We cannot think of martial arts movies without thinking of Sir Run Run Shaw whose love for making martial arts movies culminated into some magnificent films. Sir Shaw is often referred to as the Czar of Asian movies for the immense contribution he has made to Hong Kong and Chinese cinema.
He also founded the Shaw studio that was responsible for creating some of the most engaging hits that spanned across diverse genres ranging from dramas, comedies, horror, actions, and musical. Quite a repertoire one might say! However in spite of the diverse genres he played with, Sir Shaw is credited more for his work on martial arts that has not only stunned the audience but has also done a brilliant job in putting Hong Kong and Chinese cinema in the World map.
This talented visionary breathed his last in 2014, and we shall probably never see his like again. It is almost impossible to put together all the amazing works of Shaw Brothers Studios, but we have tried putting together the finest ones involving martial arts! Sit back, and enjoy our tribute!
Five Elements Ninjas AKA Chinese Super Ninjas (1982)
The plot starts of on a diabolical premise with five deadly ninjas, who exhibit fierce fighting skills do so based on the five natural elements, kill off a noble Kung-Fu master. The death of his master is not taken with a pinch of salt as his student, a young martial artist vows to revenge his master and bring his murderers to justice.
He is then taught by a teacher who is skillful and excels in the technique of Ninjitsu. He is joined by four other students who seem to be masters of Ninjitsu as well. Together they will have to take on the ninjas and withstand their might and to do so they must counter elements like Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, and Gold to defeat their mighty adversaries.
There is something special about the Chinese take on Ninja stories, especially if they are directed by the veteran director Chang Cheh. He starts you off on a story that promises non-stop action from the word go. The first half-an-hour provides constant action sequences that are well-choreographed and a treat to watch. When everyone fights with weapons in mass-fighting scenes, it is just the right adrenaline rush for the viewers.
The Samurai sword-fighting scenes also stand out amidst all the action. This movie is high on gore with some scenes such as stepping on intestines, going a bit too far. The final showdown is rather brutal. The only problems seem to be the slight cheesiness of the plot and visuals that indicate a low budget. If you are prepared to handle this much, you are in for a thorough entertainer.
Dirty Ho (1979)
In this fictional historical drama, the 11th prince of Manchuria, Prince Wang, poses as a merchant to keep a low profile. During his disguised entourage he chances upon a thief Ho Jen towards whom the Prince takes a serious liking to the point he wants to assign this simpleton the esteemed job of being his bodyguard. Ho takes his job rather lightly until the Prince’s life is under grave threat. In the light of a possible assassination that his master may face, Ho must now train hard to be able to protect his master from the impending danger.
One of the first things that you will notice about this film is how they portray the Manchu dynasty in a positive light, unlike most other Hong Kong films, who show them as barbaric invaders, giving them a humane spin that not many movies do. This movie goes on to show that not all martial arts movies are mindless escapism with rampant violence.
The depth in the storyline, the complex relationship between the prince and the thief, and many other aspects make sure that one takes this seriously. The fight choreography is pure art that you will be amazed by. The orchestrated camera and actors with their fluid movements make it a sheer joy to watch.
In the absence of animated theatrics, the editing and camera tricks are all the director had to pull it off. Gordon Liu who stars in this film is a total package. His action skills coupled with his comic timings make him a delight to watch. The scenes where he disguises his kung fu maneuvers to maintain anonymity are fun to watch. This Shaw Brothers Film is both enjoyable and deep, a combination that you would rarely find!
The Flying Guillotine (1975)
The emperor’s army has developed a new weapon which resembles a flying guillotine capable of flying over a long distance and decapitating anyone. The paranoid Emperor uses this flying weapon to kill of anyone in his range that appears as a threat to him. His loyal guard Mau Tang who initially supports the Emperor’s endeavors is soon digusted by his ruthless killngs.
Disturbed by the violence he exists from his job to lead a solitary life. However, life now comes full circle and unfortunately for Mau he now has to escape the flying guillotine, he detests so much to save himself.
