Three Films with Sammo Hung — Blu-ray: The Iron-Fisted Monk, The Magnificent Butcher & Eastern Condors (2019), a trio of incredible martial-arts films, from one of Hong Kong cinema’s most iconic figures, is now available courtesy of Eureka Entertainment!
Presented FULLY UNCUT (for the first time ever in the UK) from brand new 2K restorations, this 3-Disc Blu-ray edition, (with The Iron-Fisted Monk Blu-ray debuting worldwide), is part of the Eureka Classics range, which is available to order on Blu-ray, releases today, Monday 7th October. To celebrate, read on for your chance to also WIN a copy!
Of course, the main man in all three films is the legendary Sammo Hung. In a career spanning six decades, he has worked with some of the best in the business, from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan. His work as a performer, choreographer and director helped to reshape and evolve modern screen-fighting action as we know it. These three examples of his work feature some of the most celebrated Hong Kong action stars of all time.
The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977)
In his directorial debut, Sammo stars as “Hawker”. The rest of the cast features many familiar faces from 1970’s kung fu movies including James Tien, Chang Sing (as the titular Iron-Fisted Monk), Lo Hoi-pang, Dean Shek, Fung Hark-on, Wu Ma, Lam Ching-ying, Casanova Wong and Eric Tsang.
The Magnificent Butcher (1979)
With Yuen Woo-ping taking directorial duties, Sammo portrays a comic version of the real life Hung Gar master, “Butcher Lam Sai-wing”. An expert in Hung Gar kung fu himself, Hong Kong movie star Kwan Tak-hing reprises the role he had played over seventy times, that of the legendary “Wong Fei-hung“. Sammo’s long-time friend and frequent co-star Yuen Biao plays “Leung Foon”, a role he would later revisit in Jet Li‘s “Once Upon a Time in China“.
Performers in this movie from Sammo Hung’s rich troupe of regular co-stars include Chung Fat as “Wildcat”, Lee Hoi Sang as “Master Ko”, Fung Hark-on as “Ko Tai-hoi”, and Lam Ching-ying as “Killer with Fan”. Yuen Woo-ping’s father, Yuen Siu-tien was set to reprise his role as the Drunken Master, “Beggar So”. He sadly passed away at the start of filming and was replaced by Fan Mei-sheng.
Eastern Condors (1987)
Sammo Hung assembled a virtual “who’s who” of some of the best talent in the Hong Kong film industry, years before Stallone did something similar with “The Expendables”!
Sammo himself took the lead, ably supported by his “younger brother” from Yu Jim Yuen’s Peking Opera School, Yuen Biao. Playing the film’s sinister but quirky villain was another classmate of Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, who had famously doubled for Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon”. “Mr Vampire” and “The Prodigal Son” star, Lam Ching Ying, plays the senior officer who puts together the team and the plan for the “Eastern Condors”. Legendary martial arts choreographer and director, Yuen Woo-ping, appears alongside fellow choreographer, director, and Peking Opera veteran, Corey Yuen. Sammo’s own wife, Joyce Godenzi, proves she is every bit as able as her famous husband, playing a guerrilla fighter.
Haing S Ngor, famous for his Oscar-winning turn in “The Killing Fields”, gives the film a dramatic core. Other notable mentions include James Tien, veteran of many of Bruce Lee’s films; regular movie villain, Dick Wei; stuntman and regular Sammo Hung collaborator, Chin Kar Lok; Japanese action-legend, Yasuaki Kurata; Kickboxing champion, Billy Chow; veteran actor, Wu Ma; and comic actor, Billy Lau.
The Iron-Fisted Monk
Having saved the young Hawker from a beating by the Manchus, the Iron-Fisted Monk sends him for training at the Shaolin Temple. Meanwhile, an evil Manchu official is indulging in his passion for raping women. He begins by raping Liang’s sister, who then commits suicide. Liang takes his revenge by killing a Manchu, but Hawker is mistakenly blamed.
The Iron-Fisted Monk convinces Hawker to teach some factory workers to defend themselves from the Manchus with martial arts. With the Manchus viciously punishing the workers and Liang’s family, Hawker and the Iron-Fisted Monk swear to deliver an equally brutal vengeance.
