Monday, August 24, 2009

Fearless Fighters (Taiwan, 1971)

Fearless Fighters is further evidence of 1970s Taiwan's steadfast refusal to make a normal kung fu film. As such, it's one of those martial arts films that will undoubtedly separate the "purists" -- who, let's face it, are quite a sad lot, really -- from those less discriminate thrill seekers who will simply be delighted by the film's employment of all kinds of silly and exotic weaponry with names like "The Devil Ripper", as well as by the appearance of people wearing bear claws on their hands for no reason. This is definitely not the movie to turn to if you're looking for authentic fight scenes, but if you have a high tolerance -- like I do -- for low-budget special effects and abundant wire-assisted flying, I think it will give you a big happy.

A wayward faction of the Eagle Claw Clan lead by the evil To Pa (Wong Jun) steals a shipment of royal gold that is being escorted by a wizened old master known, for reasons that quickly become apparent, as "The Lighting Whipper" (Ma Chi), mortally wounding the old whipper in the process. Learning of the crime, righteous Eagle Claw disciple Lei Ping (Yee Yuen) sets out to protect the clan's good name by stealing the gold back from To Pa with the intention of returning it to the authorities. Unfortunately, all that Lei Ping gets for his trouble is to be framed for the original robbery, earning him the enmity of the Lightning Whipper's son and daughter, Chen (Kong Ming) and Mulan (Cheung Ching Ching), who have inherited their dad's signature weapon and know how to use it.

With Lei Ping stowed away in jail, To Pa and his gang descend upon Lei Ping's homestead in search of the gold, slaughtering almost all of his assembled family members when they offer resistance. Only Lei Ping's young son survives, thanks to the last minute intervention of a mysterious lone swordswoman in white named Lady Tieh (Wu Ming Hsia). Lady Tieh sets off with the boy to reunite him with his father. In the course of the journey, she encounters Chen and Mulan, whom she informs of Lei Ping's innocence. Chen then helps Lei Ping to escape from jail, after which Chen, Lei Ping, and Mulan, aided by Lady Tieh, band together to seek vengeance against To Pa.

Confronted with such formidable opposition, To Pa seeks to augment his gang by taking an ad out in the Martial World version of Craigslist, with the result -- as in real life -- that every freakazoid with some kind of zany and impractical weapon within a hundred mile radius shows up at his doorstep. These include a fellow calling himself "The One Man Army" (Chan Hung Lit), a pair of twins who wield solar ray shooting mirrors, and a gang of "Vampire Phantoms" who wear novelty fangs and blackface.

Things look bad for our heroes, especially once To Pa's gang manages to dispatch Lei Ping by tossing him off a steep cliff. However, unknown to them, Lei Ping has been rescued by one of those old, mountain-dwelling kung fu masters, who replaces Lei Ping's crippled limbs with deadly tear-away prosthetics that come complete with all kinds of concealed spikes and blades. This leads to a bizarre final confrontation with To Pa that seems to leave even Lei Ping's fellow heroes at a loss for words.

Fearless Fighters' threadbare charms are augmented considerably by the fact that it is actually quite competently directed by Mo Man-Hung. Its frenetic pace never slackens, while, at the same time, an over-populated story that many similar films would have rendered incomprehensible remains refreshingly transparent and easy to follow. Still, the movie isn't without it's loose threads, in particular the mystery surrounding Lady Tieh's identity and motivations, which ends up never being addressed. I don't actually care about that, mind you, but, since I have my movie reviewer hat on at the moment, it seemed appropriate to point it out. There is also a good chance that this omission is the result of whatever cutting the film underwent in preparation for its American release.

And speaking of which, while looking for information about the movie over at the Hong Kong Movie Database, I came across this nifty American release poster that they had posted, which of course bears very little resemblance to anything or anyone that actually appears in the movie. (For instance, while the film does indeed boast a pair of ass-kicking female leads, they are never seen clad in anything even remotely resembling the barely-there, bottomless micro-gis worn by the women depicted. Hey, don't shoot the messenger!)



The print of Fearless Fighters from which the $1 DVD of it that I watched was mastered was severely distressed, which, in this case, enhanced rather than impeded the viewing experience. It made it that much easier to imagine that I was watching the movie along with a boisterous and vocal audience in an old 42nd Street grindhouse back in 1971. For even greater verisimilitude, you might want to wear a wreath of urinal cakes around your neck and hire an unhinged neighbor to stare menacingly at the back of your head while you watch it. Whatever floats your boat, really. In any case, I think you'll find this one a good source of cheap and funky kung fu thrills.

9 comments:

prof. grewbeard said...

hey, you didn't tell us about the "Soul Picker"!...

houseinrlyeh said...

That sounds so much like something I'd like to see, but I just can't watch Asian movies dubbed. I have no problems with Italian movies, but something from Taiwan just doesn't work for me this way.
Could be my lack of actual grindhouse experience.

Todd said...

Prof: I hear the Soul Picker is good for getting at those hard to reach places.

House: I imagine that atrocious English dubbing doesn't provide as much hilarity to someone who's not a native speaker -- no matter how excellent their English may be :). Might that be a factor?

houseinrlyeh said...

Yes, Todd, that could be it. Perhaps it's a case of "native speakers, please try harder".

Samuel Wilson said...

Saw this on Cinemax once. I loved how the nuns -- er, twins (well, look at them!) death-ray was defeated with wet leaves, if I remember right. Other parts were just too insane for me to remember at all before you reminded me. The hard-sell trailer ("Fearless Fighters!") is also a hoot.

Todd said...

Yes, there is indeed wet leaf fu in this movie.

Lost media archive said...

This sounds great! Was the dollar DVD found at a place like Big Lots?

Todd said...

It was one of those East West double feature DVDs that pairs this with, if I recall correctly, Fury At Shaolin Temple. So, hey, technically I paid just fifty cents for Fearless Fighters! What a deal! I found it at a local dollar store, but I imagine you might be able to find it at a place like Big Lots, as well.

venoms5 said...

Image released a very nice quality widescreen dvd of this with a commentary track.

I used to have the Video Treasures VHS of this film and the quality was very good on that one, too, but fullscreen. Chen Hung Lieh as 'One Man Army' played a number of bad guy roles (and some hero roles) in a handful of Shaw Brothers classics.