When a Kung-fu film stars Chen Kuan Tai, it is usually a wonderful watch, and this one is no exception. The plot is innovative and manages to keep the thrill-quotient high for the entire duration. The weapon developed is a mean machine with nefarious powers that can slice up the enemies.
Ninjas are trained to use it, and the unsuspecting victims do not stand a chance. There are a lot of decapitations and brutal slaughters that are not recommended for the faint-hearted. Shaw Studios made smart use of their sets for this one, and even the costumes and designs are exemplary.
You do have to wait for some time for the martial arts to begin, but once it does, there is no end to the entertainment. There might be some campy moments, and the budgetary constraints might seem evident in some scenes. However, it is still a cut above the random Martial arts movies with hardly any story!
Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
This film on its onset has a dying kung-fu instructor who is sending forth his student to trace his five ex-students. He does so because he had taught them each a unique style of kung-fu but now he was afraid that his knowledge would be used for unscrupulous means.
Another problem seems to arise as the teacher does not know the identity of his students and now the onus is upon his disciple to decipher them. However he is now in a race against time as some of the ex-disciples are indeed teaming up with evil forces and he is at his wits end as to whom to trust.
There is simplicity in the narrative of this movie that appeals to us. It is a nice lesson in morals, and the plot shows that the greedy and corrupt ultimately lose out. However, at no point does the movie become preachy. In fact, the director Chang Cheh does well to keep the mystery intact for much of the film.
The cat and mouse chase is bound to thrill the audience. Unlike many of the action flicks from Hong Kong cinema, you would actually care when the characters die here. Death isn’t made to look trivial and is sometimes gut-wrenching. Chang Cheh is known for being a talented visual stylist, and he puts together the best of his skills to get the right look for this film. The camera work is extremely sophisticated, and the impeccable edit-work makes for a pleasing end result.
We cannot praise the fight scenes enough! They play out like stories that are well-crafted for thrills and art at the same time. This movie had the potential to inspire the likes of Quentin Tarantino, and if you want a kung-fu thriller with the Hitchcockian suspense, this is the one for you.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin AKA Shaolin Master Killer (1978)
The story focuses on some anti-Ching patriots who set up their base in Canton and function under-cover. However there plan is short-lived as a brutal onslaught from the Manchus leave them dead. A young man manages to flee, although his father is killed in the attack. He takes shelter in the Shaolin Temple, hoping to learn martial arts that might help him get his revenge. Armed with his new found knowledge, he sets out to destroy the Manchus.
This is one of those films that require an intrinsic knowledge of history and the political climate of the region. You have to view these films from a Hong Kong film industry’s perspective as a British colony.
If you have braved the cultural differences to understand the plot, you will be delighted at what is on offer! Directed and choreographed by Master Lau, this film is the complete package emcompassing within itself action, drama, and some intense characters to root for. The action scenes are more about the discipline than the ruthless fighting. The director knows his way around the camera, and that shows in some outstanding shots that will occupy your inward eye for times to come.
Gordon Liu doesn’t disappoint as the star of the film and seems to perform the stunts effortlessly. The training scenes stand out as motivational and are remarkable to watch. This movie was a huge hit all over the world and is a must-watch for martial arts enthusiasts.
House of Traps (1982)
The name of this film is very much suggestive of its plot. We are presented with a house that is rigged with traps. As fate would have it, a hefty treasure in the house attracts a bunch of skilled fighters. As they try their lucks out we see them dealing with these ingenious traps. Now this is a feat that not only test their skills and brute strength but will also get their brains churning! House of Traps is a classic example of Chang Che’s Venom movies and has the typical style of filming.
There are multiple characters, and you hardly have time to get introduced to them properly. The makers rely on the simplistic plot to drive home the point, and while this might seem cheesy for some, it does promise a lot of entertainment. There is a surprising lack of action in this movie, but that doesn’t take away the tremendous tension on offer. The filming is somewhat in the comic-book style, and even the costumes have been designed accordingly.
There are some scenes in the film that are inventively gory, and these stand out as some of the nail-biting moments. The traps are extremely innovative, and the umbrella that masquerades as a large drill left us speechless. While this film offers a wonderful time, it could have worked better with a more concrete plotline.
