A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Five Superfighters

May 12, 2011

The Five Superfighters

After watching several of the grand epic films of Yimou Zhang it is almost a relief to watch a simple, low budget, brainless kung-fu movie. It would be difficult to make a simpler movie than this one, at least plot-wise. It would also be difficult to fit any more kung-fu into a ninety minute film than is crammed into this one – the movie is seventy to eighty percent fighting scene with a couple seconds of establishing shots and a couple lines of dialog to explain why the next fight is going to happen.

My one complaint would be that I can’t figure out who the five titular super fighters are. Pretty much every single character in this movie is a kung-fu master of some sort, so it’s a lot more than five. I’m guessing the five refers to the three apprentices in the story, their master, and the wandering dickweed who starts the whole movie going by beating the crap out of all four of them.

Things get underway when a man in black drifts into a peaceful town and starts taunting and then beating up kung-fu fighters. He starts out by defeating an entire dojo of students and eventually their master. This is just to establish his M.O. As he leaves the dojo he comes across three young students and their master, and decides to teach them a lesson as well. He beats each of the students individually, then all three together, then their master as well.

That very evening, without rousing their master and his wounded pride from a troubled sleep, the three students decide to go out into the world to find other kung-fu masters so they can develop their skills and return on their master’s birthday in six months to defeat the man in black. (Of course they have one last quick friendly fight between themselves first to decide who gets to go south.)

Each of them finds an unlikely master to train with. One comes across a young widow who makes a living selling home-made bean paste and who he discovers while she is fending off a trio of ruffians. Another meets a drunken cripple who turns out to have uncanny skills. The third enters into servitude with a simple fisherman who has unearthly abilities with a bamboo rod.

They each fight their potential master/mistress to gain the right to learn. Then there’s some more fighting which is part of their training. And more fighting to establish at the end of the six months that they’re learned enough to go back out into the world. In the mean time their old master has a re-match with the man in black and becomes a depressed drunk since he’s humiliated a second time and his young apprentices have all left him. (He demonstrates the depths to which he has sunk by fighting his kindly neighbour who brings him food to eat.)

It’s just a movie packed with fight scenes. Which is actually pretty cool. I didn’t have to use my brain at all tonight. I could just sit back and take in the pretty pictures. The fights are full of cool moves and fun humor. Everything is very much tongue in cheek. At the start of the movie I thought that perhaps I had seen it before, but now I’m less sure. I think it’s more that this movie is so steeped in the tropes and cliches of the genre that were well established before this was made. It has hints of Drunken Master. It has familiar kung-fu settings and stereotypes. It just feels comfortable and familiar.

I also really enjoyed the eclectic soundtrack. It’s a mix of all kinds of different styles and each fight has its own theme. It uses jazzy seventies guitars and electric video-game bleepings such as would have been popular in the eighties when this movie was made. And oh, does the version we watched tonight feel gloriously mired in the eighties. To start with it is your usual cheesy US dub. It’s also clearly encoded from a VHS master (there are VHS artifacts like tracking errors at the top of the frame and occasional lines through the center of the picture.) It’s also pan & scan – mostly. The opening credits bizarrely change aspect ratio – anamorphic for any title that would otherwise have gone off the sides of the TV but cropped for shots that have no titles over them. (The credits are over the initial fight scene of the man in black coming to town and kicking some unworthy asses.) Taken all together I was transported back to my high-school days of renting Jackie Chan movies from Mike’s Video or watching kung-fu films on channel 38. It was a fun and nostalgic feeling.

This isn’t a big movie. It isn’t a great movie. It’s one of hundreds of low budget films ground out by the kung-fu powerhouses of the sixties, seventies and eighties. It doen’t have anything original or new to say. It’s just a bung of fun fights strung together, and that is just fine with me. Not every movie has to be great – some can just be fun.

May 12, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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