MAGNIFICENT RUFFIANS – Shawscope Vol. 2 – Roundtable Reviews

The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.

Cinapse is all about cinematic discovery. This Shawscope Volume 2 column is, therefore, a watch project for our team, and guests, to work through this phenomenal set from Arrow Video. These capsule reviews are designed to give glimpses of our thoughts as we discover these films for ourselves. Some are kung fu cinema experts, some less so; all are excited for the adventure.

The Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio cranked out a staggering number of feature films over its lifetime. With worldwide influence continuing to this very day, their contributions to cinema are myriad and undeniable. Arrow Video has curated a second volume of titles; an intentional way to wade into the deep waters of the Shaw Brothers. Beyond capsule reviews, our team also offers thoughts on the set curation and bonus features. Watch along with us, join us in the comments, or reach out on social media (linked below) if you’d like to submit your own

Ed Travis

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind”. – Ecclesiastes 1:14. Ecclesiastical in nature, Magnificent Ruffians is a proper heroic tragedy in kung fu form. Another Chang Cheh joint starring the Venom Mob, star Lu Feng looms large over this title as the callous villain Yuan. Taking place in a latter era of history where rifles and cannons have entered the picture and the kung fu masters of old are desperate even for a bite to eat; Yuan reigns supreme as the master of the Golden Sword who also happens to be fabulously wealthy. Yuan has taken to welcoming desperate martial artists into his compound under the guise of employment, only to smite them down in a single strike of his Golden Sword. He justifies it as a voluntary weighing of martial arts skills, but Yuan’s wealth and privilege and dominant abilities have hardened his heart and blinded him to the humanity of those around him. To Yuan, everything is meaningless under the sun, and like the many insane holders of power in history, he seems unstoppable. Enter our titular ruffians, almost none of whom will survive this clash. Aimless with the loss of their family businesses thanks to the introduction of firearms to their culture, our impoverished heroes eke out an existence by eating at restaurants they can’t afford and trading off on who takes the resultant beating. It’s grim stuff, but it resonates as a kung fu class conflict. One of our heroes (Lo Meng) is doing his best to keep his family business open amidst dirty handed tricks by Yuan to take over the only remaining business he doesn’t already own. It’ll all culminate in a tragic battle between my guy Phillip Kwok and another accomplice teaming up to bring down the villain Yuan. As is typical of many of these titles, when that final fight ends, the credits will roll. It all comes down to that final fight and just about everyone we’ve come to care about will lose their life before the end. Chang Cheh is famous for his gore and bloodbaths, but Magnificent Ruffians does a good job of painting a picture of relevance and infusing its hard-hitting action with class-driven anger and philosophical malaise. Few of these Shaw Brothers films have left me thinking about the futility of a violent death or the tragic impact that massive cultural change can have on those left behind the way Magnificent Ruffians has. 

Dan Tabor

Magnificent Ruffians is another brutal Chang Cheh/Venom Mob beat’em up whose setup felt like a Kung-Fu horror film. 

Taking place in post industrialization China, “Kung-fu men” no longer hold the status they once did; since travel by boat or train has taken the bandits out of the equation, and armed escorts are no longer needed. This has the Shaw Brother equivalent to Patrick Bateman – the wealthy bored psychopath/businessman/Kung-Fu master Yuan Ying Fei (Lu Feng) luring fighters to his home only to then fight them to the death. This all changes when the sister (Annie Liu), of Guan Yun (Lo Mang) who runs the only other armed escort service in town catches his eye. To take Guan Yun out of the equation, Yuan Ying Fei recruits and begins to groom a group of homeless and mischievous Kung-Fu masters (Venom Mob) to do his dirty work by killing off Guan Yun, so he can get the girl without getting his hands dirty. 

While narratively a bit clunky, as most of these Venom Mob films tend to be, this one has a really strong through line, once all the setup is in place and the characters are introduced. While the titular Magnificent Ruffians start off at odds with the head strong Guan Yun, they soon not only befriend him but consider him a brother at arms by the end of the film. That dynamic between the Ruffians and their target really locked me in and invested me just in time for that incredibly impressive third act battle. The choreography and stunt work in that last 20 minutes is pure Chang Cheh bloody chaos and it’s the perfect ending that makes this one of the better Venom Mob films.

Justin Harlan

Even though this is a Venom Mob film and a solid one at that, I am suffering from a great deal of Kung-Fu exhaustion. Having watched at least one Shaw film a week for quite a few weeks in a row, I need a break. Thankfully, we’re taking a bit of a break for a couple weeks due to family vacations and such on our team, so that break should help me feel renewed and refreshed for out next installment, for which I am thankful.

However, I must at least note that I appreciate these back to back Cheh/Venom flicks have helped keep me from full on Shaw stroke, as both have been really fun once I’m able to regroup and get my mind to the right place for more classic Kung-Fu.

As noted above, the story is certainly a bit clunky, but it never lacks the fun punch that we’ve all come to expect from Cheh and his gang of martial arts madmen. In fact, this particular film, due to several great fight scenes and some stellar interludes between various members of the Mob, may have vaulted to my favorite of this collection and is probably in the top 5 Venom films for me. I am particularly fond of Lu Feng and Phillip Kwong in this one, both playing their particular roles pitch perfectly.

Ruffians is honestly a blast and I can’t wait to return to it down the road when I’m a bit less burnt out on the genre. Yet, even in this current state, I really enjoyed this previously undiscovered Venom Mob gem.

And We’re Out.

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