Martial Arts Movie Marathon (The Skyhawk, The Manchu Boxer, The Dragon Tamers & The Association) (DVD)

Shout! Factory has been very good about compiling films that are otherwise tough to find, tough to acquire, and or not usually on these compilations. These DVD assemblies aren’t anything remotely new to the format, but Shout! takes advantage by bringing together four really interesting old school kung fu movies. While they’re not masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, they’re solid mid-70’s terrain from Golden Harvest Studios that should peak the attention of even Blu-Ray converts.

All four films are remastered (by Fortune Star) & widescreen (2.35:1), with original Mandarin language OR English dubs. Three of the four movies feature early choreography and appearances by the incomparable Sammo Hung. “The Skyhawk” from 1974, directed by Cheng Chang Ho, is a pretty good action film with Kwan Tak Hing playing legendary boxer & physician Wong Fei Hung. While traveling with his student Fei Fei (Sammo Hung) when they witness a man (Carter Wong) getting beaten by the great Whang In-Shik (Jackie Chan’s “Young Master”), who works for the evil Mr Ku (Chiu Hung, “One Armed Swordsman”), who wants to forcibly unionize the town’s workers. Our heroes nurse Carter back to health and train him to help take out the trash. “The Skyhawk” is a pretty good movie overall with some solid fighting, especially by Kwan Tak Hing.

Also known as “Bonecrushers; Masters of Martial Arts,” 1974’s “The Manchu Boxer” centers on plays Ku Ru Zhang, a young fighter who kills a man in a fair fight, but promises his dad that he will not use his kung fu skills again and heads out of town. He befriends an old sickly thief, who soon passes, and Ku travels to the man’s home town to tell his estranged family of dude’s demise, and takes up work helping to build an arena for an upcoming prestigious tournament. Meanwhile, Mr. Chin of the Crouching Tiger House hires Kyo Ban (Wilson Tong) and his brother, Wang Cun (Sammo Hung), to kill as many fighters as possible before the tournament to secure victory for his own evil school. Not a great film overall, but it’s good enough for the martial arts movie completionists that want to see Sammo Hung in action.

“The Association” (aka “Operation Ironman”) from 1975 centers on Fang Ying (Angela Mao) who is facing the firing squad after killing the man who murdered and/or defiled her parents. Angela has the ineffectual sympathy of Detective Wang (Taekwondo master Byong Yu) who watches helplessly as she’s executed. Meanwhile, there’s a woman who’s killed from an illegal abortion, which leads Det. Wang to the Welfare Association, where not only are ceremonial abortions performed at a satanic discotheque. “The Association” is junk, and not the good kind of junk like “Wolfguy.” It’s messy, dull, and features some really awful dance sequences. It’s goofy low brow exploitation without much action, and your mileage and tolerance may vary.

Finally, there’s “The Dragon Tamers” from 1975, the second film by John Woo, which centers on Kyungnam University Women’s Karate class who takes on West Beijing University Women’s Taekwondo class. That is until the Beijing team’s coach, Nan Gong (James Tin Jun, “Fearless Hyena”), arrives to break it up. Carter Wong issues a friendly challenge to Shen Rongzheng (Hapkido grandmaster Ji Han-Jae) and ends up befriending Nan Gong before training with Bai Mu (Lee Ye-Min, “Secret Rivals”), another Taekwondo teacher who refuses to join the evil Yan-Mao school’s pesky union. It’s a pretty okay movie to end the compilation on and like the aforementioned trio it’s just fine if you have to see every movie in this ilk. Plus it doesn’t hurt there are some moments of T&A, and some good fight scenes.