“Quadrilateral of Fury”, Singapore's first and only martial arts film, is now available on YouTube.
The film was made in 1973 but was not approved for public display for its “portrait of organized crime and justice at its own time at a time when Singapore was 'aggressively cleaning up' its national public image,” according to the Asian Film Archive ( AFA).
It was finally screened at a local film festival in 2005, and was recovered by the AFA in 2017.
Despite its limited distribution, it is recognized as a “gem of the Singaporean film genre.”
The movie is inspired by Bruce Lee's “Fist of Fury,” which premiered in 1972. It tells the story of a noodle vendor who learns kung fu to avenge his family and fight a gang of thugs.
This is historically significant in the story of Singapore film * and * a ton of fun. Bone-crunching combat, masks under masks, dogs looking at the camera, Satay Club in color, Jurong Bird Park, sleazy gangster parties – it's got it all! Thanks @AFA_archive !!! https://t.co/1EBOZLTB9t
– ben slater (@gonetopersia) May 7, 2020
Quadrilateral of Fury is Singapore's first and only martial arts film. It was banned for more than three decades, went almost entirely unnoticed until 2017 when AFA recovered it with the only available copy.
You can see the movie at https://youtu.be/y8QOPmIk8tQ.
This has historical significance for the Singapore films * and * is a lot of fun. Breaks that break bones, masks under masks, dogs that look at the camera, Satay Club in colors, Jurong Bird Park, sordid gangster parties – it has it all! Thanks to the Asian Film Archive.
The main actor is Peter Chong, a true karate master who kept the only copy of the film inside a refrigerator before retrieving it.
In 2109, Chew Tee Pao, archivist for the Asian Film Archive, interviewed James Sebastian, co-director of the film, about the difficulties of producing Quadrilateral of Fury.
The archivist wrote:
As a film that portrayed gangsterism in 1970s Singapore, the filmmakers encountered real gangsters just like those who intimidated the local hawkers on set and had to tread carefully not to overstep certain boundaries. Filmed in a guerilla manner, the filmmakers did not obtain official permits to shoot at all the locations.
As a film that portrayed the 1970s mafia in Singapore, the filmmakers found mobster gangsters like the ones that intimidated local street vendors in the studio and had to be very careful not to overstep limits. It was filmed in a guerilla fashion, and the filmmakers did not obtain official permits to record in all locations.
In 2017, actor Peter Chong explained in an interview why censors rejected the film in 1973:
It's a real story of Singapore in the late 1960s when we still had gangs around collecting protection money. (But the censors) said that you can't take the law into your hands.
It's a true Singapore story from the late 1960s, when we still had gangs that charged money for protection. (But the censors) said that you cannot take the laws into your hands.
Singapore became independent from Malaysia in 1965. The ruling People's Action Party had been in power from the state's founding to the present. The party is recognized for having made Singapore one of the richest countries in the world, although it is also accused of employing strict social controls that affect free expression and democracy.
Some who saw the recovered film in 2017 immediately recognized the cultural significance of “Quadrilateral of Fury.”
In a comment on Letterboxd, the global social network for film analysis and recovery, a user by the celestial name observed that the film offers a surreal version of Singapore, far from its present.
some really incredible cinematography and surreal shots of 60s / 70s singapore, a place that is almost another country to me.
this had the makings of a classic… it's such a huge piece of sg chinese cinema history
a real tragedy that it was banned on release until 2005, can you imagine the iconic status this film would have now.
A truly amazing cinematography and surreal shots of Singapore from the 1960s and 1970s, a place that is almost another country for me.
This had ribestes of a classic … it's a huge piece of Chinese film history.
A true tragedy that its release until 2005 was forbidden, imagine the quality of icon that this film would have now.
Writer Ben Slater explained how it would have affected Singapore cinema if it had not been censored:
… It's an attempt in the early seventies to make a commercial genre film. It was kind of like other things happening in Hong Kong. And it didn't work because it was banned, obviously didn't get a chance in Singapore. And I think, if let’s say in a parallel universe, the film had been released and it had been a huge commercial hit, there could have been 20 or 30 martial arts films that came out of Singapore. It could have, who knows, kickstarted a new studio or whole proliferation of other filmmaking that could have happened at that time. It's very very sad, in fact, in some ways a great tragedy that it didn't.
… is an attempt in the early 1970s to make a commercial genre film. It was like other things that happened in Hong Kong. And it didn't work because they banned it, obviously it didn't have a chance in Singapore. And I think if, say, in a parallel universe, the movie was released and a huge commercial success, there would be 20 or 30 Singapore martial arts films. Who knows, a new study could have been started or a whole proliferation of other films that would have happened at that time. It is very very sad, it is more, somehow it is a great tragedy that it was not.
A review of The Last Word described the film as entertaining as absurd:
As a film “Ring Of Fury” is terrible but as something that you can sit back and laugh at the pure absurdity that is being displayed on screen, the film is great. Everything about the film was outdated and over the top, from the training montage to the villain, but to be honest I had a blast watching it.
As a movie, “Quadrilateral of Fury” is terrible, but as something you can see sitting and laughing at the absurdity shown on screen, the movie is great. Everything in the movie was outdated and overdone, from the training montage to the villain, but to be honest I loved watching it.
And the review ended with an important question:
… The film shows the viewer a completely different side of Singapore. It’s almost as if the film is a time capsule into Singapore’s past. After watching the film one question still remained. Why was the film only being shown to us now?
… The film shows the viewer a completely different side of Singapore. It is almost as if the film is a time capsule of Singapore's past. After watching the movie a question remained. Why is the movie just showing us?
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8QOPmIk8tQ (/ embed)