THREE FILMS FROM SAMMO HUNG / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: YUEN WOO-PING / SREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: SAMMO HUNG, SING CHEN, JAMES TIEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Although lesser known to international audiences, Sammo Hung is a powerhouse of action cinema, having studied and suffered with fellow Peking Opera alumni Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao. Once said to have the power of an elephant with the speed of a monkey, he is a once-in-a-generation character. Eureka Entertainment presents a fantastic trio of his early films on Blu-Ray, in what is a great introduction to the Hong Kong legend.
The first in the package is Sammo’s directorial debut: 1977’s The Iron-Fisted Monk. Sammo plays the brilliantly-named Rice Pounder Six, who is training at the Shaolin temple to gain revenge on the Manchus - responsible for his Uncle’s death, they're a ridiculously evil ethnic minority who are shown bullying kids, beating people up and raping women, led by bad guy extraordinaire Fung Hark-On. Unusually for a Hong Kong movie of this era, the prolonged rape scene is very brutal and uncomfortable, but really makes you feel satisfied when the villain is inevitably defeated. With most of the film shot on location at Golden Harvest studios, it produces a claustrophobic but encapsulating appeal. Not Sammo's finest work, but there's still a lot to admire.
Next, we get The Magnificent Butcher (1979), directed by Yuen Woo Ping and featuring Sammo as the real life Butcher Wing. It features familiar beats of the genre, with a drunken beggar, mistaken identity and Fung Hark-On as a slimy villain once again. What stands out is how intricate the choreography is - one battle, featuring Yuen Biao, consists of seven techniques in one take, something which is unheard of in modern action filmmaking.
1987’s Eastern Condors, also directed by the big man himself, is a rare genre departure. A homage to The Dirty Dozen, it features a group of criminals tasked with destroying a munitions dump in Vietnam. Sammo is at his slimmest point of his career here, placing an emphasis on high kicking techniques. Again featuring Yuen Biao, it contains references to many classic Vietnam films but, of course, with its own brand of action that only Hong Kong cinema can deliver. Yuen Wah (another Peking Opera school graduate) is great as the villain, a twitchy general with an unusual fighting style. It’s brutal, uncompromising and unique, just like Sammo.
All three discs are well restored and offer an English dub or original Cantonese track with subtitles. They contain Sammo Hung interviews, which are interesting but let down by his lack of articulate English. The audio commentaries, which feature Frank Djeng on Iron-Fisted Monk and Mike Leeder on the other two films, are full of interesting facts but, it has to be said, they don’t match Bey Logan’s work in this field. With interviews with Yuen Woo Ping and Yuen Wah rounding things off, this is probably Eureka’s strongest offering yet, a company that specialises in packages for true film fans who yearn for quality in the current streaming fog.