Issue #219a           HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES                 July 5th, 2004

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7 Grandmasters
(1978; Hong Hwa Film Co.)

Cantonese: Fu pau lung se ying
Mandarin: Hu bao long she ying
English: Tiger, Leopard, Dragon, Snake, Eagle
Alternate English Title: The 7 Grandmasters, The Seven Grandmasters


RATING: 8/10


A ceremony meant to commemorate the considerable achievements of kung fu master Shang Kuan Cheng (Jack Long Shi-gu) is interrupted by a note bearing an anonymous challenge. Although he was planning on retiring, Shang Kuan realizes that, to preserve his honor and justify the title Champion of Kiangnan, he must reverse this decision to leave the martial world. Accompanied by his daughter (Nancy Yen Nan-hsi) and three students, the elderly teacher (an acknowledged master of the Pai Mei style) journeys across country to fight The Seven Grandmasters, all of whom excel in their various disciplines. However, shortly after challenging and defeating the first opponent, Sha (Lung Fei), Shang Kuan is found near the man’s dead body. The marks on the victim reveal that Sha was killed by a Pai Mei technique but the injuries Shang Kuan inflicted upon him were not life-threatening. While traveling to meet his fourth opponent, the master encounters Hsia Hsiao-ying (Lee Yi-min), a rather clumsy young man, who wishes to become his disciple. Shang Kuan refuses but Hsiao-ying persists in his quest, following the teacher and doing everything he can think of to win the man’s favor. After enduring much hardship and the petty humiliations of the senior students, Hsiao-ying eventually succeeds via his unyielding sincerity. However, even after almost two years, there is still much traveling to be done and the strain of that, the fighting, and the weather may be taking their toll on Shang Kuan.

Jack Long Lung Fei Nancy Yen (left), Lee Yi-min

Widely celebrated among Old School aficionados as one of the greatest independent productions of its era, Joseph Kuo Nan-hong’s 7 GRANDMASTERS is a typical low-budget effort in terms of its settings (much of the film takes place in the middle of nowhere, with only a handful of interiors), unconvincing period wigs, familiar library cues, and that old chestnut about pages from a kung fu instruction manual falling into the wrong hands. However, any resemblance to your run-of-the-mill Taiwanese cheapie ends there. The choreography (by Corey Yuen Kwai and Yuen Cheung-yan) is incredibly fluid (the numerous flips and other advanced acrobatics are truly exhilarating) and the premise allows for the inclusion of many different styles to keep things interesting. Repetitive, unimaginative plotting is a common complaint leveled at this genre but "7 Grand" (as the film is affectionately known) is one of a select few Old School films where the rigid construction is a plus. There is a minimum of grating, untranslatable comedy and a welcome absence of jarring fantasy elements distracting one from what is, for all intents and purposes, a straight-forward narrative. The tournament-style scenario allows us to see numerous examples of Shang Kuan’s prowess but the time spent on the road between the fights also provides a chance to develop the character. Is his mission truly one of honor or born of ego and stubbornness? The charge that he ruthlessly murdered Sha, in the guise of a friendly kung fu match, adds a bit to that uncertainty. Devotees will not have much trouble working this question out but, when the plot takes a reasonably unexpected turn in the final reel, it adds to the dramatic effect, rather than just straining credibility and the viewer’s goodwill. Coupled with the cast’s amazing physicality and solid direction, it is easy to see why 7 GRANDMASTERS has developed such an enthusiastic following. Alan Tsui Chung-san, Mark Long Guan-wu (as Shang Kuan’s senior student), and Chin Yuet-sang (as a Grandmaster utilizing the monkey style) also appear.

Jack Long (left), Corey Yuen Alan Tsui Lee Yi-min


Media Blasters licensed this title from Mei Ah and the latter company has provided them with the anamorphic transfer utilized on this very satisfying DVD. As with Mei Ah’s releases of other Kuo titles, the credits are video generated and in Chinese only. However, in a welcome touch, Media Blasters has provided an English translated crawl after the feature. There is occasional minor wear but the image is clear, accurately colored more often than not, and moderately sharp, three compliments one can rarely bestow upon domestic DVD presentations of Old School movies. The widescreen framing also makes it much easier to appreciate the fighters’ abilities. Mandarin and English tracks are included; both have the expected limitations but are quite workable. The inclusion of the English track is welcome for reasons of nostalgia but the film plays much better in Mandarin and the subtitle translation is very good (no dubtitles here!). Genre expert Linn Haynes contributes admirable liner notes, which include the expected details about Kuo and Corey Yuen (who also plays one of the Grandmasters and participates in what is arguably the most remarkable combat sequence here). However, he also provides some very interesting background information on the real-life grandmaster whose exploits inspired the film. Cheung Lai-chun mastered that style of kung fu created by the infamous Pai Mei and went on to attain great recognition in the martial world. In his mid-60s, Cheung (still undefeated in any formal challenge) participated in the same sort of cross country competition that Jack Long’s character partakes in here. He won every match and maintained that spotless record until his death in 1964 at age 84. Also on offer is the original trailer (in Cantonese and missing all of its titles) and trailers for six other Tokyo Shock titles.

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Images in this review courtesy of Tokyo Shock. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock #TSDVD0403
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Post-synced Mandarin and English Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Spanish
  • 18 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (2.30:1)
  • 89 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: PG
  • Great Britain: 15
  • Ontario: PG
  • Quebec: 13+
  • Contains moderate violence


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful