十八般武藝
Legendary Weapons of China (1982)


Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch
Date: 04/14/2017
Summary: See, he can put his guts back inside.

This film starts off with the ubiquitous in Hong Kong cinema at the time, the staged credit opening, with a pause on the credits and a non-descript background (usually one color). This gives you a taste for what is to come, but is not part of the storyline. You might notice that a bow is used here which later in the film is not used as one of the 18 weapons in the film (though is used during the scene with Master Mo), though it has been considered one of the weapons in older lists. The most hilarious aspect of this is how much Kara Hui seems to enjoy killing off people. My favorite part is Hsiao Ho's winning a double dao (“) dual by being really, really flexible.

Lui Gung (Lau Kar-leung) was sent to Yunnan three years previously to start another branch of the Boxer Gang. He disbanded it because of his disbelief that spiritual fighters can learn to block bullets. He is now considered a traitor to be drawn and quartered and his descendants killed so that the Empress Dowager Cixi will not hear of this (I would date the film about 1900 given these facts.) Chief Li visits Magic Fighter leader Tieh Tien (Chu Tit-wo) for him to send a fighter Tieh Hau (Hsiao Ho), who will have to be sacrificed whether he succeeds or not, to kill Lui Gung. Li visits the Earth Clan, whom have been practicing diligently on getting themselves killed by bullets*, to send their own representative which will ultimately be Ti Tan (Gordon Liu.) They are to look for anyone who has skills in the 18 weapons and has a propensity to show off their skills.

Meanwhile Fang Shau-ching (Kara Hui) from the Heavenly Clan was also sent (or else she went on her own; still not sure about this; she says she received her orders but we never see that). I would say that Kara Hui has one of the worst male disguises I have seen except, but there are too many instances of this to count in Hong Kong cinema (like Wing Chun; countless Bridget Lin roles; The Spiritual Boxer; etc...) And just like in The Spiritual Boxer it later uses the plot device I just touched a male booby so it must be a female (I feel a little sorry for tubby guys or guys with gynecomastia.) However, Tieh Hau does not know about Victor/Victoria being on the same side as him which leads to some nice battles between the two early on. The best is the cramped attic sequence which I wish they elongated.

Master Mo (which reminds me of the old book The Book of Master Mo by Mao Zi), a con-artist played well by Alexander Fu Sheng, in a supporting role, is paid to impersonate Lui Gung by his brother Lui Yung (whom I doubt very much would kill himself if he was successful.) However, he ends up impersonating Lui Yung when he is made a surrogate fighter when Yung takes him over via a Mao Shan doll (analogous to a scene in Dirty Ho where Kara Hui is also like a marionette.) I do love that scene and add in potty humor and it adds even more excremental goodness.

Now who is this woodcutter named Tien Gung Yu with trembling hands and the ability to lift heavy objects? I think we all know who he is and soon all the characters do as well. But does he survive his unmasking? Is his brother on his side? Does he win over any converts? Is the last half hour an awesome amalgam of weaponry (at least 18 weapons worth with Chinese characters stating each one like it is a fighter in a wuxia film), fighting, long takes and superb martial artists? Are my questions rhetorical?

Speaking of non-rhetorical: this movie does ask important questions that other films rarely go into. Do you ever wonder how they learn to rip off their own genitalia? How do they practice? I find it hilarious that after the self-emasculation scene you see an object fly up into the air and descend. I also wonder if ripping out your own eyes is actually fatal (analogous to biting off your own tongue in several films). I do not want to try it myself though. During the we can block bullets scene I was also wondering would not it be smarter to first attempt shots on non-lethal areas on the body. Once you pass that test than you can try fatal shots. It is funny that Hsiao Hos character gets sick from the feces infested lavatory water (eau de toilette) but I wonder if Fu Shengs character does since you no longer see him in the movie and he spends more time looking for the money in the cesspool.

