SON OF WU TANG (CLUTCH OF POWER) fast but overplotted swordplay
CLUTCH OF POWER (1977) is a kung fu/swordplay adventure made in Taiwan and released under the title SON OF WU TANG as part of the low-cost Wu Tang Collection video series (although the tacked-on, video-generated onscreen title is SONZ OF WU TANG). Some sources erroneously list it as CLANS OF INTRIGUE, which was a spectacular 1977 Shaw Bros. production starring Ti Lung and directed by Chor Yuen (aka Chu Yuan). This much lower-budgeted film was directed by Chang Peng Yi and stars Meng Fei, Chen Sing, Leung Kar Yan, Phillip Ko, Wang Kuan-Hsiung and Doris Chen (Lung Chun Erh). Interestingly, the author of the novel on which Shaw's CLANS OF INTRIGUE was based, Ku Lung, is credited with the screenplay for this film.
The plot here has to do with a map showing the positions of the Chinese army as it prepares to battle the Mongols in the year 1267 during the Sung Dynasty. The strategic importance of the map, which the Chinese patriots need to keep out of the hands of traitors working for the Mongols, quickly gets lost as a large number of parties get involved in searching for the map and killing, being killed, or fending off murder attempts in the course of it all. It gets confusing because of the large number of characters and the fact that most of them aren't what they seem.
The nominal hero, Chang (Meng Fei), only wants to avenge the deaths of his parents at the hands of "The Sword," an elusive lone swordsman hired by a masked man to find the map. At one point, Chang winds up poisoned and is cared for in a hidden place called Flower Valley by a reclusive master swordsman (Liu Ping) and his beautiful blind daughter (Doris Chen, aka Lung Chun Erh, who played a blind woman in THE STOMP/SECRET MESSAGE as well).
The swordfights are largely done with lots of acrobatic flips and stunt doubles flying through windows and up to rooftops. Combatants seem to spend more time in the air than on the ground. There is a lot of slashing with swords and spears and an over-reliance on quick cuts. There are no hand-to-hand kung fu fights until the last 15 minutes or so, when one of the main characters drops his sword and fights two of the other main characters by hand. This is unfortunate, considering the high quality of the kung fu performers on hand, led by Meng Fei, Chen Sing, Leung Kar Yan, Ko Fei (aka Phillip Ko), and Yen Shi-Kwan. They get to fight a lot, but the staging doesn't make good enough use of their talents. Leung Kar Yan (THUNDERING MANTIS) probably comes off best with his lethal spear blade which he uses with great dexterity to thrust into his opponents front, back, left and right. One memorable battle pairs him with Meng Fei in fighting off dozens of ghost-like masked opponents in a remote forest at night.
While this one lacks the narrative clarity of Chor Yuen's adaptations of Ku Lung stories (see KILLER CLANS and THE MAGIC BLADE), there are several recognizable Ku Lung motifs. There's a boat slowly floating downriver with a lone female rider, gently strumming a stringed instrument. There's also a lavish well-lit white cave, adorned with animal skins, live animals, and odd décor, where the reclusive swordsman lives with his beautiful daughter and an icily pretty femme fatale.
The tape available is a low-cost, poor-quality, pan-and-scanned transfer. The plot is confusing, the English dubbing is poor and the action choreography below average. That said, however, it remains quite watchable, thanks to its fast pace, exciting action and superior cast. Interestingly, the music score, although patched-together like so many of these scores, uses a lot of previously unheard music, much of it derived, most likely, from other Chinese film sources, some of them very appropriate to the story.
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