The Kung-fu Instructor (1979)
Despite a magisterial performance from Ti Lung, 1979's The Kung-fu Instructor was a disappointment for this viewer. A sort-of remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, The Kung-fu Instructor finds Ti Lung as a -- you guessed it! -- kung-fu instructor caught in the middle of a turf war between the Meng and Zhou clans. The leader of the Mengs, played by Ku Feng, is the main villain of this piece. He bristles at the thought of Ti Lung's Master Wang training Zhou clan member Zhou Ping (Wang Yu). Zhou Ping's training has a few moments of comedy but not enough to keep the film interesting.
The problem with this film was that I didn't know about, and so didn't care about, either clan or the clan members. The characters are underdeveloped and Ti Lung's Master Wang remains just a commanding kung-fu master figure, willing to preach honor and train those who are worthy while providing a beatdown at every opportunity.
According to the Celestial DVD packaging, this was the first Shaw Studios film to use a Steadicam. I didn't notice anything exceptional about the camerawork. In fact, I'd say that the freeze-frames and slow-motion bits were highly distracting and seemed out of place in a film from 1979 -- they looked like early 1970's tricks to me.
Ti Lung's fighting scenes almost all involve the Shaolin rod -- the wooden staff that he carries -- and he does command our attention in these sequences.
But, after a few of them, I didn't really care who he hit as, obviously, he was clearly the unstoppable hero of the piece, fighting off nameless, faceless clanmembers without much motivation.
Angie Chiu is a woman caught in the middle of the two clans who provides the beginnings of some sort of romantic intrigue but that plot point is quickly abandoned.
Check out this news story on Angie Chiu who apparently has a role in the new Stanley Kwan film, Energy Behind The Heart, which I briefly briefly posted about last month.
You can order The Kung-fu Instructor on DVD here.