For the most part the early scenes are too short in their fighting to satisfy connoisseurs of hand-to-hand combat. I think because of one of the main bouts with Fu Sheng is technically a fake fight that it is not as interesting to some, but it is still one of my favorite staged (in the cinematic world) scenes because of how good it looked, how funny it was and of course the Chang Cheh reference with pushing the guts back in and fighting on -- Fu Sheng has had his midsection previously pierced and bandaged (Disciples of Shaolin for example). When the fights are elongated they are superlative. This is where Lau Kar-leung's direction and action choreography (along with Hsiao Ho and Lee King-chu) help tremendously. Plus the fact that he works with tremendous martial art talents, uses longer takes than most directors and often uses real weapons.

There are a few negatives to the film are the sometimes obnoxious electronic score and the plot that could have used a little more editing especially in dealing with the relationships between Magic Fighters and Spiritual Boxers (the subtitles also add Mao Shan, but Spiritual Boxers tend to be Mao Shan correct?). However, there are additional positives to the film. The non-action choreography and editing is nice as well. One of my favorite short scenes of this type about 16 minutes in goes from a transitional cut to a full-screen fan with Chinese characters to it folding with a zoom to Lui Yung.** There are a lot of little scenes like this when you pay attention (usually after a few watches when you are not concentrating on the action or humor.) Lau is underappreciated as an auteur. Lau has another film that deals with some of his favorite topics like authenticity and identity. Obviously in his approach to martial arts mentioned above. But also look at how many films of his deal with impersonators, doppelgangers (both real and supernatural), woman as men, westernization, peons as masters and masters as peons. This film has all of those so much that I noticed it has confused several reviewers. Of course it does not help that Lau Kar-wing does look like his brother Lau Kar-leung.

I am going to go with the critical consensus on this and state this is one of the better 1980s Hong Kong films regardless of studio. I have had a lot of fun with the plot, I think the action is quite good (though not enough of it) and the ending(s) is superb. I love seeing so many weapons used so well. I could have even watched Lau Kar-leung practice with all of them and elongate this film. I have rewatched this several times and should rewatch it again in the future.

I have the R1 Image release and it has English subtitles (no dubtitles). It comes with the Mandarin mono and Mandarin 5.1 dub only. This really should have had the Cantonese language dubbing which is the preferred dub of this film. The IVL R3 release has that dub. The bonus material is rather light. You have Shaw Brothers Trailers (11 of the Image/Celestial releases) and Other Titles You Might Like (13 and some of them like Shaolin Family Soccer you might not like.) The print is rather good, especially compared to a lot of other Image releases which suffer from ghosting. This looks to me to be progressive as well. I believe the IVL release is a few minutes shorter because of a crummy PAL-to-NTSC conversion. The Image release, for me, came with two inserts: Asian Cinema Catalog No. 1 and a postcard you filled out to receive advance notice of future releases.

* In Lau's first released film The Spiritual Boxer he has a similar scene to start the film with.

** David Bordwell has a nice write-up in Planet Hong Kong (2nd Edition; pg. 144-145) on how a non-action choreographed scene uses a pause/burst/pause pattern prevalent in Hong Kong cinema.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 06/13/2009
Summary: A traditional weapons lover's dream film...

