Many impressive fight scenes make for an enjoyable and engaging martial arts film
Supposedly dead, embittered former official, The Ghost Face Killer has returned and seeking revenge on those martial arts masters than once opposed him his name is infamous and his Five Elements fighting style is deadly. Meanwhile, young Ah Pao joins a martial arts school in order to become a great fighter in order to take revenge on the man who killed his father. He gets very good quickly but timing is everything and his arrival at the school in relation to the return of the Ghost Face Killer sees him suspected of being connected and thus put out of the school. He falls under the tutelage of an elderly chess master in the town while all the time the focus of his vengeance kills his way closer and closer.
Is there any point in me pretending to be a scholar of 1970's martial arts movies or should I just admit now that, like many others, came to this because of the Wu-Tang Clan's many references to it (amongst other films)? Well although I do enjoy martial arts films, this one in particular came to me because of the Wu Tang track and of course name of one of their members. This did not suggest a perfect quality to me though and I was fairly open to what I would find. The film opens with its main selling point Ghost Face Killer battling and defeating a former master in combat. These scenes are scattered across the film while at the same time Ah Pao continues his transformation from cheerful young man to skilled pupil under the guidance of the Chess Master. It is a narrative structure that anyone familiar with the genre will already have seen before but it does work for several reasons here.
Overwhelmingly it works because the martial arts action is impressive in particular the fights involving Ghost Face Killer. They all have an impressive fluidity to them that is physically impressive and engaging. In each fight there isn't really a "money shot" that will make you gasp, but rather just a consistent quality that makes them fun. They are also well shot with good externals locations and a lot fewer edits than those used to the modern rapid edits made in some action movies to cover up the actors only be able to do one small movement at a time, with the real fighting happening in the editing suit. Of course the film also has all the standards of this genre of the period in the rather corny voice-over from the US market, the slightly overdone performances from some of the cast, fabulous facial hair and that distinctive zooming camera-work. While to some all this may date and/or limit the film, to many viewers it will be part of the appeal and not only be accepted but also embraced as part of what they love.
Talking of the performances, it is probably quite unfair to say that some are overdone because actually everyone is pretty good. Mark Long sticks in the mind most with his distinctively named villain. His facial hair and booming laugh make him engaging. Jack Long's Chess Master is typically subdued and wise in his turn and works well with Yi-min Li. Of these three all are physically impressive in their fight scenes together and separately. There are a few weaker turns of course but nobody that stands out as being such particularly. This all leaves an enjoyably action packed martial arts movie. The many fight sequences are well done and impressive (and filmed so you can actually see them) and, while the plot is basic on paper, the film moves along at a good pace and engages without too much trouble.
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