The Iron-Fisted Monk (HK 1977)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/6/20
Director: Samo Hung
Cast: Samo Hung, Chen Sing, James Tien, Fung Hark On, Dean Shek, cameos by Casanova Wong, Lam Ching Ying, Eric Tsang, Mars

Samo Hung's directorial debut is a laborious and tone deaf outing, highlighted only by his superb action choreography and martial arts skill. Husker (Samo Hung) is a man who wants revenge against the evil Manchus for killing his boss/father/mentor. A Shaolin monk named Tak (Chen Sing) saves him from also getting killed, and tells him to go to Shaolin Temple and learn kung fu. After several years of training, he leaves the temple and almost immediately gets framed for murder by Fung Hark On's nasty Manchu gang. Fung likes to rape and kill, and his sinister ways finally catch up to him when Husker and Tak launch an all-out assault on his house.

While I normally enjoy Samo Hung's work, this film can be a chore to sit through. The pacing is challenging and the disjointed narrative is all over the place. The first twenty minutes play out as a goofy comedy, while the next forty minutes are a weepy drama of cruelty and harsh abuse. The final twenty minutes are a violent showcase of martial arts fury, but it comes too late to save the show. While Samo's choreography and execution are excellent, the fights come across as more stiff than expected, and the lack of vocalizations gives the fights a surreal quality. Although maybe that was just an issue with the Cantonese audio track, since the Mandarin audio sounded much different. Much like Samo's other films, the juxtaposition of slapstick, dark humor, misogyny, and mean-spirited cruelty leaves a bad taste, and the rape scenes are particularly ugly. It's also surprising to see a fair number of bare breasts in the film, which is unusual for the time period and the genre. Still, there are sparks of brilliance throughout, which Samo would hone to perfection in his later directorial efforts.

My favorite throw away piece is when Wu Ma visits a brothel and his lady refuses to give him a blow job because she "doesn't do that on the first and the fifteenth of the month." A girl's gotta have standards, I suppose. Or maybe there's some cultural reference that I'm missing?