Martial Club (1981)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2006-07-23
Summary: A hidden gem from Liu Chia-liang and Gordon Liu...
When Master Lu (Jue Tit-Woh) and his son Lu Shanhou (Lee King-Chue) disrupt the Lion Dance of Master Zheng (Wilson Tong)'s students, it sets in motion a dangerous rivalry between the two schools. The mutually respected Master Wong Qiying (Ku Feng) is brought in to mediate a truce, but it only serves to delay another inevitable confrontation. Master Wong's son, Wong Fei Hung (Gordon Liu) is best friends with one of the top students of Master Zheng's school, Wang Yinlin (Robert Mak), and their exploits drag a martial arts master from the north (Johnny Wang) into being a key player in the struggle between the schools of Master Lu and Master Zheng.

I had never heard Martial Club referred to as a classic of the Shaw Brothers catalog, but after seeing it I would have to put it in the top tier of Liu Chia-Liang films and a highlight for Gordon Liu. The story really consists of three distinct acts. First is the initial lion dance rivalry, which leads to the introduction of the ever-popular Wong Fei Hung and his friend Wang Yinlin. Second are the pair’s escapades in trying to outdo the other in all manners, especially in their fighting skills. These friendly matches lead to the final (and main) act, involving a master from the north whose skill is highly coveted by Master Lu's school. Although each of the acts has relatively little to do with the next, they are connected them well enough to be enjoyable and not leave any gaping plot holes. The real attraction for this movie is the incredible martial arts choreography and execution by the stars. Gordon Liu is, as always, a standout and his portrayal of Wong Fei Hung is fantastic. The humorous scenes are done very well and his chemistry with Robert Mak is excellent. Kara Hui adds a perfect touch of beauty and dynamite kung fu to the mix as Wang Yinlin (Robert Mak)'s sister. The more I see of her in Liu Chia-Liang's films, the higher I regard her overall presence and rank among the top female action stars in the world. I had not seen Robert Mak in many films, but he was also impressive in both his comedic and action scenes.

However, treatment of Johnny Wang's character Master Shan Xiong is the most interesting element of this film. At first he is seen, as most northerners in Hong Kong films are regarded, as a country bumpkin, ignorant to the more cultured ways of the south. However, when his martial arts skills are witnessed, everyone takes him much more seriously and some start to see him as an equal. As mentioned before, this is one of the few films in which Johnny Wang plays a righteous and sympathetic character, and he does a first-rate job at it. Although he is wooed into forming and alliance with the malicious Lu school, he soon sees that doing the morally correct thing is more important than his transient loyalty to Master Lu. Even though Lu and his son see him only as an unintelligent hired thug to do their bidding, Wong Fei Hung sees him as an equal who has unparalleled skills and much to learn from. This leads to one of the greatest pure martial arts fight scenes I have seen on screen, as Wong Fei Hung and Master Shan put their individual kung fu to the test in the cramped and claustrophobic setting of Zig Zag Alley.

Overall, Martial Club is one of the best martial arts films from Liu Chia-Liang and Gordon Liu, and an excellent addition to the voluminous adventures of Wong Fei Hung.

Reviewer Score: 9