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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Brotherhood (1976)

Brotherhood [江湖子弟] (1976)

Starring Lau Wing, Woo Gam, Lily Li Li-Li, Wang Hsieh, Shut Chung-Tin, Chiang Tao, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Leung Seung-Wan, Fung Ging-Man, Yeung Chak-Lam, Keung Hon, Ngaai Fei, Shum Lo, Liu Wai, Lee Sau-Kei, San Kuai, Hao Li-Jen, Wong Ching-Ho, Ku Kuan-Chung, Bobby Canavarro, Yuen Biao

Directed by Hua Shan

Expectations: Excited to finally see a Hua Shan movie that isn’t Super Inframan.


Brotherhood is a great piece of entertainment, but as a cohesive film it’s a little less successful. It tells a story of Liao (Lau Wing), a man who becomes part of a powerful Hong Kong triad, but long stretches of the movie leave this character by the wayside to focus on the triad itself and the politics within. It shifts its focus so seamlessly that I honestly didn’t notice until it had been at least 15 minutes, but once the realization hit it was hard to ignore. The movie works its way back around to Liao, but the two stories aren’t intertwined well enough. When we rejoin Liao, he’s also evolved into a different type of person. I would have preferred to see the evolution, although with tons of movies that already do this, perhaps I should just enjoy Brotherhood for cutting out the middleman. In any case, I had some troubles with the film (that might be resolved with a re-watch), but none of them really hinder the film’s constant, high-value entertainment.

Liao Da-Jiang is a petty criminal pulling robberies with a group of three other guys. We enter the movie mid-jewelry heist, and unbeknownst to the criminals it is to be a pivotal moment in their lives. Liao is older than your typical juvenile delinquent, so Brotherhood felt like it could be the next step from that sub-genre of Hong Kong crime films. We can assume that Liao’s poor choices as a teenager led him to this moment, but as an adult the consequences are more lasting and serious. The twists and double crosses come fast and brutal in Brotherhood, and they eventually lead Liao to join the San He Tang triad. The triad is also experiencing a time of huge change, with its own share of brutal double crosses. The plot follows these two threads in fairly obvious ways, but as I mentioned, Brotherhood is always highly entertaining thanks to a couple of factors (namely the well-rounded cast, the harsh brutality of the violence, and the action choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan).

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Emperor Chien Lung (1976)

Emperor Chien Lung [乾隆皇奇遇記] (1976)

Starring Lau Wing, Wong Yu, Tin Ching, Shut Chung-Tin, Shum Lo, Chiang Nan, Cheng Miu, Kong Yeung, Lam Fung, Teresa Ha Ping, Chan Shen, Cheng Kwun-Min, Shih Ping-Ping, Mi Lan, Lun Ga-Chun, Cheung Chi-Hung, Wang Han-Chen, Pang Pang, Lee Pang-Fei, Wong Ching-Ho, Chu Siu-Boh, Ching Si

Directed by Wong Fung

Expectations: I don’t know what to expect, honestly.


Emperor Chien Lung to my chronological lineup of Shaw Brothers films for a few reasons. For one, I knew it had some limited martial arts content, and that it starred Lau Wing and Wong Yu. Secondly, it was the top grossing Shaw Brothers film of 1976 and it spawned multiple sequels (which might have more martial content than this one). It was also directed by Wong Fung, who intrigued me with his film Rivals of Kung Fu and his legacy with the original Kwan Tak-Hing Wong Fei-Hung series. Thankfully, my curiosity was well-placed, and Emperor Chien Lung is a fantastically fun and well-crafted film.

Emperor Chien Lung is absolutely sick and tired of the sheltered life of an emperor. He is fed the same foods and dressed in the same clothes every day, and literally every aspect of his life is governed by tradition and routine. One day, he hears a tale of how Emperor Tang Ming-Huang disguised himself as a commoner and mingled amongst his people. Chien Lung decides to do this as well, and his adventures outside the palace are what makes up the bulk of the film. It bears an anthology feel, with each tale wrapped up tight before proceeded ahead with the next one. Chien Lung learns things along the way, and he even picks up a sidekick, Chau Yi Qing (Wong Yu), but nearly everything else is self-contained within each story.

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The Dragon Missile (1976)

The Dragon Missile [飛龍斬] (1976)

Starring Lo Lieh, Lau Wing, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Ku Feng, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Fan Mei-Sheng, Kong Yeung, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ko Hung, Wang Han-Chen, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Yeung Chi-Hing, Hao Li-Jen, Lai Man

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Kinda high.


There are some films made for the sake of the art, while others are purely made for monetary reasons. The Dragon Missile is one of the latter, rushed into production to compete for the decapitation fan base with Jimmy Wang Yu’s One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine (AKA Master of the Flying Guillotine). Both films opened on April 24, 1976, but only one of them is a well-loved genre classic that grossed more than all but a handful of Shaw’s 1976 films (and it ain’t The Dragon Missile 😀 ). The move to steal business from their former star may not have worked, but the resulting film is still pretty enjoyable for what it is. Even the most slapdash Shaw production is still a Shaw production, after all, and The Dragon Missile has a few solid things in its corner that make it a worthwhile film.

