It opens with Chia Ling taking vacation from the police force. Cut to Tung Li gets in a fight at a casino because he wants to bet his boots but he loses his pants. He dumb but devoted side kick is played by A Sai.
I watch every martial arts movie I can find. I have over 2500 and a want list of over 600 more. Rare is the moment I come across a movie I never even heard of. The rarest moment of all is when I'm watching a movie I never heard of and I realize this is one of the best martial arts movies ever. Those special moments only occur a few times in a person's life. I had that moment watching "The Imprudent Iron Phoenix".
I knew from the first fight this was at least pretty good stuff. Tung Li has certainly been working out. I knew him from earlier Shaw Brothers movies such as "Dragon Swamp". I'm sure he is an actor first and martial artist after that. His posture and moves look like he has been practicing for at least three years full time. By 1973 it was standard the lead man had to do his own moves as there were so many capable. Tung Li is no Bruce Lee but in this movie he is at least as good as say Lo Lieh or Chen Kuan-Tai.
This is an early martial arts comedy. Not brilliant or creative comedy, it's slapstick, visual stuff but it's also stuff that is timeless and never stops being funny.
Chia Ling, or Judy Lee or other names, began her career playing a Chinese opera star in 1972 "The Escape". In real life she attended the same Peking Opera school as Angela Mao. That movie escaped the notice of most people. In 1972 "The Avenger" or "The Queen Boxer" she hit the big time playing the sister coming to avenge her brother's death. That would be Jimmy Wang Yu as Ma Su Chen. Her first role as Iron Phoenix flopped in the movie "A Girl Named Iron Phoenix". (I reviewed that movie here and had nothing good to say about it.) Don't worry about that, just enjoy her in this movie.
Spoiler (for those folks super-sensitive about spoilers only): There is a scene in this movie where the goofball side kick dies. How many thousands of people have died in these movies and who cares? They even kill off kids routinely as in Bruce Lee's first movie. Typically, the lead actor makes a shocked sad face and on with the fights. Here it is quite different. Tung Li does the impossible in the death scene. He really made me care when his stupid buddy died. You have to see this scene, it's great.
Of course. there is the final fight scene that goes on for no less than 25 minutes. It's easy to make a fight scene go on and on by doing similar stuff over and over again. The true skill is making a non-verbal fight scene actually tell a story.
Two fights go on simultaneously. Chia fights Shan Mao, a man who is clearly bigger and stronger than she is. The fight goes exactly that way because realistically he should be able to defeat a smaller and weaker opponent. Little by little, just like Bruce Lee said "Be water my friend", she adapts and overcomes and finally defeats him through adaption and the fact that she is more skilled and those two things matter more than size and strength.
Or is that really true? In the other fight Tung Li is bigger and stronger and he is fighting a guy who is clearly more skilled. From what I just saw from Chia's fight, Tung Li must therefore lose. Enter Bruce Lee again and his comment about "emotional content". Remember that also from his first movie? Tung Li is fighting for revenge as this guy killed his goofball sidekick. His emotional content is like a bulldozer. No skill or technique can keep the entire house from falling down on your head.
You reading this? You watch these movies? You must watch this one.
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