Ching government is at it again! At the behest of
the Emperor, the nefarious Pai Mei (Lo Lieh) leads
a raid on the Shaolin Temple to weed out insurgent
forces. During Executioner from Shaolin's spartan
credit sequence, Pai Mei duels with the temple's high
priest Chi San (Lee Hoi Sang), who fights to save
his Shaolin pupils from virtual annihilation. Sadly,
Chi San perishes during the battle, as do legendary
kung fu hero Fong Sai-Yuk (albeit off-screen) and
the anti-Ching rebel Tung Chin-Chin (Gordon Liu).
Best friend to Tung and fellow resistance fighter
Hung Hze-Kwan (Chen Kuan-Tai) flees with a handful
of allies to Canton to regroup. While sailing in iconic
red boats, the group masquerade as an opera troupe,
fighting the Manchu overlords wherever necessary.
Eventually they reach Canton and meet a street performer,
Yung Chun (Lily Li), who quickly catches Hze-Kwan's
eye. The two marry, and Yung Chun soon bears a son.
Intent on avenging his
master's death, Hze-Kwan practices his tiger style
kung fu for a long TEN years, and even grows a mustache,
to boot. Believing himself to be ready, our hero heads
to Pei Mei's temple stronghold and fights off a whole
stable of henchmen before squaring off with their
powerful leader. Realizing he's outmatched, Hze-Kwan
retreats, but not without learning Pai Mei's weakness:
he's vulnerable between one and three o' clock. Exactly
why I have no idea. One doesn't question it, just
as one doesn't question Pai Mei's unstated ability
to suck his genitals into his torso at will. Don't
With a renewed dedication,
Hze-Kwan practices on a golden dummy filled with pachinko
balls, snatching them from the statue to test his
speed and accuracy. Exactly where he got the idea
for the golden practice dummy let alone the actual
dummy itself is a question left to the viewer's imagination.
Now grayed with the years of additional training,
Hze-Kwan fights alone against a horde of Pai Mei's
lackeys before battling the high priest once more.
Things go even worse for Hze-Kwan this time around,
leaving his bid for revenge unfulfilled.
By this time, Hze-Kwan's
son Wen-Ding (Wong Yue) has grown to adulthood and
vows to avenge his father's death. However, Wen-Ding
knows only his mother's crane technique, since his
father had previously forbid the intermixing of styles.
Yung Chun points her son to a training manual her
husband kept, but the book is in such disrepair that
Wen-Ding has to improvise the movements contained
within the missing pages to merge the Tiger and Crane
styles. But will it be enough to defeat Pai Mei?
Shaolin amounts to a decent revenge yarn overall,
but it's sabotaged by the uneven tone and the ridiculous
appearance of one of its main characters. There's
nothing wrong with injecting humor into an action
film; in fact, it's practically a requirement for
ensuring that a film will be a real crowd-pleaser.
However, this film doesn't make the best of its lighter
moments, which often take away from the revenge plot
that supposedly drives the film.
Besides the unfunny
antics of Hze-Kwan's pal, Hsiao Hu (Cheng Hong-Yip)
in the opening act, there's even a silly bit where
Yung Chun tests the so-called superiority of her husband's
kung fu by challenging Hze-Kwan to force open her
legs on their wedding night. The concept is funny
in a sort of sleazy Wong Jing sort of way, but the
execution of the joke isn't even remotely amusing.
The biggest obstacle
preventing Executioners from Shaolin from being
a thoroughly enjoyable fightfest is Wen-Ding's unnecessarily
effeminate appearance. For reasons that are never
fully explained, even as an adult male Wen-Ding has
his hair done in the same bun-style as a small Chinese
girl. The character is played straight, but the image
doesn't match up accordingly.
The fact that he's practicing
a feminine style of kung fu provides more than enough
material to milk for laughs, but to go so far as to
actually dress Wen-Ding up as woman seems like overkill,
especially since no one makes any mention of it during
his adult years! What was director Lau Kar-Leung thinking?
Thanks to Wen Ding's ridiculous appearance, it's hard
for me to take him or the movie very seriously. (Calvin McMillin