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The 7 Grandmasters

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/20/2007

7 Grandmasters tells the well-worn tale of a young man (Lee I-Min in this case) trying to convince an old master (Jack Lung) to train him in order to avenge the death of his father. The movie tries to liven things up by putting the training in the conext of the sifu's quest to defeat the best warriors in the land (the "seven grandmasters" of the title) so that he may retire as the greatest champion in China. I didn't think it was possible for kung fu fighters to actually retire, but admittedly I'm a bit rusty on the "rules" of jiang hu.

At any rate, even with the addition of the pseudo-tournament, 7 Grandmasters follows most of the conventions of the genre. The sifu's other students don't like the new kid at first, a bit of a love story with the sifu's daughter is thrown in, and there's some dopey comedy as well. There is a "big plot twist" near the end of the movie, but most viewers who have seen more than two or three of this type of picture will see it coming within the first fifteen minutes.

So 7 Grandmasters won't win any awards in the story department, and the low budget won't inspire any excitement either. The costuming is particularly bad -- you can clearly see the edges of the wigs worn by many of the actors. Plus, the movie was obviously shot in a handful of locations, which are recycled throughout the movie. Sure, most kung fu movies from this period aren't known for looking all that great, but 7 Grandmasters's low budget is so obvious that it starts to detract from the viewing experience after a while.

As you might expect, though, what saves 7 Grandmasters are the fight sequences. This one of Corey Yuen's first cracks at being an action director, and it's pretty obvious he was trying to stuff in as many styles as possible; this is apparent in one scene featuring Yuen himself, where six different weapon styles are used. Unlike some other reviewers, I also enjoyed the camerawork and editing during these scenes as well. They set off the fighting scenes enough to differentiate themselves from the dozens of other kung fu movies which were coming out around this time (though I will grant that the rapid zoom-in is used a bit too much).

Sure, 7 Grandmasters might not be a true classic of the genre, but it does feature some very solid fight sequences, and the rest of the movie won't want to make you hit the fast-forward button. If you're a fan of old school kung fu movies and are looking for something new to check out, you could do a whole lot worse than this.

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Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 02/18/2007

“Seven Grandmasters” has a very simple story—the hero is on a journey and must confront obstacles and tests along the way. It worked for Homer in the “Odyssey” and for Virgil in the “Aeneid”, Dante used Virgil to guide us through Hell and Swift created Gulliver to lead us on a satirical voyage through human foibles. Samuel Clemens brought us along with Huck and Jim on the Mississippi and Gene Rodenberry guided us on a Star Trek. Those taking the trip can be subjected to unusual, exotic or outlandishly dangerous trials since they are moving into unknown territory. The education and moral formation of a neophyte can be grafted onto this structure, as it is in “Seven Grandmasters.” A lot of movie genres have adapted it to their use—in westerns the stagecoach has to get through to Tombstone and in musicals the show has to go on no matter what.

In classic American movie musicals the plot existed largely to get the protagonists from one musical number to the next—we may not recall exactly how Harold Hill fell for Marian the Librarian in “The Music Man” but can easily remember Robert Preston singing “Till there was You” to Shirley Jackson. It is much the same with classic martial arts films—there is a plot but it is there so that different forms of combat, often increasingly difficult, can be introduced. While this movie may not be a classic of the genre—its cinematography is dull, editing quite clumsy and (as mentioned by Mr. Booth) the postproduction sound is rudimentary at best, it shares the narrow focus and spare outline of the best of them. We do get from one action scene to the next, having to deal with not rivers that don’t rage, illness that doesn’t really incapacitate and attacks by bad guys who aren’t really that bad.

During the last few scenes a character who had appeared earlier resurfaced to explain several plot twists that were so obvious that he underlined their simpleminded nature. Since this character was discussing actions that had taken place either in real movie time or in flashbacks it may have been that the filmmaker lost track of things himself and put in a cinematic checklist that he forgot to cut out.

