Review: Dreadnaught (1981)

starring Yuen Biao, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Kwan Tak-Hing, Yuen Shun-Lee, Fung Hark On

Fight Choreography by Yuen Woo Ping

Directed by Yuen Woo Ping

**Special thanks to Lars Nilsen, Chase Whale, and the entire Fantastic Fest crew for presenting this film in glorious 35mm!**

It’s becoming quite apparent that during the early eighties Yuen Biao was rocking along in period films quite nicely whether it was Sammo Hung or Yuen Woo Ping behind the camera. I would go so far as to say that this was arguably the finest period of Yuen Biao’s career, and these films also teamed him up with some really interesting performers, and for Dreadnaught Woo Ping also decided to let his freak flag fly high in the sky (aren’t those song lyrics?)

Dreadnaught starts as we meet criminal and possible Batman villain White Tiger (Shun-Lee) who is fleeing with his pregnant wife who also happens, pregnant or not, to be just as big a douche bag as her husband. While stopping at an outdoor rest stop, one that has been used for kung-fu confrontations on film for years, thus they should’ve known better, they are ambushed by a group of bounty hunters, whom both White Tiger and his wife kill, but in the battle Tiger’s wife and unborn child are killed, which drives White Tiger crazy.

We then meet Mousy (Biao) a nice guy but without a doubt the biggest chickenshit in town. He runs a laundromat with his harpy of an older sister, and he is currently having problems collecting payment on the work they do. Mousy yearns to join his friend Ah Foon (Beardy, without the beard) and become a kung fu student under the great Wong Fei-Hung (again, as always, played by the legendary Kwan Tak-Hing). Wong has other problems to deal with, such as Master Tam, who has a crazy hard on to beat Wong Fei-Hung at, well, anything and kill him at any cost. After interrupting lion dance that turns into one of Woo Ping’s best choreographed fights ever, he tries to have the Demon Tailor (played by Hark-on) kill Fei-Hung, and of course fails miserably.

White Tiger shows up, and being an old friend of Master Tam, decides to hide out nearby with a traveling performance troupe. Things turn nasty when White Tiger meets Mousy, and because of Mousy’s charm, which reminds Tiger of his dead wife’s, drives Tiger mad with rage as he tries to kill Mousy again and again, and before long Mousy must stand his ground, and finds that he may already know more kung fu than he ever thought possible…

Dreadnaught has to be one of Woo Ping’s funniest and entertaining films. Amidst the danger there is always humor throughout, and all of the actors play themselves to their iconic best. Yuen Biao plays the clueless Mousy as he does will many of his characters during this time frame: fun, immature, crazy, and not exactly…smart. Beardy is his charming best and once again plays very well as the macho counterpoint to Biao’s man-child. Kwan Tak-Hing has played Fei-Hung about a billion times, and plays him so well that you always want to see him win. Yuen Shun-Lee plays White Tiger as a complete nut job who is terrifying because his kung fu is so good, and he is a relentless killer. No chicken or frog is safe from this dude. PETA will not like this film.

The fight scenes have to be some of Woo Ping’s best work. I swear it seems as if he decided to just cut loose and shoot all the stuff he’s never been able to put in any other film. The Lion dance fight that really kicks it off is fantastic, especially when Fei-Hung jumps in. The scene is exciting, especially how the fight progresses while in the lion costumes. The drums bring out the already dance-like qualities of Woo Ping’s choreography. Another great fight is the one between Fei-Hung and the Demon Tailor, played by the always good Fung Hark-On (Police Story and dozens of other Shaw Brothers films). The fight is both hilarious and fast as the tailor uses kung fu to get Fei-Hung’s measurements, and then to kill him. Yuen Biao also has what has become the iconic kung fu clothes hanging scene, and f**k Joel Schumacher and the dude who played Robin for ripping the scene off wholesale in Batman Forever.

Beardy also gets a good fight with White Tiger, who uses a great costume to try to confuse Ah Foon, and the final fight between Mousy and White Tiger is one of the most imaginative fight scenes ever committed to film. It’s always been known how great Woo Ping’s fight choreography has been (The Matrix films notwithstanding) but here he’s fearless, and just empties that huge imagination on the big screen, and every actor and stuntman benefits from it. The audience benefits from one of the best kung fu films ever.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Every fight in this film is gold. The final fight turns the normal “final fight” into something unexpected as Mousy fights using his skills that at first glance isn’t kung fu, and Yuen Biao pulls it off beautifully.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stunts are not over the top, but are really well done. There is a lot of jumping and flipping around in this one.

STAR POWER: (9) Yuen Biao was in top form, as was Beardy, and it was great to see Kwan Tak-Hing as Wong Fei Hung.

FINAL GRADE: (10) Woo Ping went for broke with this one, and succeeded wildly. One of his best movies, so of course that makes it a classic kung fu film.