Uncle Jasper reviews: Executioners from Shaolin (1977)

Executioners from Shaolin [洪熙官] (1977)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Lily Li Li-Li, Lo Lieh, Wong Yu, Kong Do, Cheng Hong-Yip, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung


Another month, another film from the Shaw Bros Shaolin cycle… Except this time we have Shaw’s other prolific director at the helm. While many associate the Shaolin cycle with Chang Cheh, Lau Kar-Leung inherited the mantle in this stellar 1977 effort, which further chronicles the life of Chinese folk hero Hung Si-Kwan, played as usual by the magnificent Chen Kuan-Tai. But this film differs greatly from the concise, historical-based efforts of Chang Cheh, who placed the focus on patriotism and brotherhood against the occupying Manchu forces. Lau Kar-Leung, ever the cinematic ambassador of Chinese martial arts, instead shifts the focus to Hung Si-Kwan’s development of his renowned style, Hung Gar kung fu.

Let’s face it. Lau Kar-Leung made films for kung fu nerds. (This review will also be geared towards that crowd, so don’t feel too bad if a lot of this technical / historical gibberish leaves you scratching your head.) Don’t get me wrong, the classic revenge tale that this film tells can be appreciated by even your most casual movie fan, but to really reap the benefits of what Executioners has to offer it helps to understand some of the finer points of kung fu styles and martial technique. Hung Gar is comprised of both tiger and crane techniques. The tiger being a powerful external style based primarily on brute strength while the crane relies more on deft movements and pinpoint accuracy. Executioners from Shaolin tells what I’m assuming is a mostly fictional tale of how the tiger and crane styles became united under one banner.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Men from the Monastery (1974)

Men from the Monastery [少林子弟] (1974)

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chen Kuan-Tai, Deng Tak-Cheung, Feng Yi, Feng Hak-On, Kong Do

Directed By Chang Cheh


Men from the Monastery continues the “Shaolin Cycle” of films that Chang Cheh kicked off with Silver Emulsion favorite, Heroes Two in 1974. More or less a direct sequel of sorts to Heroes Two, Alexander Fu Sheng and Chen Kuan-Tai return as legendary folk heroes Fong Sai-Yuk and Hung Si-Kwan. Except this time they are joined by the revenge driven powerhouse Hu Huei-Chien, played by the sleek Chi Kuan-Chun in what I assume is his acting début. Men from the Monastery is a pretty apt title, but I am hoping that in some alternate reality this film goes under the much cooler moniker of Heroes Three. It just makes so much sense.

To my surprise this film actually manages to outdo its prequel despite some really strange narrative devices that eventually end up growing on you the further you get into the film. The movie is divided up into segments, each focusing on a particular character. These segments overlap each other well enough before finally unifying themselves in the film’s absolutely stellar fourth and final act. It sounds great on paper, but if you don’t know that (as I didn’t) before going in, you will wonder what the hell has happened to Chen Kuan-Tai, who isn’t even mentioned by name until 41 minutes into the film.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Ten Tigers of Shaolin (1978)

Ten Tigers of Shaolin [少林十虎] (1978)

Starring Bruce Leung, Jason Pai Piao, Lau Hok-Nin, Han Kwok-Choi, Larry Lee Gam-Kwan, Michelle Yim, Wong Yuen-San, San Kuai, Charlie Chan Yiu-Lam, Kong Do

Directed by Ngai Hoi-Fung


Still reeling from the high of Gallants, I felt inspired enough to take a look at another of Bruce Leung’s earlier films. Ten Tigers of Shaolin tells a fictional tale involving the legendary real life kung fu superteam, The Ten Tigers of Kwangtung. Many fans may already be familiar with the Shaw Brothers film depicting their legendary heroics, titled — well, Ten Tigers of Kwangtung. Despite the latter being the more polished film, I felt it to be needlessly confusing and bogged down by unnecessary plot twists which only seemed to slow the film’s pacing down to a crawl at times. The super low-budget Ten Tigers of Shaolin however takes a refreshingly different approach. Like many of its 1970s independent-studio-produced brethren, TToS uses a simple, hashed-together plot as an excuse to showcase an absolute shit-rain of kung fu fights. Most of which are actually pretty good.

At first I thought this was going to be a Wong Fei-Hung film since the movie opens with the iconic theme music, which is also sprinkled pretty liberally throughout. It was only after I heard a couple of choice selections from John Williams’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind soundtrack in this film that I quickly realized that this is just another one of those old kung fu movies that throw pretty much any random piece of movie music into the mix, copyright rules be damned.

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