The fights depicted between Sang Kuan Chun and his grandmaster opponents the characters, with a couple of very notable exceptions, show respect for each other and for the martial arts traditions they represent. The actors, most especially, of course, Jack Lung Sai-Ga, are extremely skilled and fit—the fights are terrific. More than occasionally they look dangerous—the actors must have had a lot of confidence in each other and in the action directors. Just about every character fought every other character with a lot of hard falls and very close near misses with weapons.

Given what one assumes was a typical (i.e. too small) budget Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Cheung-Yan and the actors they directed did a great job with the fights. At several points Jack Lung Sai-Ga’ costume was wet with sweat. As the grandmaster challenging everyone else he had most of the fights and was excellent throughout. All of the challenges took occurred outdoors, almost in isolation. The lack of witnesses could be a nod to the personal honor that ruled the martial arts world—if a challenger wins a contest he is acknowledged as the new champion of that form with no need to record it formally or even to have a neutral party watch it. Or it could have been that there was no budget for transportation to get the extras to the sites.

One problem created by the inadequate script is that the audience is unprepared for—and ultimately uninterested in—the sudden and complete change in allegiance of a key character. While the motivation for the switch is stated we haven’t been involved in that part of the character’s life at all until the very end so that the key turning point simply happens with no emotional resonance.

True to its roots “The Seven Grandmasters” ends within a couple of seconds—it seems within a couple of frames—of the death rattle of the chief villain.

Recommended only for the action sequences.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 12/13/2005

Despite a weak story to glue the fight scenes together--a story, by the way, that never truly gets in the way of the practically non-stop action-- this it definitely a top-tier martial arts film that one could easily watch dozens of times. Jack Long and Simon Lee (both Beijing Opera trained from Taiwan) are among the best performers of the period.

Look for those signature long unspliced flight scenes...and look for Corey Yuen making a personal appearance to do some outstanding weapon work.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 04/19/2004
Summary: Above average indie-fu

Sorry guys, but you're all *wrong* :p 7 Grandmasters is above average for an indie kung fu film, but it's still a pretty mediocre movie in every respect except the fight scenes. Story: sucks. Dialogue: sucks. Comedy: painful. Cinematography: passable. Sound effects: ridiculous (most are made by some guy blowing into a microphone). Sets: none. Costumes/makeup: bad. Acting: awful. Martial arts: excellent.

Yes, I'm sure it's the latter that earns the film its dubious "classic" status... there are a lot of fights, and they're well choreographed and performed (and occasionally well filmed and edited, though just as often not). But, that doesn't make 7 Grandmasters a good film, even if the fights do seem to make up 75% of it. In every other respect, the film is manifestly inferior to the Shaws productions of the time, and in even that respect it's still not as good as the films of the Golden Harvest renaissance that was beginning around that time.

If Kung Fu is really all you care about and you've seen all of Jackie and Sammo's better films already, then by all means check out 7 Grandmasters. If you're after a more rounded film experience, then add it to your wishlist somewhere underneath the 800 Shaw Brothers films Celestial has the rights to :)

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 12/07/2003

Incredibly action-packed kung fu classic with a dumb story as usual. You should look beyond the story, however, and not miss the fight scenes.


Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 11/26/2002
Summary: More...More...More

Joseph Kuo is one of the pioneers of martial arts movies made in Taiwan during the 70s. "The 7 Grandmasters" is considered one of the all-time great kung fu movies. It starts off like any other martial arts film, with the grandmaster, played by Jack Lung, receiving a special banner from the king, honoring his martial arts skill as being the best in the land. Before the master will accept the accolade, he travels to challenge the other martial arts masters in the region. If he can beat the other masters, he will accept the king's gift. Along the way, Lee Min tries to join the master and his posse to become one of the disciples. If the master can defeat the others, he will indeed be the grandmaster.

The plot is average and similar to many other martial arts films of the era, from the introduction of the master to the training sequences. What separates "The 7 Grandmasters" from the rest of the field is the superb aerial kung fu choreography. The film builds in its demonstration of martial arts. With each master that is challenged, Kuo and crew heighten the tension through the action. The choreography by Corey Yuen and Yuen Cheung Yan is stellar. The acrobatic displays feature scissor kicks, somersaults, assorted tumbling and feats of high-flying combat. The film reaches a fevered pitch when Lee Min intercedes to save his new master. You only want more and more action, wishing the film would go on indefinitely.