The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983)
This film revolves around the Yang household whose loyalty is towards the Imperial Army. However, one of their Generals turns out to be disloyal and betrays the family to the opposing forces. In an ambush that follows the father and most men are killed off leaving only the two brothers alive. One of them remains hidden while the other is on the run to tell the Emperor about the betrayal. The traitor General must find and kill him before he gets the word out.
This is regarded as one of the vintage kung fu classics, and for a good reason. The action buffs would drool over the overwhelming combats on offer. The groundbreaking fight sequences are staged with such brilliance that you are bound to be awed as the viewer.
A plot consisting of elements of treason, action, and intensity, will immediately have your attention. It is said that the story is based upon some actual historical figures of China. For instance, the Yang family actually defended the Northern borders for generations. The battle scenes are violent but still a fascinating watch.
Watch out for the final scene in particular! The dubbing isn’t the best, but there isn’t much choice for the Western viewer. The strong cast put together some impressive performances that combine with some decent direction to give you a gem of a martial arts movie!
Five Fingers of Death (1972)
A young martial arts student, Chi-Hao, falls in love with his master’s daughter. After his master is defeated in a standoff with a group of thugs, Chi-Hao is sent to a superior master to acquire the skills to avenge his master’s defeat. Now, Chi-Hao can win the hand of his daughter, only by defeating the local martial arts tyrant in an upcoming tournament. The superior master helps him with all the skills and teaches him the secret move, the Iron Fist. Can Chi-Hao do the needful and win over his first love?
For many people, this stands as one of the earliest martial arts hits. It started a craze for Kung-fu flicks in the USA, and has a story that seems more serious than it is courtesy of the dubbing, although it is an action-comedy. There are several characteristics in this movie that went on to influence martial arts movies later in the day. The Spanish guitar background score, the competing martial arts schools, and the jaw-dropping fight sequences are etched in the memories and add to the production value of this brilliantly crafted tale.
The production is wonderful, and the lights and camera-work have their charm. The fights cannot be compared to the modern-day hits, but considering the times, they were pretty badass. This cinematic risk by the Shaw brothers was definitely worth it!
Crippled Avengers (AKA Return of the Deadly Venoms or Mortal Combat) (1978)
An evil warlord frequently torments a quiet town with nobody to stand up to him. When all seems lost, four crippled victims team up to take on the oppressor. One of them is blind, one crippled, one mute and deaf, and another who tends to lose his sanity. Despite their shortcomings, they band together to put up opposition. They use their disabilities to their advantage, but it is not an easy task to substitute for important strengths!
For all those thinking this is a sequel to 5 Deadly Venom, you couldn’t be more wrong. Even with the same director and the actors, the storyline shares no relations. However, this is still one of the best Venom movies that you will find out there. This fun and violent movie offer some mind-blowing action scenes that the die-hard fans of Kung fu will thoroughly enjoy. As always, the dubbing adds to the fun element of the film.
Chang Cheh brings out the best in every actor and adds some creativity in the combat sequences. When these crippled men incorporate weapons and fine acrobatics through repeated training, you are bound to root for them. There are some who consider this movie to be an influence on the movie Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Blood Oath. As long as you can handle some gory moments, you will enjoy this well-made martial arts movie.
Fist of The White Lotus (1980)
Sometimes the simplest of plots deliver the hardest of punches. The story for this movie is as simple as it gets. A monk has to fight against an evil priest named White Lotus. He trains hard to take up the challenge, and eventually, it is time for a final showdown!
This movie acts as a sequel to the film Executioners from Shaolin. Boasting a glittering star cast of Gordon Liu and Kara Hui, the performance doesn’t slip for one moment. The Priest White Lotus is shown as one of the finest villains in Kung-fu history, and yet, he comes with his own moment of hilarity.
The creative slow-motion and the detailed backdrops make for the picture perfect frame of this movie. Even with a simple structure, this action flick packs the right punch, leaving you wanting more. The imaginative training sequences stand out as well. You might have watched tons of martial arts movies, but seldom will you come across something like this