DRAGON'S CLAWS - Old-school kung fu with female star ripe for rediscovery
DRAGON'S CLAWS (1979) has added value these days thanks to the prominence in its cast of actress Kan Chia Fong, who would turn up 25 years later, billed as Yuen Qiu, as the landlady in Stephen Chow's hit, KUNG FU HUSTLE. She has quite a good part in DRAGON'S CLAWS, playing the mother of an aspiring kung fu fighter who has to contend with the arrival on the scene of his father's enemy, played by Hwang Jang Lee, who had been in love with the mother many years earlier. There's a more complicated backstory than usual here, but it adds to the drama and keeps things interesting as the young hero, played by Jimmy Liu (younger brother of kung fu greats Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing), trains in various dragon fist techniques, first with his mother, and then with a mysterious old peddler of medicines who's not at all what he seems. The fighting is good, the cinematography better than average, and a good group of actors is on display.
But the main reason to seek this out is the performance of Kan Chia Fong. One of the great unsung female performers of 1970s and '80s kung fu cinema, she studied as a girl at the same Chinese Opera school where Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao trained and was a contemporary of theirs. One of her memorable early screen appearances was in the James Bond film, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1975), where she played one of the kung fu-fighting schoolgirls who help out Bond in Thailand. Although her filmography on IMDb is rather sparse, she actually appeared in quite a few kung fu films in the 1970s and '80s, including DREADNAUGHT, NEW TALES OF THE FLYING FOX, and CRAZY SHAOLIN DISCIPLES.
She has a major role in DRAGON'S CLAWS and even fights three of the bad guys in two separate scenes. Most of her action scenes, however, consist of training exercises with her son. In one clever bit, she hits him with little dabs of noodle paste to illustrate the 36 vital points of the body. She does all her own fighting and acrobatic stunts. As a screen fighter, she may not have been as ferocious or intense as Angela Mao or Chia Ling and she may not have been as lithe and graceful as Lily Li or Kara Hui Ying Hung, but she is quite a capable performer and a considerable beauty in her own right and one wishes she had made more films.
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