Join us as we explore the wild and offbeat cinema that played the roadshows, drive-ins and grindhouses.
In the 1970s and 80s, martial arts movies became a massive sensation for moviegoers. Asian action stars such as Jimmy Wang Yu, Bruce Lee, Lo Lieh, Angela Mao, Sonny Chiba, Sue Shiomi, Gordon Liu, Jackie Chan, and others suddenly became the new heroes for audiences both young and old. The cultural impact of Kung fu films clearly filled a gap and provided a positive outlet for many minorities as well. Coming from violent urban backgrounds, these kinds of movies gave kids of all colors and creeds the inspiration to stay strong in mind, body and spirit. They also helped inspire the openings of martial arts schools worldwide. Yes, kung fu films were a true phenomenon the likes of which we have rarely seen in pop culture. Volume 9 of our History of Exploitation Cinema series is dedicated to the legendary grindhouse KUNG FU MASTERS & KARATE KILLERS!
The Chinese Boxer (1970) aka The Hammer of God was the first true open hand kung fu film that was made in Hong Kong. Before it, the action films were almost entirely about sword/weapon fighting. Director/Star Jimmy Wang Yu uses a unique mix of different martial arts styles: kung fu, wuxia, samurai, karate all sort of mixed together into one big explosive blend. An interesting detail is that Chinese Boxer actually came out BEFORE Bruce Lee made his debut in The Big Boss a year later. Actor-Director Jimmy Wang Yu was the biggest star in Hong Kong at the time but got overlooked in the shadow of Bruce's large presence and personality.
King Boxer aka Five Fingers of Death was directed by Chang Chang Ho and starred Lo Lieh. Released in the USA by Warner Bros. in March 1973, the film was responsible for kicking off the North American kung fu film craze of the 1970s, although it was soon overshadowed by Enter The Dragon released later that same year. It has everything you want in a kung fu film: lots of fights, colorful characters, supercool sound FX (that awesome Ironside theme!) and great direction.
In this 1974 grindhouse karate classic, Sonny Chiba plays the infamous Terry Tsurugi, Assassin for hire. Produced by Toei Studios, it was released in the US by New Line Cinema and became one of the first films to be a commercial success for the distributor. It is also notable as the first film to receive an X-rating in the United States solely for violence. The fight sequences in the film are very exploitative. You'll see bones snapping, skulls crushed (one in X Ray vision), throats ripped out, balls ripped off, teeth punched out and lots of BLOOD squirting all over. If you want brutal Grindhouse Japanese karate fighting, The Streetfighter series is for you.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (aka Master Killer) released in 1978 popularized a new subgenre in Martial Arts movies: The Training film. The atmosphere, trademark Shaw-zooms, the cool music and the sympathetic acting of Gordon Liu makes it a gem. The scenes in the temple are funny (for example the first chamber, where San Te is doing everything wrong), and they are sometimes very serious also (the carrying of water with the knives under the arms). 36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely considered to be one of the greatest kung fu films and a turning point in its director's and star's careers.
An early example of the comedic kung fu genre for which Jackie Chan became famous and popularized the Zui Quan ("drunken fist") fighting style. The protagonist Wong Fei-hung was a Chinese martial artist, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and a revolutionary who lived towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. He became a Chinese folk hero and the subject of several Hong Kong television programmes and films. Beggar So, who plays a supporting role in the film, is also another character from Chinese folklore and one of the Ten Tigers of Canton.
In this sequel to the One Armed Boxer, Fu Sheng Wu Chi (Kam Kang) receives a message (by way of carrier pigeon) that his students Chow Fu and Chow Lung have been killed by a mysterious one armed man. Fung then swears to get revenge by any means necessary. He grabs his weapon (the fatal flying guillotine) and begins taking out all one armed men he encounters. Fung's intended target, The One Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu) is a teacher at a school of martial arts where he's showing students the mysterious ways of kung fu. The direction by Wang Yu and creative fight choreography done by the brothers Leung in 'Master' is really wonderful stuff. A Grindhouse Classic!