The Kung Fu Instructor (1979)
Director: Sun Chung
Writers: Ni Kuang
Starring: Ti Lung, Wang Yu, Ku Feng, and Wang Lung Wei

The Plot: The Kung Fu Instructor opens with an argument over a literal line within the street of a small town. On one side there is the Zhou clan, and on the other there is the Meng. It seems that whatever started this war between these two factions has been allowed to escalate for a long period of time. Things have become so serious that the Meng have taken to severing limbs off of any person who steps over to their side of the street. As you can maybe guess, the Meng clan have become quite brutal with this war. This evil clan eventually decides that they need an outsider to come in and properly train their troops so that they may finally destroy the Zhou. Wang Yang (Ti Lung), it turns out, is just the sort of master that the Meng clan seek. He is so honest and loyal that the Meng see him as being easy to manipulate. Even more valuable is the fact that Wang Yang is the sort of teacher who holds nothing back from his students. He teaches every aspect of his martial art – and he keeps no secrets. When the Meng set Yang up, and fool many into thinking that he is a killer, the instructor feels honored to be taken in by the Meng clan. As he begins to teach their troops, however, he finds out about their evil ways. When he meets a young Zhau student (played by Wang Yu) who is bullied and nearly killed by the Meng clan, he discovers that he may be teaching his art to the wrong people.

The Review
Every December here on Varied Celluloid, we like to cover a barrage of Kung Fu titles as an alternative way to celebrate the seasons. This isn’t really the sort of webpage people visit for Christmas movies, afterall, so why not venture into some films that are at least semi-family friendly? These months rarely find us documenting the most obvious choices when it comes to the kung fu genre, and this is becoming a bit of a staple for the website. Sure, a solid Jackie Chan film might pop up on the list, but we are just as apt to do a mini-retrospective of mainland kung fu director/producer Ng See-Yuen. So, with that in mind, it is looking like this particular December may turn into a celebration of Shaw Bros. director Sun Chung. One of the lesser known filmmakers from the Shaw Bros. library, most kung fu fans know and love his work, but his filmography is still one that remains in relative obscurity in comparison to Chang Cheh or Lau Kar Leung. So, after dipping into his work with the excellent Avenging Eagle, this month provide a nice opportunity to further explore some of his better works. The Kung Fu Instructor may be a conventional title by most standards, but there’s no overlooking the solid fun provided in this tale of honesty, loyalty, and of course, brotherhood.

When you watch enough kung fu cinema in a small amount of time, you start to look for the small details that separate these movies. This is where Sun Chung tends to thrive as a filmmaker. Chang Cheh and Lau Kar Leung were both talents that had their very particular styles, and each director managed to take very similar content but do it in distinct ways. The things that tend to separate these movies are as simple as the camera angles used, the small narrative devices used, and the frequency of the fight scenes. For the most part, a kung fu movie needs only a bearable plot and a series of well choreographed action scenes, in order to make it somewhat interesting. These movies are, for me at least, comfort food in the highest order. I’ve said this before, but similar to bad pizza, even a terrible kung fu movie is still pretty good. Yet, even when the worst offenders can be considered “good,” or at least tolerable, the distinction between “good” and “great” should still be obvious to even the most uninitiated viewer.

High and low camera angles are used to full effect within The Kung Fu Instructor. Chung Sung grabbed a great deal of coverage with his films, and by doing this he gave a relatively larger scope and depth of realism to his movies. The differences between some other martial arts films and what is happening here might be subtle, but when you start paying attention to the nuances – it becomes obvious how different Chung was. This was, afterall, the glory day of the Shaw studio, and budgets were much more outlandish. His work here is visually different, but he still manages to sell the finished product as a highly capable action-fest. Featuring a kinetic energy that is reminiscent of Lau Kar Leung, Sun Chung’s The Kung Fu Instructor starts off strong and steadily becomes more and more action oriented as the film moves along. Some of the choreography provided by Tang Chia is astounding, and the training sequences that take place towards the conclusion of the film are also worth mentioning for their excellence.

Wang Yu plays the feisty young Zhao warrior who constantly keeps an eye on the Meng in order to see what tricks Wang Yang is teaching them. Wang Yu, who might be best known for his starring role opposite Gordon Liu in the classic Dirty Ho, is once again delivering a large percentage of the laughs found in the movie. Gifted with a strong sense of comedic timing and athletic ability, he is an often overlooked star from the Shaw Bros. era. Ti Lung is basically given a very “Ti Lung” role in the movie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He is noble, good, and all things wholesome. His is a character that is thrown in a very Yojimbo-esque circumstance, but he doesn’t react to it in the same way that Yojimbo or The Man With No Name did. He doesn’t capitalize on the warring factions, but instead tries to do what is morally correct. He is such a heroic figure that the only way he could be seen as helping the ruthless Meng warriors is by having him fooled by their evil ways. However, as is often the case, Ti Lung brings something interesting to an otherwise vanilla character. Playing the role without a hint of mal intent, he instead plays up this character’s wisdom and the title of the film begins to seem incredibly appropriate. This is a man who believes wholeheartedly in the quest for knowledge and thus holds no prejudices. Sure, he is a white-hat hero, but it’s Ti Lung wearing the white hat… few could do it quite as well.

The Conclusion
Overall, The Kung Fu Instructor is a relatively by-the-books kung fu movie… but it is done so well! It provides everything that it promises on the box, and then some. Overall, I give it a four out of five. That is a little high for something that many might consider to be too formulaic for its own good, but for audiences searching for a really good kung fu movie to spend some time with – this is a great place to look.