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Shaolin Temple (1976) Directed by: Chang Cheh

Part of Chang Cheh's Shaolin themed films and reportedly set before the events in 1974's Five Shaolin Masters, we follow a a large but recognizable cast of characters through rigorous training at the Shaolin temple while the government is closing in on the temple and therefore the violence in and burning of Shaolin is looming. While easily followed, there's no true investment in characters or drama here which can make Shaolin Temple a bit distant. On the plus side, it's gorgeously shot and designed and the manual labour disguised as training methods is clever and entertaining. With such a polish and a large cast (including Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Lee I-Min, Phillip Kwok, Ku Feng) it's easy to praise Shaolin Temple but not for the hair rising impact other dramatic works of Chang Cheh can provide while still creating an epic frame.

The Shaolin Temple (1982) Directed by: Cheung Yam-Yim

Restrictions were lifted inside Mainland Communist China as the Cultural Revolution ended and political changes were taking place so Hong Kong based company Chung Yuen Motion Pictures successfully brought to the screen something rough but of genuine importance. Being a rare, even first glimpse of martial arts cinema by a Mainland Chinese audience (this kind of product was simply banned under prior rule) and of former Wu Shu Champion Li Lian-Jie, the youngster broke big time and was to become known by his English name Jet Li subsequently. Taking 3 years to complete, utilizing beautiful sights of the real Shaolin Temple and the Chinese landscape, wisely the Hong based company didn't inject anything difficult or groundbreaking genre-wise. So standard story of Li's character wanting revenge on the evil general (Yue Sing-Wai) while trying to adhere to Buddhism, within there's something genuinely deep as these ideas are never less than valid. It's patience vs burning desire while the monks themselves gets to re-examine the definition of their dedication to Buddha. This may mean... I mean of course it DOES mean that they take a defensive stance against the forces on the offence, prompting a wonderful display of Wu Shu acrobatics and fighting from not only our young lead. Best showcased when combining these skills with weapons, it's in hand to hand combat and at times overall in the piece where fluidity isn't as top notch as Hong Kong made genre pieces of the time. Much can be applied to the team action directing coming from the Wu Shu tradition and not screen directing. Certainly exciting and bearable though, the film manages to combine all this with its thematic strength (that may rank only slightly above average for the genre but above nonetheless). Plus lead Li Lian-Jie makes an imprint as a fast moving, agile performer but with hatred and naivety in his eyes.

Yue Hoi as his master becomes a fitting father figure with much warmth and since then familiar faces of Hong Kong and Mainland productions, Yue Sing-Wai (Yellow River Fighter) and bald Ji Chun-Hua (Red Sorghum, Tai Chi II) establishes early their memorable screen images. Director Cheung Yam-Yim previously made The Jade Bow (and subsequently Fist From Shaolin that added footage from Jet Li's debut here. Shameless behaviour from someone...) that featured the first dual collaboration of Lau Kar-Leung and Tong Gaai who were subsequently Chang Cheh's duo of choice in this regard at Shaw Brothers and were eventually to become filmmakers in their own right. Lau more frequently than Tong and the former even directed the third, unrelated installment of The Shaolin Temple series called Martial Arts Of Shaolin (again with Jet Li). For a very detailed and excellent breakdown of the importance of The Shaolin Temple, check out this piece (where some of the above info was obtained) by Yves Gendron of Hong Kong Cinema View From The Brooklyn Bridge.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Shaolin Temple Against Lama (1980) Directed by: Cheung Gin-Gat

KENNETH'S REVIEW: Not to be confused with Lee Tso-Nam's Shaolin Vs. Lama, in this Taiwan kung-fu fest lead of that film Alexander Lo plays a prince that changes fraction and starts to side with Shaolin instead. Typical power domination-plot and even the inclusion of a lighthearted Beggar So type of character (as seen in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow), the proceedings are in need of more Taiwan madness. Despite, this straight faced stock plot is complemented by a huge array of fight scenes offering up kicks and acrobatics at breakneck speed. Speed being an element that kills some of the choreography but overall Shaolin Temple Against Lama delivers and we're quite thankful by the end that it lacked the foolery of the genre. Villain is played by Alan Chui and Wang Hsieh also appears.

