17 Nov OF REEDS, RAMPAGES, RESCUES, AND ROMANCE: JUSTICE FOR THE INVINCIBLE FIST
Even by 1969, Chang Cheh has established himself as the cornerstone of creative foundations for the Shaw Brothers. He had delivered a handful of dynamic and effective films like The Assassin or Golden Swallow and he was responsible for the next level box office boom that was The One-Armed Swordsman. His 1969 overlooked wuxia, The Invincible Fist, belongs with these iconic films. While the film doesn’t run with the darker subtexts of its plotting and characters quite like its remake would (the also very impressive Killer Constable from 1980), the film still manages to be a strong wuxia that tells the tale of a single-minded hero, played with a more stoic performance by Lo Lieh, trying to unravel a series of violent robberies. The film hits all the Shaw keys, gimmicky villains and outrageous wuxia moments of heroism, but it’s the rather unique love story that arrives in the final act and visual style of Cheh that raises the film above the norm. While the formula remains, The Invincible Fist shows that with heart, some strong performances, and a dynamic energy then any film can overcome its flaws.
At the foundations of The Invincible Fist, there is definitely the Shaw Brothers core. If one boils down the plot, it surrounds a hero looking for a gang of thieves and fights through them to ultimately confront the boss. At times, the film even remains rather predictable in how it plays out feeding itself with gimmicky villains, classic set pieces, and dynamic action sequences. It’s a late 60’s wuxia in its concept and while that remains a great place to start, it’s not necessarily groundbreaking. However, the film feels different in how it approaches it’s storytelling techniques. Our hero is not introduced as a charming, stand up character. Lo Lieh delivers a rather stark and stoic performance here that shades his character as darker and often disconnected until the third act. While the structure overall seems predictable too, it’s these details like Lo Lieh’s darker hero, Tieh Wu-Ching, that set The Invincible Fist aside. There are moments in the film where the bad guys overpower the good guys, our lead villain is painted as somewhat relatable through the relationship with his blind daughter, and the manner that the film twists its third act – having that blind daughter and the hero essentially stumble into a romantic subplot that late in the film – gives it a strange and rather unique gray area concept that’s much more effective than if the film played things as straightforward as it might have.
On top of the unique story elements of a surprise third act romance or having our heroes lose to the villains occasionally, Chang Cheh brings in style with his direction. The action is tight and feels even more personal than some of Cheh’s previous wuxia films and while the love story could have been introduced earlier in the film for more of a maximum emotional effect of the ending, the blend of style, character, and concept make The Invincible Fist rather impressive. The use of sporadic rain and the massive reeds where multiple action sequences take place give the film a more chaotic tone at times, obscuring the audience’s view of what’s happening and delivering some surprises along the way, and the unique villain development, through their interactions, gives the film some increasingly violent and quick tonal shifts that can skew the entire narrative onto new paths. Chang Cheh delivers entertainment, but with The Invincible Fist he also delivers a dynamic story with layered characters and interesting moral quandaries.
Fans of early Shaw Brothers wuxia material will love what it has to offer and, in context, The Invincible Fist soars. The performances are all delivered with nuance and dedication, the action is surprisingly personal and intense, and the manner that the film shades its details within the wuxia formula makes it one of the more intriguing films from this era of the studio’s output. It’s no wonder that it was remade later in the 80s by Shaw Brothers to capitalize on the increased expansion of genre bending. As is though, The Invincible Fist is another one of those Shaw Brothers films that is overlooked too often even by fans and deserves another look for its specialized attributes.
In the film, both Tieh Wu-Ching and his nemesis are looking for justice in different ways and it’s only fitting that fans spread the word on The Invincible Fist and earn it some justice of its own.
Watch The Invincible Fist with Prime Video: http://amzn.to/2hx7h9P
Written by Matt L. Reifschneider the Founder/Writer/Lead Editor of Blood Brothers Film Reviews. Unapologetically cult. Follow him on Twitter.