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The Hand of Death aka Countdown in Kung Fu/Shao Lin Men didn't make much of an impression in 1976 but it's become something of a historical curio as it unites the Three Brothers, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao under the direction of John Woo at the beginning of their careers. Woo even plays a supporting role. However, don't expect to see them teamed up along similar lines to later efforts like Dragons Forever or the Lucky Stars series: Sammo Hung is the villain's buck-toothed sidekick, Jackie Chan the hero's sidekick and Biao odd bit parts and a lot of stunt doubling. Instead the lead is taken by Dorian Tan, a nondescript and one-note but inoffensive lead who's better at the kicks than the acting, though Chang Chung's swordsman, the first of Woo's tragic fatalistic professional killers, compensates so admirably in that department that it's a shame his career never took off. The film is slightly above average for its time, a decidedly formulaic but more than competently staged period piece that sees yet another Manchurian despot decide to wipe out the Shaolin temple and Tan's survivor teaming up with Chan and Chung to guide a revolutionary scholar (Woo) to safety and have their revenge on James Tien's traitor. But as usual, the plot's just an excuse for a string of action sequences, here choreographed by Sammo Hung, and while they may be a long way from the Bruce Lee level they're entertaining enough to more than hold your interest en route to the grand finale battle. It's not a deathless classic but it's easily one of the best of Chan's pre-stardom movies, filling an hour-and-a-half excitingly enough without outstaying its welcome.

Unfortunately while Hong Kong Legends' DVD boasts an impressive widescreen transfer, infuriatingly, as with many of their releases, it also has subtitles that aren't widescreen TV friendly for older TVs.
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on 4 May 2012
I had never heard of this movie until a few years ago even though ever since my childhood I have been a fan of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung's 1980s films such as Wheels on Meals, Project A and Dragons Forever. It was interesting that before John Woo ventured into directing many Chow-Yun Fat action films in the 1980s, he had directed martial arts films and Hand of Death was his first and only collaboration with Chan and Hung.

First thing fans must know is even though the Hong Kong legends dvd has Jackie Chan on the cover and makes it seem like he is the star of the film, he only plays a supporting role in the film. That's not to say Chan isnt given much screentime. He appears throughout the film on and off and in the climax has a great fight scene using a spear. Sammo Hung does not share any scenes with Chan unfortunately but also has a major role in the film as a buck-toothed villain who is the henchman of the main villain played by James Tien.

The leading role is played by Dorian Tan who is known more for being a very good kicker and it shows in the fight scenes. The climatic fight scenes Dorian Tan has with both Sammo and James are well choreographed.

Whilst one wishes Chan and Sammo had a scene together or even better if they had a fight scene in the film it is still good to see them younger in the years before they shot to stardom. Yuen Biao also plays a tiny bit-part in the film as one of James Tien's guards in a blink-n-miss appearance. He also doubles for Dorian Tan in many of the fight scenes and he can be spotted if you pause your dvd.

While the film is not on par with Chan's breakthrough films Snake in Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, it is far better than many of Chan's other films he made during this period like New Fist of Fury.

Recommended for Chan and Sammo Hung fans.
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on 24 June 2000
John Woo directs this early Golden Harvest production that stars Tan Tao Liang and James Tien. It also features Jackie Chan in his earliest Golden Harvest producton that I know of, but don't get too excited neither him or Sammo Hung do anything special. The fighting in this movie is old but don't let that put you off, it's still a cool film but it's seriously dated in comparison with later productions such as "Young Master" or "Prodigal Son".
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on 22 August 2007
Jackie Chan is more of a co star in this period kung-fu flick from the mid-1970's. I have no idea how this film came about because I'm sure that at the time of filming that Jackie was contracted to the films of director Lo Wei, who was very keen on keeping Jackie all to himself and pretty much forcing him to churn out inferior movies. This movie however is GREAT! The actual star of the pic, is a guy called Tan Tao Liang a.k.a "Flash Legs" so nicknamed because whilst this guy might not be able to act, he kicks like a god!

Hong Kong action movie fans like will also delight in watching this because it is an early John Woo movie, and it is interesting to see signs of the stylistic film-making that made him famous and allowed him to become one of Hollywoods finest action directors with movies like "Hard Target" and of course "Face Off". Of course there is no leaping around with guns and slow-mo explosions here, but look hard enough and you will see what I mean. John Woo also appears in the movie, I wont say where!

Also, did I mention that Sammo Hung plays a bad guy?
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on 5 August 2012
John Woo has made two magnificent films, this one and Last Hurrah For Chivalry (shame about the title), both brilliantly made traditional martial arts films set in the past. The trouble with the gun-based movies he's famous for is that there is little to do with the fights except add more and heavier weaponry (the sequence is typically: hand-guns to machine-guns to rocket-launchers to 'Oh god they've got a bomb!'), so what begins as bang-bang, develops in to bang-bang-bang-bang, then climaxes with BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG-BANGBANGBANGBANG-BOOOOOM! Not something the sensible viewer is going to want to spend a lot of time on. But both of these early (and commercially not very successful) films use to the full the grace and subtlety of the various fighting styles used, with some of the best-choreographed fights (both weapons and fist/kicks) I've ever seen -- like great ballet without the soppiness. Both highly recommended, and I wish he'd go back to making films like them.
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on 9 December 2011
I have watched A LOT of KungFu in my time and this film rocks..... not quite as good as The Drunken Master or The Young Master but still totally worth watching and for a couple of quid on Amazon it's an essential addition to anyones martial arts collection.
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on 4 February 2013
Love the film, it arrived in excellent condition, the show down was worth waiting for.Jackie Chan and Tan Tao-Liang leave you wanting more.
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on 23 December 2015
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on 23 September 2009
I really wasnt expecting much when I first put this on but after the first few minutes i was hooked. The story is nothing special (but in these kind of films are they ever?) but with some great fight sequences and none stop action this is a must see for martial arts fans.

I also didnt realise but this is one of the first films from legendary director John Woo and look out for a small appearance from the Jackie Chan. After seeing this film its made me want to checkout 'Last Hurray For Chivarly' another early film from John Woo.
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on 31 October 2012
I am not a Film critic. I am a fan of Jackie Chan and as usual he produced another excellant entertaining film.
If you are a Martial Arts Fan and enjoy just watching a good film then this is for you.
If you like to be a critic then I am sure you will also find Highs & Lows. For me I just thoroughly enjoyed the film
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