The Magnificent Ruffians (1979) Review

The Magnificent Ruffians (1979) aka The Destroyers is another Venoms classic movie. It doesn’t have Wei Pai and that slot is filled by the 7th Venom of Wong Lik, who actually is a good guy in this. This movie is possibly Lu Feng’s magnum opus when it comes to him being able to fully display his abilities as apparently he won an award for his use of the Kwang-Do (they call it a golden sword here). I’ve probably seen this movie a few dozen times at least because it’s a comfort movie of mine. And while it’s not the best of the best, it should be up there as a fun romper.

Lu Feng plays Yuan Ying Fei, who is the son of a famous martial artist. Through his father’s fame and fortune, Yuan Ying Fei inherits both as well as his father’s Golden Sword. In turn, he ends up running an escort business (not a whore house mind you!) and a good portion of the town. Despite his wealth, he finds business boring and solicits kung fu experts to practice with. In truth, he actually exploits them as his personal guinea pigs to test his kung fu (which he calls the Golden Wheel) and ends up murdering them for sport.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are Chiang Sheng, playing the dual word wielding He Fei, Wong Lik, playing a battle ax expert of Zeng Qiao and Sun Chien as his usual kicker role with the name Feng Jia Ji. These three men are homeless (hence the Ruffians) and often leech at the town’s restaurants, getting severely beaten to make up for their lack of money. Along with them is Philip Kwok, another homeless ruffian, playing Yang Zhui Feng, who is a pole/staff fighter/acrobat. Like the other three, Yang Feng pays through allowing the restaurant workers to beat him. In the first instance, he gets the workers to stop bullying Sun Chien and accepts double the bill. Once the heavy armaments come out, he threatens the workers that if they touch his staff, they would be killed (which plants the seeds of what his mysterious kung fu ability is with his staff). Outside, Feng Ji stumbles towards his companions, who want revenge for Feng’s nearly fatal beating, except that Feng stops them in recollecting the events, along with Yang’s involvement.

On another part of the town is Lo Meng, who plays the hard headed Guan Yun. He too runs an escort business and lives with his sister and mother, who disapprove of his fighting. Guan Yun, being the man of the family, protects his family from Fei as Fei wants to hold a monopoly of the businesses in town. Guan Yun’s location and position act as the last hold out before Fei can accomplish his business ambitions. Just as Guan Yun is about to combat Fei, Yun’s sister comes out to stop him. However, Fei is immediately smitten by the young girl’s attractiveness and begins plotting.

In the meantime, the other three go from restaurant to restaurant in trying to find a new spot to leech off of. This time it’s Hei Fei’s turn to receive his share of the beatings and he’s reluctant. However, they challenge his honor and masculinity so he concedes. Fortunately, the restaurant they choose ends up being one of Yuan Fei’s spots so the owner recognizes that he might have a potential new martial arts candidate for Yuan Fei’s disposal. In turn, he allows Hei Fei to eat for free on the condition that he survive jumping onto a set of poles with a deadly set of spikes on the ground. Hei Fei accepts the challenge and adroitly demonstrates that he’s a competent acrobat.

On the way out, Hei Fei feigns being injured but trolls his two companions about his condition and fully endorses the restaurant. The other two see through his dishonorable ways as Hei Fei describes his experience with the restaurant’s proprietor. At an old, abandoned temple that the three companions use as a shelter, they discuss what the proprietor had said to Hei Fei in implying that they were sponges. Because these are MEN, they have their pride, despite how life had treated them up to this point. We get some backstory about the three, their families and how they all came from escort businesses. However, with the advent of guns, that neutralized that type of business and they lost their families’ fortunes.

One thing of value that the three have (or rather Hei Fei possesses) is Hei Fei’s swords. As family heirlooms, he prizes them highly and does not want to part with them. In their desperate state though, they manage to convince him to pawn them off for some money so that they wouldn’t be looked at as sponges. When Hei Fei goes to the pawn shop, the pawn broker immediately denounces their value, which wounds Hei Fei’s pride. So the pawn broker agrees to Hei Fei’s terms, which allows the three to eat normally.

They return to the previous restaurant where a starving Yang is hanging outside. Hei Fei feels some pity for Yang and tosses Yang a coin for which Yang slaps back. Insulted, they swear to a fight. Before that though, it’s Yang’s turn to receive the “friendly” challenge from the restaurant owner. This time though the owner has prepared a surprise and nearly traps Yang.

