Back in the
Hand of Death (aka Countdown to Kung Fu) concerns a young Shaolin monk (Tan Tao Liang) who must train to defeat a dangerous Manchu warlord (James Tien) who is intent on wiping out the Shaolin once and for all. Featuring early performances from Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung (both also handled the film’s stunts, along with third brother Yuen Biao), Hand of Death is an exquisitely stylish example of old school kung fu filmmaking.
John Woo the director is seen here exploring new ways to shoot action and with the help of choreographer Sammo Hung play to the actors strengths. Tan Tao Liang is one of those amazing kickers, who along with John Liu and Hwang Jang Lee dominated mid 70’s martial arts movies. He has little screen charisma but is sensational when asked to perform his impressive kicking repertois.
Sammo Hung plays the buck tooth generals henchman and does a good job in a pantomime kind of way. James Tien is menacing as the main villain and Jackie Chan has an extended cameo as a spear master who wants revenge for his brothers death. The director himself also makes an appearance as scholar Cheng whom the band of rebels must protect from the general. A good 70’s flashback movie with great fight choreography and it has stood the test of time pretty well.
The Blu ray released by Eureka has a stunning new 2k remaster. Colours are really bold and it has never looked so good, even on its original cinema release back in 1976. There are two instances of day for night shots not having the right filter, so it looks like day when it should be at night which is unfortunate, but was missed by Fortune Star during the remastering process. Audio has a lot of options, original Mandarin, later done Cantonese mixes in mono and stereo as well as the classic English dub.
Extras are a fun audio commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, an older interview with John Woo, trailers and a booklet. Packaged together with the other John Woo classic Last Hurrah For Chivalry (review soon), this is a great double pack which comes reccomended.
FILM: 7.5 PICTURE: 9 AUDIO: 8 EXTRAS: 6