Legendary Weapons of China is Liu Chia-Liang's homage to the traditional styles and tools of battle of Chinese kung fu. The plot is historically based and centers around the conflict that arose when China was invaded by foreigners looking to exploit the riches found there? How does a culture and people normally trained in hand to hand combat deal with the introduction of seemingly unbeatable firearms into the situation? Liu Chia-Liang's character (Lui Gung) once ran a Maoshan (Taoist magic) school before realizing that no amount of mysticism was going to save young men from being shot with a bullet. Considered a traitor, he is hunted by three schools that still believe in the spiritual ability to become impervious to all weapons. Tien Hao (Hsiao Ho) is sent from the Magic Fighter school, also known as the Earth Clan. Ti Tan (Gordon Liu) is sent from the Spiritual Boxers, aka the Heaven Clan. Unbeknownst to him, another Spiritual Boxer, Fang Shau Ching (Kara Hui), travels to find Lui Gung, agreeing in principle with his disbanding of the mystical schools in order to save lives. Finally, Lui Gung's own brother (and Liu Chia-Liang's real brother Lau Kar-Wing) is sent from the Maoshan school. They all arrive and must battle their own beliefs as well as Lui Gung.
Although not at the level of Liu Chia-Liang's masterpiece 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, Legendary Weapons of China is still an excellent film. The ideas behind it are intriguing, and additional research into the Boxer Rebellion and Maoshan Taoism is a must. The acting is quite good, with a nod to Alexander Fu Sheng for his scenes as a con man who will impersonate anyone for money. Unfortunately, a few of his scenes run a bit long and distract the viewer from the main plot of the story, namely the conflict between spiritualistic and traditional fighting arts. The action doesn't really start to get going until the last quarter of the movie, but when it does it is as good as anything that has been put on screen before. Obviously, the true highlight is the climax in which Liu Chia-Liang battles all comers with the 18 traditional weapons. Hsaio Ho, Kara Hui and Lau Kar-Wing are all terrific in their scenes as expected. Gordon Liu is also great, but has a relatively small amount of screen time. To peak your interest, the weapons used in the finale are: Rope Dart, Double Tiger Hook Swords, Double Hammers, Double Axe, Snake Halberd, Kwan Dao (Chinese Pole Arm), Twin Sabres, Straight Sword, Single Sabre, Tassle Spear, 3-Section Chain Whip, Double Daggers, Double Crutch, Monk's Spade, Staff, 3-Pronged Fork (Trident), 3-Sheet Blades (Butterfly Swords) and the 3-Section Staff.

8/10

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 01/12/2007

“Legendary Weapons of China was made by Liu Chia-Liang with the same producing and writing team as the later masterpiece “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter”. Each featured Alexander Fu Sheng, Hsiao Ho, Gordon Liu and Kara Hui and other Shaw Brothers stalwarts of the early 1980s. Each of the films is a wonderful example of the genre and show the continuing vitality of Hong Kong action movies.

In “Legendary Weapons” Alexander Fu Sheng is hilarious as a local rascal always one step ahead of his creditors who takes on much more than he had bargained for when he impersonates reluctant hero Lei Kung thinking it is just another con for him and his bumbling gang. Fu Sheng is a very gifted physical comedian, especially when trying to fight while being controlled by magician Tien Hao who is forcing him to move by manipulating a straw doll. Things get really dicey for him (and very funny for the audience) when his partners in crime try to seize the doll, grabbing it and throwing it around while Fu Sheng has to follow all the contortions of the doll.

There are themes of modernity versus tradition, the role of outside forces—in this case, as is often the case in HK movies, the Japanese Army—as agents of change and the price one pays for loyalty to an ideal way of life that no longer exists. Liu Chia-Liang introduces and develops these themes effortlessly—there isn’t an obviously didactic moment in this movie. He also varies the tone without making it obvious, moving from the darkly insane hothouse atmosphere of the Earth Clan where young men rip out their own eyes on command to much more relaxed but still potentially deadly world of the fugitive Lei Kung. The performances range from good to outstanding. Gordon Liu shines in a featured role as does Kara Hui, while Hsaio Ho, Fu Sheng and Liu Chia-Liang himself are extraordinary. Jue Tit-Woh chews scenery admirably and Wong Ching-Ho is both evil and unctuous (and wears a ridiculous hat) as the chief eunuch.

The action is terrific—given the production staff and actors one assumes it would be but it is still thrilling to see it on the screen. The ultimate battle in which the Legendary Weapons are introduced one at a time looks brutal, exhausting and very convincing.

