Been a while since I reviewed anything from the old school era of martial arts cinema so I thought I'd highlight one of the lesser known films from the 1970s. Leung Kar-Yan and Jason Pai Piao team up to take on bad guy Hwang Jang Lee in this very solid action/fantasy movie. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any trailers online so my usual link has not been included but on with the review!
Jason Pai Piao plays an officer for the royal court who is tasked to recover some stolen gold. On his journey he has to defend himself from assassins who are determined to kill him. Meanwhile Leung Kar-Yan is the head of a gang who discovers that a Daoist scroll has also been stolen along with the gold and sets off on his own journey in order to prevent it being used for evil.
At least, that's what I was able to pick up from the incredibly confusing narrative. It wasn't uncommon for films of this era to start shooting without a script. The film makers would outline a basic story and then to make things up as they went along. Some films were able to pull it off effortlessly while others just ended up becoming an incoherent mess. Demon Strike is one of those films but fortunately it's packed with that much action that it isn't too detrimental and really should be viewed more as a highlight reel of great kung fu action.
Jason Pai Piao and Leung Kar-Yan are the two leads and are as good as you'd expect them to be. Pai Piao plays the no-nonsense character determined to do what it takes to find the missing gold, even if it means doing things which may seem amoral. Leung meanwhile just turns up in the film when he feels like it and bitch slaps anyone foolish enough to throw a punch at him. The two don't really have much chemistry but given what they were working with it's not surprising. It would have been nice to see the two of them butt heads in the film a little more but we just get a few exchanges of dialogue and they don't really come together fully until the finale.
The confusion I mentioned earlier comes into play mostly due to how the story lines for both characters come off. Everything moves at an incredibly fast pace. Characters are introduced and then killed off soon afterwards. Fight scenes happen from out of nowhere and there's a sub-plot which never reaches a logical conclusion and it just seems a little jarring. Yet given the sheer amount of martial arts films I've seen, I'm used to this sort of thing but I still notice from time to time.
Still for all my complaints about the story, that doesn't stop me from enjoying the copious amounts of kung fu action. Featuring everything from empty handed combat to sword play, anyone who has yet to see this film may like what they see. The choreography was over seen by Alan Hsu. Who has over one-hundred credits to his name. The majority of which he was involved as the action director. After seeing this, it has lead me to believe Hsu is one of the more underrated choreographers from this era. He's able to play to everyone's strengths effortlessly and is able to make Leung Kar-Yan look just as good as he did in some of his more high-profile movies such as Knockabout and The Victim.
Pai Piao also gets to strut his stuff. One great fight sees him fighting two assassins in a run down old house. All three actors leap around, using well timed strikes, blocks and take downs, creating a sequence which could rival some of the films from the mighty Shaw Brothers Studio. However things take a turn for the better when we get the final reel and our two heroes band together to fight Hwang Jang Lee. As you'd expect Hwang gives his usual sinister bad guy routine and gets to show his flair for kung fu action. What we have here isn't the best he's ever done but there are one or two moments when things get really amped up and it would have been great to see that kind of pace maintained.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Not only do we get Hwang Jang Lee kicking people in the face, he can also shoot lasers. Yes, you read that correctly. Lasers. During the film we find out that he has been using the stolen Daoist scroll to unlock incredible powers, one of these being the ability to shoot blue lasers from the palms of his hands. It's as silly as it sounds and when you find out what the source of the power is and it's weakness, you'll be left scratching your head is to why he went to all that trouble.
Regardless of how bizarre it all is though, we still get an absolutely cracking fight finale and are left with a film which deserves it's place among the hundreds and hundreds of titles that are out there. Go out there, find the DVD, pop it in, sit back and enjoy. Fans of old school classics will love it and those who are still exploring the genre will hopefully be satisfied. Then again, could be worse, you could be watching American Shaolin instead.