Monday, December 12, 2005

Fearless Fighters: A Prudent Purchase

I'll buy both of those for a dollar!
Forget about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and all those art-house martial arts films. The greatest kung-fu movie of all time may just be an Old School Chop-Socky classic that I recently picked up on the advice of my Martial Arts Mentor, Dave Cawley (pictured below right), Maryland's reigning master of Soft Sanitizing-Moisturizing Hand-Lotion-With-Aloe Fist style kung-fu.

The film is called Fearless Fighters (1973) and its name is legend. According to the Hong Kong Movies database, this film (also known as Ninja Killers) was made in Taiwan in 1971 before being released stateside in the Martial Arts banner year of 1973 (which also saw the release of The Five Fingers of Death and Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon). Directed by Mo Man Hung, this non-Shaw Brothers film stars Shaw Brothers' veteran David Chiang (Chiang Ming) and Cheung Ching Ching, and featured an ending brawl between the crippled hero and various bad guys that asserted the rights of the disabled to be provided handicap-accessible seating in Chinese teahouses. In January of 2006, Image Entertainment will be offering a fancy $20 DVD widescreen version of this kung-fu klassic, complete with great original lobby poster cover art (pictured below left), original trailer (also available on Something Weird Video's Dusk To Dawn Drive-In Trash-O-Rama Show Vol. 2), and Audio Commentary by US distributor Richard Ellman and editor Dick Brummer. The version I picked up on Sifu Cawley's advice is East West DVD ('s public domain/bargain bin $1 DVD Double Feature edition that is paired with Godfrey Ho's 1979 Fury At Shaolin Temple (pictured at top of page), starring Gordon Lui (the Yul Bryner lookalike star of the Wu-Tang Clan's favorite chopsocky flick, Master Killer, AKA 36th Chamber of Shaolin), which attempts to resolve the age-old question of which kung-fu style is better: Eagle Claw Fist, Dragon Fist, or Shaolin Fist. Better yet, as a librarian (my beloved day job!) I loved Fury's improbable plotline involving the theft of a valuable book from the Shaolin Temple Library and the treachery of the Shaolin Temple Librarian (an ALA-accredited librarian would never send martial arts reference materials to a non-Shaolin Temple institution such as the Eagle Claw Fist School)! But I digress...If you see this DVD, don't hesitate and, whatever you do, don't twice twice, because it's more than alright - it's da bomb!

The bada-bing bada-boom pace kicks in from the very first frame of Fearless Fighters and never lets up - characters literally jump out of frame, say from a teahouse inn to a mountain side road, as expository sequences are discarded as cavalierly as junk mail or free AOL Trial Installation CDs. Yes, plot is thrown out the window like the I-Ching and actions speak louder than a million amusingly English dubbed words. But don't take my amusingly English flubbed word for it.

Fearless Fighters Reviews:

The plot synopsis from Image Entertainment's version is as follows:
Kung Fu Masters Wielding Incredible Devil Weapons! High-flying action, outrageous stunts and stupendous flying appendages are just a few of the sights in store as mighty warriors face off in a battle that can only leave one side standing! The mighty Eagle Claw Clan is torn apart when evil member To Pa instructs his followers to rob honorable Almighty Imperial Lightning Whip, whose children avenge the crime with the aid of a clan member disillusioned by his friend's wicked deeds.

An over-the-top cult favorite, this martial arts extravaganza comes packed with quotable dialogue, vivid characters (including the Soul Pickers and the Dragon Raiser brothers), and enough fun and excitement to keep the heartiest kung-fu fans glued to the screen!

Someone named zwolf had this to say on the Mighty Blowhole film review site:
Some gold-seeking bandits kill a man's family, and he breaks out of jail to seek revenge. He allies himself with a whip expert and his sister, and a traveling swordswoman. The bandits form a gang to combat them, and recruit two martial arts experts called The Soul Pickers to help. One uses golden disks that emit a solar ray, and the other uses a big metal crescent in each hand. A guy called One Man Army also aids the evil doers. The bad guys are also helped by a group of Vampire Phantoms who disguise themselves as statues. One of the good guys falls off a cliff and destroys an arm and leg, but an old master replaces them with bionic weapons. Great kung fu movie with swordfighting instead of hand-to-hand, better-than-usual photography, and loads of colorful weapons and neat camera tricks (which seem to make up for a lack of true fighting skill in some of the actors). Total fun superhero-fu!

