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Not Rated
Copyright 1978 Hong Hwa Motion Picture Company
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 2 December 2006

The Characters:  

  • Shang Kuan Cheng - The greatest practitioner of kung fu in all of China, if he can defeat the seven others...
  • Hsiao Ying - He starts off as a clumsy oaf, but embraces Pai Mei Fist style and becomes Shang Kuan Cheng's protege.
  • Ming Chu - She is Shang Kuan Cheng's daughter. That is about it for her.
  • Shang Kuan Cheng's Students - Obviously slow learners.
  • The Grandmasters - With names like Monkey Liu and Sun Hung, they are all recognized as the greatest fighters in their specialized styles. None are a match for Shang Kuan Cheng's Pai Mei Fist style.
  • Kui Fung - Nothing says "Evil Secret Rival" like wicker. Suffers a fatal testicle-crushing kick.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

Ah, the smell of a classic kung fu film. It brings back memories, much like the mixture of salt and suntan lotion that remains in your summer convertible through the winter. "7 Grandmasters" contains most of the normal ingredients of a kung fu film and the fight choreography is superb. Like many older kung fu films, it benefits from the English dubbing, which proves rather funny (if distracting) at times.

Shang Kuan Cheng's retirement party is in full swing when an anonymous challenge is delivered. It seems that someone does not believe the retiree rates the fame his proficiency has earned. The only way that Shang Kuan Cheng can truly claim to be the undisputed master is to travel China and fight each of the Seven Grandmasters. The same doubt written on the thrown missive was already in the retiring master's head. He makes a decision to go on the road and test his Pai Mei Fist style against the other masters.

Side question: how do you retire a martial arts master? This mystifies me, unless Alzheimer's is an acceptable explanation. Amputation might suffice as well, if enough limbs are removed. Lop off too few and you just end up fighting against two arms and a torso. And the fallen master will still kick your sorry behind. No thanks.

As he travels the country, Shang Kuan Cheng is shadowed by a young man and a mysterious old fellow who wears a massive straw hat. The young man is interested in the duels, while the old guy is positively nefarious.

I was a little alarmed after the third grandmaster was defeated. That is because it happened only thirteen minutes into the movie! At this rate the story will be over in half an hour. The fight scenes were very direct during this opening blur. Shang Kuan Cheng approaches, greets the other grandmaster, and announces, "I am here to fight you." His opponent then does some quick warm up moves before they begin.

It also bears mentioning that I have been misleading my three-year-old daughter about my line of work. She believes, because I told her this in jest several months ago, that I leave every day to defend the "Apple Store" (Applebee's, she named it such due to the neon apple out front) from monkeys with my kung fu. Presumably, this is less complicated than explaining the Marine Corps to a small child. In any case, it is darn funny to see a stranger's reaction after they ask her where her daddy works.

Okay, I will tell her the truth before she goes to high school. Happy now?

Hsiao Ying is the young man following Shang Kuan Cheng. He soon begs to be accepted as a student. This request is met with astonishment and a refusal by the old man, while the younger students (Shang Kuan Cheng has an entourage of three students and his daughter) are downright abusive. Not put off by adversity, Hsiao Ying persists. Now, this is where the only trouble starts for me. In order to counterpoint his later grace and skill, Hsiao Ying is played as a comically clumsy buffoon. It is a bit much and starts to wear on your nerves.

After recovering from a serious fever (Bird Flu?), the questing master is beset by a horde of assassins. The sudden attack is complete chaos, with multiple combatants, Hsiao Ying stumbling around and getting hit repeatedly, and lots of shouting. Turns out the whole thing was staged by the next grandmaster rival who was frightened of Shang Kuan Cheng. What the swirling melee (and some medicine) does change is the Pai Mei master's heart. He accepts Hsiao Ying as a student. The other, more senior, students welcome him appropriately. Not only do they hit him at times, but the young man is forced to carry all their stuff.

Somewhere hereabouts is an important flashback scene. Years ago, when Shang Kuan Cheng was named his teacher's successor, a grudge was born. The teacher's other pupil, Kui Fung, was expert at Pai Mei Fist. He was also cruel and unfit to become the style's grandmaster; Shang Kuan Cheng was chosen to receive a sacred manuscript with the twelve final strikes. Unfortunately, while Shang Kuan Cheng was practicing one day, his adversary stole part of the manuscript that detailed three strikes.

One thing that some people will notice is just how friendly some of the guy/guy relationships are in this movie. It is not helped by Hsiao Ying's fashion sense. The student tends to wear capri pants and a white t-shirt. Anyway, the subject of anyone's sexuality is never addressed by the plot. It is just that some of the social interaction comes across as peculiar.

