Challenge Of The Masters (HK 1976)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/1/01
Director: Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung)
Cast: Liu Chia Hui (Lau Kar Fei, Gordon Liu), Chen Kwan Tai, Yung Wang Yu, Liu Chia Yung, Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung), cameos by Lily Li, Wilson Tong, Eric Tsang

The Liu family is at it again with this Wong Fei Hung coming of age tale. A young Wong Fei Hung (Gordon Liu) is frustrated because his father won't teach him kung fu. When he secretly enters the annual "vying for firecrackers" competition, the elder student of his father's school (Yung Wang Yu) gets injured trying to protect him. With the aid of Lily Li and Liu Chia Yung, Fei Hung manages to persuade his father's kung fu teacher (Chen Kwan Tai) to teach him as well. They head off to the mountains to train for two years, but things back home are getting tense. Liu Chia Yung gets murdered by a notorious bandit (Liu Chia Liang) and the "bad" kung fu school continues to make life hard for the good guys by constantly teasing them. Everything changes when Fei Hung returns home after his training as he avenges Liu Chia Yung's death and leads his fellow students to victory at the latest firecracker competition. Again, director Liang has difficulty with endings and the film ends on a bizarre and abrupt freeze frame.

For the most part, this is a training film. Nearly an hour of the film is devoted to watching Wong Fei Hung learn kung fu, and the climax of the film shows him actually using what he's learned. The kung fu in the film is very good, and the fights between Liu Chia Yung, Liu Chia Liang, Liu Chia Hui, and Chen Kwan Tai are quite rewarding (although they suffer from the injustices of pan and scan cropping). Unfortunately, the firecracker competitions are uninteresting collages of orchestrated crowd mayhem. Imagine if smear the queer were a televised team sport. The story is also slow and uninteresting, although director Liang succeeds in capturing several heartfelt moments about the essence of kung fu. At this stage in his career, it's apparent he was already a master action director, but his ability to tell an engaging story was still developing.