Issue #233a          HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES          October 11th, 2004

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Challenge of the Masters
(1976; Shaw Brothers)

Cantonese: Wong Fei-hung yu Luk Ah-choi
Mandarin: Huang Fei-hong yu Lu Ya-tsai
English: Wong Fei-hung and Luk Ah-Choi or Huang Fei-hong and Lu Ya-tsai


RATING: 7/10


Director Lau Kar-leung presents the story of Wong Fei-hung (or Huang Fei-hong, in Mandarin), starting from his days as a belligerent youngster with no kung fu skills, in this pleasing Shaw Brothers production. The energetic but brash Fei-hung (Gordon Lau Kar-fai) repeatedly tries to ingratiate himself with his father’s martial arts students but they will have nothing to do with this pretender. The elder Huang Chi-ying (Kong Yeung) refuses to teach Fei-hung any martial arts, as he believes his son’s fiery temper will inevitably get him into serious trouble. On the day of the annual Pao competition, Fei-hung enters illicitly and causes his father’s school to lose. However, revered master Lu Ah-tsai (Chen Kuan-tai) agrees to take the youth on as a pupil for two years of training in the countryside. Fei-hung makes slow progress but, once he learns that a dear friend has been murdered, it gives him the determination to increase the intensity of his training. In the months that follow, his skills increase markedly but does Fei-hung finally possess the ability to defeat the killer (played by the director himself)?

Gordon Lau Chen Kuan-tai Lau Kar-leung

While the training sequences and martial arts displays are excellent (Gordon Lau’s battle with Lau Kar-leung being the highlight), this is a film equally concerned with the significance of martial arts as an eloquent discipline. While Lu is happy to impart his knowledge of kung fu to Fei-hung, he is just as interested in making sure that the lad retains a sense of humanity, to temper the physical powers he has attained. The doctrine "More Forgiveness, Less Aggression" is demonstrated on two occasions during the final third; some may find these sequences corny but the emotions on display do seem heartfelt and the film will already have won over most viewers by this point. Gordon Lau’s laudable take on Fei-hung hovers somewhere between that of the rascally Jackie Chan and the stolid Jet Li (to name the interpretations Western viewers will be most familiar with), and Chen Kuan-tai brings real nobility and poise to Lu Ah-tsai. While Lu has a sense of humor, the character is not an object of humor, like so many elderly teachers in these movies. The supporting cast includes Lau Kar-wing, Wong Yue, Lily Li Li-li, Donald Kong to, Fung Hark-on, Ricky Hui Koon-ying, Wilson Tong Wai-shing, and John Cheung Ng-long, and watch for perpetual day player Eric Tsang Chi-wai as one of Master Wong’s pupils.

Lau Kar-wing Donald Kong (left), Fung Hark-on Lily Li


The transfer looks beautiful and the restoration of the widescreen image will be a revelation to those who have only experienced the film via pan-and-scan tape versions. The inevitable re-mix features the usual foley enhancement but is bearable. In addition to the regular Celestial supplements (promo spots, bios/filmographies/galleries), there is a fairly disposable 16 minute documentary called "Contemporary Styles of Kung Fu – Hong Fist," hosted by Gordon Lau. The history of Hong Fist is covered, supplemented by comments from various martial arts proponents and clips from CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS, HEROES TWO, THE EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, and EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN.

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Images in this review courtesy of Intercontinental Video Ltd. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC Region 3 Only
  • Intercontinental Video Ltd. #102684
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Post-synced Cantonese and Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional Chinese
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (2.36:1)
  • 92 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: M 15+
  • Ontario: AA
  • Quebec: G
  • Singapore: PG
  • 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