Seven Steps of Kung Fu (1979)
Director: Ting Hwa Chung
Starring: Ricky Cheng, Chai Kai, Chen Shan, Tommy Lee, and Lung Fei

The Plot: Iron Hand Lee San Pai is a man living outside of a small and peaceful village where he and his nephew Tiger, played by Ricky Cheng, practice Kung Fu regularly. While horsing around in town, Tiger ultimately discovers that The Five Hands Gang has immigrated to their small village. Lee San Pai is very familiar with the Five Hands Gang, as he is their mortal enemy, but unknown to Lee San Pai, this gang has been hired by a local general who hopes to take over the village through nefarious means. Lee San Pai is eventually tricked by this group and assaulted. He manages to survive and immediately begins to instruct Tiger so that they can join together and help defend their way of life.

The Review
God Bless Mill Creek. Not only for inspiring one of the very best podcasts on the net, but also for keeping the Kung Fu film, as many of us know it, alive. While I certainly appreciate the hard and brilliant work behind all of the Shaw Bros. restorations that Celestial have done… sometimes I feel the urge to step back into my teenage years. Sometimes, I must admit, I like to watch terribly dubbed, and probably butchered, kung fu movies that probably don’t earn a viewing within their current shape. Is this stupid? Yes. Does it make me a terrible person who doesn’t respect cinema as it should be? Quite possibly. However, there is a part of me that enjoys viewing something that has been preserved in all of its grimy exploitation glory. I get the appeal and I too allow nostalgia, as well as my own sentimentalism, to get the better of me, and when it comes to 1970s martial arts films: I am one of those idiots who absolutely adores the original English dubs. Mill Creek abides by all of these extremely cheap rules, and Seven Steps of Kung Fu is the first film in their Flying Fists of Kung Fu 12-movie collection. For what its worth, which is about $5.00 at your local Wal-Mart, Seven Steps of Kung Fu is a pretty solid start.

Our main protagonist is a young man named Tiger who quite resembles the athletic and humorous style of Jackie Chan. Made one year after Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, one can only imagine what the Taiwanese/Hong Kong producers were thinking. Shot on location, similar to Chan’s early films, and featuring a very athletic style, one gets the idea that the filmmakers were hoping to capitalize on the fame of Chan. Ricky Cheng, our star, certainly had the physical attributes to stand beside Chan, and with his long hair and good looks, he certainly could have been a leading man. Known as an acrobatic choreographer/performer, Cheng was good enough to inspire the firm belief of Chang Cheh. Unfortunately, whatever the reason was, he didn’t catch on with audiences in a big way. Current viewers may best know him for the films he made with Chang Cheh during the eighties. Although this is often thought of as Cheh’s downturn, the films they made together were very solid. Five Element Ninjas, aka. Chinese Super Ninjas, is certainly the best known of this bunch, but House of Traps is another standout from this period in Cheh’s filmography.

The cast assembled for the film may not be Gordon Liu or Lo Lieh, but for a cheap production such as this, we get a decent number of memorable faces. In fact, many viewers may find themselves scratching their heads and wondering where they know the actors from. Chai Kai plays the white-haired villain (isn’t there always one?) and he is an actor that may not be memorable, but he has credits that include The Hot, The Cool, and the Vicious as well as Shanghai 13. Tommy Lee, the martial arts actor not the drummer, also shows up playing one of the key members of the Five Hands Gang. Viewers who have dipped their feet into some of these lower budgeted Kung Fu titles may remember him from the aforementioned Hot, Cool, and the Vicious, but also from The Secret Rivals. Lee is a reliable hand (or foot, as it were), and as soon as he steps onto the screen he makes the movie at least ten points cooler.

Like any decent kung fu venture, there is a simplistic narrative at its heart. However, like many other kung fu vehicles, it becomes needlessly complicated by subplots, multiple characters, and a dead zone in terms of character motivation. Due to this, the narrative becomes rather clumsy at times. One of the best examples comes at the tail end of a very long scene of exposition by the Five Hands Gang. Before this sequence, the audience is treated to a bit where Ricky Cheng defeats one of the Five Hands Gang members and ultimately takes his life. So, we then cut to our long speech by the Five Hands Gang, and one of their members turns around as the scene starts to conclude and announces “Our brother has been gone for a very long time! We should check on him!” We then immediately cut to a five second scene featuring the fallen member of the gang being discovered by another member. Then, to insure confusion, we smash cut right back to the same room in which all of the exposition just took place in, where the gang is then briefed about their fallen comrade. Instead of thinking of a wise way to squeeze this in, the filmmakers go with the cheapest and most direct way to navigate their plot that any person would dare to imagine.

When it comes to the choreography though, one honestly can’t complain. With Tommy Lee handling the fight sequences, we’re treated to a smorgasbord of styles and action in numerous sequences that are thrown in along the way. While many of the fight sequences seem as if they have been shoehorned into the plot, it is never-the-less appreciated. With an action sequence roughly every 3-5 minutes, Seven Steps of Kung Fu lives up to every action expectation that audiences may have. With fast, hard-hitting, and sometimes brutal martial arts action, the film begins to stand out as a forgotten gem of sorts. There are so many outrageous fight sequences that it becomes hard to list. As the film builds towards its epic climax, it features great fight after great fight. The scene featuring Ricky Cheng versus the two foreign fighters (they might have been Thai or Indian, I am not sure. This sequence is actually prefaced by a scene with no English dialogue or subtitles) is worth the price of the Mill Creek boxset by itself.

The Conclusion
While it is difficult to recommend Seven Steps of Kung Fu to someone who is not familiar with cheap 70s martial arts madness, if you know the aesthetic and you enjoy the genre, pick this one up! The choreography is brilliant, the cast is well compiled, and there’s very little (outside of logic) worth complaining about with this movie. It gets a surprising 4 out of 5.

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