Shaolin Temple (1976)

Shaolin Temple [少林寺] (1976)
AKA Death Chamber

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Wai Wang, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Lau Wing, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Li Yi-Min, Shih Szu, Ku Wen-Chung, Shan Mao, Chiang Sheng, Ku Feng, Lu Feng, Wong Ching, Tsai Hung, Chiang Nan, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Lee Sau-Kei, Liu Wai, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Another Shaolin Cycle film. Yes, I’m still expecting greatness.

Shaolin Temple isn’t Chang Cheh’s last Shaolin film, but it is the last in his Shaolin Cycle that began with 1974’s Heroes Two. His later Shaolin films with the Venom Mob actors may relate in some ways, but I consider them separately from the Shaolin Cycle films. Anyway, Shaolin Temple is a great finale to Chang’s non-linear series with a habit of contradicting itself and re-telling different versions of the same story. Shaolin Temple showcases something that has been talked about in just about every film, but has yet to be shown in its full glory: the Shaolin Temple itself. In classic Chang Cheh fashion, it’s also not a typical martial arts film; it’s one that puts the Shaolin Temple and its teachings at the forefront of the film, above character development and even plot. If you’ve seen all the previous entries, this isn’t a big deal, but newcomers might be a little lost with the sheer amount of characters in the film.

Shaolin Temple is basically a prequel to Five Shaolin Masters and Heroes Two/Men from the Monastery/The Shaolin Avengers (and while we’re building shaky Shaw Shaolin timelines, Lau Kar-Leung’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin would come directly before Shaolin Temple). It also re-tells/re-imagines certain aspects that would tie into those films, so it’s not the type of prequel that completely works. That doesn’t matter in this case, though, as these are folk tales just waiting to be re-imagined and re-told as the teller sees fit. In any case, the film opens with Hung Hsi-Kuan (here played by Wang Wai), Fang Shih-Yu/Fong Sai-Yuk (Alexender Fu Sheng), and Hu Huei-Chien (Chi Kuan-Chun) kneeling outside the Shaolin Temple in hopes of being accepted for training in the martial arts. The Grand Master (Ku Wen-Chung) decides that after five days of kneeling, the men are dedicated enough to withstand the hardships of Shaolin training. What ultimately sways him is his feeling that if he does not teach them, the very survival of the Shaolin martial arts might hang in the balance. They enter the temple, and it begins a new era of the temple training outsiders to aid their resistance against the oppressive Qing government.

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The Web of Death (1976)

The Web of Death [五毒天羅] (1976)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Wang Hsieh, Angela Yu Chien, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Miu, Ku Feng, Kong Yeung, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Chan Shen, Chan Mei-Hua

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Excited to see another Chor Yuen movie.

Chor Yuen re-defined the wuxia film genre with Killer Clans and The Magic Blade, but The Web of Death is more of a step in a different direction. Elements introduced in the previous films (like the focus on survival and the true danger of the martial world) are still present and relevant in The Web of Death, but they are no longer the primary focus. In The Web of Death, Chor Yuen goes full-on fantasy, delivering a tale of magical powers and deadly clan rivalries that could only come out of ’70s Hong Kong. If the previous films were about avoiding subtle tricks like a poisoned drink, The Web of Death is about more overt threats such as a trapdoor that opens into an acid bath. This move towards fantasy is significant, though, as Shaw’s prior wuxia films always contained elements of fantasy but were never all-out extravaganzas. In this way, The Web of Death is like a bridge between the early days of trap-laden, studio-bound wuxias and the fantasy heights the genre attained in the ’80s and ’90s. As a huge fan of those later offerings, I can’t help but love The Web of Death just a little bit more for pushing the genre in that direction.

The Five Venoms Clan is in possession of the most fearsome weapon in the martial world: the Five Venoms Spider. It may look like nothing more than a smoking lantern adorned with a red spider handle on its top, but it’s actually a cage for the fearsome spider within. This spider is capable of incredible things, including deadly lasers and a poisonous mist. Nothing is known that can defeat the power of the spider, or even defend against it. If your opponent wields the spider it’s basically time to say your goodbyes, if you only had the time. The spider is so deadly that even the Five Venom Clan itself is scared of it. They lock it away in an unknown location, and there it stays until a few members of the clan want to take control of the martial world at an upcoming tournament with it. The mere idea that the spider may re-emerge in the martial world sends shock waves through the clans. Fei Ying Xiang (Yueh Hua) of Wudang — or Wu-Tang if you’d prefer — and his brother Fei Ying-Jie (Wong Chung) are dispatched by their master to learn of the spider’s whereabouts and stop its use. The brothers split up to search separately, and the twisting, dense adventure begins.

