It seems to me that this movie is a key to some of what is distinctive to the Hong Kong action movies of the 1980s and 90s. It is the story of the childhood training of seven boys including Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao. All were indentured to being trained by Peking Opera master Yu Jim Yuen (who is played herein by Sammo Hung). As filmgoers know from Chinese films such as "Farewell, My Concubine," "Fleeing by Night," and "The King of Masks," the training of performers was brutal, and their social status was very low. "Apprentices" were for all practical purposes slaves, ill-fed, badly housed, often beaten—and rented out for private performances (of various sorts) with their master keeping all the income.
Their rigorous physical training was rarely accompanied by any concern about literacy. mathematics, or general education. (I suspect that some of the childishness and seeming romantic ineptitude in the films particularly of Jackie Chan relate directly to this lack of education, just as the physical comedy and dazzling fight scenes owe much to the training from Master Yu) and socialization. The apprentices were isolated from relations with others and driven even harder than achievment-oriented parents drive their children. They had no time and no models for romance, and, in particular, no mothers, not even surrogate ones, or sisters or female classmates. (Those in single-sex boarding schools occasionally go home or to the homes of others.)
At the time portrayed in the film, the early 1970s, the audience for traditional Peking Opera in Hong Kong was waning. The boys themselves are more interested in listening to western pop music and meeting girls than in the art of the stage. Still, as Master Yu's best pupils, they perform seven nights a week at an amusement park. Fewer and fewer customers pay to see them, until their contract is not renewed. And the school building is slated for demolition. Confused and desperate, Master Yu loans Sammo, "Big Nose" (Jackie), and Ah Biao (later to become Yuen Biao) to work as stuntmen in the emerging kung-fu film industry. We know that many of the skills so painfully acquired under Master Yu will find new uses and (eventually) appreciative international audiences, but none of them foresaw international stardom at the time.
The extreme demands of an art which fewer and fewer people support is a melancholy spectacle, but the bonds between fictive "brothers" provides the emotional power of the film—the fraternal bonds between the students and between their master and his best friend, Uncle Hua (Lam Ching-Ying), a former opera performer turned movie stuntman. The heart-wringer is when Uncle Hua falls doing a film stunt and goes crazy. Master Yu goes into a set piece, the "Farewell, My Concubine" scene, playing the King. Hua responds in character as his consort. When I saw the film in a theater, the floor was awash with tears—an emotional impact that I have not seen at showings of any other movie from Hong Kong. (The boys carry on for their fallen "uncle," of course.)
The pinyin title of the 1988 movie is "Qi qiao fu," which can mean "seven little fortunes" (for the master) or "seven fortunate small ones" (for the skills they acquired and having a superb teacher). The camerawork of David Chung is superb. When I first saw ithe movie, as part of a Jackie Chan tribute, I thought that Jackie Chan directed it, but I was wrong. As far as I (and Imdb) know, writer-director Alex Law has only directed one other film, the hilarious 1992 comedy about the clash of rural and urban expectations, "Now you see it, now you don't" (Wo ai chou wen chai, 1992) starring Chow Yunfat.
(The AC relevance is that a submission including this and discussion of another movie was rejected for performance pay only by one of the AC editors--who should not even have been reviewing the submission. The arbitrariness of some editors there who seemingly do not even skim a submission before pasting irrelevant rulings makes me unable to recommend the site to anyone.)