August 13, 2013

Movie Review: Invincible Armor (1977)

If I only had four words to sum up this film, they'd be "Invincible Armor kicks ass." Since it's my site, I can use as many as I want.

So a while back I picked up The Martial Arts Essentials: The Films of Yuen Wo Ping...and then somehow forgot about it. Recently I noticed it and decided to pop a film in. The first film I watched was Invincible Armor. I can only hope the rest are as good as this one.

The plot is remarkably solid and complex for a kung-fu flick. General Chow Lu Fung (John Li) is framed for the murder of the Ming Minister of Security by an assassin who was sent by the Minister of State, Cheng (Jang Lee Hwang). Cheng wants to kill the Emperor and take over, and the Minister of Security was in the way. Chow evades arrest to try and find the assassin. Cheng sends another lawman after Chow to have him arrested and/or executed so the truth isn't revealed. Along the way we find out that Cheng is a master of the Eagle Claw and Invincible Armor technique, Chow takes refuge with a family that knows how to defeat the Invincible Armor, and there's a whole lot of great fighting in between. The plot points slowly unfold (not that it's hard to guess where it is going) so it doesn't feel like the fighting is simply tacked on.

Here's a couple of other ways you know this film kicks ass. There are plenty of weapons; batons with blades that shoot out, spears with ejectable heads, the ever-present staff and those cool hook blades. There's also a high ratio of white-haired guys.

That's always been a way to know that a kung-fu film will rock. White-haired masters=great kung-fu. Just look at films like Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (also played by Hwang), Executioners from Shaolin or Clan of the White Lotus. White-haired guys kicking ass. And Invincible Armor has two of them. Actually, it has three. But the Minister of Security gets killed off so fast he can't really count.

I can't say enough about how awesome Jang Lee Hwang is in this film. Imagine if Samuel L. Jackson was a white-haired Chinese minister (Hwang is actually Korean, but that's beside the point here) who could kill you with one strike to the forehead. That's Hwang's Minister Cheng; a bad-ass motherfucker who isn't scared of anything. Hell, when General Chow finally confronts him in the final battle, Cheng admits everything and doesn't sweat it. (Note: I should add that I reference Jackson here specifically because Hwang kind of looks like Jackson...if Jackson were Chinese. I shit you not.)

John Li is top-notch as General Chow, who is a bad-ass in his own way. There's a fight-scene in a tea-house that starts as he willingly turns his back to an acupuncturist who is about to slam three massive needles into his back. Chow throws his hand back, grabs the needles, stands up and says "I was hoping I wouldn't have to kill anyone." At which point he throws the needles across the room into a guy's forehead. Great stuff.

The fight choreography is awesome. Lots of good legwork (both Hwang and Liu are known for their excellent kicking skills), the weaponry is varied and everyone knows their stuff. And for Yuen Wo Ping being known for "wire-fu" these days, there is very little of that in Invincible Armor. Just a couple of jumps up walls.

Are there a couple of problems? Yes. The transfer to DVD has major audio problems. My thumb got a major workout on the volume button trying to keep the sound at one level. And I find it hard to believe that a master like Minister Cheng would make his weak point his balls. Granted, it's a two-part step to make them vulnerable. But wouldn't some random point on your back more sense? But stuff like this is a minor quibble at best and doesn't detract from the overall film.

All in all, Invincible Armor takes me back to the days of the "Drive-In Movie" that used to run on Channel 5 (WNEW) out of New York City every Saturday. Is it the equal of a lush production like Crouching Tiger or Hero? Of course not. But it is great for what is; a kung-fu action fest. If you like these kind of movies, you could do a lot worse for yourself than throwing Invincible Armor into your DVD player.


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