Turn Back The Clock
A Gathering of Heroes / Kung Fu Rebels
Distributed By: East West Entertainment
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In my search for movies from my Black Belt Theater watching youth, I came across a double feature for the amazing price of $1.00 at my local supermarket. How could I pass this up?! The double feature included A Gathering of Heroes and Kung Fu Rebels. The packaging itself didn’t offer up much about the films, but one of the stars of Kung Fu Rebels did actually look familiar to me. I decided to give it a shot.
A Gathering of Heroes (1973) centers around a chest of silver coins, transported by government troops. Rebels, led by Mr. Long (Chen Sing), plot to steal the money while en route to its destination via train, but upon arrival, the money has already been stolen. The technique used to disable the Lieutenant in charge of transporting the money leads Long to believe that the money was stolen by Tang Fung (Polly Kuan) and her father. The father is an old friend of Long’s father and he is certain that once the two know that the money is meant for the rebellion, they’ll hand it over willingly.
Unfortunately, when the two attempt to approach a broker to exchange the money, a former pupil, now third leader of the local Triad, murders the old man and tries to kill Tang Fung. She escapes and vows revenge. Mr. Long, angered by the senseless murder and in serious need of these coins, vows to assist her in her quest as long as she agrees to turn over the money to him.
Of course, nothing comes easy to our heroes and they find themselves in the fights (and I do mean fights) of their lives. Not only are the members of the Triad out to get them, but the military wants their heads, too. And a last minute double-cross from an unlikely source threatens to destroy them all.
As I sat watching A Gathering of Heroes, I found myself growing annoyed. Whoever had edited the film had mixed the scenes up royally. Thus, the scenes in the movie were out of sequence, making it hard to follow. This takes place smack dab in the middle of the film and it took great effort not to shut it off and to stick it out until the end. Especially with the bad dubbing, making Tang Fung sound like a sobbing fool. But, I did stick it out and, by the end of the movie, everything began to make sense. The surprise ending was well-worth the wait. I love movies that end with a twist and, although I could see this one coming, it was still fun to watch.
It’s hard to get a grasp as to what Kung Fu Rebels (1978) is really about until you reach the center of the film. Apparently, four masters of Kung Fu are destined to fight each other after a set amount of years to discover who is the true Kung Fu Master. Two are interested only in the common good for their people. The other two are bent on becoming the only two living masters. Thus, they hire an assassin to murder the others. The assassin fights with a cross of his masters’ two techniques: Invincible Armor and what looks to be a Toad style.
One of the “good” masters is a beggar (Chan Wai Lau – you’ll recognize him from the Drunken Master movies) who fights using the Sick Fist style, crying about his ailments as he beats the crap out of his opponents. It’s rather comical to watch. His friend (the other “good” master) fights with a particularly cool style. He has tried to teach his son his art, but the son ran away after he pushed two hard. Unbeknownst to the two masters, the son has been living as a teacher in the local town, taking on the spoiled daughter of a rich official. The beggar has actually had a run in or two with the son and realizes almost too late who his father is.
The assassin tracks the teacher down, killing the official and his servants. When the teacher won’t fight, he kills the child and the teacher’s new love interest. The teacher escapes, finding the beggar who tells him that his father has met the same fate. Vowing to avenge those murdered by the assassin, the teacher now becomes the student, using his father’s technique and learning the Sick Fist technique, thinking that a combination of the two should defeat the assassin. The inevitable show down reveals more surprises as the teacher reveals a previously unseen style – yes, I’m going to say it – Doggie Style. (Oh brother!)
When I had first picked up this double feature, I thought that Kung Fu Rebels was going to be the better movie. In fact, I liked A Gathering of Heroes more. The storyline was much more intriguing than that of Kung Fu Rebels, though I will say that the fight scenes in Kung Fu Rebels were more elaborate. Perhaps the new style the teacher reveals is just too out there for me. It seemed to ruin the entire film for me at the end.
But I can’t complain too much – I bought this double feature for a dollar, so what could I possibly be expecting? I did get some enjoyably choreographed martial arts scenes and a relatively decent story out of A Gathering of Heroes. What more could I ask for?