The Devil's Nightmare

Color, 1977, 90 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Cheng Hou
Starring Carter Wong, Judy Lee, Doris Lung Chun-ehr, Tan Tao-Liang, Chen Hung-Lieh, Yi Yuan
AGFA (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Tai Seng (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Mr. Banker (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL)

Color, 1973, 84 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Cheng Hou
Starring Polly Shang Kwan, Yasuaki Katura, Chou Ting, Chou Chung-Lien
AGFA (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Though not as famous or influential in the area of The Shaolin Invinciblescinematic martial arts as Hong Kong, Taiwan definitely churned out quite a few action-packed The Shaolin Invinciblesgems in the '70s and '80s that could easily compete with their peers. The recently Blu-ray-celebrated Joseph Kuo is one of the prime examples, and another can be found on a 2023 Blu-ray double feature from AGFA from director Cheng Hou who turned out titles like The Black Fox, Shaolin Vengeance, and Fight for Survival. Here we get two solid representations of his work, both taken from the sole extant 35mm prints around and presented in glorious widescreen with every scratch, scuff, and kick intact.

First up is 1977's utterly bonkers The Shaolin Invincibles, which is essential viewing simply for the novelty of seeing a couple of guys doing kung fu in big gorilla outfits that would make Rick Baker jealous. The opening crawl encapsulates the plot about as well as possible: "In the Ching dynasty, the fourth heir Prince Yung Cheng made himself Emperor. To reinforce his power, he punished his opponents heavily. The Examiner in Szu Chuan, Cha Szu Ting, was accused of blaspheming the Emperor for using words similar to the Emperor's name in the examination topic. The Shaolin InvinciblesHis whole family and all his acquaintances were executed, including the families of his teacher Lu Wan Tsun and his The Shaolin Invinciblesfriend Yu Chiao. The daughter of Yu, Yu Liang and granddaugther of Lu Szu Liano were rescued by a monk of Shaolin Temple. They were taught kung fu and after twelve years, the two girls avenged and killed Yung Cheng." After that setup we fellow Yu (Chun-ehr) and Lu (Lee) on their quest for revenge after years of honing their martial arts skills with the aid of Kan (Wong), which also involves a couple of ancient wizards with gigantic deadly tongues and a pair of kung fu gorillas. You can't make this up.

Handled on VHS by Ocean Shores and ported over to DVD in a hideous cropped version with an English dub track, The Shaolin Invincibles makes its Blu-ray debut here looking much better than before with the print displaying pretty decent color and the full scope compositions. The reel changes are pretty rough and some specks and scuffs are evident throughout, but at least you'll have a lot of fun watching it now. The DTS-HD MA Mandarin 2.0 mono track sounds okay for a print, and burned-in English subtitles are on the source which are generally legible throughout except when there's something Seven to Onereally bright on Seven to Onescreen.

Also on the same disc is an early Cheng Hou film, 1973's Seven to One, taken from an English-dubbed scope print and looking roughly comparable in quality apart from far less vibrant color. There's some vague semblance of a plot here involving The 18 Bronzemen's Polly Shang Kwan (a.k.a. Polly Shang Kuan Ling Feng) being repeatedly ambushed by guys and getting into street fights, which starts happening about two minutes into the movie and rarely lets up. Here she plays Ting, the daughter of a guy who got killed for his valuable jewelry under the orders of a mob boss, and now she goes back and forth across town through various bars and dockyards trying to avenge his slaying. Occasionally her scuffles involve the presence of lounge-rock singer Yasuaki Kurata (from Fist of Legend and two of the Sister Street Fighter films), which leads to her uncle and a search for a valuable missing diamond ring everyone's trying to find.

The fight choreographers definitely earned their paychecks on this one with a cavalcade of martial arts techniques on display along with the occasional Seven to Onetraditional chase scene, all executed in some spectacular '70s fashions complete with copious ascots and wide Seven to Onelapels. The soundtrack is a fun hodgepodge as well including some familiar bits of Berto Pisano's score for Kill!, as well as some incredible instrumental choices from the American rock songbook including Focus' "House of the King" and "Hocus Pocus" (decades before Baby Driver). Kwan makes for a fun lead and convinces in her combat scenes, while the story (such as it is) does manage to toss in a couple of fun twists along the way. The dub is as ridiculous as you'd expect, but that's part of the charm if you're a '70s kung fu fan. (The fact that Katura's voice sounds a lot like Trey Parker putting on a Southern accent will be a make or break for many viewers, too.) Also included on the disc is a 33m21s "explosive martial arts trailer reel from the AGFA vaults) featuring Attack to Kill, Fists for Revenge, The Flying Fists, The Dynamite Trio, The Eagle's Killer, The Queen Boxer, The Man from Hong Kong, Force Four, Force: Five, The Black Morning Glory, and Cheetah on Fire.

Reviewed on April 24, 2023