HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Sunday, April 3, 2016

TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN -- Movie Review by Porfle

Cheh Chang returns with his familiar directorial style in TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN (1978), moving the camera in a dizzying series of lightning-fast zooms and pans that give his action scenes their own unique vitality.  Not to mention some good old-fashioned fists 'n' feet kung fu!

You may want to take notes, because the first scene is loaded with exposition as "courageous but reckless" young Tong Qianjin (Lo Mang) graduates from training in the Shaolin temple (I guess he snatched the pebble) and is told by Master Zhishan that he must locate fellow student and master boxer Hu Huigan (Chiang Sheng) and wait until the time is right for them to move against the rival Wudang Clan. (The Wudangs are loyal to the Qing Court, which the Shaolins wish to overthrow in order to restore the Ming Dynasty.)

All of this is just to get us to the point where the fighting between the Shaolins and the Wudangs begins, which is when the movie takes off.

Tong hasn't been in town for long before Wudang brother Dezong shows up and starts flinging boomerang knives at him, which are pretty cool. The wounded Tong seeks refuge with a sympathetic brother and sister, Jin Tailai and Jin Bier, who teach him how to fend off the dreaded Bloody Knife. The next time Tong and Dezong meet it's a quick and dirty hand-to-hand clash that breathes some life into the movie.

The Wudangs then challenge Tong and Hu to a public one-on-one fight that becomes the most sustained and exciting action setpiece yet, with excellent choreography and lots of quick and skillful moves. Hu fails to endear himself to the Wudangs when he rips the junk right off one of their best guys during a slow-motion leap.

Not surprisingly, this ticks off the Wudangs to the point where they invade the wedding banquet of Tong and Bier and turn it into a massacre in another lively fight sequence.

Things get more complicated as we go along, with a young Wudang named Wei switching allegiance to the Shaolins just as a fearsome badass named Gao Jinzhong shows up with the Yuan brothers, experts in monkey boxing and monkey rod, to take up the Wudang banner against the Shaolins. Also adding to the unpredictability of the plot is the appearance of Dezong's daughter, Li Erhuna, who's out for revenge.

All of this leads to a climax that's a bloody free-for-all in which nobody is safe--you never know who's going to buy the farm next in this movie. Despite its many comedic touches, TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN is filled with somber and downbeat moments that keep the viewer off-guard.

The only downside to this movie is the effort it takes to keep up with all of that exposition, plus a second half that tends to drag until the thrilling finale.

At that point, however, the screen is filled with an extended flurry of bloody kung fu action in which you never know who's going to drop dead next. TWO CHAMPIONS OF SHAOLIN is a rousing example of old-school martial arts mayhem.

Read our review of the SHAW BROTHERS COLLECTION


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