Story: The owner of a gym, Yeh Ching Hai, is pursued by assassins hired by a Japanese boss (Yee Yuen). Despite having a dagger embedded in his torso, he summons every ounce of crazy strength to defeat the minions of bully-boy Black Eagle (Tsai Hung).
The assassin arrives
He's doing alright, with cowardly Black Eagle hiding behind a naked woman, before another assassin intervenes (Chen Hung-Lieh), and finishes off Dagger-Gut, who dies lying on top of, well, see for yourself:
I can think of worse places to take my last breath
Dagger-Gut's students foolishly rush out to snatch revenge, but fail miserably in an all-too-predictable ambush. Black Eagle actually breaks out some moves in this sequence, since he has his buddies backing him up. The big tart.
The new boss removes the old sign from the gym, and hands over brothel and smuggling duties to his trusted lieutenants. At this juncture, a new bloke appears at the gym. It is Tien Lung (Tien Peng), who wants to kill the old gym owner, as revenge for his father's death. Since he's been beaten to it, he leaves, bumping into a mysterious woman on the way out.
Tien Peng is annoyed that he can't kill a dead man
Later, Black Eagle sets about rounding up the village women for the brothel. He threatens to take Tien Lung's cousin, but the other assassin intervenes, telling him to leave alone. Undeterred, Black Eagle returns to Tien's home, and kills the girl in a struggle. Tien Lung hunts him down and kicks his arse, before strangling him with a chain.
The boss is furious, and tries to find out who the murderer is. Tien Lung brings a new Japanese woman to the gym as the assassin sets off to examine the place where Eagle died. She is very capable at martial arts, and manages to insult the assassin straight away. She even manages to snatch a piece of red material from his outfit, inscribed with the words 'Fang Chi'
Comments: And that's the first twenty minutes. From here, there are certain questions that need a resolution. Will Tien Lung be found out? Who is the mysterious Japanese girl, and what are her motives? What are the motives of the assassin, and who is Fang Chi?
The plot succeeds in answering them. There's no great surprises, and the exposition is sometimes clumsy and slow, but there's a neat twist on roles later on, and plenty of chaos. It's got all the elements of a classic basher - the focus on revenge, anti-imperialism, honour and a touch of chivalry. While it's not going to win any prizes, the plot at least adds some meat to the bones of the action.
The martial arts are ok. It's 1972, so the action is a tad slow, with numerous occasions where the actor had prepared the defensive block even before the attack had been initiated. This is a bit grating to see. It breaks the illusion of the fight being raw and spontaneous. However, advanced choreography techniques were in their infancy, so it's appreciable. Tien Peng is too slow and swingy-armed in some sequences. I've seen his later work, and he does get better. He's perhaps more famous for his ice-cool performances in wuxia films, but you can see the genesis of his later portrayals in this calm and collected effort. Even when he's getting whupped to a frazzle, he never looks totally defeated. Arguably, he doesn't look angry enough, what with being on the double-revenge mission and all.
The standouts in this film, though, for me, are Cheung Ching Ching and Chen Hung Lieh. There's some real humanity in Lieh's performance, which I'll not go into for fear of spoiling the story, but needless to say, his character's plight is well delivered by the actor. Cheung Ching Ching looks fantastic in this film, and puts together some clean, pleasing martial arts work throughout.
The film is quite nicely filmed throughout, with some pretty framing shots as shown below:
Dead bloke in the foreground. Nice.
To summarise, this is a slightly clumsy, unevenly paced film, with some reasonable action for its time, and decent central performances. It won't convert the unconverted, and it may bore some, but I see it as an average genre entry which, while largely forgettable, is decent enough to watch for its duration.