The Lama Avenger( US title The 3 Avengers) sits a little uncomfortably between, gritty (there's that word again!) crime thriller and Kung Fu comedy, having large doses of both "flavors" within it's plot. Once again we have a revenge plot centred around the abuse/manipulation of those less well-off in Hong Kong. The movie starts with Lung (Ho Chung Tao) and Choy(Chien Yuet Sun) two performers in a Chinese theatre company getting into a brawl with some local toughs (are there any other kind?). They are sacked by their Sifu and retreat back to the hut they're dossing in. The thugs turn up and the place is literally demolished in the ensuing fracas. Jobless and homeless Lung takes them both to stay with his Aunt who along with her neighbors, is having problems form a Property developer wanting to get them out of the houses at all cost.
Lung and Choy start to teach Kung Fu to the locals to earn some money,soon they have a thriving school. Meanwhile, suspecting trouble Lee Hu; the developer's son sends one of his Kung Fu brother's "John"(Michael Winston), an American on vacation to fight Lung and Choy. Needless to say he gets flattened and then decides to become Lung's live-in student. This doesn't go down well with his previous mates. Off for some R n' R John and Choy visit a Disco where some lame comedy is played out (Chien Yet Sun is reminiscent of a smaller, uglier Jackie Chan in his Drunken Master days). When a further fight occurs with Lee Hu, Lung's Sifu Chiun steps in to rescue the trio. He tells them that Lee Hu's teacher is the famous "Lama" Kwok Lee in the US. Undeterred the developer then makes public a doctored photograph, which appears to show Lung being paid off by them. The locals think he has sold out and boycott his school. In an unexpected turn of events, Lung and Choy find themselves ambushed by Lee Hu and his goons. A viscous and brutal fight starts (the best fight scene in the flick) where both men get severely beaten, before they almost kill Lee Hu with a blow to the head. Choy tells Lung to escape the police and ends up in prison with a badly damaged leg, while Lee Hu is severely brain damaged from the blow. While Choy has a bad time in the scrubs, Lung gets lucky and makes it as a Kung Fu film star. The two re-unite when Choy is released, however Choy feels alienated by his friend's new status, even attending the premiere of one of Lung's films (actually the film seen on screen is Dynamo). Choy works hard to retain full fitness, but on a visit to Sifu Chiun, he finds him dead-killed by Lama Kwok Lee (veteran bad guy Li Hai Sheng). John has also raced back to to tell the guys about the imminent arrival of his former teacher out for revenge for Lee Hu. The three go up against him in a long battle and are getting the worst of it when Lung and Choy use every trick in the book to defeat the evil master....
Not a bad effort on Bruce Li's part, but the addition of the fairly broad comedy flattens the overall effect. Chien Yuet Sun also choreographed the crisp fights which lean a little to the "traditional style" variety at times, and seem at odds with Bruce Li's usual "modern" techniques however his kicks and punches look as good and powerful as ever.
The Iron Dragon Strikes Back (aka The Gold Connection) is the darkest and most violent film of Bruce Li's career. For me, it's an uncomfortable experience watching it, as it is so downbeat and dirty. The air of impending doom and death clings like a wet jacket in a storm, and the scruffy locations just add to the mix. Four friends find a cache of smuggled gold on a scuba diving trip. It turns out to be Vietnamese gold, brought by and dropped by a ship in Hong Kong waters. Bruce Li (who happens to be employed as a Kung Fu Sifu) warns his friends to leave the gold, fearing repercussions. One of the group-Ah Kune (Han Kwok Choi), who is the brother of Li's girlfriend and drives a mini-bus, decides to double cross the others and hides the gold.
Soon the recipient of the gold (a corrupt Hong Kong businessman) sends a gang of heavies to track down the pilferers. It doesn't take long for Ah Kune to fence the goods and start waving the dosh around. The gang trace his address, a decrepit shack in one of the numerous Hong Kong "Shanty Town" areas. They trash the place and lie in wait except it's not Ah Kune who turns up first it's Ah Chow (Wei Liet) one of the other gold-finders. He gets a savage beating and is captured. When Kune shows up he runs for his life and to Bruce Li and the final member of the group played by Phillip Ko. The gang find them and a terrific fight ensues. The friends end up chasing the gang off but they now have to arrange a swap-the gold for their other friend Ah Chow. At the meeting place all hell breaks loose in a dirty and incredibly violent scrap during which Ah Chow is killed.
Deciding to run for it, they escape to Macau, but soon return when the money they had runs out. The "Businessman" is still looking for the gold though. Trying to maintain a low profile the remaining three re-locate and go back to work, Li though is now a Martial Arts film fight arranger. An assassin is sent out to get them all, firstly the killer tries to kill Li on a film set (the killer is dressed in a similar style to the Silver Fox made famous by Hwang Jang Li). He's unsuccessful and escapes. Next Ko is attacked by a mugger(possibly a decoy?) in another violent encounter, when he gives chase he is stabbed by a passer by (the killer's face is not shown) and left to die on the street. Then Li's girlfriend has a burning sack thrown over her head (strange...I thought she was quite pretty..) she dosen't die but ends up( presumably) scarred for life.
On hearing this Li tells Kune to move in with him for safety. On the evening the killer breaks in to their apartment and while Li is watching football on TV (Notts. Forrest vs Watford- Tony Woodcock, Gary Birtles and all!) Kune is viscously stabbed to death and then hung up in the bathroom by the still faceless killer. Sensing something wrong, Li reaches for a Katana (Japanese sword) from his collection of weapons...the killer enters and we see that it was one of the passengers on Kune's minibus (yeah, the denouement is totally lacking in surprise because we don't even know the dude and he's only been on screen earlier for all of five seconds!). What follows is a terrific battle, with Li and his opponent on top fighting form as they trash the apartment and each other. There's a great bit of (Taekwondo?) bootwork as they go feet to feet with each other. The assassin hits the lights and Li uses a clever ploy to overcome him(I won't spoil it) before axe kicking the guy's head (it had to be fake...didn't it?) almost from his neck. A truly horrifying end to the fight. The next morning Li emerges from the building wearing dark glasses (possibly to make a break for it...) and is promptly shot by a sniper waiting across the road. His final scene is him lying on the pavement in the pouring rain as the camera pulls back. Very dramatic. As an epilogue, the "Businessman" receives a call from his "Uncle" in Vietnam, congratulating him on the job and not to worry about the missing goods (the gold).In one of the final shots we see the lonely hillside where Kune had buried the gold.
Wow, if you aren't knocked sideways by the ferocity and downright vicsiousness of the "action scenes" in this film then the "assassin" has already payed you a visit. It may be a different slant on Li's other work but Director Siu Kwai has created a mini-(bus) masterpiece of "Trash Cinema".