Eureka Entertainment have certainly got a treat for all chop-socky fans: martial arts legend Sammo Hung in three films from his extensive filmography – The Iron Fisted Monk, The Magnificent Butcher and Eastern Condors, released in a set imaginatively titled Three Films With Sammo Hung.
Each film is a new and uncut 2K restoration and they all look amazing, cleaned up to the point that a single tiny pimple can be seen on Sammo Hung’s nose during The Magnificent Butcher. Each also features multiple audio options including the classic English dubs from their original releases, or a more up to date version. There are also commentary tracks and interviews on each disc, though Eastern Condors seems to have the most in the way of extra features.
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Kicking things off is Iron-Fisted Monk, Sammo’s first directorial effort, and it’s a bit of an odd duck. It’s surprisingly violent and dark in places, slapstick humour suddenly and jarringly replaced by rape and suicide for a scene or two, then it’s straight back to the slapstick. The story is fairly classic revenge-driven kung-fu fare, touching on the politics of the time with the bannermen of the Manchus seeming untouchable and free to do whatever they want, including rape and murder. While somewhat uneven in terms of story, the fight scenes in this are beautifully shot and choreographed, showcasing the talents that would eventually make Sammo Hung one of the best known martial-arts actors in the world.
Second in the set (and my personal favourite of the three) is The Magnificent Butcher where Sammo Hung’s character, Butcher Wing, is wrongly accused of murder by a rival kung-fu school. To clear his name and defend his school’s honour he ends up training under the Drunken Master himself, Beggar So. Tonally, again, this movie has moments that are near polar opposites. There’s slapstick and action aplenty, occasionally cutting away to scenes of rape and murder played entirely straight and then we’re back to the silliness again. This film, coming two years after Iron-Fisted Monk, shows the evolution of Sammo’s talents. The fighting is more audacious, letting Sammo show off his skills. For such a big man he can move as quickly as folks half his size! There’s more laugh out loud comedy on show here, especially in the relationship between Sammo, his teacher and the Drunken Master. There’s less out and out gore, but the story is more satisfying (also, the rapist in this film is played by the same actor as the Manchu official in the first).
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The final film in the set, Eastern Condors, came out eight years after Magnificent Butcher and could be politely called a homage to The Dirty Dozen. Or maybe Rambo. Sammo’s character is sporting a red bandana and can kill you with a leaf. Eat your heart out, Schwarzenegger. In this film ten convicts are sent into Vietnam to destroy a US ammo dump that contains many things that can go boom, and of course everything goes wrong and it falls to Sammo and his buddies to save the day. This is one of the most 80s movies you will ever see, everything about it perfectly capturing the excesses of the Hollywood movies of the time. The stunt work is over the top, the action scenes are over the top, people have guns that never seen to run out of ammo and everything explodes if you so much as sneeze at it. Also, this film has the greatest ending shot of any movie ever made. Ever. It must be seen to be believed.
For those looking for an introduction to Sammo Hung’s massive body of work, this is a great place to start. Three down, only 187 more IMDB entries to go if you wanted to see every film and TV show that he’s acted in. There are worse ways to spend a few months.
Three Films With Sammo Hung is available now on Blu-ray, from Eureka Classics.