Director: Wu Ming Hsiung
Image Entertainment

Bruce Lee died in 1973, and that was also the year they released his U.S. breakthrough hit, ENTER THE DRAGON. What quickly followed was dozens of so called “chop soki” martial arts films being brought over from Hong Kong, dubbed into English, and run to death in drive-ins and grindhouses all over for the rest of the decade. One of the earliest imports to get such treatment was an action-packed gem released here as FEARLESS FIGHTERS by Ellman Film Enterprises. The film was originally made in 1971, and released in its home country as “Hero of Heroes.”

Let’s see if I can explain the plot to you somewhat… A chest full of government gold is stolen from an imperial ruler named “Lightning Whip” who goes home to his children with poison arrows sticking in his chest after being attacked. Before his succumbs to the poison, Lightning Whip tells his son Chen Yi Chung and daughter Mulan that they must retrieve the gold. To-Pai is the evildoer who stole the treasure, framing his brother, the righteous Lei Pong, for the crime. Chen Yi Chung and Mulan help Lei Pong escape from a prison after he's arrested, and they team up in search of the gold, though brother an sis are not yet convinced of Lei Pong’s innocence. Another brave woman dressed totally in white, Tien-Ly, is also on their side, making for an unstoppable quartet of heroes with a mission. Knowing how strong the team of four are, wicked To-Pai hires a number of ruthless assassins, including the self-explanatory “One Man Army,” to them in, so it’s not going to be easy for justice to be served.

OK, if that doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t fret, it will once you watch it. With its many exaggerated acrobatics and countless fight scenes, FEARLESS FIGHTERS is a highly entertaining film that seems to be closer to the mystical martial arts epics of today (without the CGI effects of course) than the retro cinema of Bruce Lee and all his imitators. Most of the fighting is done with swords or other weapons, including scissor hands, Frisbee blade hats, deadly whips and arrows, and more. Everything about the film is over-the-top, as people leap through the air, fly across bodies of waters, and catch arrows from the three different bows in a single grab – all what makes it a grand achievement in popcorn entertainment. This is simply one of the most engaging martial arts films of the 1970s, and it’s also dubbed with great care (really!) and given a rousing score, despite it not being the original. The Hong Kong version reportedly ran around 97 minutes, but the American release company cut out a lot of the talk and melodrama, re-wrote part of the storyline, and turned it into a thrill-packed 83 minutes with plenty of blood and violence to satiate any hard-to-please exploitation film fan. There’s still plenty of characterization, and although the beginning tends to confuse the audience with too many characters, you soon get the gist of who the main players are – the good guys are very likable, and the bad guys very despicable.

Transferred from the original vault materials, FEARLESS FIGHTERS is presented on DVD in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Colors are very bold, with the blue skies looking most impressive, and the image detail is superior than a lot of similar old school martial arts films released on the format. There is some minor speckling on the source print, but the transfer is very satisfying overall. The English-dubbed mono audio, with all its assorted sound effects, is very clean and crisp for its age.

A full audio commentary is included with Richard Ellman (producer of the American version and head of the film’s distribution company, Ellman Film Enterprises) and Dick Brummer (editor/post production supervisor). Ellman was the man who bought the film over to the States to distribute, while Brummer re-wrote the story and was responsible for dubbing it into English and editing the version seen in this country. The commentary is very entertaining, especially from the standpoint of a small independent film company trying to compete with the big studios during the flooded 1970s movie market. A lot of good stories about FEARLESS FIGHTERS’ distribution and recent restoration are told, and we also learn that prominent actors Robert Ito (“Quincy”) and James Hong dubbed many of the voices, and although the others were mostly done by Asian-American actors, Wellman himself had to do a few to save on costs. The other extra is the original theatrical trailer (also with optional commentary by the two gentlemen) which actually includes music taken from Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the original PLANET OF THE APES! (George R. Reis)