Martial Club (HK 1981)

Rating: ***(*)
Review Date: 11/22/09
Director: Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung)
Cast: Gordon Liu (Liu Chia Hui), Wei Ying Hung, Wang Lung, Hsiao Hou, Wilson Tong

While it starts off weak, this martial arts tour de force ends with an exhaustive display of kung fu mastery and can be counted among Liu Chia Liang's finest and most ambitious projects. Not surprisingly, the plot is overly simplistic: young students from rival kung fu schools stir up trouble, which escalates to all-out warfare. Gordon Liu plays a young Wong Fei Hung, who is constantly trying to outdo his friend Yinlin. Their pranks eventually get them in trouble with "the bad school" and their visiting instructor, Master Shan (Wang Lung). The ultimate showdown goes down between Liu and Lung in a series of continually narrowing alleys. Brilliant stuff.

Director Liu Chia Liang is in his element here, staging elaborate lion dances, Chinese opera, clever physical contests, and delivering philosophical insights on the martial arts in addition to his masterful kung fu choreography. As you would expect, the execution, cinematography, and editing are superb and physically exhausting to watch. Liang's actors are all in top form and their performances are stellar. Excellent work all around. Kung fu hottie Wei Ying Hung is also on hand to deliver one of her finest fighting performances, but is sadly dismissed in the final reel. The film suffers only from the inclusion of goofy humor, some initial pacing issues, and an overly abrupt ending, which is typical of many of Liang's films. Definitely a must-see for kung fu purists, but casual viewers may find the lack of narrative substance disappointing.