"The 7 Grandmasters" is one of the true cornerstones of martial arts cinema. Catch it if you can. It will only whet your appetite for more martial arts mayhem.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 06/12/2002
Summary: Good

The 7 Grandmasters is indeed one of the best old school Kung Fu movies ever to be made in Hong Kong, in fact this is probably in my top 10 all time best Kung Fu films. Probably the only flaw in this film is by using the same plot over used in 90% of Kung Fu movies…a young man wanting to learn Kung Fu, and learning different styles from different people…who then goes on to avenge a loved one who is killed. For a detailed story line, read the other reviews.

Plot aside though, you can expect top quality fight scenes that you would expect from Corey Yuen (who also appears in the film), and with the incomparable skills of both Jack Lung and Lee Yi Min, this is truly excellent. Like the better Kung Fu movies, this is also very comedy based, which probably helps it from becoming a complete bore, which is where most of these 70’s films went wrong. Another point about the actual filming side of things, this is actually very well filmed, with no ‘off shots’, shaking cameras, poor backgrounds etc. All the right ingredients to make a good film.

As several people have already reviewed this, I get the impression this might still be around on VCD or even on DVD, so if you like old school comedy Kung Fu with plenty of impressive fight scenes, then this is a must.


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mpongpun
Date: 03/28/2002

Sang Kuan Chun (Jack Long) is a gung fu master who roams the countryside with his daughter (Nancy Yen) and his students challenging 7 masters of different gung fu styles before he retires. He defeats all of them knowing in his heart that he can retire as the Grand Master. Along the way, Sang Kuan Chung, picks up a young man named Sau Ying(Li Yi-Min) as one of his disciples, and later teaches him his famous Pai Mei Strike Style. Little does the Grand Master know that Sau Ying is secretly out to revenge the death of his father, and by him learning the Pai Mai strike, Sau Ying is headed towards his destiny. In the background manipulating the naïve Sau Ying is a former "classmate" of the Grand Master named Ku Yi Fung (Alan Hsu). After Sau Ying has learned the first 9 strikes of Pai Mei, Ku Yi Fung teaches Sau Ying the last 3 remaining strikes so that his long awaited plot that he has been cooking up for a while will unfold. Excellent flick and highly recommended! There is a couple excellent fights in this flick, in particular, the fight between Corey Yuen and Jack Long. A fun sight to watch!

Reviewed by: SBates
Date: 02/23/2001
Summary: Kuo's best???

many people consider this to be j. juo's best film. it is very good. my only complaint is that for once, the insistence on plot twists that are prominent in Kuo's films hurts the story. the final plot twist of this film bears similarity to another Kuo film, the sparsely plotted classic of kung fu melancholia, "World of drunken master".
as the other reviewers said, this film has one good action setpiece after another. for about an hour this is quite a flawless film. Then the story and pace begins to wander, as in most of Kuo's films.
one great job by Jack Long as the upright kung-fu master, whose good manners, I think, mask an air of arrogance. even in dubbed version, his acting shines. Yuen Kuei was one of the action designers in this film, and he plays the "Weapons Master" that Long defeats, because, as he says "He knew a lot of styles, but never mastered one..."
BTW: Does anyone know the name of the "secret villain" actor???
Is it Alan Hsu???

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 12/30/2000
Summary: Great stuff ! Action-packed

Yes, you've seen the cliche "action-packed" on many a movie cover. In this case, it's the truth. Lots of fu, and of very high quality and entertainment value, wrapped in a fairly typical story package of striving, righteousness, betrayal, revenge .... and lots of good manners ! Yes, the lead character is of truly impeccable character. So much so that, as he whips the asses of each of the seven GMs, he always says "thank you" afterwards, and they generally return the favour. And Lee I Min's character reminded me very much of the persona which Jackie Chan used in many of his later films.

Highly recommended.

Reviewer Score: 10