Then back at the temple, the three admit that their funds have dried out quickly. So Hei Fei is forced to sell off his swords (as opposed to renting them?). On this time around, Yuan’s sidekick, played by the Yu Tai-Ping (Chief Li) watches in the background as Yuan now wants to meet these martial artists. Yang and the other three meetup at the temple to have a fight but Yuan (with his entourage) breaks them up. He invites them as his guest but the noble Yang only will accept if Yuan can counter him. Yuan handles the challenge easily where Yang honors his word and accompanies the group to Yuan’s home.

The four are cleaned up, dressed and well fed. Hei Fei receives his weapons back with seemingly no strings attached. However, the generosity offered by Yuan humbles Hei Fei into effectively being Yuan’s stooge. Of course, Yuan has an ulterior motive: Guan Yun. Yuan has his followers try to offer gifts to Guan Yun’s sister but that simply angers the hot headed Yun. The four, now cleaned up, approach the scene and break up a beating of the servants. Feng is the first to challenge Yun on a one-on-one match where they give each other three blows. Because the mother/sister interrupt once again, the five decide to continue their challenge at the abandon temple.

Later on, Guan Yun shows up to fully engage Feng. He manages to make Feng concede which provokes Hei Fei to step in. He goes without a weapon initially but isn’t very effective against Guan Yun. So he uses his swords where Guan Yun is allowed to choose a weapon. Guan Yun tells them he’s never used a weapon before and still manages to best Hei Fei. Nonetheless, Hei Fei shows everyone his finisher which does impress Guan Yun. Then it’s Yang’s turn.

Back at Yuan’s home, the four discuss strategies. Outside, the sneaky Chief Li attempts to snoop on them. Hei Fei detects the rat and kicks through the door to chase Chief Li off. In turn, they swap topics back to Guan Yun. Hei Fei grabs a huge whole chicken and Yang accuses him of stealing. However, he says that he wants to bring it to the fight. On the morrow, Yang goes fist-to-fist with Guan Yun. As Yang and Yun engage in battle, the other three watch while sharing the previous night’s chicken. At some point, Guan Yun sniffs the chicken and pauses. Yang offers some of the chicken to Guan Yun, but Guan Yun’s pride denies the solicitation, which he equates the four to being Yuan’s lackeys.

In turn, the four decide to have Hei Fei pawn his swords once more to buy a proper meal with their own money. As usual, it takes quite a bit of peer pressure to get the covetous Hei Fei into giving up his prized possession. But they succeed and bring a nice banquet prior to Yang’s next challenge with Guan Yun. Still, Guan Yun is stubborn and only is convinced to join them after learning that Hei Fei has sacrificed his swords. The five eat up and destroy the dishes while the sneaky Chief Li spies on them. Guan Yun and Yang go to another draw which means they still need another round for the deciding factor.

At this stage, it’s clear that they’ve befriended Guan Yun and Chief Li goes to complain to Yuan. However, Yuan has anticipated this result and created a special staff for Yang to use in the next battle. Chief Li plants the staff when the others go to sleep. Just before though, they discuss not harming Guan Yun and admire the guy. At the battle the next day, it’s Guan Yun’s turn to treat the group. We get some more background information on them as each of the persons had problems with their escort businesses. Even Guan Yun’s business has suffered, which makes him realize winning is critical. So he appeals to Yang to not hold back and accepts the outcome no matter what.

All seems fair until Yang lands a stomach blow where he taps the end of the staff, causing an explosion to launch the other end directly into Guan Yun’s guts. Everyone is shocked as Yang often would talk about his fatal blows. However, in the realm of martial arts, this would be considered “cheating”. Yang tries to help Guan Yun but Yun tosses Yang off as he struggles but dies. The other three try to go for revenge and manage to get in a few hits until Yang recovers his broken staff. Wary of the tip, the other three back off while Yang runs.

The three return Guan Yun’s body to his home where the mother and sister weep. Chief Li gloats with Yuan as Yuan has eliminated his primary threat. But he knows he has to get rid of the four to make it look like he’s gained revenge for the Yuns. He finds the three at the temple and manages to kill Feng and Zeng. Hei Fei manages to escape and Yuan is down two key guards.

Hei Fei returns to the Yun household as he realizes that he needs to find Yang, even though he’s still suspicious of him. There, Hei Fei locates a despondent Yang, who points to another room where the mother and sister are hung up. In a fit of anger, Hei Fei accuses Yang of being a murderer and instigates a quick fight. Yang though tells him that he needs to calm down and nail Chief Li with him to find out the truth. If Yang is wrong, then he won’t resist his fate.

Chief Li shows up later at night to persuade the sister to be with Yuan. However, he doesn’t realize both committed suicide. The house has strong winds which creeps him out and he uncovers the bodies which further scares him. Then some ghostly figures assault him which turns out to be Hei Fei and Yang. They learn the real truth through a confession by Chief Li, which cements that they need to get rid of Yuan. Before that happens, the restaurant owner shows up to provide a few hints as well as Yuan’s backstory. We find out that Yuan effectively is crazy and a murderer. So the pair spend the rest of the night practicing to counter the Golden Wheel technique.

The next day they show up at Yuan’s home and face off with him. The two remaining bodyguards easily job to Hei Fei while Yang starts the fight off against Yuan. Both switch on and off to throw Yuan off but Yuan is a real master and he manages to get a few keen cuts in. They then go to simultaneously attack Yuan and manage to counter most of the Golden Wheel blows. As a result, Yuan reveals that he has two more moves which weren’t accounted for and goes back to the attack. This time Hei Fei and Yang are not as prepared and continue to get diced up. Finally, Yang does his fatal move (which is shooting his staff through Yuan) after Yuan trims down Yang’s staff. Heavily injured, Yuan goes for one last move as Hei Fei goes to block the Golden Sword, but catches it in his guts while Yang stabs Yuan in the neck with his remaining pole.

Yuan dies deservedly while Hei Fei writhes on the ground with one remaining thought: “At least I needn’t worry about food and drink.” Yang rushes to pick up the injured Hei Fei and it’s not entirely clear if Hei Fei survives since the movie abruptly ends.

The Magnificent Ruffians is pretty tight as far as plots go for kung fu movies and the characters are fun (especially the heroes). We get to see a good guy version of Wong Lik and the usual humor/camaraderie between the venom bunch at the early part of the movie. Of course, like many classic venom movies, things go dark once Lo Meng’s character perishes and it’s purely a serious/revenge tone from there on out.

The one thing that really stood out for me was the early parts where the four were homeless. It was sad to me seeing the disheveled four, especially Chiang Sheng with his torn up clothing, dirty face and scrawny body. Also, there’s the scenes at the temple where they’re using the place because there’s nowhere for them to sleep.  The Venoms had other movies like The Killer Army where they were portrayed as being homeless. But this was a more prolonged look at their lives. Hei Fei in particular was one of my favorite characters here because he’s incredibly stingy and pragmatic. At the same time, they portray him as being rude and having no manners whatsoever (effectively the epitome of low class). Like the first time he sits at the table, he tries to steal a spoon, which indicates that he’s a thief. Also, he has no idea how to handle mouth wash and nearly swallows it thinking it’s a beverage. And he might be illiterate because he’s shown that he can’t count with regards to the gold ware.

Yang’s character is more about one who has tremendous pride and honor. Despite his homeless, Yang does his best to uphold the ideals of martial arts. For instance, when they’re challenging Guan Yun, he tells the others one-on-one or for Guan Yun to have a weapon so that the fights are fair. He’s only leeching food out of sheer necessity.

Then you have Yuan. Yuan is just a spoiled brat. He pretty much has tarnished his father’s legacy. Everyone kowtows to him out of fear and necessity. It’s hard to say where things went wrong but I imagine it’s both ego and not learning to appreciate anything. But Yuan is a typical Lu Feng aristocratic figure.

Guan Yun/Lo Meng is great here. Sometimes I find myself comparing Lo Meng to Chi Kuan-Chun because of both men’s musculature frames. But Lo Meng is by far the better actor. He’s very expressive especially when the mother comes around to beat on him. It sucks the way he died because by the time that incident comes around, you’ve fully grown to admire this guy and how he’s trying to protect his family.

Sun Chien in all of this was very low key. I didn’t care for the voice used in the English version but his role was the moderator in the group. I felt bad the way he died here because he got sliced in half. I will say that his rigor mortis moments are hilarious.

Finally, I want to comment on the food in this movie. There’s a LOT of food scenes and this is one of those movies where you should not watch it hungry. Some of the food like the chicken looked amazing. I find Venom movies and food as a must have. These guys always are eating or starving.

At any rate, fun movie. Definitely try to go out of your way to find a copy.


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