review by Jerome

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A true Shaw Bros classic…
The title in Cantonese is Hung Kuen Daai See and in Mandarin is Hong Quan Da Shi, both translating as “The Great Master of Hung style Boxing”. Hung style boxing (Hung Gar Kuen or Hung Kuen) is a Southern Chinese style of kung fu that has many empty handed forms and weapon forms. The form primarily explored in this is called Tit Sin Kuen (Iron thread / iron wire fist), which was developed by a member of the Ten Tigers of Canton, nicknamed Tit Kiu Saam.

The film’s narrative plays out like this: Tit Kiu Saam / Tie Chiao San (Ti Lung), the famous Hung Gar master and leader of the Ten Tigers of Canton, must put an end to the damaging effects of the opium dens operating in his town in Canton. The dens are operated by a doubled sided spear wielding practitioner, Rong Feng / Wing Fung (Chen Kuan Tai). When Master Tie gets addicted to the opium, his student Lu Kua Si / Low Gwa Sei (Mai Te Lo) decides to cause trouble for the opium den by attempting to burn it down. As a result he is killed and Master Tie decides to fight Rong Feng in an attempt to avenge Kua Si’s death. However, his opium addiction makes him weak during the fight and he eventually loses. As compensation for the damage to the opium den, Rong Feng confiscates Kua Si’s father’s rice warehouse. To get over his opium addiction, Master Tie visits his friends who work as monks at a local Buddhist temple. He is confined in solitude and given a special medicinal wine to sooth the opium cravings. Eventually he regains his health, does weight training and practices his kung fu with his friend, the blind monk. From then on he confronts Rong Feng.

Ti Lung is a very good actor. His acting range as the master is terrific. When suffering the effects of opium, he was able to convey a very convincing performance. From his arrogance as the great kung fu master to the suffering of an addiction, it’s no wonder he was given a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Hong Kong film awards. Being trained in classical Wing Chun helped Ti Lung perform the Hung Gar routines in the film. The Iron Thread form uses the same stance (Yee Jee Kim Yeung Ma) as Wing Chun’s, given that both styles originated from Southern Shaolin.

Mai Te Lo has a good rounded performance as Lu Kua Si. His character is a persistent learner of Hung Gar and somewhat of a troublemaker and a bit of lady’s man. This is shown when he tries to woo the sister (Lie Hsueh Hua) of Rong Feng’s business partner. Mai Te Lo has a great lion dance duel and brawl with Lee Hoi Sang at the film’s beginning. Having previously worked with Lau Gar Leung on films such as The Lady is The Boss, My Young Auntie, Eight Diagram Pole Fighter and Martial Club etc. he gives a great display of Hung Gar on screen.

Chen Kuan Tai steals the show as the cunning opium den boss. He also commands the two thieves at the film’s beginning. One of the thieves is played by Phillip Ko. As Rong Feng, Chen Kuan Tai portrays him as a profiteering, backstabbing and ruthless person. His screen presence is given emphasis when wielding two double-sided spears against Ti Lung’s Iron Thread fist, pole fighting and broadsword.

Just like the many real life heroes of Southern Shaolin or those who learnt their kung fu from Southern Shaolin such as Wong Fei hung, Fong Sai Yuk, Hung Hei Goon etc,
Opium and The Kung Fu Master gives the facts about Tit Kiu Saam. Tit Kiu Saam, was known for a being an opium user, a practitioner of Hung Gar whom often visited temples to make friends with Buddhist monks and improve his pole fighting skills and other kung fu skills.

The film's many action sequences were choreographed by Tang Chia (Tong Gaai), Yuen Bun (Ban), Yuen Wah, Lee Hoi Sang, Huang Pei Chi (Wong Pui Gei), and Chiang Chuan (Gong Chuen). There was limited usage of wires used to add to actions of jumping high and performing a somersault kick.

Overall, the film is good. If you can live manage to ignore some of the fake backgrounds in the studio sets, you’ll enjoy it. Being the first Shaw Brothers film I had watched made me seek out other titles. To this date I’ve seen roughly 25 Shaw Brothers titles, so you can expect me to review some more.

I rate it 8/10.

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Director: TANG Chia (Tong Gaai)
Cast: TI Lung (Dik Lung), MAI Te Lo (Robert Mak Dak Law), LIU Hsueh Hua (Lau Suet Wah), CHEN Kuan Tai (Chan Goon Tai), YUEN Wah, LEE Hoi Sang, Phillip KO (Go) Fei.