The Northern Leg and the Southern Fist unite to take on a common foe in one of the best well-known kung fu flicks that does not star Bruce Lee. The literal “kicker” or should we say “kickers” come in the forms of Taiwanese bootmaster John Liu and the King of Leg Fighters himself, Hwang Jung-Lee.
Three years ago, a fortune in gold has been stolen and brought from China to a small town in Korea. The prince was one of the robbers of the gold and is awaiting the gang boss known as the Silver Fox. He hears news that government official Sheng Yi-Wei will be arriving shortly. Disguised as a fighter in the prince’s upcoming tournament for the head bodyguard position, Sheng is an expert in the Southern Fist style.
Sheng also finds an admirer in local girl Miss Chen. However, Sheng also finds a mysterious wanderer following him. When Sheng wins the tournament and becomes the head bodyguard, he soon learns the identity of his mysterious stalker. He is Shao Yi-Fei, the master of the Northern Kick style. Shao is also seeking out the Silver Fox to avenge the brutal death of his parents. Individually, Sheng and Shao have tried to take on Silver Fox but to no avail. Now, these “secret rivals” must unite to take down Silver Fox once and for all.
After Bruce Lee’s untimely death in 1973, loads of martial arts films were the usual kung fu fare. In 1976, filmmaker Ng See-Yuen delivered this instant classic, which combines the agile kicking skills of John Liu and the fast frenetic handwork and kicks of Don Wong. Wong, who got his chops taking on Chuck Norris in Yellow Faced Tiger (1974), Wong truly breaks out here with his impressive work with his hands, jumping hook kicks, and even the nunchakus. As for the young John Liu, he has the impressive flexibility and kicking that would make fans of leg work proud.
The Silver Fox, the lead villain of the piece, is well played by Korean taekwondo master and film star Hwang Jung-Lee. While Hwang began his film career in his native Korea, he shines here in his Hong Kong film debut. He uses some nice crisp handwork and his lethal kicking agility. While Liu may be more of a flashy kicker, Hwang is a more powerful kicker here and when he’s not some fast handwork, he lets his legs do the talking for him.
Under the supervision of fight choreographers Richard Cheung and Tommy Lee (who later played the villain in another North/South vs. foe flick, The Hot, The Cool, and the Vicious (1976)), the fights look very nice here, highlighting the talents of the three lead actors. However, the creme de la creme comes in the finale, which is split into three acts. The first act involves Wong vs. Liu. The second act involves Hwang vs. Liu. Finally, the final act involves Wong and Liu joining forces against Hwang. The finale involves lots of kicking and nicely done acrobatics.
The film proved to be a big hit that a sequel was unleashed the following year, reuniting Liu and Hwang with another Wong, Tino Wong (no relation) replacing Don Wong as the Southern Fist expert.
A true classic, any kung fu film fan has to put The Secret Rivals in their must-see list!!!
WFG RATING: A
A Seasonal Film Corporation film. Director: Ng See-Yuen. Producer: Ng See-Yuen. Writers: Ng See-Yuen and Tung Lo. Cinematography: Chang Chi. Editing: Sung Ming and Poon Hung.
Cast: Don Wong, John Liu, Hwang Jung-Lee, Yeo Su-Jin, James Nam, Lee Ye-Ming, Nam Chung-Il, Kim Kwang-Il, To Wai-Wo, Yuen Biao.