The 1970s was filled with martial arts actioners from Hong Kong and Thailand, many of which played to 42nd-street dwellers with cheap production value and high-flying action. American Genre Film Archive presents two underseen Taiwanese action flicks on Blu-ray with Shaolin Invincibles (1977) and Seven to One (1973). These films are designed for the grindhouse circuit, with their harebrained stories and slack martial arts action sure to elicit guffaws and shock. Both films look very rough due to a lack of usable film elements, but this release handles those limitations well for a pleasing viewing experience. This release is Worth A Look!
In '70s-era New York City, you could expect the finest imported genre films to be playing every weekend, although you had to traverse 42nd street to get to that kind of insipid yet inspired trash that’ll jolt you awake. Both Shaolin Invincibles and Seven to One belong to this era of genre imports from Asia, with their terrible dubbing, very cheap effects, bootleg music cues and genuine gonzo storylines. They don’t add up to what one would consider good filmmaking, though there’s a free-wheeling and dangerous spirit to both. Not only because of the performers who very clearly are destroying their bodies for our entertainment but also the danger that’s happening behind the camera to capture such bodily destruction. Plus, you know, there’s a certain degree of fun to be had from Kung fu-fighting gorillas and wizards with very long tongues.
In Shaolin Invincibles, martial arts stars Judy Lee stars as a woman out for revenge against tyrannical Ching Dynasty Emperor Yong Zheng (Chan Hung-lit). Judy is aided by another woman named Yu Liang (Doris Lung Chun-her), both of whom have been training for 12 years to exact their revenge through high-flying martial arts and swordplay. For when the two women combine their powers, they have the strength and will to defeat evil. But wait, there are gorillas that know Kung Fu and wizards experienced in black magic!
Shaolin Invincibles is definitely the more egregious effort of the duo in this double feature. From the opening, the film makes no claim to offering anything different than other cheap martial arts productions of that era, yet this one has such bad execution of its absurd ideas. The Kung fu gorillas are in the cheapest suits ever made, and the makeup of a distended eyeball on a villain is played directly for laughs. Where this effort differs from the crop is in the final thirty minutes, with multiple competently-staged sequences of Judy Lee dodging traps set by the villains. The sequences are so competent that they feel out of place with the rest of the film, though sometimes it takes an audience to acclimate to a certain style before it all clicks into place. What starts out as dull and tiresome takes off into immense fun.
As for Seven to One, the second film by filmmaker Cheng Hou included in this set, traditional martial arts get mashed with modern gun-toting action in another revenge plot. The set-up is similar to Shaolin Invincibles in that the film takes a long time to deliver on the promise of wild and dangerous action. As a matter of fact, Seven to One serves as a showcase for Polly Shang Kwan’s terrific martial arts skills that rival other contemporaries of that era, like Sammo Hung, Jimmy Wang Yu, and others. The plot is little else than a cheap set-up for Kwan’s ass-kicking abilities, and much of the fight scenes deliver on the promise of the title, so Kwan has many fights that involve her dispatching a circle of dudes in quick fashion.
Where Seven to One differs, though, is its modern setting and bootleg music cues. When Kwan is seen running across town to find other people to beat up, it’s usually scored to a real roughed-up version of Focus’ “Hocus Pocus.” And then later in the film, we’re treated to sections from Pink Floyd’s “Time” and “On the Run” when the main star is, yes, on the run and out of time. It’s all very silly and doesn’t add up to much, and the final sequence of motorcycles driving under the speed limit isn’t quite exciting either. Such nonsense has a particular texture, though, and you get all of that here.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Watch out for black magic wizards and suave rock singers in Shaolin Invincibles and Seven to One, presented on Blu-ray here with a single BD50 disc inside a clear Elite case. The case is housed in a limited edition slipcover (only available at VinegarSyndrome.com), and the Blu-ray boots up to a standard menu screen with options to play either film or the trailer reel included as the lone supplement.
American Genre Film Archives presents Shaolin Invincibles and Seven to One in 1080p, both sourced from scans of the only known 35mm prints in existence. That should set your expectations correctly about the source quality of both films. Shaolin Invincibles has a ton of nicks, bumps and scratches that haven’t been cleaned up, although I believe trying to soften this deep source damage would just reduce overall fidelity. The color fluctuations and splice jumps are handled well by the encode, and it doesn’t look as though AGFA has applied any color correction. This is truly a scan of a beat-up print, though grain is resolved well and no compression artifacts are found.
Seven to One, on the other hand, is in even worse shape than Shaolin Invincibles. The MPEG-4 AVC-encoded picture handles the overwhelming damage to the source remarkably well, and I commend AGFA for whatever stabilization was needed to make this film look good enough to present. Missing frames are abound, as is the usual collection of scratches, nicks and bumps. This is a very pleasing presentation of a very limited source.
Shaolin Invincibles is presented in Mandarin with burned-in English subtitles, and the audio is encoded as a DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track that offers the cleanest presentation of the limited source. Dialogue is already very thin and the music washed out, though it’s handled well despite all the damage. Seven to One is, unsurprisingly, a bit worse for wear, as the English dub is presented as a DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track that’s already marred by cheap bootleg music cues and very unnatural dubbing. While you should approach this track with some low expectations, it’s handled well sonically without any harsh popping.
The lone special feature on this Blu-ray is a 33-minute trailer reel from the AGFA vaults. Similar to the main films, the trailer reel is comprised of very beat-up prints of trailers, but it’s no less a fun feature for martial arts fans. Films in the trailer reel include The Dynamite Trio, The Eagle’s Killer, The Queen Boxer (complete with Young MC’s “Know How” as a music cue), The Man from Hong Kong and others.
American Genre Film Archive unearths a couple of ridiculous martial arts actioners on Blu-ray with Shaolin Invincibles and Seven to One. While both films are sourced from their only known film elements in existence, resulting in very tough presentations, this double feature is no less a fun exploration of the very cheap side of 70s-era Taiwanese martial arts cinema. This release is Worth A Look.