Chen Xing and Cheung Lik are two cops who have been assigned to take down a drug lord. In order to infiltrate the criminal gang, Chen Xing goes undercover as a prisoner. When he escapes from the prison, he does so with another member of the gang. While Cheung Lik pretends to be a simple villager so that he can keep an eye on his partner, Chen joins the gang and immediately shocks everyone with his fighting abilities. What sets Chen apart from other martial artists is his ability to kill his opponents just by grabbing their foreheads and smashing their skulls. That impresses everyone who sees it. However, when the drug lord finds out that Chen is actually an undercover cop, he captures and tortures him. Will Chen be able to escape in time to have a climatic fight in a mud pit with the drug lord’s main enforcer?
One of my favorite martial arts films, Tough Guy is known by several titles. When it was released in the West, it was apparently retitled — and I am not kidding — Kung Fu The Head Crusher. When it was subsequently released on video, it was called Revenge of the Dragon, probably to try to fool people into thinking that it was a Bruce Lee film or, at the very least, that it starred Bruce Li or some other Bruceploitation star.
Whatever it’s title, Tough Guy is an often brutal film, featuring some of the most exciting fight scenes that I’ve ever seen. What Chen Xing and Cheung Lik lacked in screen charisma, they made up for in skill and relentlessness. When Chen Xing gets in the middle of things and starts trading blows with his adversaries, it’s like watching a wild animal suddenly go on the attack. He doesn’t stop moving until no one’s left standing and he even manages to make the whole skull crushing thing look credible. He’s matched by Cheung Lik, who may not have as big a role as Chen Xing but who still proves himself to be a formidable fighter. The fights themselves are expertly choreographed and largely filmed in close-up. There’s no cheating the camera or anything else that martial arts films sometimes did to make their stars look more skilled than they actually were. Another thing that I appreciated is that, when Chen and Cheung have to fight multiple opponents, the bad guys usually attack all at once, as a group, instead of everyone standing around waiting for their turn to get in their punches.
There’s little intentional humor to be found in Tough Guy and there’s even less discussion of the philosophy behind the martial arts. Instead, this is a tough and violent crime movie that wastes no time in getting down to business.
One final note: While watching Tough Guy, be sure to pay attention to the film’s score. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was lifted nearly note-for-note from Ennio Morricone’s score for Once Upon A Time In The West.