The Thunderbolt Fist (HK 1972)

Rating: **
Review Date: 8/15/20
Cast: Shih Szu, Yuen Chuan, James Nam

A group of ruthless Japanese take over a Chinese town and kill the resident kung fu master. The master's son manages to escape and leaves the family's secret kung fu manual with a friend for safekeeping. Tie Wa (Yuen Chuan) and Sister Die (Shih Szu) spend the next ten or so years hiding in the mountains, picking ginseng and practicing kung fu while they wait for their chance to get revenge. Tie Wa finally decides to visit town and retrieve his father's manual, and learns that a Japanese boss named Gu Gang (James Nam) has just returned from Japan and is making trouble. But the Japanese are cunning and trick the Chinese into wasting their energy fighting among themselves instead of focusing on their true enemy. Sensing Tie Wa as a potential threat, Gu Gang tortures him, cripples his right arm, and has him tailed back to his secret base. For whatever reasons, the Japanese wait way too long to strike, which gives Tie Wa enough time to recuperate and master the Thunderbolt Fist with his remaining good arm. This leads to an exhausting showdown as Tie Wa and Sister Die take the fight back to the Japanese, resulting in a surprisingly bloody battle with a shocking coup de grace.

It's pretty standard fare for the time period. It looks pretty good for the most part, but it's often out of focus, the background paintings are unconvincing, and the camera catches the ceiling a couple of times. The kung fu and sword work are good and bloody, and the various fighting styles are interesting to watch. James Nam makes an excellent and hard-hitting villain, and while Yuen Chuan is a very good fighter, he lacks the charm and charisma to carry the film as a hero. Also, its variation on "The One-Armed Swordsman" (1967) makes the fighting during the climax unbalanced and awkward to watch, although seeing both combatants armless is a nice twist. The real star is Shih Szu, who gets star billing even though she's relegated to a supporting role with only a handful of scenes. However, she does get to fight a few times, and her sword fighting during the climax is very satisfying. It's a lesser film from Shaw Brothers and the pacing can be challenging, but it's still fun to watch.