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Big Bad Sis (1976)

Big Bad Sis [沙膽英] (1976)

Starring Chen Ping, Wong Chung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Chong Lee, Siu Yam-Yam, Ku Kuan-Chung, Wang Hsieh, Queenie Kong Hoh-Yan, Kong Oh-Oi, Daan Fung, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chiang Nan, Teresa Ha Ping, Wong Ching-Ho, Shum Lo, Chan Lap-Ban, Kong San, Wong Jing-Jing, Mak Wa-Mei

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: Excited to see another Sun Chung movie.

The Shaw Brothers catalog boasts many female-led action films, but rarely do they feel as actively feminist as Sun Chung’s Big Bad Sis. Themes of female empowerment and sisterhood are front and center throughout, elevating the film beyond its exploitation and action roots. Don’t worry, though, this is quite far from an Oscar-bait message film; Big Bad Sis gets its point across while being relentlessly entertaining. Unfortunately, it’s not as potent as it could’ve been — an incredibly overlong, gratuitous sex scene mars the film’s mid-section — but fans of Chen Ping and Shaw Brothers crime films of the era should find a lot to enjoy here.

Big Bad Sis is centered around Ah Ying (Chen Ping), the Big Bad Sis of the title. She works alongside many other women in a textile factory, but she is much more than a co-worker. The film begins when a new hire, Ah Fong (Chong Lee), is assaulted in the bathroom by a group of thuggish co-workers. Sai Chu (Siu Yam-Yam) senses that something is wrong and checks on Ah Fong. She tries her best to overcome the group of abusive women, but she is no match for them. By this time, the situation has attracted more attention, and Ah Ying steps in to break it up. Her fists and strong spirit are formidable, and in teaching the bullies a lesson, she gains the friendship of Ah Fong and Sai Chu in the process. Ah Ying is a woman who has the power to stand up to oppression in all its forms, and in helping her co-workers she finds a new purpose. She isn’t a trained martial artist, but she begins to teach Ah Fong and Sai Chu self-defense tactics.

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The New Shaolin Boxers (1976)

The New Shaolin Boxers [蔡李佛小子] (1976)
AKA The Choy Lay Fat Kid, Demon Fists of Kung Fu, Grand Master of Kung Fu, Grand Master of Death, Silly Kid

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Jenny Tseng, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Lo Dik, Leung Kar-Yan, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Chan Wai-Lau, Shan Mao, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Wong Yiu, Wu Hsiao-Hui, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Wong Fei, Lee Ying, Wong Cheong-Chi

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Excited for another Shaolin Cycle movie.

The New Shaolin Boxers is something of an anomaly in Chang Cheh’s informal Shaolin Cycle. It most resembles Disciples of Shaolin, with both films featuring a resonant dramatic core about practitioners of Shaolin martial arts far down the lineage from the folk heroes who survived the burning of the Shaolin temple. The New Shaolin Boxers isn’t nearly as effective or finely crafted as Disciples of Shaolin, but I must admit that it is a film that is growing in stature the more I think about it. The key to this blossoming love is how Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang wrote the film to reflect the dual nature of its featured martial art: Choy Li Fut.

Choy Li Fut is an interesting branch of kung fu developed by Chan Heung in the 1800s. He combined two of the five main Southern styles, Choy Gar and Li Gar, with Fut Gar (also known as Buddhist Fist, itself a combination of Choy Gar and Hung Gar), resulting in a well-rounded system that enriches all aspects of the artist’s life. Philosophy and similar non-physical teachings are not unique to Choy Li Fut, but it is my understanding that it is more of a focus here than elsewhere. The film opens with Fu Sheng demonstrating Choy Li Fut, while the narrator tells us of its history and the art’s lineage to contextualizes the movie’s timeline. After this intro, though, the film seems to dive into a standard martial plot without a lot of thought or care paid to representing Choy Li Fut. In thinking this, I was quite wrong; the teachings of Choy Li Fut influence every aspect of the film and its plot.

