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Issue #160a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES May 19th, 2003

The Shaolin Brothers
(1977; Hong Hwa International Films)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Siu lam hing dai
Mandarin: Shao lin xing di
English: Shaolin Brothers

Another entry in the ever popular "Rebel Ching, Restore Ming" sub-genre, THE SHAOLIN BROTHERS is one of the most convoluted and downright odd of the lot. Ruthless Manchu official Ko Lung-ta (Carter Wong Kar-ta) originally trained at Shaolin Temple and calls upon his fellow former disciple, Lin Yung-chang (Tong Wai), to join with him. Lin is an ardent Ming loyalist, however, and the two quickly engage in combat. The combatants are evenly matched but Ko has a secret weapon he stole from their former master: "The Golden Garment," which makes him invulnerable to blades. Upon learning of her brother's defeat, Hsiang-yen (Chin Meng) and a Taoist master travel to a Ching-occupied town under the cover of transporting some corpses for burial. However, it is actually just a ruse to provide with them an opportunity to assassinate General Ko, who manages to survive the attack. The Hans next try to smuggle some stolen Manchu army plans that will give their own forces a leg up on the enemy. To ensure success, a duplicate set is also dispatched in an effort to dupe Ko's forces into following the wrong messengers. After travelling quite a distance, Hsiang-yen finally locates Lin but, as Ko poisoned him during their duel, the man is near death. Lin's aged Shaolin master provides him with treatment but the best he can do is prolong the man's life for a few more days. Regardless, Lin's looming death sentence and insatiable quest for vengeance may be enough to help him overcome the man who has already "killed" him.

Sounds pretty straightforward, yes? Well, director Joseph Kuo Nan-hong (THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING, THE 7 GRANDMASTERS) apparently embarked on this project with an incomplete script because the narrative is sidetracked by a completely unnecessary detour into horror territory. Hardest to swallow is the incorporation of the Taoist and that group of hopping corpses he is transporting (the reason for their presence is eventually explained in a plot turn that is pretty loopy even by Old School B-movie standards). The whole raison d'etre, of course, is the kung fu but it is merely functional much of the time, with too many instances where the editor has removed frames to speed things up or hide poor choreography. Excessive use of trampolines and third rate wirework also do not help. Things pick up nicely during the final reel, thankfully, with fast cutting and kinetic staging helping to bring this nonsensical enterprise to a reasonably satisfying conclusion.

Cover art courtesy Mei Ah.

Carter Wong. Image courtesy Mei Ah.

Chin Meng (centre) and Tong Wai (right). Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Mei Ah #DVD-464 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 2.1

Post-synced Mandarin Language Track

Optional Subtitles in English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

NTSC Format

88 Minutes

Contains moderate violence

DVD menu courtesy Mei Ah.

Great Britain: 15

As tends to be the case with Mei Ah's vintage martial arts titles, a textless print has been utilized with Chinese video generated credits burned on to the image. Colors are slightly faded but the image is sharp and clean. Unfortunately, severe digital video noise reduction flaws are evident at times, causing distracting jitter in fine details like branches, latticework, and patterns on clothing. There are also moments where the image is overly bright, washing out the blacks, and night sequences are always either too dark or too bright (likely the fault of the cinematographer, not the telecine operator). The sound is harsh but no worse than usual for a film from this period. There are no extras or time coding.

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