Standard "Bandit Chief vs. Young Heroes" story. The YH group has to fight their way up through the bandit hierarchy before they can confront the bandit chief himself.
Anyone who thinks this is the worst movie or even the worst kung-fu movie ever made hasn't seen very many. It's true that "72 Desperate Rebels" suffers from many of the problems of the genre -- poor writing; stock situations and characters; uninspired, cheesy acting -- but there are many saving graces in this particular outing.
Top of my list would be the presence of marvelous, always menacing, veteran villain Pai Ying as the bandit chief. He doesn't have much to do here, but it's always satisfying to see him. Also, even though it was just a short cameo appearance (and rather disappointing for that), there's a brief fighting scene featuring a very buff Chen Sing in his prime. The rest of the cast consisted of people I never saw before or since.
Second, the production values are surprisingly high for an indie film company. Even the extras have great costumes. There are good sets and outdoor locations, especially along what looks like the southern Taiwan coast. I particularly appreciated the absence of the cheap camera tricks like slow motion and fast, back & forth Leone-style cuts so overused by Hong Kong companies. Scene setup and art direction are quite good, all things considered.
Third, some of the action actually showed some flashes of creativity. As the Young Heroes fight their way up the hierarchy to get to the bandit chief, they pass through some rooms of a sort of magic causing them visual disorientation, dizzying flag twirling, and a bizarre contraption of small, deafening bells attached to an overhead bamboo framework. Not terribly believable, but interesting to see. Also, when the Young Heroes plus add-ons like the blind man and the one-armed swordsman have fought their way up to be able to confront the 7-foot tall pituitary giant, the tricks they use against him and his counter-moves showed unusual cleverness. Kept me watching all the way to the end.
I rented this movie from Netflix and would recommend it. The one thing I really missed in it was the scene so common in Hong Kong "BC vs YH" movies from the 60's and 70's where the lower orders of the bandit gang come back to report the the Young Heroes have beaten them soundly. The chief stands up, waves his fist at them, and shouts "You idiots," and the gang -- all neatly lined in ranks like a military company -- bow and shout back "Yes, Sir!"
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