Shao Lin men (1976)
HongKong / Cantonese
A survivor of an attack on a rebel group opposing the Manchu invasion of China creates the Goose Fist fighting technique and tries for revenge on a traitor.
Underrated Woo Film
The Hand of Death aka Countdown in Kung Fu (1976) is a vastly
underrated early work by director John Woo. The film stars Dorian Tan
(Tan Tao-liang) and features Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and James Tien in
significant supporting roles. Many people believe, or have been lead to
believe by deceptive advertising, that this is a Jackie Chan film. This
is not a Jackie Chan film, Dorian Tan is the star but Jackie gives one
of his best (most serious) early performances.
The Hand of Death is about a Shaolin disciple named Yunfei (Tan) who is
sent on a mission to assassinate a Shaolin traitor named Shih Xiaofeng
(Tien) and protect a revolutionary named Zhang Yi (Woo). Along his
journey Yunfei meets up with a young woodcutter named Tan (Chan) and a
disgraced sword fighter (Chang Chung) known as "the wanderer." Both men
have suffered at the hands of Shih and want to take revenge. The three
team up to defeat Shih and his eight bodyguards and escort the
revolutionary to safety.
The martial arts action is above average under the direction of Sammo
Hung. Dorian Tan uses his trademark high kicks very effectively as the
"Northern eighteen styles kicks" along with some "Southern five styles
boxing." Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan provide excellent martial arts
performances as well. James Tien is not the greatest martial artist on
the Jade screen but does an acceptable job. Some of the early fights
are a bit slow and seem over choreographed but the final showdowns
featuring Chan, Tan and Hung are very good.
Director John Woo provides plenty of interesting character development
in the film, which is refreshing. The cinematography by Leung Wing Kat
is very stylish, unique and beautiful for a kung fu film of this era.
Joseph Koo's music: a combination of soft flutes and 70's "Shaft" style
orchestral pieces is kung fu cinema at its best. Hand of Death is not
Jackie and Sammo's usual kung fu comedy. Hand of Death is a serious,
straightforward revenge driven story.
Hand of Death aka Countdown in Kung Fu is an underrated classic in the
old school kung fu genre. The film is one of the best artistically of
its time and a preview of the great things to come from Jackie Chan and
Sammo Hung. Hung's great choreography is put on display here before his
directorial debut and Chan's early charisma and talent can be clearly
Hand of Death is a solid, stylish old school kung fu film and a
brilliant early work of the legendary John Woo.
Kung Fu Genre Rating 7.5/10
Wanderer to Tan (referring to his new weapon): "The Little Eagle Wing
Tan: "Just a knickknack."
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