Fist of the White Lotus will be remembered for many reasons, not only because it marks Lo Lieh's directorial debut. Few debuts come away with such credit, with only Sammo Hung's Iron Fisted Monk springing to mind. It fared well at the box-office taking HK $1,675,000 during its 9 week cinematic run. However, there is no doubt that Lo Lieh was aided by the presence of the legendary Liu Chia Liang who choreographed the frantic and technical fight scenes. Once again Gordon Liu is the hero pitted against two of his finest adversaries: Wang Lung Wei and Lo Lieh. I shall not even bother to mention all the films where the 'Master Killer' has faced up against these two first-rate pugilists!
Hsiao Hao capably provides support with a brief cameo in the opening
fight where Pai Mei is killed. Kara Hui Yung Hing plays the female lead
with the sort of power that was only possible after Yuko Mizuno's ground
breaking work in Shaolin Challenges
Ninja. Perhaps the only disappointment comes from Cheng Miu who fails
to shine amongst such a rich cast.
There are several angles to approach this film from. It is a tale of how grace and elegance are as important as force and power, it is a fantastical tale about a mystical kung fu master, it is a historical piece tracing the development of Hung Gar and ultimately it is a pure and simple revenge flick. The Ground Zero packaging incorrectly states that this is a remake of the classic Executioners from Shaolin, but it is actually a sequel. The confusion is because Lo Lieh plays a white haired kung fu master in both. In Executioners he is playing the Priest Pai Mei, but in the sequel he plays his classmate, the leader of the White Lotus Clan. After the White Lotus chief defeats Hu Yia Pin (Hsaio Hao), Liu saves the pregnant Kara Hui and trains to take his revenge.
However, not only does Liu have hundreds of guards and Wang Lung Wei to get past, but then he has the small matter of the White Lotus Chief! For those unfamiliar with Kung fu mysticism here are some of his powers: he can withdraw his testicles into his own body, he has a deadly 100 pace punch, he only has once weak spot and he floats to absorb the power of his opponent's blows! Eventually Kara Hui teaches him the art of 'embroidery' kung fu which combined with his Hung Gar animal styles, weapon skills and acupuncture skills means he is ready to fight to the death!
What will please many about this film is that there are the regular helpings of top class training and fight sequences. Liu Chia Liang puts in one of his best performances, probably aided by Lo Lieh directing allowing him to concentrate on the choreography. There are bloody massacres, training sequences with and without weapons, group fights, one vs. thirty fights and loads of one-on-one encounters with Liu mixing it up with Lo Lieh and Wang Lung Wei on several occasions. The only major disappointment of the film is Liu's second fight with Wang Lung Wei, as it seems rushed, sitting uneasily with the steady pace of the plot. Their first clash is possibly my favourite of the movie, it is not an explosive encounter, but those two just work like a charm together, helping to show that on-screen kung fu is nothing without timing.
The film also has some lighthearted moments which are a direct upshot of the success of Jackie Chan's Drunken Master. Responding to pressure the previously solemn Shaw Brother stable began to add humour with mixed success. The humour in this movie is pretty lacklustre offering the standard weakling character (epitomised by Dean Shek) and also by Gordon Liu initially mocking female kung fu (ermm 8th Drunken fairy - deja vous???). Overlooking the poor comedy, there is an enjoyable look at the grace and beauty of Kara Hui and the less forceful forms of kung fu. Common yarns normally involve the young hero learning a new deadly technique and it is refreshing (although not completely unique) to see a softer style being adopted to win the day (quite similar to many Tai Chi flicks).
Lo Lieh's direction is certainly a strong point of
the movie, and it seems surprising that many more directing roles did
not follow. This is not ground breaking cinema but it does show how a
fresh director can add a bit of individual flair whilst remaining true
to the Shaw Brothers tradition. Lo Lieh uses many more camera angles per
scene that typical Shaw Brothers works and he is prepared to use the staple
techniques: panning camera, zoom in and out, reverse shots, and even some
nudity (of himself - the less said the better!)
This is not anywhere near the worst disc to emerge from Ground Zero. The sound and picture are both adequate, and fortunately it is on a (semi) widescreen print. We are also treated to chapter stops as the only extras, but do we really expect anything more?
A fine directorial debut for Lo Lieh, plus a class performance
from him as the White Lotus Chief. Gordon Liu once again excels as the
kung fu hero on the revenge trail. But it is possibly Liu Chia Liang who
really shines as the choreographer displaying all manners of kung fu conflict
in this action packed classic. The only disappointments lie in the ill-judged
humour and arguable under-use of the excellent support cast, especially
Kara Hui and Wang Lung Wei. The best work from the Shaw Brothers in the
late 70's either came from the Venoms mob or from the nucleus of this
cast, and few movies better showcase what they had to offer to the Jade