The Thunderbolt Fist (1972) Movie Review

“The Thunderbolt Fist” is a re-release of the 1972 Shaw Brothers film, directed by Cheung Yat Woo, who also made “The Fists of Vengeance” for the famous studio in the same year. The film is another focusing on the Chinese struggle against the Japanese, though essentially it follows the usual formula of the protagonist learning a powerful martial arts style in order to defeat his enemy and avenge the deaths of his loved ones.

The film begins with the cruel Japanese occupying a town in North-eastern China , where a vicious gang of thugs abuse and rob the people, until a brave man stands up and defeats their leader in a duel and killing him. Unsurprisingly, the Japanese immediately have the Chinese man murdered, and his young son Tie Wa flees to join a group of resistance fighters hiding in the nearby mountains, leaving his family’s secret martial arts manual in the hands of his childhood sweetheart Feng Niou. As the years pass, Tie Wa becomes a skilled fighter (now played by Chuen Yuen, also in “The Lady Hermit”, and who looks a little old for the role), and longs to avenge his father’s death by taking on Gu Gang, the even less pleasant son of the old Japanese chief who now rules the town with an iron fist.

Although the plot as listed on the back of the DVD may sound somewhat similar to that of Jet Li’s recent wuxia swansong “Fearless”, referencing the hero having to disprove the insulting tag of the Chinese as being ‘the sick people of Asia’, “The Thunderbolt Fist” is far less concerned with formal martial arts battles, and more with melodrama, treachery and revenge. It is a fairly tragic affair, filled with doomed romance and brotherhood, and with many of the cast meeting bloody fates. As such, despite being short and fast moving, it does at times have the feel of a cut-price patriotic epic.

Although it is wholly predictable throughout, the characters are interesting enough, and the film works well as both a tale of revenge, and of oppressed people fighting back against their tormentors. It is certainly a good deal grittier than other similar efforts from the studio, with little in the way of humour, focusing instead on the wickedness of the Japanese, who never miss a chance to backstab or cheat. Tie Wa actually spends a fair amount of the film being either beaten to a bloody pulp or being tortured, which serves quite well to generate further viewer sympathy. This having been said, there are a couple of amusing scenes, including one where Tie Wa finally masters the titular move by imagining the laughing face of his foe on a tree trunk, which he promptly kicks in half.

There is a good amount of action throughout “The Thunderbolt Fist”, most of it fairly gruesome, with plenty of flying limbs and arterial sprays, especially during the final scenes. Interestingly, although Tie Wa is the nominal protagonist, a higher proportion of the fights involve another of the rebels, played by actress Shih Szu (also credited sometimes as Si Si and who starred in many Shaw Brothers’ films including “The Young Avenger”). Shih Szu’s fights are actually more exciting, mainly since they feature her taking on multiple sword-wielding opponents at once.

The action direction by Leung Siu Chung (who also worked on “The 14 Amazons” amongst others) is solid, if unspectacular, with no real outstanding scenes. In fact, the same can be said of “The Thunderbolt Fist” as a whole, as while entertaining enough for fans of the studio and genre, it is quite blatantly one of their lesser outings. Although by no means a bad film, there is little in the way of invention, and whilst originality is by no means expected or required for the genre, there is a definite lack of ambition or real thrills, which prevents “The Thunderbolt Fist” from being anything other than merely above average.

Cheung Yat Woo (director)
CAST: James Nam …. Gu Gang
Szu Shih …. Tai’s daughter
Chuan Yuan ….

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