Low Class Kung-Fu

Underneath Martial Club’s playfully competitive exterior sits a traditional Shaw Brothers kung-fu story – rival schools, seeking revenge against their moral-less foes who joined with an outsider (a northerner in this case) for a competitive advantage.

That’s the Shaw way, instilling divisiveness against other cultural influences, boosting nationalist pride. Martial Club adds a layer though, purely comedic, even mischievous. Close friends from different martial arts clubs clash, desperate to prove their worth and feed their egos. But they’re young, innocently blind to their limited skills. The back-and-forth banter and public conflict brings a firm character presence to Martial Club, adding flavor to Shaw’s standard plot devices.

The back-and-forth banter brings a firm character presence to Martial Club

Undisciplined fighting carries consequences, bridging the showy action to martial art’s core values. In the learning stages, these friends throw fisticuffs at anyone in their way, seeing themselves as invincible. It’s akin to watching teenagers, and at one stage, they declare themselves masters. That goes poorly.

Martial Club isn’t a grand epic; it’s small scale, played within a village, making these squabbles feel ever more immaterial. That works, whether intentional or by budget restrictions. It’s a proud movie, certainly. While each choreographed fight is Shaw Brothers gold, stunts hang around, but listlessly paced. Opening on a lion dance, the physical toll is immense, yet takes minutes from the opening energy before any story development. That’s clumsy structuring, and not the only instance; later grandstanding by the fighters flattens the pace too.

The wait brings with it a dazzling opera night battle, dozens against a few, so well designed it not only seems plausible, but is smoothly edited as to naturally flow from kick to kick. Shaw’s studio method, by 1981, was so refined, it matched the athleticism and timing captured on the film itself. Interspersed comedy exhibits the same precise timing, landing jokes through generations and cultures. The young feeling invulnerable compared to their elders is wholly human. Watching those same kids find out the truth is just as amusing no matter the language.

Video

With this release, 88 Films debuts a new master for Martial Club. It’s decent. Moderate color saturation keeps most hues on the dry side except for reds; their vividness stands out much of the time. Overall color density is average at best. The same is true of the black levels, dulled and gray. Marginally better contrast allows slight dimensionality to enter.

Middling resolution lags behind better masters too, possibly done at 2K, but likely at HD. A slightly detectable sharpening invades and lessens purity. Martial Club looks rugged while grain lifts, challenging the encode. Compression can’t keep pace, and slight filtering leaves smearing in its wake. Those negatives aside, texture is evident and resolved. Benefits from this fresh scan are apparent, and the definition is firm enough to clearly see the glue/tape holding on fake sideburns when in close.

The best work comes from the restoration, defeating all scratches, marks, and dirt. It’s a spotless print.

Audio

A dub (eww) and DTS-HD Cantonese perform well enough for the material. Obviously dated, dialog passes through the mono channel coarsely, albeit purely. Age sounds organic, not rotting. While the music’s peak treble struggles, mid tones fare well.

Extras

Two commentaries – the first pairs Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng and actor/martial artist Michael Worth. Djang returns for a second track, filling in what he missed during the first. Interviews include actors Robert Mack, Johnny Wang, stuntmen Hung Sun-Nam & Tony Tam, and producer Lawrence Wang.

88 Films also includes the US grindhouse edition, Instructors of Death as an extra, print scratches, dirt, and all.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Martial Club
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Enjoyably comedic, Martial Club’s focus on childish rivalry varies the formula enough to hide the story’s familiar backbone.

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User Review
4 (1 vote)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 35 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: