LONG before Yuen Woo-Ping's Tai Chi Master (1993), the great fight choreographer/director first flirted with Tai Chi in the 1974 Shaw Brothers movie "The Shadow Boxer", which makes this Image DVD a special purchase to those who enjoy Yeun's work and that particular brand of martial arts which gets rarely used in Hong Kong action cinema.
As Heroes Two (an earlier Shaw release for that year) introduced the Hung Fist style to moviegoers, "TSB" spotlighted Tai Chi. Writer Ni Kuang worked on scripts for both movies (he co-wrote "HT" with director Chang Cheh); he introduces "TSB" with a demonstration (which roughly parallels "HT" except in that case, the Hung Fist "intro" was done as a featurette that [initially] played separately before the premiere of "HT") performed by Cheng Tien-Hsuing, the Tai Chi instructor for the picture. Yuen directed the "regular" martial arts action only, but he must have taken a shining to Tai Chi; in the years to come, he'd come back to the subject again with his own films, including Drunken Tai-Chi [VHS] (1984), Tai Chi II (1996) and the Chinese TV series The Tai Chi Master (1997). Let's not get ahead of ourselves, however!
The star of "TSB" is Chen Wo-fu, an actual martial arts champion who was also a student of Tai Chi; he had previously done supporting parts in other Shaw movies, including Chang Cheh's "All Men are Brothers" (1973). If any of the familiar stable of Shaw actors had been used for the lead instead of Chen, I believe the results would not be as good as what HE ultimately brought to the production; he combines great moves with proficient acting skill. Sadly, it was to be his only starring role; he took his own life sometime after completing this, but his POTENTIAL survives on in digital form, thank goodness!
To me, the main story derives from (again) "The Big Boss" (1971), but with Chen's character learning TAI CHI, and all that makes it stand out over the other martial arts used in the majority of other movies, you know not to expect QUITE the usual outcome as a result. (If anyone buying this PRACTICES Tai Chi, this may be more of a treat for them than someone who's new to this!) Character actor Yeung Chi Hing is ideally cast as Chen's instructor, end of story; if you don't know him by name, then plenty will know that worn, expressive face from many Shaw productions, and this is one of his best roles. Shih Szu fares well as his daughter, and when she finally gets to do some good ol' butt-kicking, she does it with the flair that's typical of her early roles (when she looked more cute with a slightly rounder figure). Frankie Wei Hung is the main antagonist, and his good looks are an asset to his portrayal of a jerk who thinks he can get ANYTHING he wants! (How his smile creeps me out!) The rest of the cast are an array of people you've seen in other Shaw pictures; Wu Chih-Ching, Chan Shen, Chan Mei Hua, Ching Miao, Wang Kuang Yu and Yang Tse Lin are among those who lend firm support to the main actors.
Pao Hsueh-li (formerly a co-director who worked with Chang Cheh) directs the whole thing capably, and the 86 minutes go by without much drag. The "drag" is that because of TAI CHI, the payoff to this "revenge" picture takes a little longer to get to than what some may like! It could be argued this point is necessary to the story, but I feel the script could've been improved upon with the same final result (a "NO SPOILERS" of a doozy), so this loses a "star" from my final rating.
There is only one language on this release, and it's Mandarin, with your choice of English or Spanish subtitles; as I'm used to Mandarin Shaw soundtracks, I appreciate it without reservation, especally since it's NOT tampered with! Compared to earlier Image/Shaw reissues, the picture is very good but still lacks the sheen found in Shaw reissues by Dragon Dynasty and Tokyo Shock. No true "extras" are to be found here; a profile of Chen Wo-fu, Yuen Woo-Ping and/or Tai Chi would've added nicely to this.
As it goes on occasion, while this is "NOT RATED", this is one of those rare movies where those who usually watch them with children (and some overly-sensitive people) need to be alerted to the sexual assault scene that happens about 40 minutes in; be ready with the remote, or watch this by yourself!
Like any martial art in these kind of pictures, the Tai Chi presented in "TSB" is stylized, but it is showcased nicely in this most unique of "old school" movies. If you've seen all of Yeun Woo-Ping's "Tai Chi" films, then you need to see what [must have] inspired him to do those very same pictures. For everybody else who loves Shaw Brothers and '70s "Kung Fu" flicks, this is a gem worth your time and money. Best of all, it has Shih Szu; for those in the know, need I say more? No!
All the best, Brother Fang.