Director: Chang Cheh
Starring: Philip Kwok, Chiang Sheng, Lung Tien Hsiang, Lu Feng
After a dispute between the Iron Flag Clan and the unscrupulous Eagle Clan ends with the death of both leaders and the crumbling of the Eagle School, senior student Luo (Philip Kwok) agrees to shoulder the blame for the benefit of the school and so that his ‘elder brother’ can maintain order as the new leader. Taking a job a waiter for room and board, he finds himself on the receiving end of numerous assassins and hardships. Feeling something amiss about his situation, he returns to the Iron Flag Clan to discover that perhaps his master’s death was not simply an issue of death from the battle but orchestrated behind the scenes.
Chang Cheh directs this action-packed kung fu film featuring the Venom Mob and some bloody wuxia-lite action. A tale of revenge at its core, The Flag of Iron tackles many familiar themes in its 113 minute running time; camaraderie, honor, and betrayal in equal measures. While the film doesn’t really tread new ground; let’s face it, many martial arts films tend to follow a formula, it is the intricate and varied fights along with good pacing and interesting characters that lift this film above the average kung fu film. Chang’s prolific career is full of memorable flicks and while The Flag of Iron tends to get forgotten among many others, I personally would consider the film to be one of the more accessible and purely entertaining in his filmography.
Kwok as Luo is as scrappy and heroic as they come. Quick to fight for the better good he never shudders away from duty and is the definition of a righteous hero. As the lead he also handles the brunt of the action with a varied series of techniques and weapons. Of particular note are a number of fights in a restaurant that introduce cool and continuous action. It’s a long sequence that showcases the expertise of Kwok and co-stars/choreographers Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng. The supporting roles, in particular Lung Tien Hsiang as Rambler get quite a bit more to do than in most other wuxia productions. A typical failing of many of these films is the large-ish casts that tend to populate these pictures, but Cheh is able to handily focus on the appropriate characters and give just the right amount of taste of other less important characters to establish the type of world the film encapsulates.
In the end, The Flag of Iron is a little bloated in its running time, but its seriousness and its numerous, and sometimes literal, backstabbings will be more than enough incentive to give it a try for the fan of martial arts films.