It is one of the movies that I would recommend to a person who wasn’t familiar with Hong Kong films and wanted a good introduction.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: kiliansabre
Date: 09/11/2006
Summary: The Legendary Liu Chia-Liang

Liu Chia-Liang's masterpiece in which he directed and starred involves his character trying to break up a sect of pugilism practitioners. Several members of the pugilist clan try to hunt down his whereabouts as he lives in seclusion, eventually practicing his skill in martial arts to face against his brother. Several plot twists ensue.

Some great display of weapon-dry as well as just an excellent sense of plotting and character development. To contrast Chen Chang's death oriented movies, Liu Chia-Liang creates yet another movie centered on the practice and belief of the value of martial arts rather than the superiority of style. The action scenes are amazing, with the mythical aspects eventually standing aside to the practice of martial arts.

Considered a classic by many, this film will at the least give you an appreciation of the authentic forms used by Lui Chia-Liang in many of his stand out pieces. Appearances and performances by: Gordon Lui, Kara Hiu, Alexander Fu, and Hsiao Ho among others brings this piece into classic status. Well worth checking out.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 02/04/2005
Summary: 8/10 - story meh, action omg

LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA (aka LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF KUNG FU) - A Shaw Brothers film directed by and featuring Lau Kar Leung, with Gordon Liu having a small-middling part, and Hsiao Ho and Kara Hui probably getting the most screen time. The plot concerns a cult of mystical kung fu practitioners, possessing special powers such as mind control, voodoo and imperviousness to knives and (allegedly) bullets. One of their branch leaders has apparently dissolved the Canton branch and spoken out against the cult, which is classed as a traitorous act punishable by death. Assassins are despatched.

Not much in the way of a story, but some absolutely incredible action scenes, featuring a wonderful mix of madcap spiritual boxing/magic boxer trickery and secret weapons, and some honest-to goodness physical virtuosity. The finale where the two Lau brothers go at each other with all the 18 titular weapons is... well, virtually unparalleled.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Wu'xiaBadger
Date: 01/24/2003
Summary: Shaw Brothers Classic

Unfortunatly, my knowledge of older (pre-Sammo, Jackie, &Yuen) Kung-fu films is somewhat limited, so in reviews of titles such as Shaw Bro's movies, I have very little basis for comparison. That said, I found this to be a great film. The only version I could locate had a horrible dub, but other than that I had nothing to complain about.
A cool opening credit sequence sets the stage, and the first scene is an awesome attention getter. After that things slow down a little, but not much. Humor is used to great effect, particularly in the seen where two assassins attempt to kill the same man, unaware of each others presence. A lot of times humor in Kung-fu movies I find distracting, but it worked nicely here.
Finally, the choreography was excellent. The camerawork was a little sloppy at points, but passable, and a couple of really cool camera shots got in there. If I'd found a subtitled copy I would've liked it even more, naturally. 8/10

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 09/01/2002
Summary: Liu Chia Liang's best

Of all old school Liu Chia Liang movies I have seen**, this one is easily the best. It is his best as an actor, choreographer, and director (maybe not as a script writer). Of course, seeing it in the original Mandarin language (which I did) helps, A LOT.

This is yet another movie that starts out by people demonstrating skills. Liu Chia Liang especially has done this before. Once we get through the lengthy and pointless demo, the movie really begins. The first few minutes are some of the best in the entire film, & you'll see why when you see it. After that, the story gets really muddled. If it bothers you to not know anything, then you're out of luck. For a while, you need psychic power to be able to figure stuff out. For the rest of us, we need patience. It eventually gets pretty clear, and the last fight will exceed any expectation. And yes, it features all 18 weapons.

Fu Sheng is hilarious as the comedy relief. It may put some people off, but I liked it.

