A worthy kung fu follow-up to HOT, COOL AND VICIOUS
CHALLENGE OF DEATH (1978) is a made-in-Taiwan kung fu film that served as a follow-up to THE HOT, THE COOL AND THE VICIOUS (1976) reteaming its director, Lee Tso Nam, and two stars, Wong Tao and Tan Tao Liang, who play, again, friendly enemies who become allies in the course of a complicated sequence of events. Set in early 20th century China, the plot has to do with a search for an elusive broker supplying weapons to regional warlords during a period of civil war. It's colorful and exciting and features a lively cast of expert performers.
Wong Tao plays a gambler whose ex-girlfriend is an intermediary between the warlords and the weapons supplier. Tan Tao Liang (billed as Delung Tam, a misspelled version of his usual English name, Delon Tam) again plays a policeman named Captain Lu and forcibly enlists Wong in tracking down the supplier by jailing him on trumped-up charges involving a tryst with an under-age girl. Wong is a snake fist expert, while Tan is a dragon fist specialist (and high-kicker) and the two have a serious bout at one point before becoming allies. After much back-and-forth, the two realize they have a common enemy in the mysterious Master Sung (Chang Yi), a renowned spider fist practitioner. To beat him, the two heroes must team up and practice different strategies for overcoming his snake fist techniques.
The film opens with a pre-credits demonstration of dragon, snake and spider fist moves by the three stars. There are plenty of fights sprinkled throughout the film, although few are long enough to really showcase the stars' talents until the final battle in which the two heroes take on the lead villain (the underrated Chang Yi).
The film, shot on location and in a handful of cramped studio sets, never comes close to the visual finesse of a Shaw Bros. film, but the story moves along well, the characters and their relationships are quite interesting, and the performers are all fun to watch. It's not quite as packed with incident as its predecessor, THE HOT, THE COOL AND THE VICIOUS, but it's a worthy member of that group of late 1970s Taiwan-shot kung fu films that gave us such able performers as Delon Tam, Wong Tao, Chang Yi, John Liu, Hwang Jang Lee, Tommy Lee and Jimmy Lee.
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