Legend of the Fox
Have Sword, Will Travel
Heaven and Hell
Consider this Cheh Chang's struggle for relevance. With the appeal of the Shaw Bros martial arts films dwindling, people like Chang finally had to reinvent themselves. Heaven and Hell is a mix of fantasy, martial arts and even some musical elements, but it takes a while to come into its own.
Five martial arts experts are unjustly thrown into hell. Not willing to give up, they struggle through the various levels of hell in order to reach Buddha. Once there, they plead to be resurrected. Buddha grants them their wish, but each of them has to fight and conquer the men who got them thrown into hell.
The hell scenes are the obvious stand-outs, though it's clear Chang isn't quite as gifted as Chor. The action is decent but not that remarkable, the musical bits early on feel superfluous. Luckily the film gets better as time passes and the second half is pretty fun, sporting some rather atypical Shaw Bros scenes.
The Magnificent Ruffians
An entertaining and action-packed Cheh Chang film, but when you're already familiar with his work you won't find anything new here. It's always nice to see Chang do what he's good at, on the other hand when you see too many of these films in a short time span, it can get a little too repetitive.
The Magnificent Ruffians is a somewhat inconspicuous entry in Chang's oeuvre. It plays like a sort of blueprint of Chang's work, sporting a rather basic setup, followed by a bunch of training scenes and pre-finale brawls that lead up to a long and excessive showdown at the end of the film.
Performances are a little weaker than usually the case, the variety in fight choreographies makes up for that though. At 105 minutes, the film is a bit too long (these Shaw Bros films work best when they stay within the 90-minute limit), but overall this is another fun and entertaining film that is sure to appeal to any Shaw Bros fans out there.
One of Chang's lighter martial arts films. Quite a lot of acrobatics and demonstrations in this film, with much of the actual fighting being saved for the lengthy finale. A true Shaw Bros production and a typical film for Chang, which makes it a perfect entry-level film for people not yet familiar with his work. Good fun.
The Shaolin Avengers
A fine Cheh Chang film. Chang does what he knows best and delivers a film with plenty of martial arts acrobatics. The Shaolin Avengers is exactly the type of film Chang got famous for, and with good reason. Martial arts is simply what Chang excels in, this film offers yet more proof of that.
Recently I've been watching some lesser known Chang films, films that often found Chang dabbling in different genres and settings. It's nice to return to his classic martial arts fare after that, because the different in quality is significant. There's a little drama here, but the majority of the film is spent on action scenes.
It's not just the classic martial arts stuff either, the ending has a bona fide pole fight, a personal favorite of mine. It's scenes like these that elevate this above about the countless other Shaw Bros offerings. While not a truly exceptional or spectacular film, The Shaolin Avengers is solid fun that is sure to appeal to fans of the Shaw Bros offerings.
Happy to see another bona fide, vintage Cheh Chang martial arts flick from the seemingly endless Shaw Bros library. This is what Chang does best. Rebellion, revenge, historic settings and people kicking and punching each other. There's nothing original or surprising here, but Shaw Bros/martial arts fans are sure to have a blast with this one.
Men from the Monastery
A pretty kick-ass revenge flick. Chang's more contemporary films are usually among his weaker ones, but this one is clearly an exception to the rule. Just a smidgen too slow in places, but the action more than makes up for it. Some very lengthy and solid action scenes show why Chang became one of the Shaw Bros' leading men. Good fun.
Fine Cheh Chang film that looks surprisingly well for its age. It's a true Shaw Bros production, except for the many scenes that were shot on location. The martial arts is decent, the plot is nice enough and Chang sneaks in some pretty shots. Pretty much what you can expect from a decent SB film, only a tad more stylish.
The Magnificent Trio
Not quite Chang's first film, but this is the oldest one that is easily accessible to his fans. It's not hard to see why, as The Magnificent Trio is a perfect blueprint for the following 20 years of Shaw Bros martial arts cinema and thus a film with some historic significance. But it's also just a pretty decent film regardless.
Like other early Chang films, the direction is surprisingly solid. It's probably a mix of the inability to quickly skip through yet to be established genre clichés and the lack of pressure to deliver multiple films per year, but these older films often feel more finished and detailed than the 70s and early 80s ones.
