36 Styles reaches it's final week and this entry I'm going to be looking at yet another cult classic among fans of old school Kung Fu Cinema and it is none other then Born Invincible. Directed and produced by Joseph Kuo and featuring fight choreography by Yuen Woo-Ping, Born Invincible is a Taiwanese production (Often mistaken as a Hong Kong production) that combines competent story telling and some simply terrific action. It also features the popular "Silver Fox" a character archetype who practices a certain martial arts style and has become so proficient their hair turns white and their body becomes impervious to any sort of attack except they have one weak spot which must be located and exploited if their opponent hopes to defeat them.
the character has featured in numerous Kung Fu films and has been played by the likes of Hwang Jang Lee, Chan Sing and Lo Lieh. it's with a lot of excitement that I get to review this one because it's a film I've wanted to review for a long time.
When the students of a martial arts schooled intervene during an assault of an old man and his daughter, the masters of the thugs responsible turn up at the school. After killing both the school's master and the old man, the students take a vow to train hard and hope to avenge their fallen teacher.
The first thing that struck me about Born Invincible was the story. While in terms of the plot it was seen-it-all-before type stuff, it was told in a very competent and very well plotted way. There's no scenes that take place that serve no purpose and every story point is hit at the right time and at the right place. Usually one would have to find a Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film for this kind of thing but it's wonderful that an independently produced film can actually have something going for it other than the martial arts action. I thoroughly enjoyed the story here and thought it was one of the film's more stronger elements. I suppose this could be put down to the fact that Joseph Kuo was the director. Kuo was a very prolific independent director and producer who gave us such old school titles as The Seven Grandmasters, 18 Bronzemen and The 36 Deadly Styles. Those are some of the more better made and infinitely more watchable indy films made during that era so it doesn't come as a surprise that Born Invincible maintains the same level of quality.
The interesting thing about Born Invincible as that there doesn't seem to be a single protagonist through out. Each time a character steps forward that looks like they are the lead they end up being bumped off and then the film focuses on another character. I liked this aspect of the story because it actually builds Carter Wong (who plays the main villain) as a credible threat and makes the final confrontation between hero and villain in the final reel all the more exciting to watch. Another thing that caught me off guard was how good the acting is among most of the cast. Lung Fei appears in the earlier part of the film as the martial arts school Master and he actually delivers a very good and believable performance and found myself actually caring about this character when he walked into battle with Carter's character. The Old Man played by an actorSu Chen-Ping puts a lot of effort into his performance so when both he and the master are killed you really feel for the loss of the other characters.
Brothers Jack Long and Mark Long also feature as two of the leads. Both of them show they could be decent actors when given good material to work with and they also get to do a lot of action. Jack Long especially has two stand out fights against Lo Lieh. Everyone who knows their Kung Fu movies will be more then familiar with who that is. After all he did star in one of the most well known Kung Fu movies ever made, King Boxer AKA Five Fingers of Death. I liked these fights especially as Lo uses as a baton with lots of hidden blades to give that extra advantage whenever he fights anyone with bladed weaponry. I love it when a martial arts movie breaks out with the creative weapons such as this as it shows some real imagination was put into it.
I think that's one of the main attractions that makes Born Invincible so popular among fans of the genre. There is a ton of fighting here and all of it is very high quality. I think you would expect nothing less given Yuen Woo-Ping directed them. The first major clash that sees two killers played by Sunny Yuen and Corey Yuen respectively against some stunt guys has the two of them work in tandem with each other and has a very Peking Opera flavour to it which I really liked. The exchanges of technique and weapons movement is something you would expect to see in a final reel fight and not the opening bout and shows that Sifu Woo-Ping will always be regarded among fans as one of the best choreographers to ever work in the genre. I've yet to find a film he was involved with during the 1970s where I thought his fights were lacking or in any way sloppy. I think it's wonderful he's still active in the industry today and hope that he gets to direct another film as it's been a long time since True Legend came out and I haven't seen a traditional Kung Fu film made since that was as immensely satisfying or memorable.
The choreography is very weapons heavy for the most part. Which is good as Woo-Ping knows how to put together a good fight involving props. Sunny and Corey gets some really good fights in, even if they're wearing silly wigs on their heads. They have a tremendous fight with another actor called Alan Chui. Their exchanges of technique are flawless and it leaves wanting to see more which we fortunately do. Chui in particular uses some excellent sword styles. Chui is a stuntman/actor/action director and has been responsible for some of the action seen in titles like Rebellious Reign, Chinese Ghost Story and The Killer. The fact we have such people in the film leads me to believe this is why the fights look as good as they do. You essentially have Woo-Ping and his brother Sunny, Corey and also Alan. Four men who know how to put together excellent fighting so it would to be hard to believe that these talented individuals would give the audience anything that would be considered terrible.
You'll notice I haven't commented on Carter Wong yet. That's because I wanted to dedicate this part of the review to him. Carter Wong for lack of a better word is simply brilliant in this. His performance as the evil Tai Chi Master is so good and he delivers some of the best fight scenes in his career. It's easy to see why Body Invincible is regarded as one of his best films. He has a lot of fights in this and each one features some excellent choreography. He has a great fight with Jack Long in the latter part of the film. His movements don't seem to be based on traditional Tai Chi, it seems the style doesn't really work when it comes to film fighting so it looks like Woo-Ping and co had to come up with a style that would work and just call it Tai Chi. He's also quite intimidating.
Carter had a look that suited him more as a bad guy then a good guy. I mean, come on, remember Big Trouble in Little China? Exactly, Carter is straight up gangster in this and he delivers some tremendous action. His final fight against Mark Long is great as well. Mark uses a lot of acrobatic techniques to try and locate Carter's weak point. Meanwhile Carter stands there taking hits and gives that really scary death stare. If you like your fights fast, furious, acrobatic and heavy on punching then you'll love what Born Invincible has to offer.
Born Invincible is a fantastic entry into such a rich and varied genre and if you haven't seen it, you need to.
To finish off what has been an incredibly fun event month for me, I present you the opportunity to win a brand spanking new 36 STYLES shirt inspired by this wonderful film.
All you have to do is send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address and shirt size. The closing date is Saturday August 4th, any entries received after that date will be ineligable. The winner will be selected at random and announced the following day. However if you don't feel so lucky then the shirt can be purchased HERE
So ends 36 STYLES SEASON. For me it's been a wonderful time and has given me an excellent opportunity to talk about movies that really are classics. Thanks for taking the time to read my reviews, I hope you liked them. Keep checking back for more reviews, articles, columns and retrospectives right here on Chopsticks On Fire.