Next up here on Hai! Karate is a gem from 1974 that marries the old and new in Hong Kong cinema, The Skyhawk. The film stars the legendary Kwan Tak-Hing, Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, Nora Miao, Whang In Sik and Lee Kwan among others. Now this film is remarkable because of the main star, Kwan Tak-Hing himself. When I say legend to describe Tak-Hing, it fits like a pair of new shoes. The man was a well-known Cantonese Opera star in the late 1920's & 30's BEFORE getting into films and the role that would define him for generations, the doctor/martial arts hero Wong Fei-Hung. See, most now associate that role with Jet Li because of the 'Once Upon A Time in China' series. But THIS is the man that started it all. The Skyhawk is another in the series for a new generation, being that his last film as the hero prior to this was in 1970.
The flick opens in the back country of Thailand. Skyhawk(Tak-Hing) and Fei Fei(Hung) are on the way to visit Skyhawk's friend Chu for his birthday. Behind them on the road is Little Lion(Wong) who gets run up on by five dudes from a school for martial arts who have a beef with him. He makes short work of them. They then run back to a temple and get their master, Kwok(In Sik). Kwok basically goes with them, finds Lion and kicks the living crap out of him. Skyhawk and Fei Fei find him and take him along to Chu's. Chu happens to be a labor leader at the local factory. His daughter (Miao) takes a liking to Little Lion right off. Fei Fei has ties to the town as well; his sister runs the big restaurant in town along with her husband(Kwan). Trouble starts to rumble when Chu butts heads with Mr.Ku(Chiu Hung)over the workers, leading to Ku basically killing to get the workers under control. Kwok winds up aligning with Ku after his beatdown of Ku's men who were trafficking young girls to Japan. Fei Fei's brother in law has a SERIOUS gambling problem and winds up in trouble with Ku, who covets his wife. All of these conflicts bring Skyhawk to the brink, and goes against his normal ways of seeking peace and harmony. Ultimately Skyhawk rises to battle - but at a great cost.
The Skyhawkcaused a stir because of its violent and bloody scenes. This was opposite of what one used to see in previous Wong Fei-Hung films, but it reflected the influences both from the time period as well as the director, the renowned Cheng Chang Ho. Ho actually made this film a reunion of sorts for cast members from the film that made him famous, King Boxerin 1972. Chiu Hung, Gam Kei-Chu and Yau Lung all play significant roles here. Also, credit Sammo Hung for great action directing because the fight scenes pulsate, especially the final showdown between Skyhawk and Little Lion vesrus Kwok and Ku. Tak-Hing, though advanced in years by this time, gets to show off the skills that made him famous in a convincing way. Carter Wong is brash and full of intensity here(look for the scene where he surprises Yau Lung. I guarantee you'll burst out laughing.)
The Skyhawkis an entertaining, quick film. Trust me, it's under 90 minutes. There's a good balance of action and drama although it can get a bit melodramatic here and there. Some of the night scenes will be hard to view at times on the available print through Fortune Star. While that works against Cheng Chang Ho, it's the only issue he has. The direction is great here; fans of aerial kung-fu will love some of the scenes here where Whang In Sik is involved. Nora Miao is essentially a side character here without a lot of involvement. The Thai backdrop does provide a nice setting, but you will find yourself making comparisons to The Big Bosshere and there. The story line doesn't do much to dissuade them either. But this is still a must watch film, especially to see the great Kwan Tak-Hing in action. (There's still an effort to get many of his films made available to a wider audience. 144 of them to be exact.)
RATING: 3.5 Dragon Punches out of 5