Here are some comments from Chris Boyle's IMDB post for Fearless Fighters:
Fearless Fighters is one of the best times I've ever had watching a Hong Kong chop-socky flick. Everything in this film is massively over-the-top, from the hundred-foot leaps straight up that the actors so effortlessly perform to the fight scenes where lone warriors sometimes kill up to ten opponents at the exact same time. The really funny thing about Fearless Fighters is that none of the actors in the movie seem to know Kung-Fu at all! There's none of the brilliantly choreographed fight sequences we're used to seeing in Kung-Fu movies- the actors look like they're pretending the whole time, while flying through the air, jumping over lakes, using outlandish weapons- it's hilarious. Also of note is the English dubbing- it's excellent. NOT as far as the acting goes, mind you (it's TERRIBLE), but the lip-synching is almost flawless...very impressive...This film is a must see, not only for fans of martial arts movies, but anyone interested in opening up their minds to a higher plane of existence, as seeing Fearless Fighters may very well change your life! Oh, an on a personal note: The actor who portrays To Pa has the best delivery of the phrase "mince-meat" I've ever heard.

And here's a fanboy's enthusiastic review from Aint It Cool News that says it all:
The Seventies Kung Fu Film is something of a remarkable genre. I love it like nearly no other genre. At the drop of a hat, if someone says, "Hey, I have this old kung fu flick that I’ve never heard of…" I instantly will dive into the roaring cold… fight the elements and traffic to make my way to the locale.


Now today, Tim League, Patron Saint of the Alamo Drafthouse, invited my father and I… along with the AICN crew to the Drafthouse for a test screening of a flick he knew nothing about.

You see, the true film explorer will walk into a video store or flip through a listing of films… and buy a film, not based on reputation or inherent knowledge… but out of pure instinct and adventure.

Tim recently flew across the country to a warehouse with several thousand prints of nearly dead and dying films. Mostly exploitation and funky flicks… the types of films that nobody knows about… or rather, just a few.

Tim bought several hundred films en masse, rented a Ryder Truck, and drove back across the country to deliver the treasure into the sacred chapel of cinema here in Austin.

Tonight, Tim cracked the first can and pulled out a film called FEARLESS FIGHTERS. The label on the print says it is from 1973 (already more information than IMDB has). It also features David Chiang and the guy that wields 2 axes in THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES, as well as the girl in ENTER THE DRAGON, who was the undercover agent on the island. [That would be Betty Chung/Betty Chung Ling Ling. Could this be Cheung Ching Ching by another name?]

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So we walk into the theater knowing, FEARLESS FIGHTERS (1973). Looking at the print in the lobby we can tell… it had seen better days. The reel is rusty and while it doesn’t smell of vinegar, it looks as though it had been screened to death. Tim said the color looked good though.

Alright, we grab some sodas and head into the actual screening area. Father Geek, Quint, El Cosmico and myself… along with Tim and he who needs no name and the folks from MR SINUS THEATER 3000.

We sit and joke about the film a bit. This is literally the blind screening.
The film starts up and CHRIST ALMIGHTY… It just sucked me in. Completely and utterly enthralled. It is this exact sort of film that Ang Lee saw… that Tsui Hark saw… that an entire generation of film fans… from Brett Ratner and Quentin Tarantino to Guillermo Del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson…. They saw these type of films and fell in love.

This isn’t a ‘so bad its good’ flick, this is a ‘so fucking good its great’ flick. The story structure and characters are so dang likable… the villains so damn despicable that by the time the film hit the mid-point, I was no longer sitting back in my seat, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, chin on the table top in front of me.

The plotline can be read completely at IMDB’s FEARLESS FIGHTERS page. It seems that in this great land of ours… named planet Earth, there is at least one other soul that has beheld the glory of this movie. Some fella by the name of Chris Boyle in "North Massapequa" somewhere in New York state. He’s seen it. Calls the film, "a possible life-altering experience for all who see it" and then goes so far as to say, "This film is a must see, not only for fans of martial arts movies, but anyone interested in opening up their minds to a higher plane of existence, as seeing Fearless Fighters may very well change your life!" And then goes on to mention that the film has an "EARTH SHATTERING CONCLUSION!!!"