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead (2004) Directed by: Douglas Kung

While production company My Way have been at it for over 10 years, it's only fairly recently that their Hong Kong cinema tac has been picked up on by fans. Creating vehicles as a throwback to the golden age of the 80s and 90s, Shaolin Vs Evil Dead presents familiar ground. I.e. the ghostbusting priest/hopping vampire/kung fu-flick and it scores points early by designing itself to be that very film. Frequent My Way director Douglas Kung clearly sweats to work up the proceedings to 90 minutes though as evident by the up and down nature of the film in terms of momentum. While energy could've been cranked up a new notches, the opening set-piece at a zombie infested inn infuses the battle with today's CGI used to only average effect but the new millennium meets the old in quite a refreshing way after all. Plus you get coolness in the form of Gordon Lau as a lead who isn't echoing Lam Ching Ying's ability as a stoic AND comedic performer as skillfully but leads very well nonetheless. In comparison to the entire genre output, it's cheap, tired and not a little silly but the film does feature more memorable scenes such as a cute little romance between disciples Sun (Jacky Woo) and Moon (Shannon Yiu), a game of Evil Chess with children buddhist monks vs. children hopping vampires and an unconventional birth of a boy by a boy. It could've been tighter and more strongly paced but My Way has the heart in the right place. The film ends inconclusively, showing highlights from the sequel Shaolin Vs Evil Dead: Ultimate Power and the tightly edited show reel is promising. Co-starring as a rival Taoist priest to Lau's White, Fan Siu-Wong shows his skills on select occasions.

After making the rounds internationally on home video, My Way finally struck a distribution deal in Hong Kong as Kam & Ronson brought out the dvd of Shaolin Vs Evil Dead in 2007.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Shaolin Vs Evil Dead - Ultimate Power (2005) Directed by:Douglas Kung & Ken Yip

After ending Shaolin Vs Evil Dead abruptly, Douglas Kung and company gambles and doesn't put us in the middle of the frey once Shaolin Vs Evil Dead - Ultimate Power opens. Instead they devote an extended time to the backstory of Fan Siu-Wong's character and how he ended up as the possessed villain of the first. Playing his own father, he's got poison in his body. As does his pregnant wife (Marsha Yuan, daughter of Cheng Pei-Pei) and their son (played as young by John Zhang) is growing up with an increasing level of evil and desire to dominate the world. This development is written in the stars though and fate dictates that trying to get the poison out will only be able to take place in an ultimate battle with brother Chau Yau (Gordon Lau)...

My Way is working with very little means again and are trying out something very serious with the backstory. While nothing affecting, it's surprising directors Kung and Yip manages to pace the fairly long movie well despite. Before giving way to the extensive spectacle of the finale, we're also treated to accomplished wire action and clearly filmed grounded fights finds its way into the picture too. Again, the purpose is to adhere to the feelings conjured up in 80s and 90s Hong Kong horror and the crew are on to something still with their energy. Even though it's basic and even ropey at best, the massive CGI spectacle of the final reels is infectious (and the hordes of hopping vampires doesn't hurt either) and manages to succeed on occasions in terms of the filmmaking manifest here. Imagery is updated somewhat, not a whole lot and I guess that's a key for Kung and company to stay nearer an era they clearly love.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Shaolin Vs Lama (1983) Directed by: Lee Tso-Nam

KENNETH'S REVIEW: Beloved everywhere you go so the following may be duplicating a lot of audience views but anyway, Lee Tso-Nam's old school actioner deserves that praise AND negative remarks hurled towards it. Shaolin Vs Lama survives very nicely on its plot about (a very buff) Alexander Lo seeking the perfect master to further teach him kung-fu. The film instantly displays a nice sense of giving us clean, crisp kung-fu but scores no points when feeling the need to fool around with low-brow gags. Despite the anti-Buddhist monk being a fun concept, Shaolin Vs Lama earns more points when being serious about its standard story craftsmanship. Because combining seriously clear, clean, powerful and weapons-equipped martial arts action gets Lee's film into deserving of its rep-status, with the finale containing some kickass imagery in particular.

