"...the movie seems like an obvious move by Chang Cheh to make a Jackie Chan-type film."
Magnificent Ruffians (1979)
AKA: Destroyers, Destroyers of the 5 Deadly Venoms
Director: Chang Cheh
Writer: I Kuang & Chang Cheh
Producer: Mona Fong
Cast: Philip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Lo Meng, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, Wang Li, Yu Tai Ping, Annie Liu
Running Time: 90 min.
Plot: See Joe909's review below.
JOE909'S REVIEW: Magnificent Ruffians is part of a trio of Venoms movies that can be lumped together, as all of them take place in the same time period (early 20th century), and in each movie the Venoms play the same character types (starving kung-fu masters); the other two movies are Killer Army and Daredevils. I'd say of the three, Killer Army is the best, but Magnificent Ruffians comes in a close second.
The movie opens with Lu Feng, a warlord who uses a golden spear, bemoaning that kung-fu has become useless. Guns are being introduced to China, and no one wants to learn the martial arts anymore. Lu's protection agency is suffering, but he still finds time to trick what few kung-fu fighters he can find into coming to his town, so he can murder them in mortal combat. This opening scene is very effective, as Lu greets visiting kung-fu fighters like a perfect gentleman, and then slaughters them without mercy.
In another part of Lu's town, Sun Chien, Chiang Sheng, and new guy Wang Li bum around, starving kung-fu fighters who've been left unemployed by China's many recent changes. What they do is eat their fill in restaurants, and then let the employees beat them instead of paying. Kuo Choi is in a similar plight, and eventually he hooks up with the three. Meanwhile, Lo Meng plays a hot-tempered owner of a failing escort agency; Lu Feng wants to buy his property, but Lo won't sell, instead beating Lu's men into submission. Lo lives with his mom and sister, both of whom try to keep him from fighting. Yes, Lo Meng is a total mama's boy in this movie. But what's worse is that he's barely in it until the middle half.
Lu Feng eventually gets Kuo Choi and his pals to live at his estate, where they're free to drink, carouse, and practice kung-fu. Lu's plan is to get the four of them to take out Lo Meng. Lu can't do this himself, because he's smitten with Lo Meng's cute sister. So he wants Lo killed quietly. Lu fools Kuo and pals into thinking Lo Meng is a bad guy who needs to be punished. The four of them head over to Lo's place, but a problem arises: the five "ruffians" realize they share the same outlook on life. Instead of killing Lo, the four become friends with him, meeting him every afternoon at an abandoned temple to practice kung-fu.
Lu has his henchman secretly replace Kuo Choi's staff with a replica that's stuffed with explosives. At their next kung-fu practice, Kuo hits Lo with it. The explosion kills Lo. Shocked, Kuo Choi runs for his life, as Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, and Wang Li assume he's been hired by Lu to murder Lo Meng. Lu's happy with the results, and shows up to promptly take on the three of them, in "revenge" for Lo. The three realize they've been duped, and put on a heroic stand, but only Chiang Sheng survives Lu Feng's devastating techniques.
Chiang Sheng and Kuo Choi team up, after discovering the disturbing fate of Lo's mother and sister. They decide to take on Lu Feng. Not understanding his style, they create impromptu counters and attacks. The three engage in battle at dawn the next morning, in a fight that's brimming with the flips, leaps, and violence one would expect from the Venoms. Of course, only one of them's left standing at the end.
Magnificent Ruffians isn't action-packed, the violence is minimal, the comedic bits are a bit annoying, and the movie seems like an obvious move by Chang Cheh to make a Jackie Chan-type film. Lo Meng is underused, and the action lacks the crazy weapons you love in Venoms movies. The comedy-heavy first half reminds me too much of another Venoms movie, Shaolin Rescuers, which was a superior film. Regardless, this is still an enjoyable movie, but it's nowhere near my favorite Venoms experience.
What brings this movie down is the monotony of it. Kuo Choi et al meet Lo Meng every day, and engage in fight after fight. It's cool seeing these guys show off their skills, but I prefer the Venoms taking on multiple foes, as happens often in Killer Army. Here the actors aren't used to their fullest extent. Lu Feng takes a smaller role, mostly appearing on the fringes except for the opening and closing. Chiang Sheng and Kuo Choi are the stars in this one, but Sun Chien actually gets to see a lot of action. Usually Chang brushed him to the side. Wang Li, normally a villain, fits in fine with the others; I especially like how his early scenes with Chiang and Sun are so Three Stooges-esque. In fact, the title for this film has always seemed like a great name for a Three Stooges short.
The weapons are relegated to Chiang Sheng's twin swords, Kuo Choi's staff, Wang Li's twin axes, and Lu Feng's massive golden spear. Apparently Lu created several techniques for this weapon, which shows how far the Venoms went in making their movies. The attention given to the choreography for these quickly-made kung-fu bashers had obviously progressed since the days of David Chiang. Chang's directing is a cut above the static shots he reverted to in his later films, giving us a glimpse of his earlier skill. The shot of Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, and Wang Li approaching Kuo Choi after he accidentally kills Lo Meng is especially impressive. As for the violence, Lu slices a few people from head to toe (you just see a bloody line running along their corpses, no guts), but the film is nowhere as violent as other Venoms movies, such as Masked Avengers or Kid with the Golden Arm.
Now, as for DVD availability. Skip the NS disc. In fact, avoid it like the plague. As usual with the NS releases, they've sourced their DVD from an edited European print. Several minutes of important footage have been cut from the NS DVD, including a great scene in which Kuo Choi and pals decide to buy Lo Meng a meal. Lo's starving too, but refuses to accept their food, as it's been paid for with Lu Feng's money. So Chiang Sheng pawns his swords so the four of them can use their own money to buy Lo Meng a meal. He accepts, and the next day pawns something of his own so he can buy them food. This is actually a touching sequence, as it shows the camaraderie between these guys. But it's all been cut mercilessly from the NS DVD, as has other equally-important footage. My advice: either wait for the Celestial release, or find a bootleg copy of the uncut print in the trading community.
JOE909'S RATING: 7.5/10