[9/10]

**Excludes new wave movies like Drunken Master 2 and Barefoot Kids, which are easily superior.


Reviewed by: mpongpun
Date: 08/08/2001

Foreigners have invaded China and the Boxer Rebellion has begun. All of the gung fu schools join together to fight the foreigners and go against something more dangerous--the gun. One of the heads of the I-Ho society, the pugilism expert, Lei Kung (Liu Chia-Liang), believes there is no chance of combating bullets with gung fu, so he disbands his school and goes into hiding as a woodcutter. Due to the disbanding of his school, Lei Kung is deemed a traitor by another Master, Ti (Chu Te Hu). Ti sends out his assassin, Tieh Hao (Hsiao Ho), to kill Lei Kung and gain face for the I-Ho society. Not only is Tieh Hao out to get Lei Kung, Ti Tan (Gordon Liu) and Lei Kung's blood brother, Lei Yung (Liu Chia Yung), are out for the kill. Kara Hui plays Shao Ching, who sympathizes with Lei Kung, and completely agrees that the I-Ho society's use of pugilism and magic to combat bullets are a hoax. Fu Sheng is used in this flick for comic relief. He plays a conman who impersonates Lei Kung to make money for him and his chums.


Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

Mystic kung fu cultists are experimenting with ways in which tomake oneself immune to the new threat of bullets. This is resulting in a lot of deaths. One instructor, played by Liu Chia-liang himself, refuses to line his pupils up to die, and retires, going into hiding to avoid retribution from the cults. The cult sends a young fighter (Hsiao Ho) after the old master, as well as a monk (Gordon Liu, of course), and the master's own brother (also the director's own brother, Liu Chia-yung). Also on the master's trail is a young woman who wants to warn him (Hui Ying Hung). Hsiao Ho becomes disillusioned with his mysticism and winds up fighting for the old master. The monk is deafened by the master, and also repents. Only the master's brother remains. They battle one another with 18 weapons, with Lei Kung--Chia-liang's character emerging victorious in each bout. He spares his brother in the end. This often vies with ENTER THE DRAGON as "best kung fu film ever made." This is a ridiculous comparison, as this movie completely blows away Bruce Lee's international effort. But I guess Bruce, like Brandon Lee, is dead, so no one really wants to say anything bad about them. I like Bruce Lee a lot, but comparing ENTER THE DRAGON (not even Lee's best film, if you ask me) to this is not a good idea. While I wouldn't say this is THE best kung fu film ever made, it's certainly up there. It's multi-layered--with the first layer being a very exciting, well-made kung fu action film. Below that is a second level dealing with kung fu films--this film examines their strengths as well as their short-comings (short-comings are explored terrifically in Alexander Fu Sheng's scenes, where he is hired to impersonate Lei Kung and fakes all manner of martial arts seen in other films). Below that, it is a movie that is about China entering the modern age--or refusing to enter the modern age (similar in that way to MY YOUNG AUNTIE), as well as a film about dragging Hong Kong filmmaking into the modern age (it came at a time when people were tiring of the same old Chang Cheh stuff, but right before Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao would revolutionize film with PROJECT A). Above all, it's a movie about martial arts. With most "kung fu" films, you could really substitute any form of fighting in--they were war stories or adventure films that had kung fu in them. But this was a film that analyzed kung fu itself. A must-see.


Reviewed by: Rindge
Date: 12/09/1999

Why does everyone crow over this movie? I think it was medicore compared to the 8 diagram pole fighter. Don't get me wrong the kung-fu at the end starting with battle against Gordon liu and ending with I believe his other brother was fantastic. Especially when they did battle with the 18 different weapons, but the last 20 minutes of a movie does not make it a great film. Besides the ending fight scenes, the movie never focused and it could have surely done without the comedy relief with the manure and the river. What a waste of time. The overall message about kung-fu and mysticism not being able to stop the gweilos fire rods was a great theme, but they failed in executing. Therefore, this movie which some consider a classic only gets three stars versus four stars in my rating system. Four stars are reserved for the true classics like 8 diagram, killer constable, opium and the kung-fu master, or buddhist fist.