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Jumping Ash (1976)

Jumping Ash [跳灰] (1976)

Starring Josephine Siao Fong-Fong, Ga Lun, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Chan Sing, Nick Lam Wai-Kei, Lee Yin-Ping, Wu Fung, Lo Hoi-Pang, Lee Chi-Chung, Cheng Chi-Tun, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Cheung Sek-Aau

Directed by Josephine Siao Fong-Fong & Po-Chih Leong

Expectations: Very interested. Don’t know what to expect, though.

Jumping Ash was a huge hit in its day, reaching #3 at the 1976 Hong Kong box office, but unfortunately I watched it faded, full-screen and dubbed. Hopefully it can be restored in the future and seen by fans in its original format, because in addition its success, Jumping Ash was also highly influential. It exhibited all the qualities of the Hong Kong New Wave, a few years before it really began in earnest. Some cite Jumping Ash as the first film of the New Wave, while others list it as a stylistic forerunner, but no matter what you call it, it’s a film that feels ahead of its time and far closer to what Hong Kong cinema would become than what it was in 1976. It’s hard to know from my position in 2018 America, but it also seems like it has its finger on the pulse of Hong Kong at the time, set in specific locations during May 1976 and then released just a few months later in August 1976.

Defining the style of the Hong Kong New Wave is a tricky thing to do. Like many film movements, it was something that happened organically and was only named and grouped together later on. Basically, the new crop of filmmakers in the late ’70s/early ’80s redefined what Hong Kong movies were, eventually taking over the industry from the fading studio-based model of Shaw Brothers. Location shooting and experimentation became the norm as this new generation of filmmakers put their artistic stamp on their films. Much of the previous generation thought of their work as nothing more than a job, so the emergence of singular talents like Tsui Hark, Ann Hui or Sammo Hung left a limitless impact on the industry. The films of this era firmly re-established Cantonese filmmaking as the dominant force of Hong Kong cinema, resulting in films that better reflected Hong Kong culture and society. It is also in this era where the genre-blending and multi-tone films took hold, bringing Hong Kong into what I consider its best and most fruitful period. This, too, is present in Jumping Ash, which deftly mixes drama, action and comedy on a moment’s whim.

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The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 63 – The Heroic Trio

This week Stephen and I are diving into one of the film’s I loved dearly during my teenage years: Johnnie To’s 1993 comic book-wuxia: The Heroic Trio! Listen and enjoy! 🙂

Also: the show is now on iTunes! So if you feel like subscribing there, or rating/reviewing the show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Music Notes


  • Ananda Shankar – Nostalgia
    • Shubh: The Auspicious (Amazon)


  • Anita Mui – 莫问一生 Don’t Ask About Life (The Heroic Trio Theme)
    • 戲劇人生 [Drama of Life] (Discogs)

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste into whatever reader you’re using.

The Magic Blade (1976)

The Magic Blade [天涯明月刀] (1976)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Ching Li, Tang Ching, Tanny Tien Ni, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Ku Feng, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Lau Wai-Ling, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha Ping, Ku Kuan-Chung, Kong Yeung, Ng Hong-Sang, Chan Sze-Kai, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Very excited to finally re-visit this.

The Magic Blade is a highly regarded wuxia in the Shaw Brothers catalog, and the nearly unanimous praise led me to review the film in 2010 (two months after starting Silver Emulsion). At the time I thought it was OK, but I didn’t understand why it was so well-loved. As the weeks went on, I kept thinking about the film, and how I must have missed something. I determined that context was the thing missing from my viewpoint, so later that year I began my chronological Shaw Brothers review project to fill my head with all the context I could handle. It’s now seven years later and I have finally arrived back around to The Magic Blade. It seems most people love the film right away, but for me I definitely needed the context to truly appreciate its mastery of the wuxia form.

The Magic Blade portrays a martial world full of strife and treachery. Like Killer Clans, it focuses on the dangers of the martial life and how prepared & alert one must be to survive against others’ devious intellect. The film opens on the deserted and quiet Phoenix Town, but this peace doesn’t last long. Out of the silence comes a procession of musicians, dancers, courtesans and other servants who prepare the town square for a grand display of entertainment for their master Yen Nan Fei (Lo Lieh). The celebration is cut short when a poncho-wearing Fu Hung Hsueh (Ti Lung) ominously appears out of the shadows. The two men have an appointment and a score to settle. Midway through their fight, though, a pair of expert assassins, Wood Devil and Tree Devil, ambush them. Fu and Yen are both swordsman of considerable skill and talent, and they have been targeted by the current leader of the martial world, Master Yu. Despite their vendetta to fight to the death, Fu and Yen team up for the time being to combat their shared threat.

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