Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Crystal Fist" (1979) d/ Hwa I Hung

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From the instant lead pugilist Billy Chong's title sequence form kicks into high gear over the opening credits, you should already know what a tempest whirlwind of martial action you're in for. Tonight's review, also known under it's alternate "Jade Claw" title, is Chong's starring debut; a Kung Fu Theater staple throughout the eighties on Philadelphia and New York stations like WPHL and WWOR, packed to the gills with quality kung foolery, beautiful training and form sequences, and breathtaking fight choreography from Simon Yuen's sons Brandy and Shun-Yi (who also doubled for Chong and elder Yuen during the trickier maneuvers), so much so, in fact, that it bears striking resemblance to Yuen's elder son's (Yuen Woo Ping, for those keeping track) groundbreaking genre work with Jackie Chan, leading to the inevitable 'Chan copycat' tag that would wrongfully follow the Indonesian action star for years to follow. Pay such damning comparisons no mind, especially in the case of tonight's focus: a classic in every sense of the word.

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Farcical physical slapstick humor? Check.
Young Wen is orphaned when Master Yen(Chu Tiet Wo) erase his father(Hau Chau Sing) from the equation with his deadly Double Phoenix Eye fist and help from his two henchmen, Deaf and Blind(Brandy Yuen, Addy Sung). Now a young man (Billy Chong) looking to learn martial arts to exact revenge, he poses as an instructor to gain entry to a local kung fu school, and is taken on as a kitchen hand to the Cook (Simon Yuen), when he's not being used as a punching bag by Fatty and Skinny (Lung Ga Chun, David Woo),  the assistant teachers. Feeling sorry for Wen after much pranking (of the prosthetic smashed big toes variety and then some) transpires, the Cook begins to teach him the Eagle Claw technique through a painful-looking montage of training exercise and sheer physical endurance, and it isn't long before Wen is an adept enough fighter to protect his nation's honor against a cocky Russian ( Alexander Grand), but the tail end of his humbling lesson is witnessed by Yen, who instantly recognizes the Eagle Claw technique of his rival, and attacks Wen on his way home.

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Impossibly difficult training sequences that border on the sadistic, really? Check.
Yen and his thugs viciously beat the young pupil, burning his hand in a fire and smashing the jade his father had given to him, but he manages to escape with his life. When the cook sees Wen's broken jade, he realizes who he really is, and vows to teach him the shadow eagle's claw style to defeat Yen's Phoenix Eye and avenge his father's death.Cue: dramatic forms sequence, and Wen's ready to dole it back out in droves.After he puts a jerk off nobleman who lets his German Shepard eat off a restaurant table in his place and beating the stuffing out of Fatty and Skinny, he squares off against Blind and Deaf and double handicaps both of them.When he finds Yen, he's laughing maniacally, having just set the young man's digs on fire. Man, this guy is hardcore. With the building burning to the ground behind them, the men majestically fight to the death, both with weapons and finally, barehanded, where Wen unleashes the secret shadow eagle's claw upon his foe, and in an acrobatic slo-mo, crushes Yen's throat, leading to a Shaw-esque final freeze.

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Avenging a father's volent, untimely death at the hands of a power-mad warlord? Check.
Chong would follow up this hit for Eternal Films with another Hung film,  A Hard Way To Die(1979), and 1980's Super Power. The two would work together again the following year in the legendary Kung Fu Zombie(1981). The Ocean Shores clamshell VHS under the Crystal Fist title boasts of the only uncut print I've seen of the movie, with the profanity and fight violence excised from the television edit intact, though I can't say I've given any of the cheap bare bones dvds I've seen of it much attention. If any classic golden era kung fu movie needs a special edition widescreen restoration, this one gets my vote. As one my all-time favorites of the genre, I'd write about it all day if you let me. If you're into this sort of thing, you can't go wrong. Highly recommended. Four wops.

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"Attack the heart, and then the lungs... Tired?? TOO BAD!!!"
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mottikod said...

"Yer both useless!"

beedubelhue said...

"Came in like a wolf... went out like a lamb! Let's go!"


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