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Zan xian sheng yu zhao qian hua (1978)

Warriors Two, Mr. Tsang and Cashier Hua, Zan xian sheng yu zhao qian Hua (Mandarin), Tsan sin sang yue jaau chin Wah (Cantonese)

Directed by:

Sammo Hung Kam-bo

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 92 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: Hong Kong

The seventies were a golden age not just for intelligent and provocative American films, but also for fast-fisted, fleet-footed, dumb-assed Hong Kong kung fu flicks – and ‘Warriors Two’, directed by Sammo ‘Martial Law’ Hung Kam-Bo, is amongst the best of the period. It is also the first film to focus on the Wing Chun style of martial arts – a simple and effective fighting method which, despite being the system in which one Bruce Lee was first schooled, had previously been deemed not spectacular enough to warrant a film of its own. Sammo, however, uses all his choreographic skills and, er, comic sensibilities to ensure that Wing Chun (or an exaggerated version thereof) is seen to its very best advantage against a range of other styles.

Cashier Hua (Casanova Wong) overhears his elderly boss at the bank, Mo (Fung Hak-on), plotting to assassinate the village Head Man, but is then almost killed by Mo’s gang of thugs, and only manages to escape thanks to his friend Fei ‘Fatty’ Chun (Sammo Hung Kam-bo). Fatty takes the wounded Hua to Mr Tsang (Leung Kar-yan), a local doctor and philanthropist who also happens to be a Wing Chun Master. After Mo’s men murder both Hua’s mother and the Head Man, Fatty persuades Tsang to adopt Hua as a fellow-student – leading to a series of lethal confrontations between the two sides.

Although the film’s plot is pure fiction, both Tsang and Hua were in fact real historic figures, respectively the fourth and fifth generation Masters of Wing Chun, which is why the original Chinese title of this film translates literally as ‘Mr Tsang and Cashier Hua’ – but in the West, where these are not household names and unfamiliar bankers are hardly a box-office draw for action fans, the title became ‘Warriors Two’ instead. Despite this title, the film is not a sequel, although Sammo did go on in 1982 to make a prequel about Tsang’s earlier years, ‘Prodigal Son’, which is another classic of the Wing Chun fighting style.

With its fights in tea-houses, its (very) lengthy training sequences, its revenge-driven plot, its sneering villains (who announce their plans straight to camera), and its lists of ever more ridiculous sounding fight postures (“Horse Groin Clamps”, “Fat Bird Pecking”, etc.) ‘Warriors Two’ both adopts, and slyly parodies, just about every martial arts cliché of its time. The comic scenes, especially those involving Fatty and/or Mo’s absurdly myopic and rheumatic sidekick Chiu (Dean Shek Tin), are of a throwaway slapstick nature. Thankfully, though, these are for the most part kept separate from Hua’s more serious scenes, until the very final sequence in which Fatty and Hua combine forces – Fatty acting as preposterous human shield while Hua delivers his deadly attacks – that is about as effective a marriage of knockabout comedy and hard action as has ever been realised by the Hong Kong studios.

Apart, however, from Leung Kar-yan's career-best performance playing a placid man fifty years his senior, it is for its fighting that this film will really be remembered – whether it is Tsang taking on a whole gang with his foot stuck in a bear trap, Mo’s scarily literalised version of the ‘praying mantis’ technique, or Hua’s rope-free, gravity-defying leap and spin over a table to deliver the most powerful-looking superkick that Korean actor Casanova Wong, a Tae Kwon Do champion, could muster.

Most pleasing of all, though, is the realisation that when the revenge business runs dry, Hua can always return to the cut-throat excitement of provincial financing.

It's Got: Astonishing fight scenes interspersed with jokes about buckets of shit and arthritis; a career-topping performance from Leung Kar-yan (in a genre not known for the quality of its acting) - and he throws a mean punch; a relentless final sequence that took two months to shoot; and let’s not forget “Horse Groin Clamps”.

It Needs: A plot that is less makeshift; engaging dialogue and characters (Tsang excepted); and jokes (especially at the beginning) that make you smile (or even laugh) rather than just cringe - but all this is needed by most martial arts films.

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of original Cantonese language/English dub; choice of English/Dutch subtitles or (English) SDH; full audio commentary by Hong Kong expert Bey Logan, who offers detailed biographical info on cast and crew, expresses admiration for the film’s “truthful depiction of the martial art”, and points out that one of the two long-bearded swordsmen who turn up at the end (“the ZZ Top of hitmen”) went out for a while with Cynthia Rothrock; Bey Logan biography; UK promotional and original theatrical trailers; ‘The Way of the Warrior - the Making of Warriors Two’ (47min), featuring new interviews with director/actor Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Wing Chun Master Guy Lai (who trained the cast), and actors Leung Kar-yan, Fung Hak-on and an enthusiastic Casanova Wong (“the movie we made together was the best movie ever”), occasionally interrupted by hilarious sequences of Bey Logan showing off his own moves; trailer reel for other Hong Kong Legends/Premier Asia titles. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

'Prodigal Son', 'Wing Chun'

Summary

This Hong Kong kung fu classic shows how provincial bankers get their kicks.

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