The Magnificent Butcher
Lam Sai-wing, better known as “Butcher” Wing, spends his days mastering kung fu under the tutelage of the renown Hung Gar master Wong Fei-hung, when, one day, his long-lost brother Sai-kwong comes into town with his attractive new bride Yuet Mei.
The pair’s arrival attracts the attention of Ko Tai-hoi, the son of Master Ko, and he promptly kidnaps her. Tai-hoi’s attempt to rescue his wife is ultimately thwarted by Butcher Wing, who knows nothing of the kidnapping nor recognizes his brother.
The despondent Sai-kwong is saved from committing suicide by Fei-hung’s close friend and famed Drunken Master, Beggar So Can. The two men first confront Butcher Wing, believing him to be the true kidnapper, but after realizing that Sai-kwong and Butcher Wing are brothers and learning that Tai-hoi is the true kidnapper, the three men unite to rescue Yuet Mei.
When Tai-hoi accidentally kills Yuet Mei, Butcher Wing is mistakenly identified as the murderer. Can Wing’s name be cleared and the status of Wong Fei-hung’s school be returned to its former good reputation?
“Eastern Condors” takes its premise from the 1967 hit movie “The Dirty Dozen”, which starred Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson. Moving the action from the Second World War to war-torn Vietnam, Chinese-American Lieutenant Colonel Lam is given a top-secret mission by the US military.
He must destroy a secret bunker in enemy territory full of American missiles before the Vietcong reach it. Not everyone is expected to survive the mission, so a team of expendable, convicted, Chinese-American soldiers is recruited, with the promise of a pardon and $200,000 each.
The team parachute in behind enemy lines, but Lam learns that the mission has been aborted before he can stop them. Left with no alternative, they continue with the mission anyway. Once in enemy territory, our heroes team up with a team of deadly female guerrilla fighters. Taking refuge in a small village, they meet Weasel and his mentally ill “Uncle” Yeung, who claims to know the location of a secret “treasure”.
Relying on their fighting skills and wit, the team are hunted through the jungle by a ruthless giggling general and his soldiers into a final spectacular and explosive confrontation.
One thing that you can say about this package is that it is definitely action-packed! Hardly 10 minutes goes by in each film without a fight scene. The great thing is this doesn’t result in an overdose of monotonous choreography.
Each action scene builds on the respective plot and features continuously innovative and entertaining choreography, something that Sammo Hung has built his stellar reputation on.
The Iron-Fisted Monk
In Sammo’s directorial debut, “The Iron-Fisted Monk” wastes no time in setting out its stall. The opening credits play over an acrobatic sparring match between Sammo and a high kicking Shaolin monk played by Casanova Wong.
The flexible kicks and high flips punctuate some traditional kung fu moves, but you can tell Sammo is trying to raise the game here. Sammo has an intricate sword versus pole duel with veteran star James Tien. Even though it is very much in a traditional style, the choreography is just that little bit more fluid than the norm.
Sammo also likes to have several opponents fighting at the same time, rather than the old-fashioned method of everyone leaping about in the background, waiting their turn. You can see the genesis of the sublime choreography that would later fill such Sammo Hung classics as “Knockabout” or “The Prodigal Son“.
Although there are moments of humour and slapstick throughout, another trademark that would recur in Sammo’s later work is his harsh treatment of female characters. Be they fighters or victims, the women in many of Sammo’s films often have a hard time. In a film like “Eastern Condors”, it can be empowering. In this movie, some may find the scenes of sexual assault rather distasteful and exploitative.
As with all good kung fu films, the final battle is that little bit longer and more intricate, featuring a good mix of traditional postures and techniques with Sammo’s hard-hitting and Chinese opera acrobatics.
The Magnificent Butcher
“The Magnificent Butcher” is a spiritual sequel to director Yuen Woo-ping‘s hugely successful “Drunken Master”. Just as Jackie Chan had made a comic character of the role of Wong Fei Hung, Sammo clowns around as Fei Hung’s real life protégé, Lam Sai Wing.
Kwan Tak-hing has a guest starring feature in his most famous role as a more traditional Wong Fei Hung. The then 74 year-old Kwan Tak-hing is introduced in a stunning calligraphy duel. Despite his years, the stunt doubling is kept to a minimum, and he moves with remarkable fluidity and flexibility.
