What They Say
Film legend Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow, The Legend of Drunken Master) battles the scourge of the orient in this epic final film from director Tang Chia. Schooled in the martial arts by the Peking Opera, Chia’s deft touch guides the gut-wrenching tale of a Kung Fu master wrecked by opium. Starring a legitimate champion of the Gibbon Fist style as the film’s villain – Chen Kuan Tai (The Flying Guillotine, Big Brother Cheng) – Chia’s masterpiece showcases the talents of at least six different martial arts directors.
My initial viewing was of the original Mandarin mono soundtrack; given the age of the film, it was surprisingly clear and free of any hiss, distortion, or other defects. The English stereo track was checked at points heavy in dialogue or foley rich action sequences; it provides a minutely richer audio experience also free of issues.
For a film from 1978, the picture was remarkably pristine, a gorgeous transfer of the film in its original 16:9 aspect ratio. There was no noticeable motion blur seen in the initial Shaw Brother releases. It is still a remarkable restoration job to produce a clear and vivid picture for such an old title.
The menu system is simple featuring the same image from the DVD cover and a snippet of music. It will not win any awards for creativity, but it will get you setup and into the kung fu fighting quickly and intuitively.
Today on a very special episode of Kung Fu theater, the Shaw Brothers show us the dangers of opium use in the appropriately titled Opium and the Kung Fu Master. Kids, opium use will absolutely ruin your kung fu, not to mention destroy the lives of your students and their families. Case in point, Tie Qiao San, played by the legendary Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow, Drunken Master II), is one of the famous kung fu masters known as the Ten Tigers of Guangdong. He has wiped out crime in his city and has earned the accolades of the citizens. However, he has a small but growing problem – opium addiction.
Though his most faithful student pleads with him to quit, Tie persists that he doesn’t have a problem. His use is only recreational, and he is in complete control of how much he uses. When a notorious drug runner opens an opium den in the city, Tie soon learns how easy it is to ride the dragon to ruin. Students become full blown addicts; families are torn apart. His most faithful student is killed trying to stop the insanity tearing through the town. When Tie attempts to confront the drug runner, the opium has left weak and causes him to suffer a shameful defeat.
Those of us that grew up on public service announcements and after school specials can chuckle and the melodramatic speeches against the evils of opium use and the master’s inevitable battle withdrawing from the drug. He recovers and eventually cleans out the drug runner and his gang from the city.
Interspersed between the messages against drug use are some fantastic fight scenes. Beautifully choreographed, this film shows off what made the Shaw Brothers films legendary; whether it is a one on one showdown or a group battle, they were always looking to make the battle unique. It could be an odd set of weapons, say an iron hoop, or having the combatants swing from banners in the rafters.
I cannot say what prompted the studio to pen such a film; perhaps they were undergoing a drug crisis at that time or were simply following trends they were seeing in other nation’s media. However, they managed to walk a fine line between action and a melodramatic sermon.
Perhaps if more afternoon specials featured such wonderfully choreographed kung fu sequences, the message about the dangers of drug use would have been heeded more. What kid would want their kung fu to suffer as much as Tie Qiao San’s did? Some spear wielding ruffian will just march right into your town, humiliate you, and kill off your students. So, kids, drugs are bad, but films like Opium and the Kung Fu Master are good and show off why people still talk about the Shaw Brothers to this day. This is easily a worthy addition to a kung fu fans library.
English 2.0 Language, Chinese 2.0 Language, English subtitles
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 27th, 2010
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony Bravia KDL-46S4100, Panasonic RP-82 via component video cable, Sony STR-DH800 receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers