Turn Back The Clock
Distributed By: Ocean Shore Studios
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Remember when I wrote about my affinity for the Black Belt Theater karate films in my review of Head Hunter / Ninja Champion? Well, watching those two movies brought back that feeling I used to get every time I watched a Black Belt Theater presented film. So, I decided to break out some of my old karate film collection – films that I had first seen on Black Belt Theater - and re-watch them. Checking my library of karate films, I decided on a classic – Invincible Armour, a movie released by Ocean Shore Studios in 1977, starring Hwang Jang Lee, John Liu and Tino Wong Cheung.
The movie begins with an explanation of two specific Kung Fu techniques – Iron Armour and The Eagle Claw. To become a master of the art of Iron Armor, one must master their breathing pressure and air circulation throughout their body. Only then can they achieve the ability to withstand any blow, including stabbings from swords or spears. The practitioner of Iron Armour is almost completely invulnerable to any attack. However, there is always one unprotected point that must be guarded by the practitioner. The Eagle Claw is a fighting style that concentrates on bones, sinew, muscles and joints. Much of the Eagle Claw practitioner’s strength lies within his hands and fingers. He can literally break bone with a single strike. Of course, we have an idea that these two techniques will be very important in the rest of the movie, but the reason why they are so important doesn’t materialize until much later.
The main story begins as General Chow Lu Fung (the incredibly flexible John Liu) witnesses a peasant fight off a pack of bandits intent on stealing his sword. General Chow invites the man, Hu Lung (Lee Hoi San), to meet with Mr. Liu and join his group of fighters. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to General Chow, Hu Lung is an assassin who murders Mr. Liu, leaving Chow to take the blame. Minister of State Cheng (Hwang Jang Lee) orders that General Chow be hunted down and put to death for his crimes. Seeking to clear his name, Chow fights off those trying to arrest him and takes off after Hu Lung, the real murderer.
When Chow escapes capture the first time, Cheng sends out for his most loyal government enforcer Shen Yu (Tino Wong Cheung). Having been a student of Mr. Liu, Shen Yu agrees to hunt down Chow and avenge his master’s murder. However, Shen Yu soon learns that there is more to his master’s death than there appears. He soon joins Chow in his effort to track down the real killer – the man who hired Hu Lung to assassinate Mr. Liu. Unfortunately, when they learn the identity of the murderer is a master of Eagle Claw and Iron Armour, will Chow Lu Fung and Shen Yu be able to bring him to justice?
Invincible Armour is an incredibly fun movie to watch. I loved the original scenes in which the different disciplines of Iron Armour and Eagle Claw are explained. I also loved the fact that the person displaying both disciplines is none other than Hwang Jang Lee, without the elderly whiskers and garb he wears throughout the rest of the movie. This has long been a technique in karate films – dressing young actors to look like elderly men who perform amazing Kung Fu feats. I always found it funny that anyone might not realize that the old man leaping and flipping around the set was really a young man in his early twenties with a wig and fake beard.
Speaking of leaping and jumping, Invincible Armour is one of those films that uses that high flying leap technology we see still being used in today’s karate films. Except, back then, the wires that were used to achieve these feats weren’t so visible as they are today. When Jet Li goes flying through the air in one of his movies, you can tell wires were used. When the actors leap to rooftops in this film, the wires aren’t as visible. Even though you know the feat is impossible, the fantasy is kept alive because you can’t see the technology used to affect the outcome.
Often times in karate films, the creator’s need to have a lot of action sequences in the film causes the storyline to be lost along the way. Sometimes the storyline makes little or no sense and is just a vehicle for insane amounts of action. However, Invincible Armour presents a happy blend of both a credible storyline and a huge amount of action sequences. Fight scenes are plentiful and lengthy, utilizing numerous techniques and weaponry to keep things interesting, and yet the movie never loses sight of the power struggle that caused the story to begin with. Every fight scene reveals another peace of the puzzle that is the murder of Mr. Liu.
I only had a few issues with Invincible Armour. First, there was a lack of believability in the sound effects. When someone is attacking you with a bamboo pole and strikes the dirt ground near your feet, it should not make a sound as if it was metal striking metal. Bamboo is wood and the ground is dirt. While I realize that the sound of wood striking dirt is not as exciting a sound as metal striking metal, I wish that the creators of this film would have opted for a more realistic approach to the sound effects.
My second issue was with the under-developed love story. Fugitive Chow happens upon a villa in which a young boy and his sister live. When Chow rescues the sister from a local ruffian, the family is indebted to him and allows him to stay with them. The looks that pass between the sister and Chow are telling. Her trust in Chow eventually leads her to allow her brother to teach Chow a secret fighting technique. It is obvious that something is happening there, but it is never developed. What a disappointment.
Finally, I took issue with the scene in which Chow and Shen Yu fight the band of killers known as The Gang of Three. Well, Chow dispatches one quite quickly in a wooded area and doesn’t happen on the other two until he reaches a rocky outcropping. The remaining two still talk as if they are three and Chow and Shen Yu still refer to them as three. My feeling is that they were all supposed to be alive at this point and the dubbing reflected this fact. I think that the creators of this film may have forgotten to edit the dubbing when they edited the scene sequencing.
Still, these issues did nothing to take away my joy at watching – for the umpteenth time – one of my favorite karate films. If you are a fan of Black Belt Theater, or just of karate films in general, then you have to see Invincible Armour!