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黃飛鴻少林拳 (1974)
The Skyhawk

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 09/05/2006
Summary: Wong Fei-Hung in Thailand

While on a holiday in Thailand to visit the kindly old Uncle Chu and his daughter Hsiang Lan (Nora Miao), Wong Fei-Hung (Kwan Tak-Hing) and his faithful servant Fatty (Sammo Hung) stumble upon a young man (Carter Wong) escaping from a mysterious fighter (Whang In-Shik), who decides to stay with them and serve under Dr Wong as his student. In town, a ruthless businessman by the name of Ku (Chiu Hung) is killing all who stand in the way of his gambling rackets and drug dealings. When Ku and the Renegade Master join together, their violence escalates and the deaths of innocent townsfolk starts to become noticed. Wong Fei-Hung and his students must take action to reclaim the town before it is too late.

THE SKYHAWK was the first in a series of films to feature Kwan Tak-Hing reprising his role as Wong Fei-Hung, star of all of the old black-and-white feature films that ran until 1970. Unlike the other two films (MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER and DREADNAUGHT), this does not involve Yuen Woo-Ping in any way (although he is often erroneously credited as the director). In fact, this was helmed by KING BOXER director Cheng Chang-Ho. With some of the cast being Korean (as well as the director himself) and with all of the Thai locals and the Chinese cast and crew, this must have been a logistical nightmare to make. Only the final fighting scene takes place in Hong Kong, as Kwan Tak-Hing (who was in his sixties at the time) couldn’t stand the heat of the Thai location. The constant switches between location and studio shots at the end is quite noticeable, but forgivable under the circumstances. To his credit, Kwan does perform a fair amount of his own moves in this one and appears quite sprightly (unlike in the later two films where he is mainly used as a kind of respected figurehead).

The story is very jumbled to begin with. Carter Wong is running from Whang In-Shik, but the reason why he is doing so is never revealed. It’s only used as an excuse to join Carter with Kwan and Sammo (and to show off Whang’s impressive kicking skills) and therefore it’s best just to switch off your brain for a while and just watch the show. The real villain of the piece is Chiu Hung as Ku, and here the plot strays very much into BIG BOSS territory for the duration.

The action in THE SKYHAWK is top-notch from beginning to end, as you would expect coming from fight co-ordinator Sammo Hung and with this impressive cast. Sammo has some very impressive moves and even gets to perform a great spear demonstration at one point. It’s Whang In-Shik, though, that impresses most. He is never given a name in the entire film, and his appearance in it is never explained, but he always makes a great bad guy (except in WAY OF THE DRAGON, obviously). He looks almost identical to the character he played in YOUNG MASTER, and when he’s not kicking someone to death, he broods about looking menacing.

There’s a stirring rendition of “On the General’s Command” played throughout this film (the Wong Fei-Hung theme tune, if you like) that differs from the usual theme heard in countless Wong Fei-Hung films, which was presumably conducted by Joseph Koo. The other music does tend to be anachronistic, though (and even uses a part of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” at one point) but doesn’t detract from the atmosphere too much.

Like a lot of films from this era, THE SKYHAWK hasn’t been looked after very well and has yet to be made available in a legitimate way to the masses. I’m pretty certain that although I bought mine through a reputable dealer a couple of years ago, it’s a bootleg copy (my suspicions were raised when I saw a picture of Jet Li on the cover!). The picture is dark but otherwise watchable (with burnt-on subtitles), but a film of this magnitude does deserve a proper remastered release. It’s pretty great, and an important film for kung fu film fans everywhere interested in Wong Fei-Hung and the man who made the role his own long before Jet Li was even born. Needless to say, it is also essential for fans of Sammo Hung, who was still a fledgling star and fight choreographer at the time.

Reviewer Score: 8