Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chinese Hercules(Ma tou da jue dou, 1973)

Next up for you kung fu movie fanatics here on Hai! Karate is a little number from 1973 that packs a wallop!! The film is called Chinese Hercules, starring Michael Chan Wai-Man, Yang Tze - better known as Bolo Yeung, Kong Faan, Kong Do and Gam Dai among others. Huang Ta is the director for this picture. I Kuang is the man behind the screenplay. Now, you might be a tad confused by the above images. Part of that is that this film actually has THREE different names. I'll get into that later on, though.

The movie opens with our hero Lee Hsi(Wai Man)training hard one night. He's interrupted by a young woman who he likes(Faan)who is a bit concerned about his excessive training. He tells her it's because he can't stand being trash-talked by her brother(Do) who studies in the same school for being an orphan and for associating with her. They leave the school together and are confronted by her drunk brother, who decides to pick a fight with Hsi. Hsi fights him off - well, he beats the daylights out of him. Dude then pulls out a knife and Hsi finishes him off, killing him. Frightened and dismayed, Wei runs off to the seaside, and smashes his hand with a large rock vowing never to fight again. Of course these vows have as much life span as a Kardashian marriage. Hsi takes a fake name and finds work on the docks. He deals with an abusive boss, but earns the respect of his fellow workers. He's sorely tested to use his fighting prowess but resists, even when beaten by the ruthless syndicate that runs the docks. Soon dock workers who resist are found dead, and the boss calls in the 'Chinese Hercules', Bolo himself to smash them. Hsi finds himself facing an uncertain future unless he summons his vast strength to fight the killer and face his past, which comes back in a surprising way.

Chinese Herculeswalks that fine line between being very compelling and not even worth it. But it does so ably. Give credit to Ta Huang for keeping the film moving at a neat pace, enough so that the film doesn't drag on. Also, he did have a decent enough eye to work in a couple of different angles that make some scenes pop better. Corey Yuen is the action director here, and he makes the fight scenes here slightly jarring because of how violent they are. Cats catch BAD ones here. Case in point? One of the workers decides to go up against the syndicate boss in his own home. After fighting the boss, he winds up being flat out beaten to death without any ceremony. You even have a random trollop smoking a cigarette with a look on her face like, 'he aint dead YET?' Overall Yuen does infuse a fluid and rhythmic element throughout . Wai-Man as the hero here is solid. He gives off a measured amount of emotion without being melodramatic. And his fighting skills are swift and strong. You can see his Hung Gar skills put to good use in this flick. As for Bolo, he gets to be the killer movie baddie, bulging muscles and all. Now, he's not in this movie for more than MAYBE 20 minutes. But you get all of the Bolo sneers and flexes that he's known for in that span of time.

So, as far as the name of the flick itself. Well the movie was made by Hong Kong Kai Fa Pictures, a smallish studio. They put this film out first under the title of A Duel In Harbor. There were a couple of alternate titles, the most common one being Freedom Strikes A Blow. But soon after this flick was released, Enter The Dragoncame out worldwide sparking the West's kung fu craze. Bolo was one of the memorable villains, and when National General Pictures got the film rights to distribute this picture, he was the most recognizable. So they marketed the film playing on another B-movie trope of the 'Hercules' variety that was popularized by those movies of the 1960's. Hence, Chinese Hercules complete with the cheesy tag line. If you want a decent martial arts flick with some crisp action that won't put you to sleep, Chinese Hercules is worth a go.

RATING: 3 Dragon Punches out of 5

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