The Leg Fighters a.k.a.The Invincible Kung Fu Leg Fighters

Reviewed by Yves Gendron

In a kung fu movie nothing looks more powerful than a high or flying kick. Small wonder then that Bruce Lee became such an instant star thanks in part through this skill at the dawn of the seventies. Before this the high kick was a seldom used, awkward looking move. With Bruce though it was like a dragon whipping his tail,  nothing less than a superb display of sheer power and grace. A search for kickers started afterward and : takwendo exponent Dorian Tan Tao Liang became one of the first discoveries. He is the co-star of this 1978 production, LEG FIGHTERS (also known as INVINCIBLE KUNG-FU LEGS) pairing him with the equally impressive leggy, not to mention amazingly flexible Hsiang Kwan Lee in a film that is considered a classic in the legs fighting kung fu showcase

Phoenix (Hsiang Kwan Lee) is the spirited spoiled daughter of a rich man who has hired a martial art master to indulge his daughter’s passion for martial arts. Forced to take a leave of absence to look after his ailing wife, he is replaced by Master Tan  (Tang Tao Liang). Phoenix takes an instant dislike to her new stern no-nonsense teacher who has no compunction in saying how lousy her kung fu actually is. After many shenanigans on her part, it will take Phoenix’s humiliating beating at the hands of a pair of zany town bullies “Ding Dong “and “Dong Dong” to see the error of her ways. Now taking her martial art training seriously, she improves tremendously.  Just in time too as her master must now confront a revenge-filled new adversary (Peng Kang) the grand master of the ground kicks techniques and he will sorely need all the help he can get.

LEG FIGHTERS deserves its title and its repute: it’s indeed a wild kicking fest: seen in all sort of spectacular variety, high, flying, side, spin, hopping, reverse, repeat, low, ground etc. Legs are also effectively used to block and entrap. Besides kicking, female star Hsiang is also seen doing lots of splits, somersaults and all sorts of very flashy acrobatics or contortionist moves seldom seen in female performers (for example: Angela Mao was usually doubled for her character’s acrobatics even though as a Peking opera performer she would have been able to do them herself). Thankfully, LEG FIGHTERS is something more than a mere empty showcase as in between it’s pivotal revenge plot-hook, the film script is framed with a lively and humorous taming of the shrew-like gender comedy (much like master martial filmmaker Lau Kar Leung’s SHAOLIN MANTIS and HEROES OF THE EAST both 78). It is perfectly played to the hilt by straight man Tang Tao Liang and spirited mischievous Hsiang.  Perhaps less happily the film is filled with silly broad burlesque through the Ding Dong, Dong Dong zany bullies pair, Phoenix first elderly teacher and her constantly present man-servant. Some of the comedic bits tend to be overlong and the as usual horrid English dubbing make the comedy seem more stupid and tedious then it actually is in its original language. The film direction is rather flat with the zoom-in constantly used, but in contrast to the drab wardrobe often seen in low budgeted kung fu films, here it is quite lavish and colourful looking and gives the film a welcome touch of lushness.

Besides the physical displays, LEG FIGHTERS also offers some delightful insights into kicking techniques (speed, power and accuracy the three cornerstone), as well as useful training scenes to make its point. It has to be said that among all the performers seen in the movie only Tang Tao Liang is the real thing; a genuine exponent of an actual brand of fighting martial style: takwendo; all the rest are Peking Opera performers as are the film fight choreographers (one of them: Peng Feng who plays the lead villain), and the fancy performance are firmly opera-grounded, which gives something of a mannered over-done feel to them; snappy and spectacular but perhaps lacking in a real edge.

The truth of the matter is that in a real fight situation, high kicks are not recommended, as they tend to leave the fighters unsteady, open and vulnerable. High, spin and specially flying kicks look very cool on screen but in a real fight they are a suicide move only a highly talented exponent could get away with. The flying kicks were originally designed to un-horse a rider. Bruce Lee himself seldom used kicks in real situations, while time and again Sammo has shown the risk of the kicks (in PRODIGAL SON specially).

Besides being a martial art film player, Tang actually taught in between screen assignments. His pupils include John Liu another “bootmaster” star, and Yuen Biao. Years later having left Hong Kong films behind, he became a teacher in San Francisco, and at one time taught Shannon Lee, the daughter of the man who made the high-kicks a staple of martial cinema.

Overall a lively, enjoyable romp, LEG FIGHTERS (original Chinese title THE SOUTH AND THE NORTH KINGS OF THE LEGS likely a reference to the Hsia Tang character) is a recommended find.

My rating for this film: 7.0

Reviewed by Brian

Can this woman kick or what? This film has gained a very solid reputation among kung fu fans for the remarkably enjoyable performance from Hsia Kwan Lee (a.k.a. Ha Kwong Li) as the spoiled, petulant but very able daughter who only wants to learn kung fu. The film also has other talent such as legendary kicker, Tan Tao Liang, and Peng Kong – but it is both the cheeky charm and the swirling, blurring, whirling dervish, rapid, high leg movements of Hsia Kwan Lee that will totally capture your attention. She has become a bit of a cult figure for her roles in this film and Fatal Claws, Deadly Sticks, but after a few smaller roles in Zu Warriors (one of Brigitte Lin’s female warriors) and Butterfly Murders her film career seems to have come to a stop. After watching this film, I find that a real shame. Two other films she was in were "Island Warriors" and "I Revenge My Son" (thanks to John Henry for bringing these to my attention).

There isn’t much new here in terms of plot as it combines the most basic reluctant student/sifu relationship and the revenge motif, but the action is plentiful and generally well choreographed by Peng Kong. So many kung fu films have a strong start and a terrific finale, but the middle section often feels like so much turkey stuffing – not this film as it literally has an action sequence (with a few training sessions) at every turn. They are not knock your sox off action sequences – but are competent, varied and certainly display the grace, flexibility and speed of the leggy Hsia.

She is just a girl who wants to learn kung fu – as Sam Cooke would have sung:

Don't know much about history,
Don't know much calligraphy.
Don't know much about a tai-chi book,
Don't know much about the Cantonese I took.
But I do know that I love kung fu,
And I know that if you love it too,
What a wonderful world this would be.

Her widowed father has brought her up to get everything she wants – but after her elderly kung fu teacher needs to leave to see his ailing wife, he is replaced by the tough Tan Tao Liang who won’t give her an inch and even goes as far as insulting her kung fu. She has been beating up town bullies with ease, panache and a satisfied smile and sees no reason to learn under his iron discipline – so she pouts and walks away in a huff. Finally though she meets her match and realizes the need to improve her skills – some enjoyable training sessions follow. This is all well and good for Tan because Peng Kong – the king of the Ground Kickers – comes looking for him to extract revenge – and without the aid of his student Tan would be kicking up daisies rather than foes. With the exception of a bit of corny comedy that could have been minimized, the film is good fun and a great introduction to yet another terrific female action talent from the kung fu period.

My rating for this film: 7.5

DVD Information:

Distributed by Tai Seng

The transfer has a lot of scratches and wear and tear - but still has maintained a sharp, bright and colored look to it.

NOT Letterboxed

The film is dubbed - some voices irritate - but I quite enjoyed the accented one of Hsia 's character.

8 Chapters

The film contains no extras.