Review: Crippled Avengers (1978)
Starring Philip Ko, Lu Feng, Wang Lung Wei, Dick Wei, , Sun Chien, Chen Kuan Tai, Lo Meng, Chiang Sheng
Fight Choreography by Sheng Chiang, Lu Feng, Robert Tai
Directed by Chang Cheh
The opening of Crippled Avengers is a bit different from the Shaw Brothers norm: We see the son and wife of To Tin Tao (Chen) attacked by an evil group called the Tigers of Tian Nan. The wife has her legs cut off and dies, while the son has his hands cut off but lives as Tao returns and straight up kills the three attackers led by the great Dick Wei. What’s cold about this is he actually tells them he’s got 3 kung fu moves, one for each of them, that will kill them, and does exactly that. Tao then vows to give his son mechanical arms and train him in Kung Fu. What’s different about this opening is that many times this is the start of the hero’s story, but here we see the origins of the villains instead.
Years later we find that To Tin Tao has become a despot, using his son To Cheng to take over the town they reside in, and they cripple anyone who gets in their way. They start with the sons of the very men who killed Tao’s wife and maimed To Cheng by simply crippling rather than killing them.
Soon they run the town like gangsters, and start their terror by putting out the eyes of a hawker Shun Chen (Ko), making the loudmouth blacksmith deaf and dumb (Meng), A poor nobody named Hu (Chien) who got in their way loses his legs, and the warrior Wang Yi, who tries to take vengeance for the three crippled men is made mentally incapacitated in a method that makes no damn sense. All four men go to Yi’s kung fu Master who teaches them the hawk style, giving each man a method to overcome their disability and kick so, so much ass. They train for years, before returning to town to face To Tin Tao, To Cheng, and Mr. Wan (Wang Lung “finger wag” Wei) for a final showdown…
This is a classic Chang Cheh film down to its bones. Each actor brings themselves to the parts, and it’s fantastic. The story itself is quite good, and while I was sympathetic toward To Tin Tao and To Cheng, it quickly passed as their acts of evil became more and more cruel. Audiences are then given a group of heroes we really want to see win. Philip Ko leads the group and does so well despite the fact he has to act blind, which he does a good job of. But it’s Chiang Sheng who is the standout here, as once he’s injured, he has the mind of a child and fights in a way not unlike Jackie Chan did in films like Young Master and Drunken Master. His acrobatic work is astounding, and he brings a lot of energy into the fight scenes that really didn’t need more! I wasn’t impressed with Chen Kuan Tai or Lu Feng. They are both good villains, but just that. I had hoped after the beginning of the film they would be more complex characters, but they aren’t, and the acting here is pretty one note.
The training sequences of this film are great, and a real standout, as are the various fights were Mr. Wan tries to trap the Avengers only to have them outsmart him at every turn, whittling down his dozens of men until they finally face To Tin Tao. Each fight has a suspense-building mechanism that is appreciated and kept me invested in the fights, and the fights have the trademark Chang Cheh fast paced cadence, so there is no fight that is ever one note or boring.
Yes, The Man With The Iron Fists was influenced greatly by this film. Wish they had paid better attention to the far, far better fights. ( I didn’t have to go there, but I yes did.)
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9
Another piece of greatness from the Shaw Brothers and Chang Cheh. Philip Ko and company deliver an exciting kung fu film! One of the classics!