Murderous outlaw White Tiger (Shun-Yee Yuen) is travelling across China with his wife and the heat is affecting them badly, so they track down the nearest restaurant to quench their thirst. However, while White Tiger is helping himself to another patron's liquid refreshment, his wife notices something suspicious about their surroundings: although the place is largely empty, the cooks are preparing many bowls of noodles. Suddenly they realise they are at the heart of an ambush, and a fight breaks out leaving the wife dead and expert fighter White Tiger on the run once more. Who can stop this man? Well, there's an unlikely answer to that question...
Dreadnaught, or Yong Zhe Wu Ju to give the film its original title, was one of the earlier films to give Yuen Biao a starring role and here he plays, not a martial arts titan, but a scaredy-cat worker in his sister's laundry business. Scripted by Jing Wong, another point of interest is that it was directed by the now-legendary fights choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, and his influence can be seen in the abundant action scenes that pepper the story, which Kenny Rogers fans will recognise as the old "Coward of the County" set up. Yes, you can see the ending coming a mile away, but it's the journey there that is the entertaining bit.
We first meet Mousy, as Yuen's character is nicknamed, when he attempts to collect the money owed to his sister for doing the local's laundry, but at every turn (or the two we see, at any rate) he is frightened away by the debtors. Returning to his sister empty handed, she is none too pleased and orders Mousy to do better, so off he goes to the opera house to see Big Mouth and persuade him to pay up. As all this is going on, we are introduced to Wong Fei-Hung (Tak-Hing Kwan), a revered character in Chinese folk history, and he is the leader of a martial arts school here.
There follows an incredible scene of lion dancing, which puts the examples of this art I used to see on Blue Peter to shame, and is a combination of the performers telling the story of their creations, pulling off impressive feats of athleticism, and aiming to beat the other lion up. It's a pity that Mousy doesn't get to learn this technique, as all you see of it is in the first half hour and it's unfortunately forgotten about thereafter. Anyway, the losing lion dancers are offended that they're beaten, and the leader of their school is determined to seek revenge.
This involves hiring White Tiger, who in the meantime has been aggravated by Mousy's habit of wearing a bell that, when it rings, reminds White Tiger of his dead wife and sends him into a deadly rage. This means that Mousy spends over half the film running away from him, but Yuen Woo-ping is canny enough to make his escape attempts as exciting as if he were standing his ground. The trouble with Dreadnaught is that it never settles down as one element after another is thrown into the mix, summoning a busy and easily distracted mood overall. That said, the physical hijinks carry the film over the dips and peaks, and if it can't make up it's mind whether it's a comedy or serious, then it's best to take that cluttered narrative one scene at a time. Music by Frankie Chan.
[The Hong Kong Legends Region 2 DVD offers a clean print, and extras such as an essay on Wong Fei-Hung, trailers and an interview with Li-li Li, who plays Mousy's sister here.]
Chinese director whose skill at staging electrifying martial arts has made him one of the most sought after fight choreographers in the world. Woo-ping made his directing debut in 1978 with the Jackie Chan vehicle Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, following it the same year with Chan's hugely popular Drunken Master. His brand of fast-moving martial arts direction was a breath of fresh air compared to the more staid style of many of his peers and until the mid-90s turned in pretty much a film every year, sometimes two or three, including Tiger Cage, Jet Li's Tai-Chi Master and Iron Monkey.