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"1976 R-rated Chinese Kung Fu Film (widescreen). Also known as "Countdown in Kung Fu," "Shao Lin men," "Shaolin Men," and "Strike of Death." Contains brief nudity. (Note: the Manchu (or Qing) were the rulers of China when the "Westerners" arrived and were the last Imperial rulers. As they ruled from 1644 until 1911, and had many rebellions to put down, it is unclear when the actions of the movie are supposed to occur).
DVD Features: The DVD contains the movie (in English and Mandarin, and with English subtitles), two trailers for the film (one original, one newly edited), and four other trailers (Spooky Encounters (Sammo Hung, ghost story); Legacy of Rage (Brandon Lee, rated R, modern era, prison movie?); Winners & Sinners (modern era, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan); Warriors Two (R-rated; older era; Sammo Hung)).
Credits: John Woo ("The Killer", "Face/Off", "Paycheck"; or as the film credits him: Wu Yu-Sheng) wrote and directed this film. Sammo Hung ("Martial Law") provided the Action Direction (and acting, he is one of the Manchu officers (as Lord Du Ching)). The movie stars Tan Tao Liang (Yunfei; "Dual Flying Kicks"), James Tien (Commander Shih Xiaofeng; "Blade of Fury"), Jackie Chan (Tan Xiong; "Cannonball Run," "Rush Hour"), and Chang Chung (Wanderer the Swordsman or Master Sword; "Dragon Strike"). John Woo also appears as Scholar Cheng. (Note: These are the credits as they appear in the movie).
Plot: The Manchu (Qing) rule China, and have tried to take over the Shaolin martial arts. They failed, and now they have set out to destroy the Shaolin way. An ex-Shaolin (James Tien) works for the Manchu's to destroy the Shaolin way. A Shaolin disciple (Tan Tao Liang) fights back with the help of Jackie Chan (delivery man) and Chang Chung (swordsman). Meanwhile an anti-Qing revolution is underway.
Review: The English subtitles and the spoken English do not match up (though both are providing information not conveyed in the other medium), and the dubbing is distracting (the actual English isn't that bad, but hearing the English and watching the mouth movements is distracting). In a way, more than one movie is on the DVD. The spoken English version is not the same as the subtitled English (at one point Hung tells (spoken English) Liang that he likes him, while the subtitled English says something like how Liang is a fool and will die), and you can get a different movie by listening to the spoken English, or reading the subtitled English. I don't speak Mandarin, nor read it, so I don't know if the three different versions are different (two tracks are for different sound equipment, the third is the original soundtrack). After very brief testing, the Original Mandarin soundtrack is the track I listened to (seemed best in the limited test). The movie is shown in widescreen, and the English subtitles show up very well in white in the bottom black bar.
The music, by Joseph Koo, is impressive and provides the right complement to the movie. The martial arts action is impressive and well done (I'm divided on whether the fighting looks too staged or looks more realistic than the more "magical, flying" martial arts action of today).
It's interesting to see Jackie Chan so young (you can also see the young Jackie Chan in the 1981 US movie "Cannonball Run"; it should be stressed that neither Sammo Hung nor Jackie Chan are the main stars in this movie).
The fighting is quite impressive, the acting (as much as I can tell) is good, the music is great, the plot is solid (maybe slightly less than I would expect from John Woo, and more than I would expect from an early Kung Fu movie). At times the movie seems to be a Chinese version of the Magnificent Seven, though missing one or two people (not sure if I should count Zhang or not as he is someone they have to protect, instead of a fighter; the movie is very vaguely similar to the Western). Lovely countryside they run around in. Overall, I would give the movie 4.23 stars."
Good Kung Fu movie.
Ryan V. Abbott | Ft. Walton Beach, FL | 09/12/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of Jackie's earlier movies. This movie also marked the debut for a young John Woo who appears in the movie. Jackie plays a supporting role in the movie. The main star of the movie was an actor called "Flash Legs" Tan who offers some cool kicking technics. The story is about a renegade shaolin disciple who turns on his former Shaolin brothers and disbands them into secret factions who long for revenge. Jackie plays the brother of one of the Shaolin men who is killed by the renegade who joins Tan and a swordsman to take his revenge. Jackie has two fight scenes with a spear that are very good and along with good fight scenes from the others. Sammo Hung is in this one also playing a villain, and also choreographed the fight scene. The story isn't half that bad either, although it does move kind of slow in some parts. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a good old fashioned kung fu movie."
Tan Tao Liang!!!
P.Colella | Chicago, IL United States | 01/31/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Great film, but a bit misrepresented. This is not a Jackie Chan movie. He is in the film, but by no means is he the star. Tan Tao Liang is the hero. Great villains. James Tien is so convincing with his mini blade. How does he spin that thing?!?!! This is also a rare opportunity to see Sammo Hung as an evil counterpart to Tien in the film. Tan Tao Liang kicks are amazing. This is a a great tale of heroism and patriotism. Sounds strange, but the English voice overs match perfectly with how the characters act. That can be a problem with many martial arts films. Make sure you get the Leg Fighters too!"
