Martial Club – The Spirit Of Martial Arts

Country: Hong Kong
Genre: Martial Arts/ Action
Director: Liu Chia-Liang
Year: 1981

Rating: ★★★★½


Here we have yet another delightful film from Liu Chia-Liang, with some of his usual concerns: respect for martial arts traditions, good sportsmanship, the virtue of diplomacy, and all around fair play.

The kung fu school of Master Wong Qiying (Ku Feng) is the acknowledged Cantonese leader in martial arts. He is also, not coincidentally, the trainer of the Canton military. Master Lu Zhengfu (Jue Tit-Woh) would like to undermine Qiying’s martial arts supremacy, so he invites a martial arts master from the north, Shan Xiong (Johnny Wang), supposedly for cultural exchange purposes, but really to fuse the North and South styles so he can best Qiying’s school. This isn’t mentioned in the movie, but the underlying reason undoubtedly has to do with taking over the army’s training and gaining political and economic power.

Master Lu Zhengfu attempts to destabilize the other schools in Canton by attacking the children of the other masters: Wang Yinlin (Robert Mak), Wong Fei Hung (Gordon Liu), and Wang Juying (Kara Hui).

Zhengfu’s first attempt at this is to provoke a fight at a dragon dance. Now, we’ve seen this sort of thing before in Jet Li’s Once Upon A Time In China movies, but it’s done better here. Unlike those movies, every piece of strategy is intelligible and believable. Screenwriter Ni Kuang and director Liu Chia-Liang thoughtfully lay down some of the rules of lion dancing etiquette: sniffing the butt of another lion is to treat them like a female lion; batting your eyes at a lion is to look down on them, and so on.

Another attempt at destabilization involves inviting the students to a Chinese opera and then claiming they snuck in without tickets.

But the movie is far from all being political intrigue. There is a lengthy section in which best friends Wang Yinlin and Wong Fei Hung try to figure out how to test one another’s martial arts skills without injuring each other.

All of the situations are fun and interesting in and of themselves, and invariably lead to intricate, varied, and beautiful displays of martial arts, choreographed by Liu Chia-Liang, King Lee King-Chue, and Hsiao Ho.

The acting is in the usual style for one of Liu Chia-Liang’s movies; broad, cheerful and effective.

If I have any complaint, it’s that the ending seems a little abrupt, although logical enough. I’m probably being overly stingy taking off half a star. I had a smile on my face pretty much all the way through. How many movies can you say that about?

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