That sounds great, but it also means the pacing is a bit slower and the martial arts scenes aren't that elaborate yet, which is kind of the reason why I like the Shaw Bros martial arts catalogue. It's the classic contradiction between good cinema and good genre cinema. That said, Chang films will still find plenty to like here.
Worthy but flawed
Ode to Gallantry
A pretty basic Cheh Chang film. Not nearly enough action to be a stand-out entry in his oeuvre, but fans of the Shaw Bros films will find that the studio's usual charm is fully present. It's short and the pacing is decent, but for an 80s film I expected a bit more. Not the worst thing he's ever done, but rather forgettable.
House of Traps
The Sword Stained with Royal Blood
Run-of-the-mill martial arts flick from Chang. The action is solid, but the film is at least 15 minutes too long, not in the least because it's mostly just added dialogue. The drama is very limited and breaks up the film once too often, apart from that it's a decent but ultimately forgettable Shaw Bros production.
The Flag of Iron
The Rebel Intruders
Cheh Chang meets the new wave. Classis Shaw Bros martial arts with additional comedy bits, that feel like they were taken from a Jackie Chan/Woo-ping Yuen film. The result is pretty decent, but not as good as its peers. It's a decent Shaw Bros film, but it can't really distinguish itself from the many (many) others.
Five Deadly Venoms
A decent Cheh Chang film. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but Shaw Bros addicts are sure to get their fix from this film. A couple of solid martial arts fights, some light comedy and a limited runtime so there's little time to get bored. It's remarkable how many of these films Chang directed, but they provide solid entertainment so who am I to complain.
The New Shaolin Boxers
It's a mix of the old and the new, but ultimately little more than basic Cheh Chang filler. The training sequences really feel like classic Chang, but the setting is a bit more modern. Not exactly contemporary, but clearly not the rural, historical setting we usually see in the Shaw Bros films.
There's plenty of martial arts action in New Shaolin Boxers, which is always a plus. The synchronized training sequences in particular jump out, but the fights themselves are nicely choreographed too. Add to that some familiar faces and most Cheng/Shaw Bros fans will have plenty to look forward to.
The romance and bits of drama in between though are of much lower quality, and slow the film down. Like many of Chang's films, the middle part drags a little, luckily it's a short film and it doesn't take too long before the finale kicks in. A pretty typical Cheh Chang film in other words, not bad, but not all that remarkable either.
Five Shaolin Masters
Pretty fierce film. The drama doesn't work at all and the direction is so over-the-top that it almost feels like a parody of itself. But the action scenes do stand out and there's so much energy and drive that the film did win me over in the end. Not one of Chang's best, but one of his better films in a contemporary setting.
The New One-Armed Swordsman
Classic Cheh Chang martial arts romp, featuring one of the studios more famed martial arts heroes. The introduction is a bit long and uneventful, but in true Shaw Bros fashion the finale makes up for that. Not really a stand-out feature in Chang's oeuvre, but martial arts fans won't be disappointed by this one.
The Deadly Duo
Run-of-the-mill Cheh Chang. One of his earlier works that mixes memorable scenes with unremarkable filler. No doubt the biggest Shaw Brow/Cheh Chang fans will find exactly what they're looking for in this film, but after seeing so many Shaw Bros films already it was tough to get really excited by it.
After some back and forth at the start of the film, a group of heroes tries to infiltrate an impregnable fortress. They have a map that shows them a secret route at the backside of the fortress, but to get there there they have to cross a dangerous bridge first. Not the most elaborate plot ever, but it does the job.
It's nice that Chang shot on location, the bridge scenes in particular stand out. Performances are mediocre though and the battles aren't all that exciting. The film is quite short, still the pacing feels a little sluggish at times. There simply isn't much plot and with the action being slightly subpar, the film fails to set itself apart.
The Flying Dagger
Very run-of-the-mill Shaw Bros production. Good versus evil, a basic plot that revolves around revenge and some martial arts action to resolve everything. Shaw Bros fans should know what to expect from Cheh Chang's films, others do well to seek out more prestigious Shaw Brow directors first.
The Dancing Warrior
Cheh Chang tries to bring together dance and martial arts. And as I've said a couple of times before already, whenever Chang moves away from what he's known for, it tends to end badly. There are some good fight scenes here, but the combination with the dancing is done poorly and takes away from the action.
