Shaolin Deadly Kicks (1977)

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Superkicker Delon Tan shines in this very exciting kung fu film that he would virtually remake a decade later in America.

A band of robbers known as the Eight Dragons have stolen a rare treasure map. They decide to take the map and divide into eight pieces, one for each member. The leader of the gang makes the decision to wait three years before reuniting and getting their hands on the treasure. At first, tension nearly leads to dissention, but everyone eventually comes into agreement and waits the three years.

The three years have passed and it is time for the Dragons to reunite. However, it will not be as easy as they plan. When one of the members is arrested, he meets a young man who is willing to help him escape. When the young man tells the Dragon that he knows where some treasure can be found, they head with another member of the gang to an undisclosed location. The two Dragons soon learn it is all a trap and the young man is revealed to be police constable Hsiao Huang-Yi, who along with his partner Chun-Wei, are able to stop the Dragons. However, when Chun-Wei is killed in battle, Huang-Yi uses his flashy kicks to stop the Dragons.

From there, Huang-Yi begins to track down the members one by one to get all the pieces of the map and return it to its rightful owner. After a promise to Dragons member Chang Fang to help his sick son, Huang finds himself betrayed by the treacherous Fang and is forced to kill him. When Huang-Yi is set up by a goon hired by two more members, Huang-Yi fakes his death and is able to fight both members on separate occasions to defeat them. Huang-Yi eventually meets his match in Master Chi, who uses a poison blade to strike the kicking constable before he meets his maker.

Huang-Yi is eventually nursed back to health by Jade, a young woman he saved from bandits earlier in his mission. Jade turns out to be the daughter of the Dragons leader, the Chief. The Chief has changed tunes and has become a doctor. Jade knows nothing of the robbery and while Huang-Yi reveals himself and wants to help the Chief live a peaceful existence, things are about to go full speed. The final Dragons members, the Cutter, has returned and plans to do whatever it takes to get the treasure, even if it means betraying his own leader.

This is definitely an underrated martial arts film from the 70’s. While the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung dominated the classic kung fu era, there are some well-known names worth mentioning, notably Delon Tan and Lo Lieh. Tan, a grandmaster in the art of taekwondo, starred in the 1976 John Woo film Hand of Death alongside a young Jackie Chan while Lo Lieh starred in the first kung fu film to hit American shores, King Boxer, released as Five Fingers of Death, in early 1973.

While Lo takes a step back to play lead villain Cutter, it is Tan who truly shines here. Next to the “King of Leg Fighters” Hwang Jang-Lee, Tan is perhaps the second dominant kicker in classic kung fu films. Tan has flashiness in his left leg, thus earning him the rightful nickname of “Flash Legs”. Coincidentally, Flash Legs was an alternate title for this very film. While Tan does use some crispy handwork at times, the film is clearly a showcase to show his impeccable kicking skills. What will astound fans is that Tan’s left leg serves as a machine gun, shooting out at least 5 times or he would do his trademark “hopping kick”, where he hops his right off and shoots off a mid-level to high kick with such accuracy.

The plot of the film is quite interesting as well. While it may seem basic, it is noteworthy that cast in the film as the Eight Dragons are some well-known villain actors. Lung Fei (known to Western audiences as Master Pain/Betty in the spoof Kung Pow! Enter the Fist, Tsai Hung, and Wang Chieh prove to be the biggest competition for Tan in the film. However, for Tan’s opening fight scene, I was a little impressed with Li Hsiao-Ming, who plays one of the first members of the gang to fall victim to Tan. Li does some nice kicking himself and had he gotten just a little more flexibility, it would have been quite a nice kicking duel.

Tan would use the very theme for this film and twist it up for his 1990 Hollywood B-movie Breathing Fire. Using bank keys stolen in a robbery and melting them down in a fake “pizza”, the item is split between robbers. Tan would use the pseudonym “Delon Tanners” and came up with both the story and served as executive producer. He would also train the two stars of the film, The Goonies’ Jonathan Ke Quan and Eddie Saavedra in taekwondo.

Shaolin Deadly Kicks is truly a highlight for Delon Tan as the superkicker shines in the film with some very good support from veteran Lo Lieh as the villain. Definitely worth seeing for Tan’s superior kicking skills.

WFG RATING: B

A Wah Tai Motion Picture Co. Ltd. Production. Director: Wu Ma. Producers: Kwan Sin and Tung Chen-Ching. Writer: Chu Hsiang-Kan. Cinematography: Liao Wan-Wen. Editing: Ko Tan-Hung.

Cast: Delon Tan, Lo Lieh, Wang Hsieh, Doris Lung, Kam Kong, Lo Ti, Tsai Hung, Ou-Yang Sha Fei, Wu Chia-Hsiang, Lung Fei, Chan Wai-Lau, Gam Sai-Yuk, Tsang Chiu, Chan Sam-Lam, Lee Siu-Ming.

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