Born Invincible | Varied Celluloid

Born Invincible

Posted by Josh Samford On December - 2 - 2009
The Plot: The Chin Yin San killers are stopped by a martial arts school when they are on the verge of raping a young villager’s daughter. The students get the better of the fight, although they do lose one of their classmates in the midst of, but it’s just the start of the war. When they bring the young woman and her father back to their school, they become a target for the Chin Yin Chiefs. A group of extremely talented Tai Chi masters who kill without so much as thinking twice. These chiefs show up the very next day and threaten to murder the old man on the premises of the school. The lead master feels it is his duty to step up and defend his guests but unfortunately, the skill of the chiefs far outdoes that of the school and the master is killed on the spot. Now outcasts in their own community, the students take to the woods in hiding while training their bodies and minds in order to put an end to the Chin Yin Chiefs!




The Review
The Kung Fu film genre has been a hard favorite of mine for as long as I’ve loved cinema in general. So, it’s with no surprise that I would dedicate so much of my site to the genre. As I write this for my annual ‘A Kung Fu Christmas’ movie marathon, the importance of the genre really dawns on me. For sure, there are few of them that actually differentiate from one another in anything more than a ‘gimmick’ sort of way. As much as I really enjoy the movie and want to express that to you, I can’t sit here and say that Born Invincible is anything different. It is most assuredly your average Kung Fu fare. A classic and seminal film in my opinion, but still carries with it your run of the mill kind of plot. You’ve got the master leaving behind his students to search for revenge, the same with nearly every martial arts flick from the time and place, then you have the inevitable training sequences that precede the ultimate revenge. About as basic as you can really get. However, there are qualities thrown into the mix here that make it something special in its own right. You’ve got the intensity of Yuen Woo Ping’s fight choreography, the very over the top Tai Chi element and the pretty wild number of varying students out for revenge. Slight differences, but they really make the movie.

Joseph Kuo, who directed and produced the film, was definitely a kind of renascence man of sorts within the Kung Fu film industry. He ran an acting school, has produced countless movies and with films like this he also managed to deliver his own brand within the genre. The budget was low, as were most non-Shaw Bros. or Golden Harvest productions, but the entertainment factor is certainly right up there with the majority of the output from those studios. Kuo did a lot for the industry and really struck gold by casting Carter Wong here as his lead villain. Wong was already a star but would go on to even bigger things, yet his inclusion here really helped him make a name as well as with the others. This film also helped launch the careers of Jack and Mark Long (no relation to my knowledge) who would star in the majority of Joseph Kuo’s films. However, as great as those men are unless you’re a seasoned veteran who just hasn’t got around to checking the movie out up until this point; you’ll probably end up tracking down Born Invincible for the work of one man. That is Yuen Woo-Ping.

Born Invincible is probably best known as one of Yuen Woo-Ping’s earliest success stories as an action director and stunt coordinator. Certainly not his first film as a choreographer, it is probably the first big name that he had on his portfolio. Coming out a year before both Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, which he worked on as a director, Born Invincible is one of the first productions to really feature a hint at Yuen Woo-Ping’s promise at crafting such unique fight sequences. His choreography here isn’t exactly groundbreaking, I won’t mislead you but his style is certainly felt and his extremely acrobatic approach to the fight sequences here isn’t exactly the average. It’s not even what I expect from him, certainly not at this stage in his career. Watching it in context of other films made during this period, it certainly delivers something a bit fresh as far as the fight sequences go. Characters do cartwheels atop one another, they generally escape every assault with some flip or another and mix in a bit of Wuxia style (Hong Kong swordplay films that featured tons of flying) exaggerated leaps into the air. It isn’t the most innovative fight sequences you’ll ever see, even from the seventies, but all of the gimmickry on top of this really solid choreography and you have a minor classic from the seventies.

I just love all of the over the top aspects of the movie. It is so far removed from any kind of common sense or basic logic that the pure fantasy elements of the story take over. What we’re essentially lead to believe from the start is that Tai Chi can somehow make you invincible in almost all ways. Not only that, but it also boosts your strength up in supernatural ways. You really don’t have to be a martial arts master or even study them to know that the idea is just ridiculous – but how awesome is it that the movie takes it to these lengths of insanity? I just can’t get over the sound that is makes each time Carter Wong does his little tai chi pose. I have to imagine it’s the sound of his testicles shrinking up into the middle of his stomach. Imagine the sound of a flute making a sudden pitch change from high to low and you’ve basically got it. This seems like the most obvious case since we’re shown Carter Wong being punched in the area where his testicles should remain only for our heroes to grab at nothing. As crazy as it is, the idea of villains doing this isn’t exclusive to this movie alone. With Fists of the White Lotus, the lead bad guy (Pai Mei played by the legendary Lo Lieh) was actually able to grab his foes fist using only his crotch. This was due to his testicles moving up toward his stomach, which I assume left some kind of cavernous hole that had developed muscles… I really don’t want to question the idea too hard, but yeah, Born Invincible isn’t the only movie to use this logic and it’s likely based upon an older myth. With Born Invincible there is also a fun bit with Carter Wong’s voice, at least the one dubbed for him, is so comically high pitch. This is explained during the introduction as a part of his training in Tai Chi over the course of thirty years, but we all know what’s going on with his lack of testosterone.

The Conclusion
There’s some really great stuff to be found in Born Invincible but I do think to get the most out of the movie as a pre-requisite you might want to have seen more than a couple of old-school Kung Fu flicks. It is definitely a fun one and would probably be an interesting introduction for any new martial arts fan, but when you’re already a fan and have some familiarity with the genre, the cast and crew it makes it all the better. Definitely check it out some time though for sure, there’s a ton of martial arts wackiness afoot at any given moment (Killers with pig tails, bad wigs and Carter Wong’s insane yet hilarious dubbed over laugh) so I definitely think it’s got what it takes to be a party favorite.



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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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