Issue #223a          HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES            August 2nd, 2004

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Shaolin Mantis
(1978; Shaw Brothers)

Cantonese: Tong long
Mandarin: Tang lang
English: Mantis
Alternate English Title: The Deadly Mantis


RATING: 8/10


This is an unusual Shaw Brothers period kung fu thriller in that the hero is a member of The Ching Dynasty, almost without exception the villains in these films. After displaying his martial prowess by defeating challengers from Mongolia (Lee Hoi-sang) and Shaolin Temple (Gordon Lau Kar-fai), Wai Fung (David Chiang Da-wei) is ordered by The Emperor (Frankie Wai Wang) to undertake a special mission. He is to spy on the affluent Tien family, which is suspected of having ties with Ming revolutionaries. Fung gains access to the Tien home by getting hired on as a teacher for Gi-gi (Wong Hang-sau), a bratty young girl who has driven away more than her share of instructors. After the expected period of adversity, Gi-gi becomes fond of Fung, and when his identity is compromised, she claims to be his lover. Against his better judgment, the Tien patriarch (Lau Kar-wing) decides to spare the Manchurian's life, on the condition that he never leave the estate. The pair are married, but unless Fung can gather the required intelligence information and report back within a year, his family will be executed. Gi-gi decides to stand by her husband's side and the pair attempt to escape, but this means they will have to defeat the Tien family's most powerful fighters (including Norman Tsui Siu-keung, Wilson Tong Wai-shing, and John Chang Wu-lang).

David Chiang Wong Hang-sau Lau Kar-wing

While exhilarating, the martial arts are not as consistently spectacular as those commonly found in director Lau Kar-leung's films from this period. However, like the best films in the genre, kung fu is not the only point of interest here. The screenplay offers up a number of interesting twists, as well as some thoughtful ruminations on loyalty. There is the obligatory third act episode in which the hero masters a special skill in order to defeat the powerful enemy (a beautifully realized sequence in which Fung creates the "Mantis" fighting style by observing a real praying mantis), but even the final outcome of this is not exactly as one would expect, incorporating one last, ironic revelation into a refreshingly offbeat scenario. Lily Li Li-li and Ha Ping also appear.

Frankie Wai Lily Li David Chiang (left), Wong Hang-sau


Light staining is apparent during the opening titles (which unfold over another of Lau’s introductory fighting exhibitions) but this is an excellent effort overall. Some of the usual bird and insect foley has been incorporated into the 5.1 re-mix but the changes are generally unobtrusive. The standard Celestial extras are present, along with a 16 minute documentary devoted to the history of Shaolin kung fu. Gordon Lau (who hosts the doc) is featured prominently on the DVD cover but his role in the movie is very brief and among the most insignificant of his career.

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Intercontinental Video Ltd. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC Region 3 Only
  • Intercontinental Video Ltd #102615
  • Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Post-synced Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (2.35:1)
  • 96 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Australia: M 15+
  • Ontario: PG
  • Quebec: 13+
  • Singapore: PG
  • Contains moderate violence


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful