In the dead of night a notorious killer named Mung Sing Hung (Chung Wa) meets a grisly end at the hand of a one-armed stranger (Jimmy Wang Yu). “One down, eight to go”, the stranger growls. Years ago the Chu clan of assassins slew eighty members of his family. Now the stranger seeks revenge and fights his way through the remaining super-skilled killers hoping to find their master Chu. The mysterious chieftain, who remains unseen while his voice booms out of a megaphone throughout his castle, lays a series of fiendish traps along the stranger’s path but our handicapped hero soldiers on.
Having quit Shaw Brothers, Jimmy was blacklisted from working in Hong Kong and henceforth made most of his movies in Taiwan. Here he is reunited with another former Shaw Brothers alumni: Hsu Cheng-hung, the man who gave him his first taste of stardom in Temple of the Red Lotus (1964). Oddly unheralded in the West, Cheng-hung is ranked among the most important figures in Mandarin cinema but this late effort is a lot shoddier than his Shaw Brothers movies. Nevertheless the zoom-happy camerawork and inexplicable plot twists are offset by moments of visual flair. Notably Jimmy’s showdown with an old martial arts master who plays life-sized chess with human pieces. Shot from overhead the sequence is staged with a neat combination of kung fu, wirework and stop-frame trickery.
Another cleverly staged sequence opens with a two-shot that seems at first to be a tête-à-tête between two lovers before the camera pulls back to reveal the girl, Lan Lan strapped to a torture rack. Jimmy naturally saves the girl and kills her tormentor who conveniently happens to be the next man on his hit-list. And what a wacky bunch of pranksters they are: a man who thinks he is a turtle (Hau Pak-Wai), twins who share the same name and repeat each others sentences, a dude armed with a six foot sword (“Size of sword doesn’t matter”, Jimmy sagely observes), a beautiful lute-playing femme fatale (“I hear the sound of death when you play”, says Jimmy) and a transsexual monk dubbed with a woman’s voice (“You disgusting creature”, snaps Jimmy in decidedly un-P.C. fashion).
Each of these killers pop out of nowhere - as do a pair of enigmatic allies including elderly spearman Chow Yi To (Cho Kin) and smiling killer Tang Han who is obviously more than he seems - in a manner that imparts a make-it-up-as-we-go feel to proceedings. Jimmy despatches most with minimum fuss although the great Lo Lieh gives him more of a workout in a brief cameo. While undoubtedly episodic, these are at least suspenseful episodes especially when an injured Jimmy suddenly realises the physician treating him is one of the nine killers. Lousy dubbing undermines the poetically-inclined dialogue which strives to make some sort of point about the futility of vengeance. Cheng-hung hammers his message home with a mind-boggling finale that packs an absurd array of shock twists including one revelation that was recycled by the French historical drama/horror/martial arts oddity: Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001). It’s all very amusing but likely to appeal more to seasoned kung fu fans than casual viewers.