Plot: Before I start, let me make clear that this is a review of the unsubbed/dubbed version and as such I can't account for plot details, but here's my best guess...the rough story is of Kal Ma Ryong (HJL), who appears to be a rogue carpenter, being hunted by local militia, led by a stern captain (Hyeon Kil-Su) who was involved in the rape of Kal's mother when he was a child. Victorious but badly wounded, Kal crawls back to...the wife and son of the captain he killed. HJL becomes a father figure, teaching the lad honour, carpentry (with very poor Health & Safety, it must be said) and how to kill people with tridents. He also saves the mother from a gang of would be rapists, tieing in to his own childhood experience. Meanwhile the town elders plot to be rid of Kal once and for all, but must first get past his brother in arms, a mysterious man in black. Following the final showdowns, the boy and his mother discover Kal killed dad - and they have a heart rending decision to make - forgive and forget, or vengeance...?
Production: A pretty low budget - any indoor scenes are very basic, and most of the film is set in forests and meadows (with a token waterfall thrown in for good measure). HJL directs and whilst the fight choreography is understandably excellent, the tracking shots are quite basic - some snappier editing would have been welcome at points. Good dramatic performances from HJL and the lad, it's also nice to hear HJL's own voice for once, a booming baritone which really accentuates his trademark 'laugh-uproariously-and-then-immediately-look-cross' special move. Music is a great mix of Spaghetti and Blaxploitation wah-funk.
Training: A quick form at the beginning from the captain, otherwise all we get is carpentry training, including how to plane really quickly. I can only assume junior grew up without a full quota of fingers if he followed this.
Fights: Terrific. The first showdown between HJL and approx. 40 black-clad militiamen is jaw-dropping. These soldiers attack in complex formation, break off, reform anew and attack again - this reminded me of the Yagyu clan in the Lone Wolf & Cub manga (especially the 'Yagyu wheeel', as filmed in 'White Heaven in Hell'). The attacks are varied involving boot, spear, razor-edge shields and swords; and as you can imagine Hwang's feet don't get much rest. Highlights include a terrific full-circle of reverse turning kicks when surrounded; leaping onto shoulders to deliver head kicks, and (somewhat bizzarely) a 'Hadouken' fireball to free himself from an unwelcome group hug! When the captain turns up he's all weight but too slow, Hwang delivers a brutal 17 kick combo to kill him.
Next up is a fun rumble between 'the man in black' and another officer. We've already seen the stranger kick a guy into a coffin (classy), and so I expected the officer to be thrashed. But no - we get some comic relief as the officer starts chanelling chi and turns the tide, to the stranger's shock. The stranger prevails by spearing the officer on his own penant, which I'm sure would be more ironic if I could read what was written on it...
The fight against the rapists is more vicious boot from Hwang, then it's the showdown against the town elders - who curiously appear to be a collection of kung fu mainstays! There's an Abbot, a Monk, a Fox, a Bandit and an Old (well, middle-aged) Dirty Bastard for good measure. Hwang must cope with a barrage of flying kicks, furious strikes and magic; including a neat burning rope trick. And don't miss the co-ordinated mass kick! Luckily Hwang has remembered to bring his spinny bandleader poles from Secret Rivals 2 and prevails - great (and unusual) to see Hwang pressed so hard in a one v many.
Overall: I'm not going to give this a score yet simply because I've not heard/seen the dialogue, but will say that the language barrier should not prevent boot fans from picking this up, and it goes without say that this a must for HJL collectors. It's low budget but with superior fights and a touching ending inspired by finale of the Lone Wolf and Cub manga. Try and source the best print you can as the forest lighting can make for difficult viewing during the start and end fights.