Shaolin Hand Lock [十字鎖喉手] (1978)
Starring David Chiang, Lo Lieh, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Chen Ping, Shum Lee-Mei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Dick Wei, Chan Shen, Kara Hui, Lak Apichat, Hsu Hsia, Austin Wai Tin-Chi
Directed by Ho Meng-Hua
Expectations: Moderate. The title sounds cool, but I don’t have faith in Ho Meng-Hua to deliver the Shaolin goods on par with Chang Cheh or Lau Kar-Leung.
Shaolin Hand Lock opens with promise. Master Li Bai (Dick Wei) observes his children practicing his signature technique: the Shaolin Hand Lock. It’s an odd one; the practitioner flips over the opponent’s head and lands behind them grappling their head. When I was in elementary school, we called it a headlock. You could also call it a choke hold. Shaolin Hand Lock calls it… the Shaolin Hand Lock! The only mention of Shaolin comes when they refer to this move, so I dug into the film’s Chinese title. It translates to something like Cross-shaped Choke Hold, and while that definitely doesn’t sound as cool as Shaolin Hand Lock, I wish they didn’t rile me up by invoking the hallowed name of Shaolin. The 1981 US release just called the film Handlock; they knew better!
Anyway, Master Li determines that his son, Li Cheng Ying (David Chiang), has perfected the Shaolin Hand Lock by discovering its single weakness: elbows to the gut. Master Li bestows his remedy, a vest outfitted with protective metal plates, to Cheng Ying… now the Shaolin Hand Lock is invincible! Seeing as this is only a couple minutes into the movie, I assumed that it was, in fact, not invincible, and I was correct. Silly kung fu movies. But before we get to all that, an assassin (Chan Shen) arrives at the Li household, murdering the now-defenseless Master Li and who he thinks are Li’s two children. Good thing Cheng Ying and his sister, Li Meng Ping (Chen Ping), just left for town. A solid revenge film set-up, but unfortunately the follow-through is incredibly generic, adhering closely to the “hero gets close to the villain by infiltrating their criminal organization” formula.