Our reviews are staying at Shaolin with the retrospective review of the Shaw Brothers classic from 1976, Shaolin Temple. The Mighty Shaw studios were at there peak around this time and decided to make the ultimate Shaolin Kung Fu movie with a cast of many famous actors from the studio.
The film starts with three disciples kneeling outside the temple waiting to be allowed in to learn martial arts, these three are Fong Sai Yuk (Fu Sheng), Hung Hsi Kwan (Wai Wang )and Hu Hui Chien (Chi Kuan Chun).
After days of torturous waiting they passed the endurance test and are allowed in, but to there frustration they are set about menial tasks such as working in the kitchen and drying out scriptures. What they dont know is that these tasks are actually shaping them for there future training. Elsewhere, escaped Ming soldiers including Tsai Te-cheng (Ti Lung), Hu Te-ti (David Chiang ) also seek refuge at the temple to train to once again battle the Qing.
But there are plans to destroy the temple when it is discovered that rebels are hiding there and with the help of an insider spy the time comes for an almighty battle to save Shaolin.
This is, in my opinion, the quintessential Shaw Shaolin movie. Director Chang Cheh sets about telling an epic tale and with a bigger budget and superb cast succeeds admirably. This is almost a crossover movie for many of the stars who worked for the director, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun have leading roles but also look out for future venoms stars Kwok Choy, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng and even Lo Mang in a small role.
The film is really split up into sections, the middle concerns the training involved, Fu Sheng learns the Tiger and Crane, Chi Kuan Chun Five Animals style, Ti Lung learns close quarter combat from monk Ng Mui (the founder of Wing Chun). In fact, Shi Szu has a small cameo as Wing Chun who has yet to be taught the art by the female monk. Every sort of skill is explored including light kung fu, Kwok Choy has metal plates strapped to his legs and trains by jumping from a pit over and over.
The last 30 minutes is where the epic battle is staged and it is shot and paced brilliantly. Each student gets to fight using the skills taught to him and the film reaches a very satisfactory conclusion. The action direction was not this time Lau Kar Leung, he had gone his own way at Shaws by this time, but it was shared by Hsieh Hsing, Chiu Wai, Chen Jih Liang and Chan San Yat. But to there credit they do a fine job, crisp empty hand combat and excellent weapons work.
Unlike Chang Cheh’s earlier movies there is very little bloodletting in this film compared to his earlier works, probably because censorship was more strict by the mid-seventies but the fights are fine without it.
I first saw the film in the 80’s on VHS when Warner Brothers released a batch of Shaw films, it was fullscreen, dubbed and slightly cut but I have loved the film ever since.
Celestial released a fantastic remastered DVD (region 3) 20 years later and it was fantastic seeing it widescreen and remastered although sadly this early DVD release was not anamorphic and is now OOP.
The film has also been released in Germany and France in beautiful anamorphic versions (Pal format, region 2), the German DVD even has English subtitles, so I would seek this version out if possible. The German Blu ray sadly does not.
Dragon Dynasty has it on there books for a USA release but no-one knows when. Also, it has been rumoured to be on a list of Blu Ray titles to be released in the Far East next year, let’s hope so. If you haven’t seen the film or were put off for whatever reason don’t be, this is Shaw Brothers at there best, good storytelling, great acting and superb action. See it as soon as possible!
9 out of 10