As a contrast to The Iron Dragon Strikes Back, The Chinese Stuntman is almost mainstream in it's approach to action and storytelling. I say almost because in his later films, Bruce Li chose to pick more risky projects than the straight action/exploitation vehicles such as Fist of Fury II and it's like. This time he not only chose to bite the hand that fed him but produced and directed the project himself. Wanting to tell the world about the continual backstabbing and deviousness that goes on behind the scenes of Hong Kong movies. The film starts with a big American ("John" played by resident HK gwailo John Ladalski in his best role) throwing his weight around in a YMCA. He's here to challenge some Kung Fu-ists and is getting the upper hand until Tang Wei (our hero- Li) steps in and duffs him up while the credits roll. In mid-fight Tang is called away to answer the phone and finds that he's been accepted as an Insurance Salesman.
Working under a corrupt boss(aren't they all?) Li heads out doing the door to door rounds. During the day he calls on some mates who are training at a Goju-ryu Karate dojo. He tries to sell them a policy but ends up having a sparring session with them. Here he shows some great kicks and control (he is sparring after all). Enter one Assistant Sensei who thinks he's come to challenge them. Lee puts him on his ass before leaving. When he gets back to his apartment he finds John waiting for him. Tang is knackered and tells the Yank that he's too tired for a duel. John puts him right by telling him that he wants to become his student and soon they are working out together. Soon (while out running) Tang is attacked by the main Karate instructor and the assistant he battered earlier. He makes short work of them.
Meanwhile, at the"Wise Fim Co." a small independent, the Studio Head/Film Director-Mr. Chan (Paul Wei Ping Au) is complaining to Tang's boss, that his box-office is well down on last year. He decides to take out a million dollar policy on his top star, one Shan Lung (a right pampered pooch played by Yang Kong- think of a coiffured Wang Yu and you'll get the idea...) in the hope he'll get injured and get a big pay off. Tang Wei is dispatched to sell him the policy and buys a new suit to impress. He needn't have bothered as Shan rips it to shreds with his eagle claw techniques. Pissed off, Tang whacks him. Shan likes the guy for standing up to him and signs up. Tang's boss however cons him out of his commission the swine!
In a short time Shan Lung is injured on the set, as the stunt crew seem determined to get him to do more dangerous stuff. Director Chan is chuffed, he gets a nice payoff less the backhander to Tang's boss. Once again Tang is sent to talk to Shan Lung and tries to persuade him to get a stuntman to do the dangerous stuff. This doesn't go down at all well with the stunt guys especially when Tang is given the job of doubling him. They even tell him to go back to selling insurance. That night Tang takes his frustration out on the focus mitts while training with John.
A new Fight Arranger is hired (Dan Inosanto...yes THE Dan Inosanto!). He seems impressed with Tang. The crew are even more furious and sabotage his next stunt (while John watches with growing suspicion). The inevitable accident happens and Tang hurts his back. John is so incensed he scraps with the crew and then Inosanto. The fight only stops when a studio worker is hurt during the melee.
hen Tang recovers, he participates in a bit of kick-boxing with John, then goes back to stunting on a modern day flick once again doubling Shan Lung. The devious crew this time place metal spikes in his landing mat and Tang is badly injured and taken to hospital. Meanwhile the studio accept a big advance from a Western distributor. Director Chan needs Tang back at work fast. John tells him that he is a sucker and would be better off without the job. Coming back with groceries John is attacked on the street and told to get out of Hong Kong, and Tang is attacked by three Kali/Nunchaku brandishing villains(uncut version only). The two friends hide out in a secret location, where John tries to convince Tang that Shan Lung is behind it all (jealousy at eventually being replaced by him) due to his falling status.
When Tang returns to work he sets up a car stunt. Off set Shan Lung nods to the driver. Tang is meant to leap over the car at 30mph. The driver in on the deception suddenly speeds up and nearly kills Tang in the process. This in turn leads Shan Lung to take out an even bigger policy on Tang(hoping he'll be crippled or killed). This is the last straw for Tang who is attacked by heavies while leaving the studio. Meanwhile Inosanto(presumably under Shan Lung's orders) attacks John at the secret hide-out. Kali sticks spin with ferocity and John is vanquished when Tang turns up and enters the frey in a blistering Kali/Bo-staff blow-out. This is one great fight (except for a couple of acrobatic moves made by a double who in no way resembles Inosanto!). The sticks are dropped and it's hands and feet time until Tang nails him. Determined to finish it Tang heads for the studio to beat up first the stunt crew bastards(already back on Shan Lung's payroll) then Shan himself in a traditional tea house set. They fight to a bloodied standstill until they crash out of the building. With Shan lying injured(remember he couldn't do stunts!) Tang limps away from the studio and the back-stabbing world of film...whew!!
This is a good film for a first time director. It's not in the great league(like Way of the Dragon ) as some of the fight scenes seem like padding (the scraps with the Karateka's for instance) and the story does wander at times but it makes up for it in most other departments. Locations are good and interesting, fights are good and plentiful and most of the performances are spot on. Remarkably, Bruce Le(the other well known Bruce Lee impersanator) is credited as being the assistant director. If it's true it's amazing as he'd usually been associated with such dumb shit in the past.