Warriors Two

Warriors Two (Zan xian sheng yu zhao qian Hua) (1978)

Warriors Two (Zan xian sheng yu zhao qian Hua) first published by Movie Gazette

The Seventies were a golden age not just for intelligent and provocative American films, but also for fast-fisted, fleet-footed, dumb-assed Hong Kong kung fu flicks – and Warriors Two, directed by Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, is amongst the best of the period. It is also the first film to focus on the Wing Chun style of martial arts – a simple and effective fighting method which, despite being the system in which one Bruce Lee was first schooled, had previously been deemed not spectacular enough to warrant a film of its own. Sammo Hung, however, uses all his choreographic skills and, er, comic sensibilities to ensure that Wing Chun (or an exaggerated version thereof) is seen to its very best advantage against a range of other styles.

Cashier Hua (Casanova Wong) overhears his elderly boss at the bank, Mo (Fung Hak-on), plotting to assassinate the village Head Man, but is then himself almost killed by Mo’s gang of thugs, and only manages to escape thanks to his friend Fei ‘Fatty’ Chun (Sammo Hung Kam-bo). Fatty takes the wounded Hua to Mr Tsang (Leung Kar-yan), a local doctor and philanthropist who also happens to be a Wing Chun Master. After Mo’s men murder both Hua’s mother and the Head Man, Fatty persuades Tsang to adopt Hua as a fellow-student, leading to a series of lethal confrontations between the two sides.

Although the film’s plot is pure fiction, both Tsang and Hua were in fact real historic figures, respectively the fourth and fifth generation Masters of Wing Chun, which is why the original Chinese title of this film, Zan xian sheng yu zhao qian Hua, translates literally as ‘Mr Tsang and Cashier Hua’ – but in the West, where these are not household names and unfamiliar bankers are hardly a box-office draw for action fans, the title became Warriors Two instead. Despite this title, the film is not a sequel, although Sammo Hung did go on in 1982 to make a prequel about Tsang’s earlier years, Prodigal Son, which is another classic of the Wing Chun fighting style.

With its fights in tea-houses, its (very) lengthy training sequences, its revenge-driven plot, its sneering villains (who announce their plans straight to camera), and its lists of ever more ridiculous sounding fight postures (Horse Groin Clamps, Fat Bird Pecking, etc.) Warriors Two both adopts, and slyly parodies, just about every martial arts cliché of its time. The comic scenes, especially those involving Fatty and/or Mo’s absurdly myopic and rheumatic sidekick Chiu (Dean Shek Tin), are of a throwaway slapstick nature. Thankfully, though, these are for the most part kept separate from Hua’s more serious scenes, until the very final sequence in which Fatty and Hua combine forces – Fatty acting as preposterous human shield while Hua delivers his deadly attacks – that creates a highly effective marriage of knockabout comedy and hard action.

Apart, however, from Leung Kar-yan’s excellent performance playing a placid man fifty years his senior, it is for its fighting that this film will really be remembered – whether it is Tsang taking on a whole gang with his foot stuck in a bear trap, Mo’s scarily literalised version of the praying mantis technique, or Hua’s rope-free, gravity-defying leap and spin over a table to deliver the most powerful-looking superkick that Korean actor Casanova Wong, a Tae Kwon Do champion, could muster.

Most pleasing of all, though, is the realisation that when the revenge business runs dry, Hua can always return to the cut-throat excitement of provincial financing.

Strap: Sammo Hung’s kung fu classic introduces the WIng Chun style to cinema, while showing how provincial bankers get their kicks.

Anton Bitel