The Shaw Brothers studio was always sly in taking many of the same stories or scripts and remaking them in a way that would feel refreshingly new or unique compared to the original. Although the studio, which produced one metric shit ton of films through its lifetime, would rarely find itself delving too much into franchises, they loved these secret remakes. In the case of this film, The Flag of Iron, it’s the style of the film that is so different that the story it’s telling is almost unrecognizable to its predecessor.
Yes, indeed, The Flag of Iron is a remake of the Shaw Brothers’ The Duel, and if you want more information, you’re welcome to read my previous review for The Flag of Iron HERE (or if you’re so inclined you can read my review for The Duel HERE). Yet, it's the new 88 Films release of the former that is the focus of this brief update.
And, while I personally prefer The Duel to this one, it’s hard not to love just how entertaining The Flag of Iron is as a film. In fact, if you go back and read my previous review, you'll notice that I've bumped p my score for this recent rewatch. The performances are broadly portrayed but charming, the fight work is gymnastic heavy and complex, and the general speed of its story rarely gives the audience a moment to pick it apart for its small issues. It’s not the most emotionally poignant flicks from the Venom clan, but it satisfies, nonetheless. Not to mention, that final fight with the spears and flags might be one of the more visually fascinating fight sequences that either Chang Cheh or the Venoms had put together. It’s just impressive on a lot of levels. The plotting tends to be a tad muddled, particularly in its set up as it plays its characters, relationships, and mysterious plot on the vague spectrum, but it never deters Philip Kwok or his fellow co-stars from eating up the screen.
The newest Blu Ray release via 88 Films is worth adding to any martial arts cinema collector’s shelves (or those just curious to leap in). The restoration from Celestial Pictures is fantastic, the new artwork from Kung Fu Bob O’Brien is always a welcome add on, and the audio commentary from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema is entertaining as they paint a broader context around the film. Their recent commentaries on these 88 Films releases are some of my favorite listening while I’m cleaning up the house or making some grub for the family.
Yes, I suppose I’ll take some flak for enjoying The Duel more, but I cannot discount any Shaw Brothers fans that hold their red and black banners high for The Flag of Iron. It’s not the sharpest version of this story, but it’s cast and style make it a unique version that holds its own proudly.