Dynasty (1977): Kung Fu Movie Review

As with Rage of the Dragon, Dynasty (1977) was a movie I had been searching for, taking no less than four decades to discover. It was through a very obscure scene and the fact that I vaguely recalled it coming on channel 13 during one of those kung fu weeks/weekends where they had five special kung fu movies. Two other channels would have their own sets of kung fu movies too. Channel 11 on Saturdays would have Black Belt Theater, which was mostly Shaw Brothers productions while Channel 9 later around 5pm would have Kung Fu theater, which seemed more like independent productions. Besides weekday afternoon and morning cartoons and Sunday morning cartoons, channel 13 in my area rarely showed much of anything interesting. So I guess they got a small special group of kung fu movies that didn’t easily fit into the other two channels’ schemes.

Dynasty itself stars Dorian Tan Tao-Liang, one of the more famous kickers in the 70s era of martial arts movies. In opposition to Dorian’s character, is the Eunuch Tsao, who possesses a very strange set of martial arts that partly make him invulnerable but very deadly too. He is protected by two generals and another Liang Tsi-Wu, who tries to get close to Tsao. Unlike the two generals though, Tsi-Wu shows a great deal of cunning and humility. We don’t get to see much of his martial prowess, although it’s assumed the other two generals are far superior.

Early on, Tsao kills the father of Tan Sao-Chin (Dorian’s character) and we see that Tan is hiding at a monastery practicing. By the time we get to him, he’s ready to depart partly as a precautionary measure since Tsao is looking to kill him. After Tan departs/hides away, Tsao and his army come to invade the temple. Initially, the idiot General Liu Kwei believes the temple is empty whereas Tsao knows otherwise. Tsao goes in alone but is followed in secret by Tsi-Wu. Tsao is ambushed by the other monks but thwarts most of them except for the senior one. The senior one manages to injure Tsao to make him temporarily vulnerable to attack but not before Tsao also takes the monk’s life. Through this we get a real sense of the actual power the Eunuch possesses and understand that he’s not to be trifled.

At this point, Tsi-Wu shows more suspicious actions as he does things to keep himself close and move up the ranks, even slaying some of the Eunuch’s own men and pretend its either mistrust or his own vast ambition. The group tries to return to their home (palace?) but they get repeatedly ambushed by a mysterious figure. The troops’ numbers dwindle until it’s General Liu Kwei, who receives a ghostly calling that causes him to think he’s going insane. Escaping an inn to a forest, General Liu Kwei tries to find this mysterious ghost figure and assaults a tree in his delirium.

As he tries to find the source of the voice, he accidentally attacks a dummy and gets both hands chopped off. Honestly, that scene is so cheesy and bad that you can tell it was rubber hands. Strangely enough, Liu Kwei somehow manages to continue fighting, despite not bleeding to death from such horrific wounds. He even goes as far as grabbing a tree like a pole and attempt to attack Tan, who climbs up a tree. It’s really ridiculous what goes on in this scene but you know that Liu Kwei doesn’t stand a chance. He’s soon defeated and his body is brought back to the Eunuch and the court to see.

The Eunuch then orders his next general General Zhao Tseng-wen along with Tsi-Wu to exterminate Tan. Tseng-wen is very cocky and sure that his plan won’t fail. We’re treated to a scene near a waterfall where some men are climbing around a hilly area. Tan also is in that zone and the men turn out to be a bunch of mercenaries who assault him. Their weapons are a nifty mancatcher type of chain weapon that has a neat little 3D effect (more on this later). A fight breaks out where Tan seemingly is about to be overrun when a bunch of monks show up to his aid. Most of the monks end up getting beheaded but they do put up enough of a fight to give Tan an edge, who manages to beat his assailants.

So a pause here to note that one thing I failed to mention at the start of this post was that this movie was meant to be viewed in 3D. So there’s some really strange camera shots that I didn’t understand until I realized what was going on. Like you’ll see Liu Kwei charging with the pole at the camera. Or you’ll see those mancatchers thrown at the camera and hover in the air. In retrospect, I actually do remember seeing those scenes and actually popped for the nostalgia. Then it all came back to me with the channel 13 commercials and the mancatcher scene.

Anyway, Tseng-wen believes that his plan is fool proof until Tsi-Wu points out the dead mercenaries. He goes as far as to suggest for them to split up where Tseng-wen at the very least recognizes that Tsi-Wu is not playing on the same team as him. The cocky Tseng-wen meets Tan and they have a fight as Tan wants revenge. Then came the only other scene I could recall where Tan tosses Tseng-wen’s cape over his head. I know it’s an odd thing to remember but I thought it was a cool move that actually made sense (why the hell would you wear a heavy, long cape to a fight?) Tan eventually beats Tseng-wen but does get injured in the process. Tsi-Wu appears to confront Tan and talks about joining him to defeat the Eunuch. However, Tan refuses to trust Tsi-Wu at this point, even though Tsi-Wu doesn’t try to kill him.

Later, Tan disguises himself to try his first shot against the Eunuch and is handily defeated. During this fight, Tsi-Wu’s identity is partly revealed in that he’s a traitor secretly aligning himself with Tan. Tsi-Wu admits that his purpose isn’t blind ambition but to get rid of the corrupt Eunuch system. Without Tan, Tsi-Wu ends up retreating and joins Tan.

However, the Eunuch pursues both and reveals that his wound now is cured. They have a drawn out odd fight involving the Eunuch’s golden robe/coat that acts as a flying Frisbee weapon. The fight goes for a while and is utterly boring because both Tan and Tsi-Wu can only hide up in the trees before making their final assault. Tsi-Wu gets fatally wounded but that gives Tan the chance to kill the Eunuch and the movie more or less ends.

Honestly, I’m not sure if it was a good idea to review this movie. It was long, plodding and pretty anti-climatic. There’s a few memorable scenes, mostly due to the early 3D effects but the plot itself and characters are horribly boring. Dorian barely gets to showcase what he would become known for, which is his amazing kicking abilities and the rest of the cast hardly demonstrate any good kung fu worth watching. The choreography is poor at best. Probably, the only thing that’s kinda cool are the bizarre weapons like Tan’s umbrella, the mancatchers, the emperor’s golden robe and his lengthy fingernail. Other than that, the movie itself doesn’t make any remarkable statements. The only other actor I could immediately identify was Liu Kwei because he would go on to be in a few other movies I’ve seen like the Invincible Shaolin Sticks. But the other general was some schmuck who had the personality of frozen pepperoni without the pepperoni. I thought he might’ve been some other actor but it turns out this was his only role ever (probably for good reason!)

Overall, there’s probably a reason why I couldn’t find this movie. It just was too unremarkable outside of the 3D effects. Quite honestly, now that I think about it, I don’t ever recall any other kung fu movie made in 3D at that period. So maybe that’s how it even managed to get on channel 13. But one thing is for certain: it makes me appreciate a lot of the Shaw Brothers’ stuff even more from the late 70s until the early 80s.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)