10 November 2001 | BrianDanaCamp
SHAOLIN KING BOXER - Kung fu remake of Italian western
SHAOLIN KING BOXER (aka IRON FISTS, 1979) is an average kung fu film with an above-average cast and fight director. It tells a fast-paced story with lots of characters and plenty of fights but undercuts the suspense by basing the script on Sergio Leone's well-known Italian western, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1967), and its story of two bounty hunters teaming up to catch a bandit and his outlaw gang. Here, a pair of kung fu fighters, one a bounty hunter with an eye for a buck (Meng Fei) and one a former constable seeking revenge (Chen Kuan-Tai), team up to stop an outlaw gang from executing its next big caper, the looting of a wealthy family's treasure house. Many scenes are clearly modeled on similar scenes in the earlier film, although there is enough variation to keep it interesting for fans of both kung fu and Italian westerns.
The setting is Black Town, a provincial town where the varied characters converge to either participate in the raid on the Kao family's stronghold or try to prevent it. There are lots of tactical maneuvers and secret deals before the big day as well as a flurry of kung fu bouts battles between some of the more highly regarded names in 1970s kung fu cinema. Shot in Taiwan on a low budget, the film skimps on production design, resulting in extremely limited views of Black Town. The fights, however, are fast and frequent and choreographed by Lau Kar Wing, himself a top-notch director of kung fu films (HE HAS NOTHING BUT KUNG FU, ODD COUPLE) and a co-star of this film.
Chen Kuan Tai (BOXER FROM SHANTUNG, EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN) stars as Captain Chu, whose mission is a vendetta against the outlaw leader, Shu Ting Shen, played by Lau Kar Wing. Meng Fei (PRODIGAL BOXER) plays a rather casual bounty hunter who uses his wits to play various opponents against each other. One of the lead villains is a beautiful woman (Yang Pang An) and Meng's character is the only one to flirt with her. Wilson Tong (THE YOUNG AVENGER) and Leung Kar Yan (SLEEPING FIST) are the other prominent villains although each has had better fight scenes in other films.
There are plenty of good fights anyway, including one extended battle between Chen Kuan Tai and Lau Kar Wing. Most are shot outdoors and Chen relies on his long arms and fists although his opponents frequently use swords. However, the fights are not as intricate as we'd like, considering the cast, nor is the film's story as exciting as it could be. For one thing, the criminals operate with impunity before the caper even though the Kao family has been warned about Shu's gang and its intentions. Instead of any sense of real urgency, there's just a long wait until Shu and his gang start the raid. Still, the film moves well and is entertaining enough. It was directed by Karl Maka, who is better known for starring in the 1980s ACES GO PLACES comedies. The title (which is seen as THE SHAOLIN KINGBOXER in the onscreen credits) has absolutely nothing to do with anything in the film.