AKA: Seven Grand Masters, The Seven Grandmasters, The 7 Grand Masters, 7 Secret Rivals, Seven Secret Rivals, Return Of The Seven Secret Rivals
Year of release: 1981
Genre: martial arts
Director: Joseph Kuo
Action directors: Corey Yuen, Yuen Cheung-Yan
Producer: Joseph Kuo
Writer: Chan Cheun-Yuk
Cinematography: Wu Kuo-Ren
Music: Chow Fook-Leung
Stars: Lee I-Min, Jack Lung, Lung Fei, Mark Lung, Corey Yuen, Alan Chui, Chin Yuet-Sang, Nancy Yen, Cheung Ching-Fung, Lee Yan-Wa, Yuen Sam
Not rated; contains IIA-level violence
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7 Grandmasters tells the well-worn tale of a young man (Lee I-Min in this case) trying to convince an old master (Jack Lung) to train him in order to avenge the death of his father. The movie tries to liven things up by putting the training in the conext of the sifu's quest to defeat the best warriors in the land (the "seven grandmasters" of the title) so that he may retire as the greatest champion in China. I didn't think it was possible for kung fu fighters to actually retire, but admittedly I'm a bit rusty on the "rules" of jiang hu.
At any rate, even with the addition of the pseudo-tournament, 7 Grandmasters follows most of the conventions of the genre. The sifu's other students don't like the new kid at first, a bit of a love story with the sifu's daughter is thrown in, and there's some dopey comedy as well. There is a "big plot twist" near the end of the movie, but most viewers who have seen more than two or three of this type of picture will see it coming within the first fifteen minutes.
So 7 Grandmasters won't win any awards in the story department, and the low budget won't inspire any excitement either. The costuming is particularly bad -- you can clearly see the edges of the wigs worn by many of the actors. Plus, the movie was obviously shot in a handful of locations, which are recycled throughout the movie. Sure, most kung fu movies from this period aren't known for looking all that great, but 7 Grandmasters's low budget is so obvious that it starts to detract from the viewing experience after a while.
As you might expect, though, what saves 7 Grandmasters are the fight sequences. This one of Corey Yuen's first cracks at being an action director, and it's pretty obvious he was trying to stuff in as many styles as possible; this is apparent in one scene featuring Yuen himself, where six different weapon styles are used. Unlike some other reviewers, I also enjoyed the camerawork and editing during these scenes as well. They set off the fighting scenes enough to differentiate themselves from the dozens of other kung fu movies which were coming out around this time (though I will grant that the rapid zoom-in is used a bit too much).
Sure, 7 Grandmasters might not be a true classic of the genre, but it does feature some very solid fight sequences, and the rest of the movie won't want to make you hit the fast-forward button. If you're a fan of old school kung fu movies and are looking for something new to check out, you could do a whole lot worse than this.