The Hand of Death
Starring: Tan Tao Liang, James Tien, Sammo Hung, Wei Yang, John Woo, Yang Wei, Wilson Tong, Gam Kei Chu
Director: John Woo
Shaolin Traitor Shih Shao Fung (James Tien) has made life miserable for his former brotherhood The Shaolin Temple. Not only has he conspired with the notorious anti-Han Chinese Manchurian government, he has killed many revolutionaries and even the Abbot of Shaolin! Even though Shih is skilled in White Crane Boxing, he is paranoid and scared of assassination so Shih Shao Fung trains his eight bodyguards to be ruthless and deadly when they protect him. Additionally, he has his Lieutenants “Smiling Fox” Ma Lieh (Gam Kei Chu) and Du Ching (Sammo Hung) both masters of North Shaolin martial arts and the Northern Hawk Fist, respectively.
Reverend Ta, one of Shih’s Shaolin classmates trains a new generation of Shaolin disciples to take revenge for the Han Chinese and the Temple itself. Out of his pupils only one is ready to take on this assignment: Yunfei (Tan Tao Liang). Yunfei proves his skill in the Shaolin examinations: Southern Five Styles Fist, 18 Northern Legs, Tiger and Dragon Staff, and broadsword. Fei is righteous, loyal, intelligent, and skilled in both the Northern Kicks and Southern fists of the Shaolin Martial Arts. Yunfei is given the mission to kill Shih Shao Fung; help Chang Yi (John Woo) deliver a very important map of the Ching (Manchu) military bases to a group of revolutionaries, and get revenge for the Shaolin Temple.
After attempting to infiltrate Shih’s citadel Yunfei challenges Shih Shao Fung and is decisively beaten by Shih and his bodyguards. Yunfei is captured, but is rescued by Brother Tan (Jackie Chan) whom he met earlier on his journey. Yunfei learns that Tan’s brother was killed by Shih Shao Fung and Tan yearns for revenge. Yunfei also encounters Zorro (Yang Wei) a skilled swordsman who also has his reasons that he wants Shih dead. The three heroes and Yunfei’s two newly arrived junior Shaolin classmates devise a plan to escort Chang Yi across the river, kill Shih’s eight bodyguards, his Lieutenants, and Shih himself.
Hand of Death is one of those rare gems in the kung fu movie world. This is one of my favorite movies of all time! The breadth of the kung fu styles in this movie is outstanding and varied. Sammo Hung, the action director, gives the viewer a multitude of styles and elicits outstanding performances from all involved. Tan Tao Liang’s (Yunfei) kicks look crisp and sharp, James Tien’s (Shih Shao Fung) White Crane Boxing is unpredictable and deadly, Jackie’s spear work is fantastic, and Sammo’s (Du Ching) Hawk Fist is amazing! Even the Eight Bodyguards (who work in pairs) have distinct styles: Chinese Wresting (Shuai Jiao), Double Spearmen, Broadsword and Bamboo Shield, and 2 broadswordsmen. The fights are well designed, plentiful, and varied.
With the combination of John Woo directing, Sammo Hung choreographing, Jackie Chan performing, and the regular late 70’s Golden Harvest players ( Yang Wei, Gam Kei Chu, etc) Hand of Death is a must see movie! Hint: See if you can spot two of the five venoms (Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng) in the opening scene and the scenes Yuen Biao is doing stunt work!