This is where my problem lies. After watching the fights with the killer sparrow flying blades, the One Man Army’s dual blade of death, after the Solar Ray (quite possibly the coolest fricking thing I’ve ever seen in a kung fu movie) and the killer thrown leafs, the astounding body counts every 4 minutes and the great score…
The film was reaching this "Earth Shattering Conclusion," the two heroic girls had broken sword blades impaled through their shoulders… the whip dude was a second away from being impaled himself and EVIL WAS JUST ABOUT TO WIN…. When the film stuck, the frame melted….

I was pumped, I was excited… Tim was running to fix the problem… the film had been sticking and melting at least 4 times through the run through, but this time… instead of the typical 1 minute process… it stretched into 5 minutes… Fear began coursing through my massive figure… Suddenly the house lights come on… Tim is making exasperated faces and signals from the projection booth…

Everyone begins whimpering and crying…. EVIL IS FUCKING WINNING!!! Good guys are being wiped out left and freaking right!

And I come home to do research on this masterpiece and find a freaking review that says the film has an "EARTH SHATTERING CONCLUSION!!!!" and is quite possibly a "LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE!"

What the hell?!?!?!?!?!

Tim says he will screen the last 5 minutes of the film at some future time, but he has to clean the projector of all the gunk from this print. He’s going to clean the print… and he will be showing it sometime in March….

Folks, if you have the means to travel… the screening of FEARLESS FIGHTERS will be free on Wednesday, March 28th at midnight. The print is scratched up beyond any and all belief… but I’m telling you… THIS FILM IS FREAKING AMAZING! How does it end??!?!?!?!?

What happens?!??!?! It’s Earth Shattering I’m told. Change my life…

All I know is there are secret arm and leg weapons yet to be unleashed… I have no idea what they do… Does everyone die? Does evil Triumph? Does… in the midst of this epic final battle… does an asteroid come to destroy planet earth? WHAT HAPPENS!!?!?!?!?! I want to know, but only when sitting in that theater and watching it.

I’m jazzed… If you could see me right now you’d see me typing at the speed of speech… saying everything as I type it…. Shaking and excited… MAN!!!!

Ya know, if you wanted to remake something… apply all the techniques we have today… all the film and dramatics… but use this film as a basis… You’d have a freaking epic cool film on your hands. This thing had everyone jump up and down excited.

Man… MAN MAN MAN MAN…. What a fucking movie!!! The score, the weapons, the fights, the love triangles, the villains, the flying the sound of the swords being unsheathed.. the sounds of blades slashing through the flesh of 10 men in a single arc of violence.

If anyone ever paced an X-MEN or FANTASTIC FOUR film at this pace… you folks, along with myself, would be near frothing at the mouth in an epileptic fit.
Nothing gets me as fired up as a kung fu film, and not knowing what happens next… I mean that.

In Hong Kong and Run Run Shaw Kung Fu flicks… the Good guys COULD LOSE… EVERYBODY COULD LOSE….. and something completely new could happen.

You can’t see this on video… you can’t see this anywhere but at the Drafthouse… and folks… seeing this movie with a packed audience is what life itself is about. I mean it. That audience is going to be alive… kicking and hitting each other all up and down the sidewalks of San Antonio street as they walk to their cars at 2am.

I’m telling ya what… FEARLESS FIGHTERS may not have the dramatics of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON… but it has a joy and unfurled glee with which it unleashes upon me that I can’t wait to experience again.


Memorable Quotes (from IMDB):
Lei Pong's Master: I shall replace your useless arm and leg with invincible weapons!
To Pa: Great! Just great! Great Kung-Fu! Your technique is matchless!
The Loner, AKA One Man Army: My skills are not worthy of such praise.
To Pa: Indeed they are!

Related links:
Image Entertainment's Fearless Fighters DVD
Ain't It Cool News
Alamo Drafthouse
East West DVD
Chris Boyle's Complete IMDB Review
Mighty Blowhole's Review
Fearless Fighters Cast Photos">Fearless Fighters Cast Photos
Hong Kong Movie Database Entry for Fearless Fighters
Hong Kong Cinemagic's Fearless Fighters Entry


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