Shaolin Vs. Ninja (1983) Directed by: Robert Tai

Presented in English by Tomas Tang's Filmark, ninjas are already present in Robert Tai's original movie so no tinkering needed! Tai (part of the action directing team for Chang Cheh at Shaw Brothers in the late 70s) doesn't challenge viewers in need of a chunky narrative as it's Shaolin monks trying to veer off the Japanese wanting to take over the temple but also Japanese monks wants revenge for their fallen master. It's lessons of buddhism before violence but surprisingly some intelligent dialogue is put forth (in particular the exchange between the Royal Monk and the abbott of Shaolin amidst the temple buddha's). However Tai's shining achievement lies in the creative action choreography. Varying up almost every fight scene with a different concept even if it does often involve weapons and acrobatics, Shaolin Vs. Ninja is pure, energetic joy in this regard. Only letdown is way too few inclusions of the actual ninja and their techniques but Tomas Tang had other movies in his big catalogue covering that well and often with hilarious results. With Alexander Lo Rei and Alan Chui.

Shaolin Wooden Men (1976) Directed by: Lo Wei

From Jackie Chan's unhappy times working for Lo Wei (and Lo trying to get a new Bruce Lee to emerge in the young Chan), Shaolin Wooden Men sees Chan as a mute training at the Shaolin temple but obviously is in preparation for revenge...

Shaolin Wooden Men is a title that covers roughly 2/3 of the film and it's the most intriguing parts compared to what we get for the remainder. Credited director Lo Wei (Chen Chi-Hwa is named Executive director and surely had a firm seat in that chair as well) has set up automatic sympathy for Chan by having him be a mute but what sets apart the film from others is quite an unusually strong sense for visuals, for once not appearing forced. For sure several training concepts doesn't result in smooth technical execution filmmaking-wise but as hokey as the titular wooden men are, there is something insanely cool about this method devised by the ever so creative Shaolin monks. But there exists narrative after Chan's character clears the hall of wooden men so from this point story and action goes on routine. The so called windmill action of the 70s dominates but it is definitely fun to spot the few times where young Chan is allowed to flash his genius in development. Co-starring Kam Kong with supporting appearances by Doris Lung and Chiang Kam. See how many times you can spot Yuen Biao too.

Versions missing roughly 10 minutes consisting of fighting and narrative from the opening (original running time being 102 minutes) have circulated on releases such as the one from Columbia. The Fortune Star High Definition master clocks in at the correct length.

Shatter (1974) Directed by: Michael Carreras

A famously troubled production between Britain's Hammer Films and Shaw Brothers (their two picture deal also included The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires), original director Monte Hellman (Beast From Haunted Cave, Cockfighter) was fired 3 weeks into production due to slow production speed. According to Hellman, the Shaw Brothers crew couldn't commit more than half a day daily to his production though so co-producer Michael Carerras stepped in to finish this rather stale modern day action/kung-fu spectacle. Released 2 years later (but not until 1980 in Hong Kong), the film is also known as Call Him Mr. Shatter. Stuart Whitman plays Shatter, a for hire assassin whose latest job on an African leader leads to international attention from a large drug syndicate. Supposed to claim his money in Hong Kong, Shatter becomes the hunted and takes refuge with two locals: kung-fu expert Tai Pah (Ti Lung) and his friend Mai Mee (Lily Li)...

This far into their history, Hammer tried out different routes, hence this second collaboration with Shaw's not being their second collaboration with Shaw's on the vampire/kung-fu theme. Admirable but the stale pace to the chase scenario is further harmed by ridiculous scripting and performing (the romance between Whitman and Li being the prime sinner). While the martial arts is tacked on and not shot at quite the standard you'd expect from a Shaw's vehicle, Ti Lung is impressively physical despite the production clearly wanting a Bruce Lee aura to surround him. The way Ti Lung escapes this is notable. Also with Anton Diffing, Peter Cushing, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lau Kar-Wing and Fung Hak-On. Censor cuts were required at the time in America so for a completely uncut version of Shatter, look no further than the German dvd release under its local title of Ti-Lung - Der tödliche Schatten des Mr. Shatter. You can pick it up at German Amazon.

She'd Hate Rather Love (1971, Hua Hui-Ying)

One of many signs that there were only precious few directors leading the way in Taiwan when it came to fantasy tinged swordplay. Hua Hui-Ying's film at hand here boasts decent production values and even quite an extended comedic side as David Tang plays mind games on the bandits he's asked to help fight. But Hua has difficulty breaking through as the story, conflict and beneath surface-motivations become clear. Resulting in a dull frame and the primitive, clunky action choreography fails to generate excitement.

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