Performances aren't great, which is a problem when the action only makes up a small part of the film. The comedy isn't all that great either and the soundtrack is just plain terrible. Lame and cheesy songs that make the film a little too ridiculous (beyond what was intended to be funny).
I think a different director could've made something better of this film, as other films have shown that there is potential in mixing martial arts and dance. But Chang simply isn't the man for the job, especially not since he was nearing the end of his career when he made this film. There is some fun to be had, but overall it's not all that great.
A film in two parts. The first part is a little slow and dull, a sluggish spy story set in a modern day martial arts setting. The 30-minute finale on the other hand is one big fight sequence that shows what Chang is best at: martial arts action. I still feel it works better in a more historic setting, but the killer here is the slow first hour.
Brave Archer 4
Chinese Super Ninjas
Kid with the Golden Arm
Shaolin Martial Arts
Boxer from Shantung
It's not the first time I complain about a Cheh Chang film in a contemporary setting, I'm sure it won't be the last either. Though I will say, Four Riders feels a lot like heroic bloodshed avant-la-lettre, so Chang probably does deserve some credits there. Sadly the execution is pretty flat and not at all heroic.
It's almost too clean and neat, which isn't ideal for an action film. It's nice that Chang tries to incorporate some social critique for example, but it feels out of place and ends up slowing things down unnecessarily. The action scenes are decent, but nothing too spectacular and too far apart to keep the film interesting.
The bottom line is that Chang doesn't do serious very well. He's at his best when martial arts heroes are flying around while taking revenge on some illustrious bad guy. Four Riders is a film that tries to tackle a little extra, but ends up poorer for it. I wouldn't be surprised though if John Woo considers this one of his favorites.
The Heroic Ones
The One-Armed Swordsman
Cheh Chang doing something different. In contrast with the typical Shaw Bros production, Chinatown Kid moves its actors to a more contemporary (read 70s) setting. It's clear that Chang didn't feel entirely comfortable directing this film though, as the plot is poor and the action scenes aren't good enough to compensate. One of his lesser efforts.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
Hammer meet Shaw Bros. Two legendary production companies working on a single films sounds appealing, but the result is lackluster and troubled. Mediocre martial arts scenes, terrible practical effects and a dull mix of Western and Eastern mythology make this is project a failure. I'm not surprised their cooperation was short-lived.
A poor crime/thriller by Cheh Chang. The action scenes are decent but not all that noteworthy, and they are few and far between. The thriller and crime elements are poor though and tend to drag. The film is too long, has pacing issues and a cast that can't make an impression. Definitely not Chang's best work.
The Angry Guest
I sometimes complain that many of the Shaw Bros films are too much alike, the problem is that when they try to do something else, it often ends up worse than their core offerings. This contemporary brawler is pretty dull and lifeless. Without all the typical martial arts drama and the historic settings, Chang's films just aren't that good.
The Anonymous Heroes
Cheh Chang trying out a different kind of action cinema. And somewhat predictably, it doesn't end well. The focus on plot kills the first part of the film, the overreliance on gunfights weakens the second part. Chang is a very solid martial arts director, but he should stick to what he knows best. This was a pretty disappointing film.
Duel of Fists
The one where Cheh Chang tries out kickboxing. Not really his strong point I'm afraid. It seems that he was desperately trying to branch out during the early 70s, luckily he changed his mind soon after. The plot is pretty dull, the acting quite poor and the action doesn't help to cover up any of that.
The Singing Killer
Chang trying to make it in the crime/thriller genre. There are almost no fights here, instead we get a singer who becomes a murder suspect and has to prove his innocence. Chang isn't really cut out for this material though and the film feels a little sluggish and expected. It's best to stick with his martial arts films.
The Generation Gap
Chang's worst film so far, which is quite a thing to say after having seen nearly 50 of his films. Chang is best known for his martial arts work, but from time to time he tried something different. Understandable, but it never really amounted to anything. Chang goes full-on drama/romance here, with disastrous results.
Casting a martial arts icon in a dramatic role is always a risk, but it's David Chiang's love interest who really messes things up. Not only is Agnes Chan a pretty bad actress, she's also a terrible singer. And this films features quite a few English pop songs covered by Chan. To call it grating is actually an understatement.
The plot about a forbidden (or at least frowned upon) love isn't very interesting either, especially not without any good performances to support it. The titular generation gap is never properly explored and the few action scenes that are here only underline the complete incompetence of this film. For completists only.