18 Fatal Strikes (1978)
Director: Chan Yeung Jing
Writers: Chih-hung Hsieh and Sung Pe Liu
Starring: Wei Tung, Dean Shek, Wen Chiang-lung, and Lung Sze-Ma

The Plot: 18 Fatal Strikes takes place during the Qing dynasty. The film opens with Wong Wu Ti (Lung Sze-Ma) showcasing his Shaking Eagle Claw style (which has him making noises that sound like that of a cat) against a Shaolin Abbot named Wan Hung. Wan Hung is a rebel against the Manchu, and it seems that he may face certain death when up against Wong Wu Ti – but he manages to escape at the last minute. He is found and taken care of by two silly farmers, played by Wei Tung and Dean Shek, but when Wong Wu Ti comes looking for the Abbot, great peril waits for all involved.

The Review
The great thing about digging into the bargain bin when it comes to kung fu: there’s still a really good chance that you might find something great. As with any genre, you’re probably going to find a lot of garbage too, but when you’re looking at martial art films from the 70s and 80s, there is a better chance than average you might find something pretty amazing. The numbers are always in your favor. Between Taiwan and Hong Kong, the market was completely saturated during this era. These kung fu adventure stories made up the majority of films made in the region, so there’s a wealth of cinema to dig through that has only been seen by a select few modern viewers. In the case of 18 Fatal Strikes, the movie was a lesser known vehicle full of actors that are not so well known in the west. The biggest name in the cast would be Dean Shek (best known as the guy who goes crazy next to Chow Yun-fat in A Better Tomorrow II), and that says a lot. Still, to put it bluntly, what 18 Fatal Strikes may lack in big star power, it makes up for it in pacing, narrative, set-pieces and action. Does that make this one “great?” Well, it has the potential for it.

As stated, the movie has a tremendous pace to it. This is something that is vital for a martial arts adventure tale. In a Hong Kong action yarn such as this one, pacing is key. The goal is to reach the ninety minute mark with as many fight scenes thrown in as possible, while also tying up every loose end in as convenient of a fashion as can be managed. 18 Fatal Strikes jumps right into it from the get-go. We have characters with interesting backgrounds, and enough solid elements to keep the viewer hooked. The two brothers are goofballs, to be sure, but they have good chemistry and they are bizzare enough to be intriguing. This is a much more human and goofy martial arts tale than the average, and because of that it is much easier to keep the audience involved. We want to see what these dorks will get up to. The actual plot is pretty formulaic, no doubt about that. Honestly, the second where it becomes obvious that these two goofs will take the monk home, the audience knows that he will inevitably end up training them and that they will now be involved in his battle with the men who are trying to kill him. Still, this isn’t the first kung fu film to stick to a relatively generic formula, so it is easy to forgive it for that. Especially when the cast gets to show off their abilities.

Both of the leads, despite the way they look, come across as being very athletic and acrobatic. This is a bit of a surprise for me, as I’ve never noticed Dean Shek in a role like this. While I can not pretend to be an expert on his filmography, I know that he is best known for his goofy roles in older kung fu films. Gone is his hunchback and mole for this movie, and instead he plays the wackier of the two brothers. Wacky as he may be, this is a very physical role, and Shek truly steps up to the plate. He walks on his hands, does flips, and is involved in some very skullful looking fight choreography. Wei Tung is the other lead, and readers may remember him as the kid in Enter the Dragon who Bruce Lee slaps on the head for “thinking” instead of “feeling.” The choreography within the film is just ridiculous. This is handled by veteran Yuen clan member, Yuen Cheung Yan. For those of you who aren’t away, Yuen Cheung Yan is the brother of Yuen Woo-ping (choreographer behind The Matrix, Fist of Legend, and a million other productions). Yuen Cheung Yan mixes up a variety of styles within the film, most noticeably using a cat style for the main villain (who is dubbed with the most atrocious “cat noises” you could imagine) and using various other techniques for our heroes.

Dean Shek and Wei Tung both have decent comedic timing and charisma within the film, but I say this while comparing the performances to other Hong Kong comedies. Honestly, at times it seems as if Hong Kong acting, at least from this era, is such a wildly different artform than what Westerners actually consider “good acting.” The actors are ridiculously over-the-top and their reactions are huge, but it’s perfectly suitable for something like this. In fact, the two brothers immediately become rather likable after being introduced, which is something that seems to fly in the face of Dean Shek’s reputation as one of the most grating character actors within all of Hong Kong action cinema. The lead baddie, played by Lung Sze-Ma (who, in this role, looks a bit like Rainn Wilson), stands in direct opposition to all of the fun little adventures that our two main protagonists find themselves in. He is all business here, and stands out as an incredibly memorable villain. Lung Sze-Ma had a very brief film career that spanned roughly ten years and almost as many credits. Although his filmography may be sparse (from a few Google searches, I suspect he worked in television), the actor has a great turn in this film. Showcasing a menacing snarl, Lung Sze-Ma steals the show several times in this one… and not simply because the dubbed-in cat noises his character makes are hilarious.

The Conclusion
This one certainly plays by formula, but 18 Fatal Strikes is a lot of fun. Featuring a cast that are fully committed to their work, some spectacular fight choreography, and a story that manages to grip its audience – I would certainly recommend kung fu fans check this one out. It gets a four out of five. Very entertaining!