The Invincible Armor (1977)
Director: Ng See-Yuen
Writers: Lu Tung
Starring: Hwang Jang Lee, John Liu and Phillip Ko

The Plot: John Liu plays General Chow, a well respected military man who has been placed on guard duty around one of the leaders of the Ming rebels. The Manchu’s Minister of State, a monster by the name of Cheng (Hwang Jang Lee), sends out his most trusted student, Hu Lung, to infiltrate the rebellion and assassinate the aging rebel leader. He does this by winning a fight in front of Chow and impressing him with his martial skill, which causes him to bring him inside of the compound in order to meet the Ming rebel leader. The old man, once he hears of this fantastic fight, immediately wants to have a fun sparring session with the student. During the midst of this sparring session however, Hu Lung lets his intentions out of the bag and kills the old man. General Chow is then accused of committing the murder and must flee in order to prove his name as honorable. To do this he’ll have to catch Hu Lung and then he’ll have to take on Cheng, but this won’t be easy because Chen practices the Invincible Armor technique. This technique makes him invulnerable to any attack, even from knives and swords. How will General Chow prove his name and what will he do to combat this Invincible Armor?

The Review
The Invincible Armor has cover art that no fan of oldschool martial arts could dare say “no” to. There are few things within this amazing genre quite as alluring as the white haired fighting master, especially when we have several of these masters and at least one evil one! The white haired master is what initially made Executioners From Shaolin and Fists of the White Lotus such alluring titles (at least for me), aside from the master work of Liu Chia-Liang, and The Invincible Armor continues this tradition. Featuring a stellar cast, some amazing martial arts action and at least a few peculiar moments that surprise and boggle the minds of Kung Fu fans the world over, this film ultimately ends up being a success. The only problem you’re going to have is the amount of plot you will have to sit through to get to those points of interest. Although the movie isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, The Invincible Armor turns out as a entertaining, albeit flawed, piece of Kung Fu cinema.
The first movie of John Liu’s that I ever had the opportunity to check out was Kung Fu Ace, which was something I found on one of my many cheap martial arts box sets. Apparently part of the public domain, Kung Fu Ace is one of the few titles I have ever really liked from those massive sets. Like our movie today, it suffers from a very traditional Kung Fu movie plot that acts as a linear rope that leads us from one fight scene to the next, but I find myself very impressed with John Liu’s fighting style. In case you haven’t put it together by this point, I am a big fan of flashy over the top kicking styles and John Liu delivers that with gusto! John Liu’s fighting style is actually quite different from the average and the exact background of his martial art is the object of debate in many communities. Liu’s style, which is referred to as Zen Kwun Do, is a combination of Karate and Kung Fu, with some claiming that he had extensive training in Tae Kwon Do originally as well. Regardless, his style certainly seems to have the emphasis on kicking that the Korean Tae Kwon Do system does, which is the art of fighting that his rival Hwang Jang Lee was actually a well respected teacher of.

Director Ng See-Yuen certainly knew that he had a winning ticket when he placed these two on screen together. He was actually the man responsible for bringing Hwang Jang Lee to the Hong Kong film industry in the first place, in fact. He started off Hwang Jang Lee’s career by helping him land pivotal roles in the early Jackie Chan classics Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, but also featured him in several notable titles that featured both he and John Liu. These two A-Class kickers don’t get to spend a tremendous amount of time on screen with one another, but once the final showdown rolls around you can expect fireworks. Their utterly bizarre final fight sequence is easily THE reason to actually track down this movie. As we watch on, we see a martial artist trying earnestly to smack another man in the testicles and at this point it should dawn on you as a viewer that this movie has lost some of its credibility as a serious piece of drama, but has delved down into the world of strange and hilarious cheesy action entertainment. That certainly seems to be my interpretation of the film at least.
Focusing on a story that seems slightly influenced by the concept of spirit possession from the Boxer Rebellion era of Chinese history, this is a movie that isn’t afraid to delve into some strange territories. The movie seems to have nothing to do with the actual historical context of the Boxer Rebellion mind you, but instead shows us another situation where martial artists have trained their body with such ferocity that they are no longer able to be physically hurt. The invincibility mythos was often a popular source for Kung Fu cinema, and The Invincible Armor showcases a lot of the elements that made the idea so popular, aside from the obvious. Despite this style being nearly impenetrable in any way, like it is said, there’s always a style that can beat your own and John Liu’s character soon discovers it in the film and begins training so that he can find the weak points in Hwang Jang Lee’s defense. As it turns out there are five pressure points that can hurt someone who wears the Invincible Armor style and one of those points just happens to be the testicles. The final fight sequence is almost too much fun, as we watch John Liu try his best to smash the berries of Hwang Jang Lee. Although the rest of the movie is rather ho-hum in most regards, this fight sequence stands out for its ridiculous nature as well as the intense action spurred by having these two amazing kickers on screen at the same time.

A Kung Fu independent, The Invincible Armor looks good for what it is. There are a few decent sets throughout, but much of the action seems to take place outside which was obviously the cheaper and more effective way of shooting things for a limited production. Ng See-Yuen does a good job of keeping the action perfectly centered and he provides a visual palette that doesn’t show off the limited means of his production. Ng See-Yuen certainly knew what his audience wanted to see. Lots of action and lots of mythology, with the invincibility gimmick being focused on along with a near invincible version of Eagle Claw Kung Fu. There are also a few small touches throughout the movie that I found entertaining, such as small moments when various important characters are introduced and the camera free-frames on their face. The only thing that could have made the idea more entertaining would be if there was a subtitle that could have popped up with a character’s name to go along with it. Quite possibly there might have been such a thing in the initial release of the movie, who is to say?

The Conclusion
I liked The Invincible Armor, I won’t lie, but the fact of the matter is that aside from a few entertaining spots throughout it is a rather by-the-numbers affair. Aside from the fact that the movie features a small cameo from future Three Brothers clan member Yuen Biao, all of the really good elements have been mentioned thus far. For fans of either Hwang Jang Lee or John Liu, it is a must see as these two artists really give their all for the movie. John Liu does more vertical splits than you can shake a stick at and Hwang Jang Lee is sporting full Pai-Mei level attire, so of course you would want to see this! For everyone else however, if you missed out you probably wouldn’t kick yourself too hard. I give the movie a three out of five. It’s above average, but not by much.