Normally when we think of old Kung Fu movies from around the 70's we think of really low budget affairs with bad dubbing. This is partially because the biggest Hong Kong studio from that era, Shaw Brothers, did not until very recently believe in the home video market. One of the Shaw brothers, Run Run Shaw, is still alive at about the age of 102 which might be part of why they were so stubbornly old fashion. This resulted in Shaw movies being only available in worn out bootlegs. They finally came around several years ago and from about 2003 - 2006 they released about 500 digitally restored DVDs of from the Shaw Brothers catalog. These all came out in China with a region 3 encoding but luckily for us they all came with english subtitles and region free DVD players are easy to come by. Plus they are slowly leaking out in the US market via Image Entertainment and Dragon Dynasty.
During most of 2005 I had taken a temporary job with nonstop overtime in LA where I only had a few friends who lived far away. This year in my life of almost no social life coincided with my discovery of a (now defunct) website called Nicheflix, which was like a netflix specializing in foreign DVDs. So as a result I plowed through a ridiculous amount of Shaw brothers movies. It started with my interest in old school kung fu battles but it was also the Shaw Brothers look that made it addicting. Shaw Brothers seriously beefed up their studio when it was standard practice to shoot everything indoors and because of this they continued that old fashioned indoor studio look well into the early eighties. At times it looks like angry shirtless Chinese dudes beating each other to a bloody pulp on the set of The Wizard of Oz. I love the weird unearthly feeling of fake indoor sets, opera stages, and miniatures so combining this with pulpy bloody kung fu is like cinema crack to me.
Visually, one of my favorite Shaw movies is The Imperial Swordsman(1972). It has almost no story and the average quality of the fight choreography has to be made up for in quantities of spurting blood and dead bodies. But it is a beaut to look at. Lots of eerie fake indoor sets and miniatures and for some reason shot almost entirely in deep dark expressive noirish lighting. Here are some pics and a clip to show you what I'm talking about.
In the future I will occasionally post some more samples of some of my favorite looking Shaw movies
-click on the images for a larger picture-
Watch the high quality youtube clip here