- HD transfer from the original negative in 2.35:1 aspect ratio
- High-definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- 1.0 DTS-HD MA mono Cantonese audio with newly translated English subtitles
- 1.0 DTS-HD MA mono English audio (Synced best possible from Instructors of Death print)
- Commentary with Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng and actor / martial artist Michael Worth
- Supplemental audio commentary with Djeng
- Instructors of Death — grindhouse presentation
- Kung Fu and Dancing — interview with actor Robert Mak
- Born to Be Bad — interview with actor Johnny Wang
- Disciples of Shaolin — interview with stuntmen Hung Sun-Nam and Tony Tam
- The Right-Hand Man — interview with producer Lawrence Wong
- Instructors of Death trailer
- Hong Kong trailer
- Reversible sleeve featuring original Hong Kong poster artwork
Martial Club is something of a treasure in the Shaw Brothers stable, particularly amongst the works of Lau Kar-Leung (best known for The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Mad Monkey Kung Fu — both available in Arrow’s Shawscope Volume Two set, out this year). It’s apparent from the onset, which depicts an orange “lion dance” ritual cheerily introduced by Lau himself. After establishing the elaborate costumed dance in a showcase, the story itself begins with another lion dance, giving us a good 10 minutes of just performance. It’s not uncommon for these movies to slow-burn into a story, but in this case, it’s clear the director has more on his mind than just another drama punctuated by battle: This is, first and foremost, a kung-fu showcase with some comedy to keep it moving. Of Shaw’s most famous directors, Lau focused his films on tenets of martial arts, both physical and spiritual, and in some ways, this feels like his ethos at its purest.
The story is essentially an episodic series of incidents involving Wong Fei-hung (Gordon Liu) and his rivals / friends from his city’s martial arts clubs — Chu-Ying (Kara Hui) and Mai Chen-Huo (Hsiao Ho) — fighting in pitched battles to test their skills. They eventually come up against Master Shan (Wang Lung-wei), a man from the North hired by a new club to cause trouble. In classic form, Lau fills his down moments with comedy and uses his character’s martial arts as vehicles for comedy as much as destruction. It feels like a dance movie more than an action movie.
Well, mostly. There’s one sequence in particular that stands out as exemplary — a massive multi-club brawl in a theatre, where dozens of fighters simultaneously engage in combat on multiple levels of the structure. Unlike other martial arts films, though, none of these is a duel to the death, which gives it all a levity that benefits the tone of the film. The final duel between Fei-Hung and Shan in an alleyway is also captivating not due to the stakes but because the characters call out their forms and moves, educating one another rather than going for the kill.
There are certainly more iconic films in the Shaw stable, and many overall better ones, but Martial Club’s purity of vision sets it apart from the rest and makes it a must-watch for anyone interested in exploring Shaw Brothers’ golden age.