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Case Number 02268

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Shaolin Wooden Men

Sony // 1976 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // October 4th, 2002

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All Rise...

The Charge

Revenge is his destiny.

Opening Statement

I like Jackie Chan. Ever since I saw Rumble In The Bronx in the theaters back in 1995, I've made an effort to see all of his stuff. Well, let me clarify that: I've seen everything that's been released since Rumble in theaters. Jackie is an immensely talented man that is really fun to watch. He has great style, great timing, and really knows how to do some impressive things with his body and surrounding props. I've mostly shied away from his older stuff, but I have caught bits and pieces of his early catalog during channel surfing. This movie, Shaolin Wooden Men, is the first older Jackie movie that I've watched in its entirety. I'm afraid to have to say that I was not all that impressed. According to IMDb, this movie is already about Jackie's twentieth that he's starred in—and he's only 22 at this point. Nonetheless, you can see that he is still working on finding his style. It's definitely there, but in very rough form.

Facts of the Case

The premise of this one is very simple, and it is, as with all (or at least most) Hong Kong films, simply a way to facilitate opportunities for lots of Asian men to perform many types of martial arts and kick each other's butts.

Jackie Chan plays Silent Bob, I mean Little Mute. When he was young, he saw his father murdered by The Unknown Fighter—a guy with a bag over his head and holes cut in the front so he could see. As an orphan, he was raised by Shaolin monks at their temple. Now, as a young man, he works to learn their ways to become one of them. However, most of the fellow students pick on him and call him stupid and dumb because, as his name implies, he hasn't spoken a word since the day is father was killed.

Little Mute has a rough time keeping up with the demands placed upon him, but he is determined to become a great fighter. While there, he becomes the student of two teachers with radically different styles. His first teacher is a female monk who teaches him the graceful beauty and subtle defense techniques of the Gliding Snake. The other teacher is actually a prisoner at the monastery. Little Mute found him quite by accident and has since been secretly learning the method of the Roaring Lion—a method that focuses on using forceful methods to kill one's opponent.

Even though his two teachers have disparate styles, Little Mute is able to mesh them together to become a strong man. But before he can be a full-fledged monk, he must first pass the test of the Shaolin Wooden Men. The test pits one man against 108 wooden men that attempt to block your path with various moves from kung fu. It's an intense and massive test that only the best can pass. Many men try and many men get seriously hurt. With the fusion of the two styles, Little Mute is able to easily pass the test on his first attempt, and he becomes a Shaolin monk.

Now that he is a monk, he leaves the monastery to go out into the world. At the same time, his second teacher, the prisoner, escapes from the monastery and begins to terrorize the local communities. It turns out that the Shaolin monastery will need the help of Little Mute to help them defend the temple. In the end, Little Mute will come face to face with the man who murdered his father, and he will break his vow of silence.

The Evidence

This disc sucks! There's no kind and gentle way to say it. It really, really sucks. Everything about the transfers is downright awful. I have never seen a DVD (or VHS even) that is so ugly and painful to watch. From the first second of the movie, I was appalled at how vile the picture quality was. Anything you can imagine being wrong is wrong:
• The print is completely filthy. There is a ton of dirt, specks, grain, and streaks littering every second of the film. Not one moment goes by that is clean.
• For some reason, the picture is blurry. It's just slightly out of focus, and it's most definitely distracting.
• Colors are way off and not accurate by any stretch of the imagination. During most scenes, the colors are skewed towards the greens, and, actually, most objects have a green halo around them. For the occasional flashback scene, those instead lean towards the reds. Beyond that, there is no definition to the blacks. All of the blacks melt together causing night scenes to be completely unwatchable. Absolutely awful!

There is one very small, positive fact about the video transfer: it's anamorphic widescreen. Too bad it's the worst transfer I have ever seen in my life. There's a sticker on the case stating that this was a new print from a new high definition master. That terrifies me when I wonder just how much worse previous releases are. Regardless, I cannot even begin to fathom why this hideous print was put onto disc.

To be consistent, the audio transfer is a perfect match to the horrendous video, and is the worst audio track I've ever heard on a disc. The entire track sounds like I'm listening to a record (yes, a vinyl record) that's been played a thousand times already. Reminding me of a bowl of cereal, there are more snaps, crackles, and pops in here than in a dozen boxes of Rice Krispies. Add in a ton of hiss, thin and hollow dialogue, and a music track that consistently breaks up, and you'll wish Edison had failed.

As if the transfers weren't bad enough, there are a ton of other problems with the movie itself. Ignoring the fact that this is cookie-cutter Honk Kong chopsocky, you've got some truly bad acting, boring and poorly choreographed fight sequences, silly sound effects, bad music, poor framing (you'd think you were watching hack and scan during a couple scenes), poor dubbing (they speak way too modern English—and curse too much—for a "period piece"), and lackluster direction. Though, one small ray of sunshine is that the outdoor locales are quite nice.

The bonus features for this disc are three trailers: Panic Room, Spider-Man, and The One. As they are in widescreen and 5.1 sound, they are the highlight of the disc.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Jackie Chan is an artist. He is utterly amazing with what he does with his body. His mastery of martial arts is absolutely incredible to see, even at this young age. Any movie that Jackie stars in will surely impress you with the amazing fighting scenes that are surely to be included.

Closing Statement

This movie has more maniacal laughs per minute than all three Austin Powers films combined. That would be amusing if this movie didn't suck so much. Stay away from this disc. If you see it on the store shelf, run in the opposite direction. If you see it on a rental shelf, point it out to a Joe Sixpack who hates widescreen. You, just pretend there's a restraining order between you and this movie. Stay far, far away.

The Verdict

Revenge is my destiny too! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Columbia TriStar is hereby sentenced to twenty years of solitary confinement for releasing a disc with such absurdly despicable transfers. They cannot purport any viable defense for their actions.

Case adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 15
Audio: 15
Extras: 5
Acting: 60
Story: 70
Judgment: 20

Special Commendations

• Bottom 100 Discs: #5

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, dubbed)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Mandarin)
• English
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Foreign
• Martial Arts

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailers for Panic Room, Spider-Man, and The One


• IMDb

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