Cinematic Vengeance (Limited Edition Box Set) – film review
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Cinematic Vengeance (Limited Edition Box Set) – film review

Cinematic Vengeance (1974-1979)
Director: Joseph Kuo
Cast: Jack Long, Mark Long, Simon Li Yi-Min, Carter Wong, Tien Peng and Polly Shang Kuan
Format: Blu-ray
Language: Mandarin/Cantonese (with optional English subtitles/dubs)
Runtime: 723 mins
Release Date: 15th November 2021

Jamie Havlin gives his thoughts on a box set containing eight, yes eight, old school kung fu movies by prolific Taiwanese director Joseph Kuo.

These movies aren’t presented here chronologically, so let’s kick off with disc 1 and arguably Kuo’s finest achievement, The 7 Grandmasters from 1977. Viewers new to Kuo will soon get to know what his movies were all about: fast-paced kung fu with plenty of inventive and acrobatic fighting.

There are two main storylines here, the first concerns Master Shang, who embarks on a journey across China to engage in combat with the very finest exponents of a number of kung fu styles in order to prove himself the best before his planned retirement. Then there’s a young man, Hsiao-Ying (Simon Li Yi-Min), desperate to become his apprentice. Initially denied his wish, he eventually wins the favour of Shang and although bullied by older students, the naive young student learns fast, as naive young students tend to in movies like this. So far, so formulaic but then Kuo adds an intriguing twist to proceedings.

Cinematic Vengeance (Limited Edition Box Set) – film review

Again starring Kuo favourites Jack Long and Mark Long, the cast of The 36 Deadly Styles (1980) also includes two bona fide martial arts cinema icons: Bolo Yeung (Enter The Dragon, Bloodsport) and Hwang Jang-lee (Drunken Master, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow). The action is predictably thrilling, but it would have to be admitted that the wigs are awful, with the monstrosity on Bolo Yeung’s head likely the worst in kung fu history.

I doubt even Joseph Kuo would deny that The World of Drunken Master was a cash-in movie inspired by the success of Jackie Chan in Drunken Master. Early publicity highlighted the participation of Simon Yuen, who had portrayed Beggar So in the Chan movie. This was cheeky as his time in front of the camera lasts for less than 90-seconds in a pre-credits prologue.

Largely a flashback to the younger days of Beggar So and his boozing buddy Fan Ta-pe, we see the pair develop a love of Sweet Premium Wine and a mastery of the legendary drunken fist kung fu style. As cash-in movies go this is one of the best, with Kuo even managing to strike a poignant note in the film’s final moments.

Next up is another movie made to appeal to Jackie Chan fans. The Old Master (1979) didn’t include the newly famous Chan in its cast, but Kuo did hire Yu Jim-yuen to make his cinematic debut. Who is Yu Jim-yuen you might ask? The answer is he was the man who trained the young Chan. Yu Jim-yuen, though, had never acted before and was almost fifty years Chan’s senior. A stunt double had to employed for most of the action scenes (I use the word double loosely as even in longshots this is clearly someone else). Despite this, The Old Master is a fun watch with Yu Jim-yuen proving himself a very likeable onscreen presence and Bill Louie shining as his young sidekick. Watch out for the younger man’s exhilarating fight on the rooftop of a hotel. I’m sure Yu Jim-yuen would have approved of his skills.

Shaolin Kung Fu stars Taiwanese actor Wen Chiang Long as rickshaw driver Ling Ah-fung. His connection, if any, to Shaolin is never made clear but the kung fu part of the title is entirely appropriate with Wen Chiang Long excelling in the many action scenes throughout. The Shaolin Kids is also a misleading title, as there’s not much of Shaolin here and no kids in the cast. Another tale of revenge, this showcases the talents of Taiwanese wuxia queen Polly Shang Kuan (Dragon Gate Inn) and it’s always good to see Polly wielding a sword.

Cinematic Vengeance (Limited Edition Box Set) – film review

Finally, 1976 saw Kuo shoot The 18 Bronzemen and The Return Of 18 Bronzemen back to back. They’re both visually striking, with the highlight of the former film being Carter Wong and Tien Peng taking on the Bronzemen (some in clanking metal armour, others painted from head to toe in metallic paint) to prove themselves worthy of graduating from Shaolin. Return of 18 Bronzemen – which isn’t a straight sequel – again features Carter Wong, Polly Shang Kuan and Tien Peng all in different roles. This is a more consistent movie than its predecessor. It’s also a rarity in kung fu cinema: a story that is never predictable.

It’s an impressive way to end a solidly enjoyable collection. Okay, none of the eight movies are masterpieces but there’s not one dud amongst them. The inclusion of 1979’s Mystery of Chessboxing, where Mark Long plays a character known as the Ghost Faced Killer, would have been very welcome – and I bet there’s at least one New York hip hop band who would agree with me – but this is still a fantastic introduction to Joseph Kuo with gorgeous restorations and packaging.

Cinematic Vengeance (Limited Edition Box Set) – film review

All eight of these independently produced movies are making their worldwide debuts on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range in a Limited Edition 4-Disc set (2000 copies only). Special features include a limited Edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing on the films included in the set by James Oliver, illustrated with archival imagery and materials; a set of 8 facsimile lobby cards and eight new audio commentary tracks from a variety of Hong Kong cinema experts including the always entertaining double act of Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.

For more on the release click here.

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All words by Jamie Havlin. Jamie has written a couple of short films screened on British TV and at international festivals. He regularly contributes to the glam rock fanzine Wired Up!

More writing by Jamie can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.

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