Starring: Alexander Lo Rei, Eagle Han Jin
Director: Cheung Kei, Dai Che
Buddha bless Terracotta Distribution for bringing us this brimming cup of classic 80s Taiwanese chopsocky. Muscle-bound taekwondo champion Alexander Lo Rei plays the eldest of four junior monks of the Shaolin Temple. When the Abbot is slain by the Emperor’s henchmen (he’s a tough old coot, but a female assassin catches him out by flashing her boobs and making him fatally drop his guard), the quartet are tasked with protecting the Golden Sutra, the Temple’s greatest treasure, and getting it safely to Tibet. To show them the way, they enlist the beautiful Ah Mei, whose father becomes another of the Emperor’s victims. Meanwhile, the Abbot’s treacherous replacement frames the monks for his predecessor’s murder and turns them into outlaws with bounties on their heads.
Almost from the start, there’s non-stop kung fu action – some of it of a knockabout, comical variety as the monks bicker among each other, but the majority of it in deadly earnest. On top of that, you have a solid story and good production values, with vividly pantomime-ish villains, bright, fairy tail-like costumes and attractive location cinematography (almost all of the film takes place outdoors). The monks are pursued by bounty hunters over lakes and snowy mountains, and its during the latter period that the film reaches its greatest pitch of excitement. One never-to-be-forgotten fight-scene follows another – there’s a scowling archer who causes all sorts of problems, a quartet of fright-masked swordsmen, and a brilliant moment when a baddie jumps out of a snowman. And there’s still more to come – including a run-in with some blade-wielding ghouls, with coffins that whiz around like dodgems.
The fight scenes are striking not just for their quantity but for their quality. Even by modern standards they’re remarkably intricate, varied and imaginative, the more so as they rely less on wirework and trick shots than on the sheer gymnastic skill of the actors. The directorial style is brisk and unfussy, never dawdling, keeping the tone light yet urgent – a mood echoed by the lilting, catchy theme music.
The transfer seems to have been taken from an excellent print, without any scratches or dirt, and the DVD looks almost as good as a Blu-ray. The audio comes in an English dub only and the dialogue is clunky, but that’s all part of the charm. It’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying this rollicking martial arts adventure, and fans of the genre will be pumping their fists of steel in satisfaction.