Legendary Weapons of China (Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu) is one of the most successful releases ever to come from the Shaw Brothers stable. Even though Shaw Brothers were well beyond their golden era of the 70's, the Liu family ensured that the Shaw Brothers still made an impact at the 80's box office with films such as Legendary Weapons of China and Invincible Pole Fighter. Legendary Weapons of China managed to take HK $9,913,000 during its cinematic release, this was five-fold the return generated by Chang Cheh's gory Chinese Super Ninjas. However, the rising stars of kung fu; Jackie Chan and Jet Li, managed to top the box office with Dragon Lord (HK $17.9m) and the mainland smash Shaolin Temple (HK $16.2m).
Lau Kar Leung (Liu Chia Liang) was the main force behind Legendary Weapons;
writing, directing, choreographing and starring in the epic. The film
includes many of Leung's regulars such as Kara Hui (Invincible Pole Fighter),
Hsiao Ho (Mad Monkey Kung Fu), Gordon Liu (Shaolin Challenges Ninja),
Alexander Fu Sheng (Invincible Pole Fighter) and his less acclaimed brother;
Lau Kar Wing (aka Liu Chia Yung).
The plot cannot be accused of being bland or insipid, for it is an extraordinary blend of mysticism, wizardry and kung fu! Lei Kung (Lau Kar Leung) leads a nationalistic clan who are trying to master the art of being invincible to bullets. Lei Kung tries to protect his students by disbanding the clan and going into hiding. Unfortunately, the other clan leaders are angered by this betrayal, and Tieh Hao (Hsiao Ho) and Saio Ching (Kara Hui) are despatched pursue him.
Lei Kung has disguised himself as Uncle Yu, a retiring woodcutter. He
manages to befriend his pursuants after using Alexander Fu Sheng as a
hilarious decoy. There is still a storm on the horizon as the senior clan
leaders are descending on Lei Kung's retreat. Monk Ti Tan (Gordon Liu)
and Clan Master (Yue Ti Woh) are the next to arrive on the scene. Once
Lei Kung has overcome all his opponents, he must then face the ultimate
challenge with his brother Lei Yung (Lau Kar Wing) using the Legendary
Eighteen Weapons of China!
Legendary Weapons of China mirrors the pace of several
other Lau Kar Leung classics by having a slow and steady build up towards
a crescendo. As in Shaolin Challenges Ninja, there is little remarkable
action early on and then the last thirty minutes offer a non-stop celebration
of kung fu. There are three main encounters towards the close with little
space for dialogue or plot development. Gordon Liu plays the Monk brimming
with hidden weapons and tricks (e.g. having hidden blades in your shoes,
which reappeared in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). Kara Hui is as elegant
as ever and Hsiao Ho also provides energetic support, but both suffer
from limited screen time as the film progresses. The film remains troubled
by the shifting focus on characters, which play second fiddle the action.
Hsiao Ho promises to be the lead for the first part of the film, but both
he and Kara Hui are replaced by Gordon Liu and Lau Kar Wing for the closing
scenes. It is difficult to develop any bond or empathy with the characters
as the only constant protagonist is Lau Kar Leung, who plays a reluctant
and stern master.
As impressive as the earlier exchanges are, this film reaches
new levels in the final fight between the Lau brothers. This is a graceful
and passionate encounter, which will forever remain one of the landmark
moments of Hong Kong cinema. Much of the earlier mysticism is casually
overlooked for a weapons based fight to the death. On few occasions have
two opponents seemed so in tune with each other. Both combatants dominate
with various weapons (e.g. broadsword, psai, three section staff, spear,
chain-whip, kwan-do, butterfly knives etc etc!) in a chess-like manner.
Lau's inclination towards respect and proficiency over that of blood and
guts once again sets him apart from his Shaw Brothers contemporaries.
Ground Zero disc - no remastering, poor quality on picture and sound. Full screen and no extras.
This is a familiar tale of a man trying to hide from his past with the added spice of kung fu mysticism and a fine assembly of martial artists. The only part of the movie that does not fire on all cylinders is the plot and character development. Normally this is noted as a cinematic flaw, but I am more than happy to overlook such flaws if it is to be replaced by expertly choreographed martial arts. This epic is an absolute must have for fans of kung fu movies, and for those who cannot stand waiting for Celestial's remastered version this meagre Ground Zero disc should suffice.