collection, it still doesn’t meet the expectations implied by its cast and budget.
Rather than being a whole, The Association feels more like just the sum of its parts, which is a perfect analogy for the latest Shout! Factory Martial Arts Marathon release. Very serviceable for fans of the kung-fu genre, this set offers little for respective viewers. Action fans may salivate at The Dragon Tamers status as an early Woo film, with the other three films as an added bonus.