Fox/Fortune Star gives us teh movie with great picture quali
morgoth | omaha, NE | 06/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The movie starts out with a really cool scene showing the destruction of the Shaolin Temple. Look for a quick cameo by Wilson Tong. Sammo is in a cool role as like a general. His buckteeth look a bit stupid but his fighting doesn't. THIS IS A DORIAN TAN MOVE but Jackie Chan is great in his small role as a man looking to help out Tan take care of the villian played by james Tien. The story is not going to go down as one of the best ever told. A swordsman comes to help them out and they take down the evil guys. The thing that really stood out is Jackie playing a serious role. He does it very well and his fight with a spear was awesome. Sammo and Dorian Tan have a good fight. Really good fighting all around. The final fight is not spectacular but James Tien puts on a good performance.
The DVD is great. Widecreened, great picture quality, and dual language tracks. Just about all that you could ask for."
Death only means a hole in my body! -- Tan
Shawn McKenna | Modesto, CA USA | 04/17/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Early in John Woo's career as a director in Hong Kong, he had the auspiciousness to direct three of the seven fortunes in Yuen Biao, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in their first movie together Hand of Death (1976: Chinese Title literally means Shaolin Gate) though much was not made of this at the time because they were all struggling to make a career. They have yet to work together again in such a capacity though they have said nothing but kind words about each other since. An interesting point, in hindsight, is that the star of the film is none of the three (it is hard to spot Yuen Biao as his role is of a stunt double and bit actor) but Korean export and Tae Kwon Do expert Dorian Tan Tao-Liang.
Dorian Tan Tao-Liang stars as Yun Fei a Shaolin trained fighter looking to find Zhang Yi (John Woo) and escort him through White Stone town and across the White River. Zhang holds a map of all Qing bases in the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces in southeast China. He can get a hold of Zhang by contacting pupil Chiu Guo. However, when he is found, he has already been arrested and ready to be beheaded by the Manchus led by a traitor of the Shaolin Shih Xiaofeng (ubiquitous bad guy James Tien: Fearless Hyena, Winners and Sinners) who has taught himself White Crane Soul Chaser Style (he is the titular Hand of Death). Even though his Kung Fu is superior, he has the additional help of Eight Bodyguards with different styles and two top ranking guards in Smiling Fox and Du Ching (Sammo Hung who also does the stunt coordination) whose overbite is quite preposterous and resembles a "hopping vampire" though he is trained in tiger and crane styles.
Yun Fei gets the assistance of a woodcutter Tan, who helped him earlier to get past a roadblock and dispose of a body (a true friend helps you get rid of a corpse). Tan's elder brother was killed by Shih's men. Tan also obtains the help of "The Wanderer" (Yeung Wai) an expert swordsman who accidentally killed a prostitute he was in love with also because of Shih and would have given up his sword for good if it was not for Yun. These men will help Zhang Yi get across the river to get the plans to help once and for all defeat the Qing Empire and restore the Ming Dynasty (the plot of the Qing Dynasty as bad guys is one of the staples of Hong Kong martial art movies like Heroes Two, Royal Tramp and Iron Monkey).
Many will have bought, borrowed or rented this movie because of the presence of Jackie Chan. He originally was only supposed to have a stunt man role (helped hired onto the film by his "big brother" Sammo Hung) but as John Woo found one of the Korean actors lacking in the physical department, he replaced his part with Jackie Chan and expanded his role according to an interview with Lee Server in "Asian Pop Cinema" he stated he "changed the whole script to focus more on him and show his great skill." though there might be some fraudulent hindsight with that statement. Jackie originally had been the stunt coordinator for Woo's first film Young Dragons (1975) that came out a year earlier. Jackie did get hurt on the film, getting knocked unconscious after being pulled by a cable while being kicked by Dorian Tan and landing and hitting his head on a rock (though this would not be as bad as his most famous accident in Operation Condor where he almost lost his life).
Others might watch this because it belongs in the oeuvre of John Woo. It is still very early in his career (his fourth film in two years of being a director), but you can see traces of his talent. There are some nice handheld scenes, a little use of slow motion and hints of "heroic bloodshed" elements (though this would come to blossom in Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979)) like an early scene when Jackie Chan and Dorian Tan first meet which seemed to hint a certain homoerotism (or else those were some of the most strange smiles I have ever seen), but then failed to capitalize on it later in the film.
Overall, this is a decent, yet unspectacular film. The direction is solid, yet it does not feel like a John Woo directed movie. The scenery of the Korean hillsides is absolutely beautiful and helps makes this movie easier to watch. The story is mediocre, but not too many glaring holes in the story. The Kung Fu ability is give or take. The kicking of Dorian Tan is beautiful to behold, his punching ability and forms are good but not great. Jackie Chan is also awesome with his fighting and you get to see him use a spear the Little Eagle God Lance as it is called in the film (which that and the staff are the traditional weapons that Jackie is best with). The highlight fight scenes of the movie are when Jackie fights several of the Eight Bodyguards and later when Dorian fights Sammo. The latter is especially impressive because of Sammo's willingness to hurt his body to make Tan look good. James Tien is not much of a martial artist, though his acting if fine as he is the consummate Hong Kong bad guy, so his hand-to-hand combat scenes are a bit pedantic though he has one scene wielding a sword that was good.
The Fox/Fortune Star R1 release is a very good barebones release. There are no dubtitles and the film is uncut. There is an English dub, a genuine Mandarin mono track and it is presented in a very nice looking widescreen transfer though there is some damage to the elements. Unfortunately, like most of the Fox/Fortune Star releases you only get trailers as extras. Here is another example where the best release is the R2 Hong Kong Legends version -- Ultra-Bit Edition. "