The Avenging Eagle (1978)
Director: Sun Chung
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Ku Feng, Wang Lung Wei, and Eddy Ko

The Plot: Chik Ming-sing (Ti Lung) is a man roaming across the desert while trying to run from his past. When he ends up falling to the ground and is unable to continue, it seems certain that he will die from heat exhaustion. When all seems lost, a good Samaritan pops up to help him out. Cheuk Yi-fan (Alexander Fu Sheng, who does not reveal his name this early in the movie) stops to help the man, but Chik Ming-sing steals the Samaritan’s horse and makes haste across the desert. When the two men meet again, the ill-tempered Ming-sing ultimately offers his hand in friendship to Yi-fan. You see, Ming-sing is a wanted man. His former clan, the Thirteen Eagles, have sworn vengeance against him for rebelling against their evil ways. The Thirteen Eagles turned Ming-sing into a good-hearted man when they turned their violent path towards a young woman who had nursed Ming-sing back to health. So, in present times, Ming-sing is now on the run from the Thirteen Eagles that make up The Iron Boat Gang. Strangely enough, Yi-fan quickly swears his allegiance to the cause of destroying this evil “Iron Boat” clan. Yet, it seems that Yi-fan may in fact have his own reasons for searching out the Iron Boat Gang.

The Review
The Avenging Eagle is a title that is not completely new to me as a viewer. I owned a copy of it during the late nineties and gave it a couple of spins during that period, but it has been over a decade at this point since the last time I visited it. This film was ultimately my introduction to Sun Chung, Alexander Fu Sheng, and it was certainly one of the first Ti Lung films I had ever seen (aside from the A Better Tomorrow films). My opinion of the film, back in the day, was that it was generally a very story centered project that didn’t have enough sustained action to engage my childish mind. So, with a bit of maturity (a TINY bit of maturity), I decided now was the time to finally revisit the film and see how it has aged with me. It didn’t hurt that I now owned the remastered DVD, which is paired with Blood Brothers, and the increased visual quality has certainly helped to make this an entirely new experience.

Roles aren’t precisely reversed in this film, but this certainly isn’t what I would consider a typical Ti Lung performances, and it is even a bit of a stretch for Fu Sheng. In this film, Ti Lung plays a much more brazen and hardened character than audiences might be accustomed to seeing. In fact, he’s even a bit of a jerk during the introductory scenes. It isn’t until the plot completely unravels that we come to understand his character a bit more. He is a recovering villain, but that hasn’t changed some of his villainous distrust. Especially when dealing with the more easygoing Alexander Fu Sheng. Fu Sheng, who was known for his comical performances, is still the same Fu Sheng we know and love – but in this role he seems a bit more macho than, say, his role in Master of Disaster. This is Fu Sheng riding the middleground, and although he is much tougher in this role than in some of his other performances, he is still cracking wise every step of the way.

Sun Chung is a director who I am familiar with, but who I am hoping to learn even more about during this month of December (this review is originally being written during our annual Kung Fu Christmas marathon). While his work was very typical of other Shaw Bros. films made during this period, one can easily discern the difference between a Sun Chung film and one directed by Chang Cheh. Chung shows a flair for more natural surroundings with his films, and he often seemed to go for shots that weren’t a part of the Shaw custom. His work here features several dolly shots and some very interesting work from high angles, especially whenever a sequence is set within a urban setting. His admiration for narrative is also an integral part of his work. Although this may have turned me off as a younger man, I find myself a much larger fan of it these days. The action is certainly here, but the story is also quite involving. Sure, as with all kung fu films, this is a very simple moral tale about men saving face and becoming brothers, but there is also some complex subplots going on within the movie. The relationship between Chik Ming-sing and Cheuk Yi-fan is highly complex and is truly the heart of the movie for me.

Action is also a huge part of any martial arts movie and it certainly has to be discussed. Although I have talked about the very detailed plot so far, one might expect less action because of this. That really isn’t the case though. The movie is paced incredibly well, clocking in at just about ninety minutes on the nose, there are numerous fight sequences to fill out a decent segment of that running time. As with all great martial arts films, the climactic battle is always the best, but any time an audience gets to see Alexander Fu Sheng, Ti Lung, and Wang Lung Wei, all doing battle at the same time, you know you are in for a good time. Weaponry also plays a big part in the fight sequences here, but there’s much more to this film than just regular swordplay. Ti Lung’s character uses a three sectioned staff, while Fu Sheng gets the more spectacular weapon: a pair of blades that are encased in his boots, but which can be quickly attached to his wrists. This adds a very pulpy element to what could otherwise be seen as a more melodramatic kung fu title. During the final moments, more pulpy elements pop up (including a final boss who has metal hands similar to those worn by Lu Feng in Crippled Avengers), but it all seems to have started gelling at that point.

The Conclusion
Avenging Eagle is a better film to me today than it was when I watched it as a teenager, but mature audiences should have no problem “getting” this one. It is entertaining and very strong in its themes, so I can’t help but give it a high recommendation. I give it an overall four out of five. Definitely check this one out and grab up the very cheap DVD double disc set that also features Blood Brothers.

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