Dragon, the Young Master Review: A 1980s Kung Fu Movie Worth Watching

Set during the 1920s in snow covered Manchuria. Kao-Ying sells information on the mining operation in Manchuria to the Japanese Intelligence Agency. He’s rewarded with a large quantity of jewelery.

Back when I was first getting into the kung fu genre many years ago. Upon witnessing a handful of Korea’s contributions. I confess to being quick to write them off as low budget imitations of Hong Kong’s far superior output. Looking back, I now feel like I jumped to that conclusion in haste. And over the years have become more and more convinced that, far from being imitations of Hong Kong’s own kung fu flicks. The Korean kung fu movie exists in its own quirky little world.

Admittedly, many of the countries titles are all but impossible to view in their original language and version, with those readily available being re-titled, re-dubbed and re-cut versions released by Godfrey Ho and Tomas Tang’s Asso Asia distribution company. It was a practice that formed a successful business model in the late 70’s and 80’s, as western audience’s appetite for kung fu movies (phim vo thuat xua) secured a successful return for these radically altered variations of the original production.

Director Kim Si-hyun’s 1981 movie Eighteen Martial Arts is one such example of this, with the Dragon Lee starring adventure re-titled Dragon, the Young Master (Long Thieu Phu) for its western release. Si-hyun was no stranger to making kung fu movies, and is a name synonymous with the genre in Korea. His movies were also no stranger to being given the Asso Asia treatment, with his other collaborations with Dragon Lee, such as A Fight at Hong Kong Ranch, being re-titled to Golden Dragon, Silver Snake, and Secret Bandit of Black Leopard being re-titled to Enter the Invincible Hero. Both Si-hyun and Lee had extremely busy years in 1981, with Si-hyun helming 4 productions. And Lee starring in a total of 6 movies, the highest number in his filmography.

The plot for Dragon, the Young Master revolves around the mysterious figure of the Silver Ninja. Indeed the biggest part of the characters mystery is that he’s not silver at all. But rather is distinctive thanks to his all white attire and knitted white balaclava. Yes, if you’re thinking that he’s also technically not a ninja either, you’d be correct. Amusingly, when not involved in any action, the Silver Ninja wears a triangular black hat which covers his whole head, with two holes cut out for the eyes, giving the appearance of a low budget kung fu Darth Vader.

Trust me when I say that it’s no spoiler to reveal that the Silver Ninja is Dragon Lee, from the moment he appears on screen and starts gesturing with his head and giving the thumbs down to a group of bandits, it’s blatantly obvious. So for those who want to see Dragon Lee unleashing his kicks while wearing a white balaclava and cape. You’ve come to the right place.

As with too many Dragon Lee movies to mention, here he plays a wanderer, and as usual. It turns out that he has a secret agenda of revenge. For Dragon, the Young Master he’s paired with kung fu femme fatale Yuen Qiu. While these days Qiu is most well known for playing the landlady in Kung Fu Hustle.

It’s worth remembering that she went to the same Opera School as the likes of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, and back in the day certainly had the moves. Interestingly from 1978 – 1981 she appeared in three Korean kung fu movies. All starring alongside Dragon Lee, with the other two being Dragon Lee Vs. The Five Brothers and The Dragon’s Snake Fist. Lee is soon busting the moves on Qiu’s flower seller. And performs an impressive fight scene against a group of thugs harassing her. Were he keeps a white rose between his teeth from start to finish.

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