36 Deadly Styles is the type of movie that comes to mind when people think of the kung fu exploitation craze of the 1970s and 80s. The plot is almost impossible to follow and the fight scenes are incredible. The story is one of revenge and power. The characters are there and the music is all over the place.
The film is very much a case of style over substance. The plot follows parallel stories and it is hard to tell what is a flashback and what is actually happening. Characters come and go and the titular method of fighting does not become a plot point until the final ten minutes or so of the film.
In between are some of the most amazing fight sequences to be found in a kung fu flick. 36 Deadly Styles starts off fast, with the first half hour consisting of a series of fights. If the scene involves more than one person, there is only one way things are going to end.
The ending is the perfect bookend as it ends with a trio of fast paced battles. It is almost impossible to keep up with the action as things switch off between each brawl. Each is exciting, but the ending is a little anticlimactic. Put it this way: when the movie does NOT end on the bad guy getting their eyes gouged out, someone made a mistake.
Another thing that stands out in 36 Deadly Styles is its love of props. The opening and closing are filled with traditional fights, but the body of the film is stuffed with fist fights involving all manner of items. This keeps things fresh since even the best looking martial arts scene can be that much better if a bowl of rice is added. Conversely, no weapons are used.
There are some weird edits in the movie – including this possibly being the only kung fu movie to use flip transitions – but there is nothing that will completely ruin 36 Deadly Styles. They actually help the movie stand out. Fans of great fight scenes should love this one.
36 Deadly Styles will be screening at the Old School Kung Fu Fest on December 10
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