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The Master of Kung Fu
AKA: Shaolin Death Kicks "Hold on - are you going to pay for that?"
Guk Fung (left) prepares to whip some ass
Chinese: 黃飛鴻
Year: 1973
Director: Ho Meng-Hua
Producer: Runme Shaw
Writer: Ni Kuang
Action: Yuen Cheung-Yan, Yuen Woo-Ping
Cast: Guk Fung, Chen Ping, Wang Hsia, Lin Wei-Tu, Hui Shao-Hsiung, Chan Shen, Yuan Man-Tzu
The Skinny: Framed for murder and on the run from the authorities, Wong Fei-Hung must prove his innocence and take down the bad guys in this competent, if otherwise dull iteration of the popular Chinese character.
Review by

Kwan Tak-Hing, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan have all famously portrayed Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung in their respective film series, but even the most die-hard martial arts film fans may be unaware that esteemed character actor Guk Fung (a.k.a. Ku Feng) essayed the role himself in Ho Meng-Hua's Master of Kung Fu. Released by Shaw Brothers in 1973, the film features a Wong Fei-Hung that isn't quite as charismatic as Li's or as funny as Chan's, but is a force to be reckoned with in his own right.

Haunted by the accidental killing of his own brother, Wong has renounced his "Invisible Kick" and focuses his energies on helping the community. When a European businessman arranges a martial arts competition, Wong's cousin Mai Ken (Shen Chan) enters against Wong's warnings. A nasty competitor named Lee Tian-Dao (Wong Hsia) attempts to kill Mai Ken, and Wong intervenes, exposing Tian-Dao as a cheater. In the process, Master Wong wins back the trust of Mai Ken and tries to nurse him back to health, but wouldn't you know it? IT ALL GOES TO HELL in dramatic fashion. Mai Ken is poisoned, two of Wong's pupils are kidnapped, and the rest of his students are wiped out in fairly quick succession, causing Wong to flee the authorities and take down the criminals all by his lonesome. But will he succeed? Well, he is Wong Fei-Hung, after all.

It's probably safe to say that Wong Fei-Hung films hinge on the performance of their lead actors, and Guk Fung makes for a serviceable, if unspectacular leading man. Although he certainly commands respect as the venerable Master Wong, and is fairly believable in the numerous fight scenes, Guk Fung is fairly unremarkable in the iconic role. Certainly, the film adds a layer of pathos via his continual lamentations over his dead brother, but it's not enough to put Guk's interpretation in the same class as Kwan's, Li's or Chan's.

Similarly, Master of Kung Fu is more or less a formulaic martial arts movie with little spark or sizzle to set it apart from the pack. The closest thing to a potentially iconic scene is Wong Fei-Hung's rain-soaked training sequence late in the film in which he reclaims his right to the "Invisible Kick" after renouncing it early on. But it's so brief and treated so superficially that one wishes the director would have not only lingered on the scene for a little longer, but actually implemented that kind of visual style in the climactic fight scene. What results in the finished film is no different than what you've seen in B-grade chopsocky films for years.

Comedy-wise, the film contains a silly little interlude involving Wong's disciple, Ah Kwan (Lin Wei-Tu) and the film's token female, the buxom Hong Hua (Chen Ping). A Three's Company-style misunderstanding results in some surprisingly bawdy humor that's sure to elicit at least a chuckle. Although one might expect such a digression to be a bit annoying considering the dire straits in which Wong finds himself, in actuality, the sophomoric goofiness is actually a welcome respite from the film's otherwise stultifying and unnecessarily dour tone.

In the end, a competent performance from Guk Fung and a brief sequence of silly shenanigans don't really add up to good Wong Fei-Hung film. Ho Meng-Hua packs the film with a lot of nice scenery and even utilizes the camera in some interesting ways, but Master of Kung Fu is neither boring nor exciting - it's little more than a workman-like, by-the-numbers production. While it may be worthy viewing for fans of Wong Fei-Hung or the actor Guk Fung, its bland treatment of such a dynamic folk hero leaves much to be desired. (Calvin McMillin 2007)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
Color Stills, Original Poster, Production Notes, Filmographies, Trailers

imagee courtesy of Celestial Pictures Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen