This disc in the Arrow Shaw Brothers box set has two classics from director Lau Kar Leung, Challenge of the Masters (1976) and Executioners From Shaolin (1977).
Challenge of the Masters has Gordon Liu playing the young Wong Fei Hung (2 years before Jackie Chan was to do the same in Drunken Master) who is sent to train in the art of Hung Gar Kung Fu from his father’s teacher, Luk Ah-choy (Chen Kuan Tai). With training complete, Wong must fight an assassin who killed a close friend and regain the honour of his school in a local competition.
This film is the start of what was to make director Lau Kar Leung’s films so different from others at Shaw Brothers, especially Chang Cheh, with emphasis on training, honour, and respect in the art of Kung Fu. While not having wall-to-wall fight scenes, when the action does start it is, as expected, exceptionally choreographed with the highlights being the weapon’s clash between brothers Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing and the finale in the forest. The only negative is that there is another ending tacked on at the game tournament which sees the bad guys have a rapid change of heart, which seems very unrealistic. Otherwise, a very solid entry from director Lau and star Gordon Liu in his first starring role for Shaws.
The transfer is again another good one, a little soft in places and the colours do fluctuate in some scenes, but it’s a big improvement over the DVD release. Audio again gives you Mandarin or English Dubbed original mono, clear and fine.
Executioner From Shaolin is another film about the legendary Hung Tsi Kwan (Chen Kuan Tai) and his fight to get revenge for the burning of the Shaolin Temple. After fleeing the destruction of the temple and witnessing the brutal death of his colleague (a great cameo by Gordon Liu) Hung decides with other former Shaolin disciples to hide aboard the red boats, an opera troupe touring the country and plot the revenge. During his journey, he meets and marries Yong Chun (Lily Li) a Crane-style kung fu practitioner. They live together and have a son, Weng Ding (Wong Yu), but stubborn Hung refuses to learn his wife’s Crane techniques, instead of concentrating on perfecting his Tiger style. He then decides to get revenge on Pai Mei,(the great Lo Lieh) the evil monk who was leading the destruction of the Shaolin practitioners. After a fateful twist, it is up to his son to combine the two styles and take on Pai Mei in one final battle.
This high-class Shaw Brothers Kung fu classic has great performances by all, and Lo Lieh plays the evil villain Pai Mei with relish, a role later taken by Gordon Liu in Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Action is top class and this is an essential film for any fan of Hong Kong martial arts cinema.
The transfer is fabulous, bold colours, solid blacks, it really does pop in many scenes. Audio again gives you Mandarin language with English subtitles or English dubbed mono.
Extras are good and include –
- Newly filmed appreciation of Lau Kar-leung by film critic and historian Tony Rayns – Excellent overview of the director and his place at the studio.
- Interview with star Gordon Liu, filmed in 2002 by Frédéric Ambroisine
- Interview with star Chen Kuan-tai, filmed in 2007 by Frédéric Ambroisine
- Textless opening credits for Challenge of the Masters
- Alternate English credits for Executioners from Shaolin
- Hong Kong theatrical trailers for Challenge of the Masters
- Hong Kong and US theatrical trailers for Executioners from Shaolin
Another great disc from a superb box set .