Judge Paul Pritchard runs a shelter for rescued Shaolin. Remember: a Shaolin monk is for life, not just for Christmas.
"Attack his eyes…then I'll attack his crotch."
The Shaw Brothers' Shaolin Rescuers (A.K.A. Avenging Warriors of Shaolin) continues Funimation's "Hong Kong Connection" line, and combines kung-fu and comedy with decidedly mixed results.
Shaolin Rescuers opens with the Priest Pai Mai (Wang Li) unleashing his forces on a mountaintop Shaolin temple. The attack proves successful, with many of the Shaolin monks slain. One monk, Hung Si-Kuan (Jason Pai Piao), though gravely injured manages to escape, and heads for the nearest Shaolin temple for a little respite and to gather reinforcements.
The temple is in the middle of a bustling town, where Ah Chien (Lo Mang) and Cha-Po (Kuo Chui) dream of being great warriors, while living mundane lives as a bean curd maker and waiter respectively. When the two, along with embittered student Chu Tsai (Sun Chien), run into Hung, they quickly join his cause, eagerly embracing the chance for action, and setting themselves on a collision course with Pai Mai and his deadly warriors.
Shaolin Rescuers is successful in its portrayal of Ah Chien and Cha-Po as a pair of dreamers who yearn to become kung-fu masters. Both are adept in their respective styles, but lack the opportunity to prove themselves. Cha-Po, in particular, is quick to show off his technique with little need for encouragement—in one scene making subtle use of his skills while working as a waiter at a local restaurant. The two friends frequently spar, and have learned to adapt their skills to incorporate everyday items, such as stools or bowls, and use them as weapons in the absence of a more traditional arsenal. So, when Hung Si-Kuan stumbles into their lives, offering the chance to finally live out their dream, the friends are all too quick to join the fight against the Machu warriors.
Director Cheh Chang, fresh from the success and acclaim of Five Deadly Venoms took a more light-hearted approach with Shaolin Rescuers, and in doing so loses the urgency of his better offerings. The comedic moments are often lacking, which isn't good when the misadventures of Cha-Po and Ah Chien that take up the majority of the film's first half.
Indeed, the film rarely breaks a sweat during the opening hour, which is desperately frustrating. Compounding this frustration is the fact that, though there's some fine choreography going on, it all amounts to naught and lacks any excitement. Worse still, though choreographed by two members of the legendary Venoms (Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng), even the 30 minute rumble that draws the film to a close is just overlong and achingly dull. The problem, and I apologize in advance to those who hold the Venoms dear to their hearts, is that the fights seem far more interested in good technique rather than actually, you know, defeating your opponent. Anyone who has ever spent a few years learning any of the martial arts will know the importance of technique, but will also be aware that, when facing an opponent—particularly one wielding a sword—you look to end the fight as quickly as possible. Here characters are more interested in striking a clean pose than kicking ass, leading to laborious exchanges of feints and counters that rarely connect with their target.
The cast all clearly have skills, and frequently partake in lengthy and complex fight routines. Even more impressive is how they incorporate the comedic elements into these routines. Though I found the comedy angle occasionally jarring, it doesn't mean the cast shouldn't be commended for giving it their best shot.
Visually, Shaolin Rescuers is a mixed bag, with bright colorful sets complemented by a similarly attractive wardrobe. Unfortunately, said sets look cheap-particularly the temple setting that opens the film—and frequently pull the viewer out of the experience. Pleasingly the DVD transfer really brings the colors to life, with a good level of detail to boot. The soundtrack is so-so and, while it commits few errors, does little to stand out. This release of Shaolin Rescuers is lacking any extras bar a trailer reel.
For Shaw Bros. completists, and die-hard fans of the genre, this is
essential. For everyone else, there are far better titles on the market.
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