Challenge of the Masters (1980)

Genres - Action  |   Sub-Genres - Martial Arts  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - China   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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This early effort from fight choreographer-turned-director Lau Kar Leung shows that his style and themes were in place from the very beginning. Challenge Of The Masters is built on a lot of familiar kung-fu film tropes (rival schools, lengthy training sequences, a big competition for a finale) but approaches them with a different thematic focus that gives them a new life. The focus is not the conflict between rivals: instead, the film focuses on the philosophy behind kung-fu and the spiritual enlightenment its devotees seek. Leung's directorial approach is similarly thoughtful: he delivers some memorable fights and displays of skills but he tempers these moments with character development and explorations of kung fu's spiritual side, the latter aim expressed nicely by the character of Master Luk Ah-Choy. Gordon Liu is excellent as Wong Fei-Hung, blending a thoughtful quality with physical skills as the young hero seeking advancement, and Chen Kuan-Tai has the appropriate regal bearing necessary to pull off the character of the Master. It's also worth noting that Leung steps out from behind the camera to offer a notable supporting turn as a devious fighter who presents the final test for Wong Fei-Hung's understanding of the kung-fu philosophy. In short, Challenge Of The Masters balances its displays of martial skills with intelligent storytelling and is thus a must for kung-fu film enthusiasts.