Lo Lieh plays Sima Jun, the Imperial Troop Leader for the oppressive Lord Qin Quan (Ku Feng). He wields one of the more unique weapons in kung fu cinema: a pair of giant “dragon missiles,” which are basically bladed boomerangs adorned with dragon heads that can cut through just about anything in their path (in a haze of sparks and lens flare). Like the flying guillotine, they have a habit of decapitating their victims, but the dragon missiles are almost more frightening because of their mobility. The guillotine must be thrown precisely and then retrieved for a second go-round, while the missiles are in constant motion. Sima Jun can also catch and throw them with remarkable speed and accuracy. Lord help us if a dude with a flying guillotine ever teamed up with a guy using dragon missiles!

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Enter the Dragon (1973)

EntertheDragon_2Enter the Dragon [龍爭虎鬥] (1973)

Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Sek Kin, Robert Wall, Bolo Yeung, Ahna Capri, Angela Mao, Betty Chung, Geoffrey Weeks, Peter Archer, Hao Li-Jen, Roy Chiao, Lau Wing, Sammo Hung, Stephen Tung Wai

Directed by Robert Clouse

Expectations: High. I love this movie.

threehalfstar


There’s no doubt of the legendary, iconic status of Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee will always be in the American cultural consciousness and Enter the Dragon will always be the movie most associated with him in the West. It also gave us Jim Kelly, and Bolo got his badass name from his character in the film. I love the movie; I watched the film many times in my youth and to this day I have that poster to the right on my wall. But I must say, watching Enter the Dragon within the chronological confines of my Shaw series definitely made me look at it differently.

I don’t know that I ever considered just how American this movie is. It’s shot in Hong Kong and it features a plethora of Hong Kong actors and stuntmen, but it never once feels like a Hong Kong film. It’s a martial arts film with the full weight of Hollywood behind it. The version on my DVD has a couple of Bruce Lee’s philosophical scenes added back into the film, and the fact that these scenes were originally cut speaks volumes. To the general American audience (and apparently to director Robert Clouse), the martial arts are simply about fighting, and the philosophy is something you can lose without sacrificing the integrity. Of course, the philosophy is a HUGE part of martial arts, so it’s great that they put the scenes back in.

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Back Alley Princess (1973)

BackAlleyPrincess+1973-4-bBack Alley Princess [馬路小英雄] (1973)

Starring Polly Kuan, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Lau Wing, Angela Mao, Lee Kwan, Tien Feng, Wang Lai, Tong Ching, Carter Wong, Wu Jia-Xiang, Han Ying-Chieh, Fung Ngai, Huang Chung-Hsin

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Hmm?

onehalfstar


Back Alley Princess feels like one of those movies that was popular in its day, but it’s hard for a modern viewer to see exactly why. It’s an odd mix of a light comedic tone, heavy drama involving a prostitution ring, and some martial arts action… none of which are of quality enough to stand on their own. Ordinarily a multi-genre film like this might have a story that strings it all together, but in the case of Back Alley Princess that didn’t seem to be too high of a priority (which is somewhat odd, because Lo Wei generally packs a lot of story twists and turns into his scripts).

What Back Alley Princess is full off is a whole lot of working-class strife. Chili Boy (Polly Kuan) — AKA Hot Pepper Kid in some translations — and Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui) are a team of con-men doing whatever they can to make a few bucks and survive on the streets of Hong Kong. This leads them to meet up with the martial arts troupe of Teacher Chiang (Tien Feng), who agrees to join up with Chili and Embroidered Pillow in the interest of making more money. But this isn’t really the foundation of a story, as the film’s main concern is seemingly to endear Chili Boy to the audience so Lo Wei can drive the point home how important family and community are to the individual.

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The Way of the Dragon (1972)

wayofthedragon_1The Way of the Dragon [猛龍過江] (1972)
AKA Return of the Dragon, Revenge of the Dragon, Fury of the Dragon

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wong Chung-Shun, Gam Dai, Unicorn Chan, Lau Wing, Jon T. Benn, Chuck Norris, Whang In-Shik, Robert Wall, Malisa Longo, Robert Chan Law-Bat, Chen Fu-Ching

Directed by Bruce Lee

Expectations: High, it’s Bruce Lee!

threestar


With The Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee stepped into the role of writer/director along with the acting and choreography roles he had inhabited on his previous two Hong Kong films. As a result, The Way of the Dragon is much more reflective of Bruce Lee’s personality than his films under Lo Wei. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a good or bad thing. For me (someone who enjoys the work of Lo Wei far more than other kung fu fans seem to), it was somewhere in the middle. I have always thought this was the least of Bruce’s films, and today’s viewing only solidified that for me. But this time, I think I understood why I’ve always been somewhat disinterested with the film.

Taking this film as evidence, it would seem that Bruce Lee’s relationship with Lo Wei was somewhat similar to Lo’s later relationship with Jackie Chan. Both stars wished to express themselves through more than just the traditional notes of what a martial arts film was at the time. Both stars immediately integrated comedy and martial arts in their films away from Lo. Jackie was obviously the more successful in doing so — does anyone know Bruce for his comedy? — but both stars clearly wanted to push the genre beyond what their initial director wanted to let them.

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