The onscreen title is FIGHTING LIFE.

1981's FIGHTING LIFE saw the third pairing of Taiwan's Frankie Shum and Jackie Conn as disabled kung fu heroes, following on from CRIPPLED MASTERS and TWO CRIPPLED HEROES.

Oddly, the guys play totally different characters this time around. Furthermore, they are no longer strangers who grew close via mutual respect and a shared nemesis: here, they are brothers.

But they still open proceedings with a scrap.

Shum is always berating Conn for his constant kung fu training. And so, one afternoon outside their farm-like home, they decide to kick the shit out of each other. Their fun is curtailed when they receive a telegram from old buddy Tiger, who tells them he has found a new job in the city as a mechanic and that they should go and pay him a visit. Without hesitation, they do so.

This takes them out of their humble rural dwellings and into the bustling city life of Taipei. Cue some semi-comic encounters of the sub-CROCODILE DUNDEE territory. Well, all that counter-culture stuff was a big deal at the time, I suppose ...

When our two leads turn up at Tiger's place, they arrive in the middle of a dispute with the landlady over rent. Immediately, there is some sniffiness over whether these "freaks" should be allowed to stay with Tiger. If that seems insensitive, it's counteracted by an even more clumsy defence from a neighbouring woman: "we should help disabled people instead of poking fun at them, we're all human beings, after all".

Chinese Elvis-lookalike Tiger takes his visiting pals and the lady neighbour for a meal at a nearby restaurant. All seems okay, other than Shum's observations that old pal Tiger has changed a little.

Hmm. What could have made him into a changed man? Could it be something to do with the unscrupulous landlady, a lurking loan shark and the pretty girl who's caught up in the middle of this messy scenario?

Yeah, you can sense the trouble brewing from a mile off. The only problem is, it really is a mile off. This instead trawls through tired "fish out of water" territory (complete with a mournful score) for its first hour, eschewing the frantic kung fu craziness of TWO CRIPPLED HEROES and instead aiming at 'serious' commentary. It simply doesn't work, especially when you start dubbing Taiwanese actors with Cockney voiceovers ...

Confused by its politics, stifled by its plea for cultural tolerance and bogged down in the plights of Shum and Conn's efforts to land jobs (their aspirations being that of acrobat and martial artist, respectively), FIGHTING LIFE only really gets going in the final act when director Kei Law ups the ante for the last 20 minutes.

Weirdly, the scenes of Shum performing tricks in public so that people will throw silver his way are less insulting than they first appear; they recall the performances put on by Jodorowsky and his small friend towards the end of EL TOPO.

As with CRIPPLED MASTERS 2, Apprehensive Films have given FIGHTING LIFE a pretty stinky presentation. Again sourced from a fairly worn old VHS tape, this is soft, unreliable when it comes to colours and blacks, and rife with defects both from the original film print (specks, dirt) and the video elements (combing etc). It's not a good look.

The film is presented in 4:3 and this is clearly not its intended ratio. It looks to be hideously blown-up in places - although, it's debatable what a correctly framed transfer could've added.

English dubbed audio comes in an okay if somewhat noisy stereo mix that, at the very least, allows the chance to hear the dialogue and music on even keels.

The disc opens with a silent, static main menu page. From there, there is no scene-selection menu but you do get to zip through the film if needs be by way of 18 programmed chapter stops.

The only extra on the disc is a shot-on-digital 7-minute short entitled A FAREWELL TO ARM. This sees an annoyingly competitive father cajoling his teenaged bookworm of a son into an arm-wrestling contest. By the time the inevitable twist comes, you can't help but think the cuntish father fully deserved his fate.

It's mildly amusing stuff, a decent enough watch for a short film. The picture quality is great: 16x9 enhanced, pin-sharp and rich with colour. Everything the main feature isn't, in other words. Interestingly, it was made brothers Robert and Phillip Snyder (Robert plays the son in the film; their father Robert Snr portrays the Dad).

Apprehensive Films have some interesting-looking movies in their roster, but they're obviously a low-budget company who are still in their infancy. While their presentations of the CRIPPLED MASTERS films are generally weak, I'd hate to put people off: I found them perfectly enjoyable regardless.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Apprehensive Films
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review