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Mainly thanks to Shih (James Tien), a renegade Shaolin disciple, the
Qing Dynasty was able to overthrow the Ming Dynasty & drive the
Shaolin monks, loyal to the Mings, into hiding. Years have passed, but a
small group of Shaolin monks hasn't forgotten Shih's treachery, & now
they send their top disciple Yun Fei (Tan Tao-liang) out to exact revenge
on Shih, & to guard scholar Zhang (John Woo), who is supposed to
deliver some important attack plans to the Ming rebels, from Shih, who
desperately wants him dead.
Yun Fei's first attempt to kill Shih by geting close enough to him by
delivering him a (fake) prisoner fails miserably when Shih cold bloodedly
kills the prisoner, defeats Yun Fei with ease, then has him tortured by
his head of guards Du (Sammo Hung) & at the very end hangs him up by
... but thank god there's Tan Feng, a sympathetic woodcutter who also
has an account to settle with Shih, & who to that end frees Yun Fei.
The 2 soon team up with the mysterious Wanderer (Chang Chung), a master
swordsman who lost all interest in martial arts (or life indeed) when made
him accidently kill his wife & who has since turned alcoholic. Only
Yun Fei's plan to kill Shih gets him away from the bottle, & soon the
3 find themselves in extensive training sessions & manufacturing an
array of steel weapons to overcome Shih's sword.
In the end they are also joined by 2 more Shaolin disciples and scholar
Zhang, & are finally ready to lure Shih & his bodyguards out of
their place. Once in combat, our heroes prove to be valiant fighters, but
the fight is not without losses: Tan Feng dies saving scholar Zhang's
life, & when the Wanderer has brought Zhang almost 2 safety, he is
cowardly stabbed by the 2 disciples they have taken on, & he survives
only long enough to kill them as well ... scholar Zhang can get to the
Ming rebels though, while Yun Fei in the end gets his rematch against Shih
... & this time he wins & kills the villain ...
Generally overrated mainly for the reason because it was the first
(& only) film that united John Woo, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung & Yuen
Biao, Hand of Death is little more than a competently crafted but
overall very mediocre Kung Fu flick, with Chan, Hung & Biao merely in
supporting roles. It's not that the film is especially bad, it's
just that neither story nor direction would be any different from what was
usually produced in Hong Kong in the 1970's, & would betray little of
the impact that John Woo made on the action genre just 10 years later with
A Better Tomorrow (& a
host of other films that would follow).