Korean bootmaster legend Hwang Jang-Lee returns to his homeland to star and direct this rare martial arts film about one man's search for redemption.
Kal Ma-Ryong (Hwang) is targeted by a band of swordsmen and fighters, all who were involved in the brutal murder of his mother years ago. Ma- Ryong defeats and kills the leader of the goons, Cheon-Su. However, Cheon-Su has a wife, Mu-Nyo, and a young son, Il-Pyung. When Mu-Nyo and Il-Pyung find an injured Ma-Ryong in an abandoned house in the mountains, they assume he was one of Cheon-Su's men and decide to nurse him back to health.
To repay the favor, Ma-Ryong decides to help the family out, acting as both friend and protector. He even decides to teach Il-Pyung how to fight so that one day, he can avenge the death of his father. Meanwhile, when word gets out Ma-Ryong escaping, everyone begins to search for him. This includes a mysterious man in black (Kwon Il-Soo) and a rogue monk and his goons. When Mu-Nyo and Il-Pyung soon discover that the man who has befriended them is the same man that killed the patriarch, chaos is really going to ensue.
This film is quite an interesting vehicle for Hwang Jang-Lee, who stars and directs this film (his second film as director after Hit-man IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA (1981)). While many fans will love his trademark style of action, he focuses more on his character in this film rather than the action scenes. Write Hong Ji-Hoon really does a tremendous job with the script, which focuses on Hwang's Ma-Ryong searching for penance and redemption by helping the family of a man he kills in the opening fight sequence of the film. Hwang merely takes a backseat to the action and focuses more on acting and he does well here. Yes, he does give a trademark glance, but it is clear that he is someone who is willing to do what it takes to make himself a better man.
The action sequences are well handled here. The opening fight is perhaps one of the best as Hwang goes medieval on the goons responsible for the death of his mother. He uses most of his trademark kicking skills, minus his bicycle kick and triple jump kicks, but that is okay along with some nifty weapon work. Kwon Il-Soo, another underrated Korean fight actor, handles himself quite well with his fight scenes, taking on the likes of thugs and while his kicks aren't as superb as Hwang's, they still prove manageable and powerful. There is clearly no end fight to the film, as was the case with most martial arts films of this era, but Hwang's last fight consists of him using both his kicks and the double spinning sticks, a weapon he used in THE SECRET RIVALS PART II (1977).
Despite a lack of an end fight, CANTON VIPER is truly quite an interesting Hwang Jang-Lee film. This one is truly for hardcore Hwang fans who want to see him do just a little more than his trademark action scenes and focus more on his character.
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