Real life martial artist Fan Mei-sheng ably steps into the role of Beggar So after Yuen Siu Tien sadly passed away. Even though many of the fights are played for laughs, there are still plenty of traditional Southern-style kung fu shapes thrown in.
In a film packed with fight scenes, highlights include the regulation tea house fight between Sammo and Fan Mei-sheng, the spectacular battle between Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying, Lee Hoi San, Wei Pai, Yuen Miu, and Chung Fat’s wild “Cat kung fu” duel with Sammo.
The obligatory training sequence has Beggar So putting Sammo through purgatory to toughen and sharpen his skills. The pay off comes in the extensive final battle between Sammo and Lee Hoi Sang. It’s filmed with some astonishingly long takes and wide-framing so the audience can fully appreciate the exquisite timing and techniques of the two stars.
“Eastern Condors” is one of my all time favourite action movies. In fact, I requested it as my first ever Kung Fu Kingdom movie review – and it never, ever fails to impress and entertain me!
The fight choreography is continually inventive but what sets it apart is the full-contact impact of every punch, kick and fall. It also illustrates Sammo at possibly the peak of his powers as a director.
Although it features many derivative plot points from films such as “Rambo” or “The Deer Hunter”, he successfully balances an ensemble cast performing drama, comedy, tragedy and tension.
The shootouts and fights are always perfectly framed and performed at just the right rhythm. Sammo knows when to keep a take a shot wide and long, and when to go full speed or slow motion. The cinematography (by the renowned Arthur Wong) and editing are also out of the top drawer for an action film.
The final battle is arguably one of the most agile and hard-hitting screen fights Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah have ever filmed and is a bona fide classic of the genre.
As well as the usual interviews and audio commentaries, a great bonus on this disc is the Eastern Condors Live Show from the 1987 Miss Hong Kong Pageant. It features many of the cast from the movie recreating scenes from the movie in the style of a Chinese opera. It is an impressive sight to see the acrobatic stunts and action being performed live on a stage.
Beautifully packaged and uncut on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, these three excellent examples from Sammo Hung’s extensive filmography are essential viewing for genre fans. In fact, the three films selected are an almost perfect choice to illustrate the progression and evolution of Sammo Hung’s work from the mid-seventies to the early eighties.
For fans and connoisseurs of Chinese martial arts films, these exquisitely presented examples, coupled with the informative commentaries from experts Mike Leeder, Arne Venema and Frank Djeng, interviews with the stars, a multitude of audio options, and excellent accompanying booklet with notes by James Oliver, are a definitive showcase for the work of Sammo Hung as a performer and director. For the uninitiated, when you are trying to explain who Sammo Hung is and why his many contributions to martial arts cinema are so important, these are three great examples to illustrate your point.
I have read posts on social media saying “they should have included this film or that film”, but the truth is the quality of Sammo’s films is so high, that any three equivalent films charting the rise of his career could be worthy of inclusion. If Eureka decide to do a “Volume 2” Blu-ray set, I will be first in the line to get mine!
Eureka Entertainment continue to lead the way with their high definition releases of classic Hong Kong movies. Three Films with Sammo Hung deserves a place in everyone’s collection!
- The Iron-Fisted Monk’s Shaolin Temple was actually filmed in Korea.
- The characters of Wong Fei-hung, Lam Sai-wing and Leung Foon are based on real Hung Gar martial artists. The character of Beggar So is based on So Chan, a Chinese martial artist and folk hero who was part of the famous Ten Tigers of Canton.
- In order to get into shape for the lead role in “Eastern Condors”, Sammo lost 30lbs in three months on a diet of nothing but lean chicken and rice.
- Whilst filming a 50ft jump onto a truck, Sammo injured his knees after missing the safety mattress, and was told not to walk. To complete his scenes, he sat on an out-of-shot camera dolly and pretended he was walking, whilst a crew member pushed him along!
- Scenes that have been restored to these uncut versions include a longer version of a rape in The Iron-Fisted Monk, and the killing of a live snake in “Eastern Condors”.
Film Rating: 10/10
“Three Films with Sammo Hung” is out on Blu-ray, today, 7th October courtesy of Eureka Classics and you can also order it via Amazon.
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