Sammo (Husker) and Chen Sing (Iron Fisted Monk)
Sammo trains with his master (James Tien)
Iron Fisted Monk was Sammo Hung's debut directorial feature and it took HK $2,283,000 during its 15 week run in 1977. For a directorial debut it outperformed notable Shaw Brother classics such as Chinatown Kid and the Brave Archer, as well as the acclaimed independent flick Invincible Armour. The one thing that is almost totally lacking from this work is Sammo's stereotypical humour. This film is pure brutal 'Bruce Lee' vengeance.
This film also involves a great deal of stars that went on to dominate the Hong Kong Cinema scene. Fung Hark-On plays the lead bad guy and has Dean Shek as his scheming advisor. Yen Shi Kwan (Swordsman 2, OUATIC) plays a Manchu thug. Both James Tien and Casanova Wong have brief cameos at the beginning in the Shaolin temple. Indeed many of this cast went onto to work on the sensational Wing Chun flick Warriors 2.
Cameos can also be found for Lam Ching Ying, Eric Tsang and Mars. This also had Jackie Chan as action choreographer is one of the earliest occasions that both Jackie and Mars worked together, after Young Tiger in 1973. The main leads opposite Sammo are played by Chu Ching and Chen Sing (dubbed the Charles Bronson of Hong Kong Cinema).
Sammo plays Husker (Chinese hero Miller 6), who was sent to the Shaolin Temple by the Iron Fisted Monk (Chen Sing), after he saved Sammo from a beating by the Manchu's. After being trained by his master James Tien he runs away from the temple, only to be confronted by Tien and forced to take the four tests. Whilst this is happening Fung Hark-On in divulging in his passion for raping women, and is virtually above the law as he is a powerful Manchu officer. He begins by raping Liang's (Chu Ching) sister, who then commits suicide and makes Liang a very angry man. Liang takes his revenge by killing one of those pesky Manchus but everyone thinks Sammo is responsible.
Both Liang and Husker go to meet the Iron Fisted Monk who convinces Sammo to teach all the workers at the dye factory Kung Fu, so they can defend themselves against the Manchus. The final act involves the Manchus butchering the workers (Lam Ching Ying, Eric Tsang, Mars et al) from the dye factory and rape of Liang's wife and his mother's murder. When Liang eventually dies from his wounds, both Husker and the Iron Fisted Monk swear vengeance on the Manchus and it is delivered.
Why those pesky Manchus! (Yen Shi Kwan is 2nd from right)
Sammo's opening fight against a shaven headed Casanova Wong
This is Sammo's directorial debut, and Golden Harvest's first Cantonese feature (rather than Mandarin). It shows why Sammo became a legendary director as well as star. The action is considerably more involving and fluently filmed than in the later work, Karl Maka's Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog. The highlights of innovation come at the beginning and climactic end. The fight between Sammo and his master, Tien, is one of Tien's better offerings and the moving camera especially during pauses in the fighting adds to the excitement. This is especially important as Tien had been mediocre under other directors in films such as Hand of Death and Spiritual Kung Fu.
Chen Sing (middle) and Sammo (left) take down the last two Manchus
The same craft and guile appears once again in the 20 minute end fight when Chen Sing and Sammo get to work. Chen Sing is truly vicious and wreaks revenge with a devastating fury. When he takes on the two Manchu guards who are using Double Hand Swords he is completely unarmed and looks fantastic in finishing them off.
Chen Sing (right) takes on all comers
Sammo also has some great moments with the spear and there is a feast
of animal forms, such as Crane, Snake, Tiger and Eagle. But the one form
that always stands out for me is Fung Hark-On's Mantis style. Just like
with Casanova Wong, he makes a promising appearance in this movie which
was elevated even further in Warriors 2. Although the classic fights
during the mid-part of this movie are not as stunning, the style throughout
is engaging and the only detraction lies in the graphic rape scenes. These
were cut by 1min 16s by the BBFC and I have no intention of tracking down
an uncut version. None of the fights are cut and that is what is important
for this film.
This is another beautifully restored disc by HKL, featuring an excellent range of extras. Numerous trailers for both Iron Fisted Monk and upcoming features are present. The scrolling biography showcase, that moves so so slowly! There is an interview with Sammo and a restoration featurette which gives a good insight into the process. Plus it offers another good Bey Logan audio commentary, unfortunately without Sammo (due to September 11th).
One of the best directorial debut's in Hong Kong Cinema?
If you are looking for the answers to this question, it is most certainly
Iron Fisted Monk. It is an enthralling (if violent) tale of revenge
told without Sammo's normal deluge of humour (although this was before
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow had really shown the way for Kung Fu humour).
It comprises many of the rising stars of the movie scene and also gives
great credit to Jackie Chan's action choreography. Overall it is an old
story revenge given a new lease of life by a legendary figure.
Sammo kicks off in a brothel
The Manchus after a good day of butchering