Shaolin Martial Arts (1974) – Retro Review

One of the early films in director Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle, this one stars Alexander Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun as two students of Shaolin (in this film the destruction of Shaolin has happened long before) who with other students and Manchu fighters attend a traditional ceremony held every year.

Things turn ugly after a demonstration and a fight starts between the two groups after one of the Shaolin students is brutally killed. The Manchu have wanted to get rid of all Shaolin rebels for a long time and now recruit two invincible Chi Gung (Internal power) experts to help them, played by Wang Lung Wei and Leung Kar Yan in their movie debuts.

A fight is arranged and after most of the Shaolin fighters are killed, four escape and their master sends two of them (Gordon Liu and Bruce Tong) off to different masters to retrain and defeat the two Manchu fighters.

One trains in Eagle Claw and the other in a deadly sweeping attack and after many hours goes off to get revenge. Shockingly, these two are still easily defeated, so the master turns to his last two best students (Alexander Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan-chun) and again sends them off to learn Tiger and Crane style and the close-quarter art of Wing Chun.

When the master is found and killed and their training finally ends, the last two set off to exact bloody revenge.

Shaolin Martial Arts is enjoyable if a little long-winded at times, this is Shaw Brothers kung fu at its best, with high production values, good characters you can root for, and great villains, especially a beardless Leung Kar Yan as the creepy expert who can retract his groin to escape injury.

It was also great to see Yuen Siu Tien as the grumpy master who trains Fu Sheng, a role he would develop later with Jackie Chan in the classic Drunken Master. The film’s Chinese title translates to Hung Gar and Wing Chun, and while the Hung Gar style is represented well, the Wing Chun style not so much as it mainly has Chi Kuan Chun develop his short-range finger punch technique (which has a gloriously gory payoff!)

The fights which are choreographed by Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gai are well paced and edited and also very bloody, especially in the climactic fight which was heavily censored when the film was released at cinemas in the UK.

The film finally got a remastered DVD release in Hong Kong but this is now long out of print. It has yet to be released on DVD in the West yet, but hopefully it will be on a future release maybe one of Arrows upcoming box sets. It has also been available to stream on Amazon and others in various territories.

A classic Chang Cheh movie that definitely stands the test of time and a must for old school Kung fu movie fans.

8 out of 10


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