2 March 2007 | ChungMo
"Opium and the Kung Fu Master" - last film from Tang Chia
Veteran action choreographer for the Shaw Bros. studio directed a total of three films on his own at the very end of the studio's existence. This was his last one and after that Tang Chia dropped out of the records. A contemporary of Liu Chia Liang, the other Shaw choreographer turned director, Tang Chia's style was very distinctive and some say defined the classic Shaw kung fu look. He had a fascination with elaborate weapons and apparently took to designing his own for many of the movies that called for something unusual.
A small town is protected by one of the famous Ten Tigers of Kwangtung, played by Ti Lung. The town is very safe as Ti Lung and his kung fu students patrol for criminals. Enter the rival kung fu school whom Ti Lung's students have beaten in a lion dance competition and then humiliated in a brawl. The rival school is joined by an opium dealing kung fu master who plans to turn the town into a community of addicts! Can Ti Lung's character fight this threat when he is quickly slipping into opium addiction himself?
Right off, the martial arts are excellent. Some of the best in any Shaw film. That is enough for some to find this film and I encourage them. The signature Tang Chia crazy weapons are not here but that doesn't lessen the quality of the martial arts at all. The story is quite unusual, you wouldn't expect a kung fu film to tackle the subject of addiction, usually drug dealers are just bad guys to be pounded and the issues of drugs are ignored. The film starts out as a light mixture of action, humor and slapstick. Halfway through the plot turns tragic and sometimes the old school theatrics are turned on full force. The action remains top notch. The ending is unfortunately telegraphed and that lessens the enjoyment a bit. Still the subject of the film is important and it was dealt with in an interesting way.
It too bad that Tang Chia apparently quit the business after this, his three films were quite good. Perhaps he felt that without the support of a studio like the Shaw's, he couldn't maintain the quality.
Recommended and check out the Shaolin "Zatoichi"!