DREADNOUGHT is another entry in the Golden Harvest kung-fu comedy steamroller started by Yuen Wo-Ping and Jackie Chan a few years earlier. By 1981 there were plenty of kung fu comedies about, including no shortage of 'classics' already. DREADNOUGHT doesn't exactly break the mould, but it adds enough of its own personality to make it 'unique', and what isn't original is still executed very well here. It's also notable as the last time Kwan Tak-Hing would play Wong Fei-Hung.
The story is straightforward - Yuen Biao plays a nervous young man called Mousy, who is encouraged to learn kung fu from Wong Fei-Hung by his friend Foon (Wong's top student, played by Leung Kar-Yan). Meanwhile, Wong's rival (Philip Ko) is hiding wanted killer White Tiger (Yuen Shun-Yi, in an unforgettable role), who has been driven 3/4 mad by the death of his wife - which he is unfortunately reminded of every time he hears the little bells that Mousy wears around is neck.
The rest of the film pretty much writes itself, but it's full of nice details. There is a stark contrast between the youthful mischief of Mousy and Foon, and the dark, violent craziness of White Tiger that gives DREADNOUGHT its most memorable moments.
Action is of course plentiful, and of a very high quality, with a lion dance scene near the beginning being particularly memorable. There's quite a mix of styles, with Biao's acrobatics heavily featured, contrasted with the precision of the kung fu showed by Leung Kar-Yan and (a heavily doubled) Kwan Tak-Hing, contrasted again with the raw power and ferocity of Yuen Shun-Yi. It's a true showcase of the art of movie martial arts, and a tribute to the Peking Opera tradition that led to it.