Happy New Year to you, Hai!Karate fans! It's been a minute, but rest assured the time has been well spent looking at some gems - and some dirt rocks - of martial arts films just so you can get the scoop on what to watch and what to avoid to be a martial arts movie master! This first entry of the new year is dedicated to a somewhat obscure flick starring the flawless fighting actor Chen Kuan Tai, Hero Of Shanghai! This film stands out in the actor's career for a couple of reasons we'll get into later on. Hero Of Shanghai is a slight 'who's who' array of actors you may know from other movies - Kam Kong, Woo Gam, Shut Chung Tin and Cheng Kang-Yeh the more recognizable. The well known Pao Hsueh-Li is in the director's chair for this film for Shen Chuen Film Limited.
The film opens with Hsueh Ao-Lin(Kuan Tai) arriving in Shanghai, circa 1921. He's looking a man named Fong. He stumbles across a rickshaw driver(Kang-Yeh) who offers him a quick lift. Just as he does, they both see a man attacked in the street and killed. The driver takes Ao-Lin to a restaurant where he asks about Fong. But he's confronted by an associate of Fong who shows him a dead body - Fong's. After a speedy fight, the driver(only called 'Loser' here - why I don't know)is beaten and brought to the restaurant where he vouches for Ao-Lin. Ao-Lin then swears to get revenge and reveals that he and Fong were comrades.
Ao-Lin attends the funeral of Fong, and sees each member of the business underground and other fighters in attendance. He then begins to investigate, starting with the known pugilist Yu Tu Tai(Cheung Paang). In his search, Ao-Lin learns of another important figure, Miss Nine(Sally Chen). She is cloaked in intrigue - intrigue that thickens as bosses start being murdered left and right. Add to that another motive for finding Fong's killer being that he might have had info on Japanese agents throughout Shanghai. Ao-Lin presses on, despite double-crosses and other twists. Can he get his revenge?
Hero Of Shanghai, when it was first released in 1977, was actually the first film that Chen Kuan Tai made after an impressive string of films for Shaw Studios that made him a legit actor in Asian cinema. As such, it seems that the company made sure to bank on his matinee success with this picture. (Side note: Lay Out was the alternate title this film was marketed overseas under. No explanation as to why.)Kuan Tai does the job as a staunch fighter who navigates the Shanghai crime world. Even his outfit change early in the film lends to this persona. He acquits himself nicely with the fighting scenes he does have here. The main thing with Hero Of Shanghai is, said fighting scenes aren't numerous. In fact, a good part of the film is devoted to weaving the plot together. It may not appeal to those who want high levels of action as the film can get into 'Clue' like levels of mystery. Woo Gam does add a bit of liveliness here, no doubt a continuation of her previous roles as erotic temptress for certain Shaw pictures. Shut Chung Tin holds court as the noble second boss to Fong. Sally Chen as Miss Nine is just okay. Even her dramatic reveal doesn't really do much towards the end.
That's not to say Hero Of Shanghai overall isn't worth your time. The fight scenes that are enclosed are decent, and peppered with a couple of 'oh s--t' moments. Kuan Tai would go from this film to direct and star in the FIRST Iron Monkey film later that year. So this is an interesting flick to take in to see his dramatic growth. It's available on DVD and online.
RATING: 2.5 OF 5 DRAGON PUNCHES