Review: Choi Lee Fut Kung Fu (1979)

Starring Cliff Lok, Philip Ko, Lin Chiao, Yang Pan Pan, Chan Siu Pang, Chi Ling Chui

Fight Choreography by Tu Wei Wo and Chu Tak Ke

Directed by Chan Siu Pang

If you read this site enough you know I’m a practitioner of Choy Lat Fut kung-fu, and look for it in film wherever I can. I thought Sammo Hung would provide me the answers with the film Choy Lee Fut, but that is one of the most godawful films I’ve ever seen, and one of Sammo and Yuen Wah’s worst. But lo and behold along comes Cliff Lok and Chan Sui Pang to make a film that properly represents Choy Lay Fut…

The film is set near the end of the Chin Dynasty, and centers around Chang Hung Sing (Lok) a kind and determined young man who yearns to learn Choi Lee Fut kung fu from Master Chan (Chiao), who is a rebel who has gone into hiding from the long haired Chin warlord Southern Head (Ko), who has agents looking for Chan and his compatriot, the Monk Grass.

The problem for Chang is that he wants to learn a style that Master Chan only teaches to those born in that village. Master Chan recognizes that Chang has the gift of kung-fu, and is a natural with the style, and teaches Chang in secret, but soon the others discover Chang’s secret and lean on Master Chan to send Chang away, and Chang does so, but instructs Chang to seek out the other rebel, The Monk Grass (Of course he’s a badass. I’ve never seen a kung-fu film where a monk living in the forest ISN’T a billy badass. Just sayin’.) Chang goes into training, and along with Miss Yang, takes on the Southern Head and his lackeys in a fight to the finish…

Choi Lee Fut is a really fun film that has the checklist of old school kung fu film. Kick ass old Men? Check! Bumbling hero? Check! Kickass girl? Of course! Getting jumped on a dirt road? You bet! Awesome Training sequences? Why not? I say this not in ridicule but with love and fondness. Cliff Lok does a good job here, and it’s no wonder. Cliff is actually one of the Seven Little Fortunes (As it turns out there were several groups of Seven Little Fortunes besides the one that had Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, and Yuen Wah and Yuen Biao. Cliff was in one of the other groups. According to him they all learned from the same teacher.) Cliff has a similar performance style that reminded me of Yuen Biao, but Cliff doesn’t quite have as much screen presence, but he has enough to function the story well. Chan Sui Pang is great as Monk Grass, who has the right amount of playfulness to thwart Chang’s attempts to cut corners in his training. Philip Ko is good but isn’t in the film nearly enough as Southern Head, and one of his lackeys you’ll recognize as Hung Gar Master Chi Ling Chui (Kung-Fu Hustle).

The training sequences are a great amount of fun and shows off Cliff Lok’s acrobatics and stunt work, and Chan Siu Pang knows how to get the right angles for the fights, of which are many for this film, and they save the best for last as Cliff Lok and Phillip Ko get after it, and of course as many kung-fu films do the moves that doom Southern Head are tied to the training sequences Chang goes through midway through the film. They really get the Choy Lay Fut style right all throughout the film, even the yells, and hell they even scroll text for each form/move that Cliff Lok shows off toward the end of the final fight with Southern Head. Yang Pan Pan’s fights with Lok and others is tremendously good as well, but there needed to be more of her.

**The film is available on DVD through Rarescope, and is the best version I’ve seen, but it really isn’t that good as nothing is cleaned up.**

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The fight choreography really shows off Choy Lay Fut in a way no other film has done, and everyone is more than up to the task of delivering one good fight  after another. Classic choreography well done.

STUNTWORK: (7) The stunts are well done, mostly by Cliff Lok in the training sequences, and all of Southern Head’s lackeys do a good job.

STAR POWER: (7) Cliff Lok never attained the stardom of his kung fu brothers but had a good career nevertheless. Chan Siu Pang has starred and directed many kung fu films, and Yang Pan Pan also had a long career, mostly through Hong Kong television series.

FINAL GRADE: (7) Choi Lee Fut is a fun film that showcases the martial art of Choy Lay Fut and gets it right, which seems to be a hard thing to do. Just ask Sammo Hung.

NEXT: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, To Yu-Hang and Terry Fan bring you an origin story in The Legend is Born: Ip Man!

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One comment

  1. I think that in a past life I must have been either Chinese of Japanese. I a studying Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan philosophy and Eastern Philosophy. I think that in some strange and mystical way those of us who think outside the box are connected. Your writing style is so incredible in my humble opinion. I tell everyone about your work. I travel extensively with my work designing (formulating,) executing and implementing feasibility planning studies, marketing analysis and business concept models and meet all kinds of folks. Coming to your site and reading your discussions of the films helps me to deal with my reality. In some strange way, I get “strength” to deal with the low-down dirty, devilishly wicked folks I meet in my travels. I want to learn from you. I am going to order this film and see if my analysis lines up with your evaluation. My martial arts lessons are helping me to become less and less emotional (and angry) and calming me down especially my meditations.


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