A couple of things right off: these are just five of the many kickass martial arts films from the 1970s and I left off the Bruce Lee films on purpose since they're well-known and they all kick ass (Game of Death being the weakest, but was released five years after Lee's death). Also, these films aren't all necessarily kung fu films, but kung fu worked with the title I wanted for this post so cut me some slack!
The '70s gave us horrible fashion and some horrible music and weird films. I grew up in the '70s and when you're in the middle of it, especially as a kid, you can't really understand how weird a decade it was. But I think the '70s produced the coolest martial arts films--especially the Shaw Brothers films. I remember watching kung fu films on Saturday afternoons in the late '70s and early '80s. The fight scenes were nuts and seemed to last forever, like when they went to commercial break they kept fighting or something. And because I was a kid when I first saw these, I still watch these with the English dubbing.
So, these are some of my favorites from the 1970s.
Master of the Flying Guillotine - 1976
This film is bizarre. The flying guillotine looks like a red hat with teeth which is attached to a chain--the wielder wings the contraption at an enemy, it lands on his head, the teeth sink in and the thrower yanks. You can imagine what happens next. But, the craziest thing in this film is the dude with the long arms--this guy can extend his arms to an insane distance, like twenty feet.
The final fight scene is pretty interesting and chaotic, but also nearly ten minutes long. Not my all-time favorite, but it makes this list simply because of the weapon and the dude with long arms.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin - 1978
This one stars Gordon Liu (star of many, many martial arts films over the years, and played a couple of roles in the Kill Bill films). Many of these films have revenge/vengeance as their theme, and this one is no different. What I enjoy most about this film are the training scenes and Liu figuring out each of the 35 chambers of shaolin and he eventually establishes the 36th chamber.
Crippled Avengers (Return of 5 Deadly Venoms) - 1978
The final three films on this list star the Venom Mob (the name will make sense when I discuss the final film of this list), a group of actors Shaw Brothers films used together in many films. This one was originally known as Crippled Avengers--the main characters are all crippled by the villains in different ways: one becomes deaf and mute, another blind, while another has his legs cut off, and the final person has his head crushed and becomes "simple". So, of course, they seek revenge, but first have to learn how to fight, using their limitations to full advantage.
The Kid with the Golden Arm - 1979
Another Venom Mob Shaw Brothers film. This one is about a gang attempting to steal a shipment of gold. The heroes band together to stop Golden Arm and his gang. Great choreography (but then, all of these have great fight sequences).
Five Deadly Venoms - 1978
Okay, this one is my favorite. This is the film that tagged the group of actors as the Venom Mob. A dying master dispatches his last pupil to find his former students and discover what they're up to, he doesn't trust that they're using their skills for good. Each of his five prior students trained at different times and learned a different technique--oh, and they all wore masks during training. The five styles: scorpion, centipede, snake, lizard, and toad. The last pupil, the one dispatched to find the 5 venoms, knows a little of each style so he has to align with one of the other venoms to defeat the evil ones. But first he has to figure out who are the bad venoms and who are the good venoms. This film is a lot of fun and the storyline is as interesting as the fight scenes are spectacular. So, if you're going to watch just one of these, I say make it 5 Deadly Venoms.