The Shaolin Avengers (1976)

The Shaolin Avengers [方世玉與胡惠乾] (1976)
AKA Fong Sai-Yuk and Wu Wai-Kin (literal translation), Incredible Kung Fu Brothers

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Lung Fei, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Shan Mao, Leung Kar-Yan, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Chan Wai-Lau, Tsai Hung, Lo Dik, Ma Chi-Chun, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Pumped for more Shaolin.


The greatness of The Shaolin Avengers lies in its structure. The film opens with its finale, fading in and out into flashbacks that show how our heroes and villains all came to this particular battle. It could have been told in chronological order and the audience would have similarly understood the characters’ journey to the finale, but introducing us first to the final struggle colors the flashbacks in ways that chronological order could not. It may be called The Shaolin Avengers, but I found the structure to remove a lot of the tension inherent in a traditional revenge story. Instead, I pondered the nature of life, how small moments remind you of people or places, and how important preparation is to success. You don’t simply wake up bad ass, you must be dedicated and willing to endure hardship so that you can emerge a better, streamlined version of yourself.

The Shaolin Avengers re-tells the stories of Fang Shih-Yu AKA Fong Sai-Yuk (Alexander Fu Sheng) and Hu Huei-Chien AKA Wu Wai-Kin (Chi Kuan-Chun), as previously seen in Men from the Monastery. It removes Hung Shi-Kuan’s character altogether, which allows for more time devoted to the early days of Fang before he sought training at the Shaolin Temple. In Men from the Monastery, there is a slight mention of Fang’s mother bathing him in rice wine, but here in The Shaolin Avengers we see the circumstances that led to this, as well as the hardship involved with the bathing itself. Hu Huei-Chien’s story is virtually unchanged, though, and in comparing scenes — such as the death of Hu’s father in the gambling house — they might have even used the same script (or very close to the same script) for these scenes. The main difference is that now the two characters’ stories are fully intertwined and dramatically complete, instead of the disjointed, episodic quality that Men from the Monastery has. So you could say that The Shaolin Avengers is essentially a remake of Men from the Monastery, but I hesitate to write that because it seems reductive to classify The Shaolin Avengers as a mere remake.

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The Fearless Hyena (1979)

fearlesshyena_1The Fearless Hyena [笑拳怪招] (1979)
AKA Crazy Monkey, Revenge of the Dragon, Superfighter 3, The Shadowman

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Yen Shi-Kwan, Lee Kwan, Chan Wai-Lau, Cheng Fu-Hung, Ma Cheung, Wong Chi-Sang, Wong Yiu, Eagle Han Ying, Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, Dean Shek Tin

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


The Fearless Hyena was chronologically the next movie that Jackie Chan made after the smash hit Drunken Master. Jackie left the Lo Wei studio a struggling performer and returned a mega-star, Hong Kong’s latest screen obsession. This gave him a good amount of room to bargain with Lo Wei, and even though the stubborn Lo didn’t like relinquishing control, after some cajoling he allowed Jackie to direct his first film, also the final film of Jackie’s original contract with Lo Wei.

The Fearless Hyena follows the same basic structure as Jackie’s Seasonal films, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. The film opens with the requisite “bad guy killing a good guy” scene that serves as a reminder that there is a plot, even though the first hour of the film largely avoids actively engaging it. But like Drunken Master, The Fearless Hyena has enough going for it that the lack of a strong narrative is only a minor issue. I’m hesitant to even call it an issue, as the film works fine as is. What holds everything together are the amazing, tightly choreographed, hilarious fights. They aren’t up to Drunken Master standards, but they’re quite impressive.

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