Getting clean and sober Kung Fu style.
What They Say
Film legend Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow, The Legend of Drunken Master) battles the scourge of the orient in this epic final film from director Tang Chia. Schooled in the martial arts by the Peking Opera, Chia's deft touch guides the gut-wrenching tale of a Kung Fu master wrecked by opium. Starring a legitimate champion of the Gibbon Fist style as the film's villain - Chen Kuan Tai (The Flying Guillotine, Big Brother Cheng) - Chia's masterpiece showcases the talents of at least six different martial arts directors. Exploding with action, comedy, drama and more action-this Shaw Brothers classic is the cornerstone of any collection.
The film has two audio tracks-Mandarin Mono and English stereo. For the purpose of this review the Mandarin track was used. As it is mono there is nothing exceptional in it's presentation from a style point of view. While unimpressive in presentation it is a clear audio track the film contains no noticeable dropouts or distortions. Part of the English dub was listened to while writing the review and no distortions or dropouts were detected there either.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen (though the case claims 16:9). The transfer is vibrant in presenting colors though some aliasing does occur in the feature it is thankfully rare and was not noticed during any of the action scenes. Also at a brief point in the film the picture jumps slightly for a few seconds as if someone lined up the negative wrong. One final note is that while the colors are vibrant there is an unevenness to the level of film grain in some part, most notably darker lit scenes the grain is much more prominent than other times almost as if different qualities of film were used at different times. None of this is horrible in its appearance but it may bother those who dislike grain or inconsistency.
The cover is a stylized picture of the main character in a Kung Fu pose with smoke drifting up which is a nice touch given the presence opium plays in the film. There is a reddish background with some kanji as well as a white banner across width just slightly lower than the center of the case with the film's title. The back has another red background with the main villain's profile as well as an action shot from the climax of the film. There is another white banner lined up with the one on the front that gives the copy as well as a shot of (presumably) the original theatrical trailer as well as stats on the year created as well as naming the director and stars of the film. The release also came with a cardboard sleeve which mirrors the DVD's cover.
The menu is a basic affair with the image from the cover presented in 16:9 and some music playing in the background. The menu is fairly quick to respond and there are no long delays in accessing the selections chosen.
This feature contains no extras.
There is a pack in card to keep track of all the Shaw Brothers films FUNimation has currently licensed.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film begins with a couple young men patrolling a village from sometime in the 19th century given the look of the village, the opium dens presence and the lack of guns but it is never specifically stated. The men are serving as a militia warning of robbers and fire. They get a start first when a friend startles them and then when one of the people they just talked to as they were passing suddenly yells about having a robber. The men arrive to find two men stealing money and trying to assault a young women. The three militia menbers try to fight the thieves but the two men are too strong and they make an escape from the room. Out on the street the alarm has been sounded and the two thieves fight off a group of militia members who arrive as well as the first three who have caught up. All seems lost when the most skilled member Gua Si is thrown through the air but then master Tie Qiao San (who trained the militia) arrives. The two thieves recognize him and take to the rooftops to try to escape though Tie catches up and kills one of them. Tie is rewarded and praised for his efforts to keep the city safe and his students carry him off to celebrate with the owner of the rice warehouse and a prominent house (and also Gua Si's father) to relax and smoke opium.
The scene moves and time shifts forward as Gua Si and his friend Da Niu are competing in a lion dance using martial arts against their rivals to get a package suspended above the courtyard. Their win leads to them taunting and insulting their rivals at the restaurant after and a large brawl ensues as the Gua Si's cooler head can't get his fellow students to stop fighting. The scene is both spectacularly choreographed and also exhibits a good deal of humor.
The rival gang (who are also allies of the thief who got away at the beginning) leaves with it's leader Zheng promising to take the matter up with Tei. The rivals then meet with Mo who is another large house owner and owns a rice shop in town at odds with Tei's men and they make plans to open an opium den to make money. Mo's sister Xiao Cui meets Gua Si at the local temple as he and Da Nui are being punished by Tei. Gua tries to make small talk with Xiao though he is inept with her as Tei is being dressed down by the head monk-who is also a martial arts master-because his opium smoking is eroding Tei's skills which Tei tries to play off. As the opium den opens some of Tei's men are also visiting it while Gua encounters Xiao and gets onto friendly terms-which are at odds with Mo's desire for her to avoid all the Rice warehouse men.
Gua goes to confront his men at the den and take one of them back to his wife but gets into a fight with their rivals at the den. He fights them off but confronts his master when he spares with him on the fact that not only has Tei not been training him lately but Tei's skills have suffered as well and Gua blames the opium. Gua comes face to face with the cost of opium on another friend and his family and decides to burn the den down. He tells this to Xiao and she convinces him to talk to Tei first. He agrees but as he enters Tei's living quarters he sees Tei smoking opium and leaves instead to accomplish the task he has set for himself. As Gua is working on setting fire to the den the rival gang finds him there and proceed to beat him mercilessly as the thief from before is leading the assault. Tei arrives and learns that his skills have been diluted because of the opium and his pride is crushed when he is defeated and Gua dies from injuries he receives. Tei is then confronted with the choice of beating his addiction or being beaten by it-and that is a fight even a Kung Fu master can't accomplish without a lot of work and help and any slip up may cost him again.
The film features some spectacular choreography and does a good job of developing its main characters who ally with Tei and their motivations and in Tei's case his demons. Watching Tei confront them later is a fairly strong piece of cinema as watching a man so strong laid so weak is both moving and sad. The only downsides is the film is more than a little heavy handed when demonstrating the cost that opium can play-not necessarily to an extreme case but it may come across as a bit strong and melodramatic. A number of the other characters (such as the rival gang and Mo) are never really developed and the humor from the beginning also stands in contrast to the tragedy and dark nature that the film goes into as the story progresses. There are also a few moments where it is clear that the scene is taking place on a sound stage.
Opium and the Kung Fu Master is a film with some amazing choreography and also a good deal of humor that may appeal to many fans of the genera. It does get darker as the film progresses as a good deal of what happens revolves around opium and the effects that addiction can take on different people and those who rely on them. It has a lot going for it but some may find the drug message a touch heavy handed. The film holds up fairly well even with the melodrama aspects as it tries to aim for making the moments more than just charactures but actual results from decisions in the film.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Cantonese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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