Driven by a desire to rise above the scorn of his peers (along with another, hidden motivation), Hsiao Ying excels in learning the art of Pai Mei Fist. The requisite "martial arts student in training" montage passes. It includes one exercise that struck me as funny, until I saw the final fight (more on that later). The trainee is on the ground, with a number of clay pottery items suspended above him. He proceeds to kick the fragile flowerpots apart. If that was not enough to prove Hsiao Ying's mastery, then his victory against the final grandmaster's students does. With one opponent left, Shang Kuan Cheng feels a bit under the weather. The other grandmaster offers an alternate way to determine the victor: their disciples will fight. Hsiao Ying defeats the other sensei's three students, even when the trio attacks in concert.

Now, Shang Kuan Cheng can finally retire. Except for the fact Hsiao Ying challenges his old teacher to fight to the death. It seems that the young man's father was killed. A woodcutter incorrectly identified Shang Kuan Cheng as the murderer. In fact, Kui Fung killed Hsiao Ying's father, motivated him to become a student of his rival, and then taught the last three strikes of Pai Mei Fist to the young man. The battle between teacher and student is nearly a match of equals, but the older fighter obviously pulls several punches. Hsiao Ying exploits this to seriously injure his old teacher. Kui Fung chooses this very moment to reveal himself and spell out the full story to Hsiao Ying. Aghast at what he has done, the student leaps to his master's defense. The two fighters move back and forth across the field. The evil old man gains the upper hand until Shang Kuan Cheng starts helping his protege by analyzing the fight and calling out techniques for Hsiao Ying to utilize.

Enjoy this last fight, because it is quite well done and ends in a way sure to cause most of us males some distress. As Kui Fung is spread eagle, getting ready to land, Hsiao Ying crushes his gonads ala "show me breaking the clay pots." Holy cow that looked painful, agonizing even. Well, the evil old master agrees. He falls over, apparently dead from shock.

English dubbed kung fu films always have some element of humor in them. I think that the people who did all the dubbing just wanted to have some fun. In any case, they tossed in a couple of inappropriate phrases and words here and there. Especially impressive was the use of "cheeky" at one point. "Cheeky" and "I reckon" in the same film. Language really is an amazing dichotomy of ideas.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • Retiring was hard work if you lived in feudal China.
  • "Monkey Style" might be effective, but it is amazingly annoying too.
  • Eating chicken heads will make you smart. Do not munch on chicken anus.
  • Feed a fever, starve a cold, and drown pneumonia in hot soy sauce.
  • There is something inherently wrong with a student of kung fu saying, "I reckon."
  • The Chinese version of voguing is very dangerous.
  • Revenge is a dish best served convoluted.
  • The worst way to lose a martial arts duel to the death is by having your nuts shattered.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 8 mins - In the United States a person would never thank you for kicking their butt.
  • 12 mins - Dude, do you realize that you have a basket on your head?
  • 14 mins - That must be a wig.
  • 18 mins - Please refrain from rhyming.
  • 44 mins - Nice!
  • 47 mins - What is up with this film's soundtrack?
  • 55 mins - He is a master of "cramped wrist" style.
  • 76 mins - Now he has a wicker sombrero. Hey, dude, where was that imported from?
  • 80 mins - This is the kung fu equivalent of identical twins playing rock-paper-scissors.


  • Shang Kuan Cheng: "I drove off bandits and killers and the Japs. That's why I'm given the king's plaque. The king's honored me for my work."
    Some Guy: "You're the most righteous man in this province."
  • Shang Kuan Cheng: "You're a fool, but you've guts."
    Hsiao Ying: "Thank you teacher!"

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note sevengrand1.wav Shang Kuan Cheng: "You know the reason why I'm here."
Other Grandmaster: "Hahahaha, 'cause you think you can beat me!"
Green Music Note sevengrand2.wav Shang Kuan Cheng: "You sent some men to try and kill me. That's contemptible."
Sword Grandmaster: "I wanted to protect my title as Hopei champion."
Shang Kuan Cheng: "Well, a title reflects a man's honor. You have none, good-bye!"
Green Music Note sevengrand3.wav Hsiao Ying: "Hey, listen, you three come at once. That way you'll have a chance."
Other Student: "You cheeky young bastard. I promise, I shall take you myself!"
Green Music Note sevengrand4.wav Hsiao Ying: "I've sworn, on my honor, that I would avenge my father."
Shang Kuan Cheng: "You've forgotten? I was your teacher."
Hsiao Ying: "Sorry, but I didn't know that you killed my father."

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipsevengrand1.mpg - 2.7m
Hsiao Ying is engaged in a deadly fight to the death against Kui Fung. The young man would be doomed, were it not for his teacher calling out counters to the other master's techniques.

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