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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Duel of the Seven Tigers (1979) review


Cliff Lok (Fei Sao Tang), Yang Pan Pan, Phillip Ko Fei (Hsi Man Kwong), Han Ying Chieh (Tien Lung), Casanova Wong (Hung Pao), Pomson Shi (Cheung Yan), Chiu Chi Ling (Kwan Sung Wu), Chiang Kam, Lam Man Wei, Chan Lau (Chao Hsung), San Kuei (fighter), Chan Siu Pang (Wu Kung)

Directed by Yueng Kuen

An interesting kung fu film using SEVEN SAMURAI as a template. Great fights performed by real martial artists. Little characterization, but compelling action sequences including an impressive showing by Phillip Ko as the main villain. Kung fu fans will surely get several kicks out of this one from the director of the Shaw horrors, SEEDING OF A GHOST and HELL HAS NO BOUNDARY.

After being defeated in a match at Shaolin, Wu Kung wanders China till he founds his own temple and style of fighting called Tang Sao Do Karate. Years later, prized student and ninth successor, Hsi Man Kwong challenges and crumbles all the Chinese kung fu schools in the area. With no one able to beat him, several defeated martial artists hire seven masters to fight against Kwong. All but one teacher, Fei Sao Tang, are beaten. The other masters in turn teach their style to Fei who then challenges Kwong to a showdown.

In classic kung fu tradition, Kwong goes around kicking the shit out of all the kung fu school practitioners and destroying their signs proclaiming his school as the supreme fighting art. Played by Phillip Ko, his role of the Japanese Karate master, Hsi Man Kwong isn't much of a stretch for the formidable actor, choreographer and filmmaking personality. Ko has had an incredible career and this particular role is exceptional in that he gets to show off his skills a lot during the films 92 minute running time.

Kicking sensation, Casanova Wong has a guest appearance in this film that's already overflowing with too many people. It's still good to see him here for the one flashback fight sequence that features him. The peculiar looking Pomson Shi is probably best known for his star turn in SNAKE IN THE MONKEY'S SHADOW (1979) and Yang Pan Pan is an amazingly flexible female talent who has been put to good use showing her skills in such movies as TWO WONDROUS TIGERS (1979), LION VS. LION (1981) and KID FROM KWANGTUNG (1982).

Yueng Kuen (Yang Chuan) wasn't known for directing chopsocky flicks, but handles this Chinese version of the oft duplicated SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) really well. It wasn't breaking any new ground with the thousands of other similar movies rapidly being produced at the time, though. The box office was terribly low, which is disappointing considering the degree of talent on display here. Considering the dozens upon dozens of movies released throughout the years in Hong Kong, it's not unusual that some good pictures would get overlooked. There's a good number of real martial artists featured in the film all utilizing a variety of styles.

Yueng Kuen will be mostly familiar to fans for his directing the Shaw horror favorite, SEEDING OF A GHOST (1984). He also helmed the little discussed, but enjoyably nasty Shaw Brothers horror HELL HAS NO BOUNDARY (1982). His directing style here in DUEL OF THE SEVEN TIGERS is no different than any other low budget fist and kick flick of the period. It follows the then popular recipe of the typical independent kung fu movie. A Goldig Production, the then upstart company released a handful of memorable fist and kick movies like the ludicrous, but charming THE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN (1977), TWO WONDROUS TIGERS (1979) TWO ON THE ROAD and THUNDERING MANTIS (both 1980) among others.

Implementing the 'search for seven fighters' element is an interesting one adapted to the indy kung fu formula and the movie contains some choice battles. It's got some top class performers on hand as already mentioned which adds extra incentive for fans to check it out. This indy flick also has several scenes of silly comedy. It's not as over bearingly ridiculous as it usually is in these independent productions, but ever since the trendsetting, but annoying SNAKE IN THE EAGLE'S SHADOW (1978) hit theaters, comedy became the norm. The serious nature of the Shaw Brothers pictures were swiftly falling out of favor with Hong Kong audiences at the time.

The one area where this picture falters is in the characterizations. Granted, these movies (mostly the indy features) were seldom interested in such things. The fighting was the bread and butter of the low budget kung fu quickie. That was all most of them cared about and that is pretty much the case here. Some of the characters are interesting, but there are too many of them. A good number of people are seen once, or twice and then never seen again. You get the impression what was the point of having these extra roles if the actors playing them were going to simply disappear. The brief appearances of regular kung fu faces such as Chan Lau and San Kuei seem to be cameos, but Chiang Kam (the butcher boy in FLAG OF IRON and countless others) is totally misused here. He was the poor man's Sammo Hung and a very capable performer.

Still, DUEL OF THE SEVEN TIGERS has some damn good fights and plenty of opportunities to show them off. One of the best is around the 60 minute mark when the masters first encounter Hsi Man Kwong. He trounces each and every one of them with relative ease whether they have weapons, or their bare hands. It's quite an exciting sequence. With such a big battle taking place, you would think it was the end of the movie, but you'd be wrong.

The segment with the highly respected martial artist and choreographer Han Ying Chieh (THE BIG BOSS) fighting off Kwong is one of the best fights. Despite his age, Han displays a lot of fluidity and strength in his movements. That's one of the joys of these old school kung fu movies is that so many of them had real fighters in the films and not some pretty boy singer with no skills whatsoever. Ko Fei shows some amazingly powerful skill during this sequence as well. But then, he is terribly imposing in every scene he's featured in. Once everyone is beaten, only Fei Sao Tang is not seriously injured. The remaining masters teach him their styles in the hopes it will be effective against Kwong.

The final duel atop a mountainous rock formation overlooking the sea is a great change of pace in terms of locations. Normally, these movies end with a final fight taking place in a valley, or a vast field. The fight itself is a bit lacking considering the monumental battle royal that took place about twenty minutes prior. Still, I can't see fans complaining too much with all the ingredients in place that make a good indy kung fu popcorn flick.

This film can be purchased here-- FAR EAST FLIX

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