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Issue #158 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES May 5th, 2003

The Kung Fu Master
(1994; ATV Network)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Hung Hei-kwun kuet jin tong long kuen
Mandarin: Hong Xiguan jue zhan tang lang quan
English: Hung Hei-kwun: Duel With Praying Mantis Fists

This release condenses the opening third of THE KUNG FU MASTER, a 30 hour period miniseries produced by HK's ATV Network. Thankfully, it offers a far more successful abbreviation of that program than the brutally edited version of FIST OF FURY (issue #151). Reckless young kung fu expert Hung Hei-kwun (Donnie Yen Chi-tan) returns home after an eight year absence but receives the cold shoulder from his old compatriots. He is looked down upon because his father, Hung Ting-nam (Poon Chi-man) works for the brutal, repressive Manchurian government which rules China despite being greatly outnumbered by the Hans. Ting-nam is on good terms with the local Ching official, General Ha (Lo Lieh) but the malevolent Prince Sek Tot (BIG BULLET's Berg Ng Ting-yip) repeatedly causes trouble in the region and threatens to deepen the conflict between the two races. When Sek hires Tung Chin-gun, a fighter with the strength of an ox, to humiliate one of Hei-kwun's old friends, the youth involves himself in a public duel with Tung. Hei-kwun uses his newfound respect with the locals to open a martial arts school, much to the displeasure of Ting-nam, who sacrificed his honor to save Hei-kwun from execution. Members of the rebellious Sun Moon Sect, Yim Wing-chun (Erica Choi Hiu-yi) and her father, Yim Cham (Leung Kam-wing), journey to the area and meet with masked Han avenger Red Dragon (who, unbeknownst to Hei-kwun, is actually his father). The Chings enlist the head of Wu Tang to impersonate Red Dragon and commit acts that will sour the hero's reputation with the people. Hei-kwun helps to expose this deception but cannot understand why Red Dragon refuses to accept him as a member of Sun Moon. The arrival of the Manchu emperor in the region gives Sun Moon the opportunity they have long been waiting for and the group make plans to assassinate him. However, things go awry and General Ha finds himself in a difficult position when he is unfairly accused of aiding the Ming rebels. Spared his life only on the proviso that he capture Ting-nam, Ha reluctantly leads troops to track down his old friend.

The programs were shot on video and do not always have production values comparable to feature films of this time. That said, director Benny Chan Mok-sing (BIG BULLET, THE MAGIC CRANE) and his cameramen have made a concerted effort to make the proceedings as cinematic as possible. The lighting and other atmospheric touches are generally well-handled, particularly given the short shooting schedule and modest budget, and the location work in Mainland China provides a number of picturesque backgrounds. The fights are somewhat accelerated but executed with far greater success than in FIST OF FURY (which, ironically, was produced after this serial) and the story flows smoothly. The final quarter is somewhat weak, relying on the introduction of one of the genre's oldest cliches (a slovenly monk/martial arts master who figures more prominently in the later portions of the series), and the climactic duel is so disappointingly short, as to almost be perfunctory. Fortunately, the program is largely satisfying and the performances are solid across the board, with Yen surprisingly effective during his dramatic moments, and Lo giving another of his wonderfully dignified turns. Much of the music is recycled from THE ASSASSIN (issue #139), Zhang Yimou's TO LIVE, and even CONAN THE BARBARIAN, while a few classic themes have been lifted off of a scratchy old LP.

Cover art courtesy Tai Seng.

Donnie Yen Chi-tan. Image courtesy Tai Seng.

Lo Lieh. Image courtesy Tai Seng.
Tai Seng #15954 (U.S. Label)

Sync Sound Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS), dubbed Mandarin (Dolby Digital 2.0), and dubbed English (Dolby Digital 5.1)

Optional English Subtitles

27 Chapters (in Total) listed in the Menus


Coded for Region 1 Only

Macrovision Encoded

NTSC Format

201 Minutes

Contains moderate violence

DVD menus courtesy Tai Seng.

Not Available

This condensation was previously released on a double laserdisc set by the Intelligent Video and Film label of Singapore. Tai Seng's version looks a bit sharper and sounds much better, thanks to a stereo re-mix that adds considerably to the action and general atmosphere of the piece. The new subtitle translation is also a marked improvement. Dropouts occasionally pop up in the master tape but are rarely a distraction. Two commentaries are included. On the first, Donnie Yen and Bey Logan cover all aspects of the production, from its inception to how it differs from other Hung Hei-kwun pictures. Yen also talks extensively about his background and personal philosophies, while Logan provides excellent historical background. It is an engrossing and extremely fast-paced talk (almost too much so, at times) and Logan maintains a high energy level throughout the 3+ hour running time. Ric Meyers, Bobby Samuels, and Frank Djeng can be heard on the second track. The former reads an unpublished interview he conducted with Yen, and the history of the hung gar martial arts style and Hung Hei-kwun (a real figure featured in a number of movies and TV programs over the years) are recounted. The track is rather sloppy (the trio are eating lunch during the first quarter) and Meyers' sense of humor is definitely an acquired taste, but aficionados should find it worthwhile. The discs also offer a standard "Making Of" documentary (12 minutes) that provides a look at the rest of the series (which Tai Seng will be issuing later this year in two parts), a Donnie Yen bio/filmography, and promo trailers for various Tai Seng DVDs.

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