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Executioners from Shaolin
   |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |     also see      |
"I brought Band-Aids!"
Chen Kuan-Tai and friend
  
AKA: Executioners of Death
Chinese: 洪熙官
Year: 1977
Director: Lau Kar-Leung
Producer: RunMe Shaw, Mona Fong Yat-Wah, Hsieh Chi
Writer: Ni Kuang
Action: Lau Kar-Leung
Cast: Chen Kuan-Tai, Lo Lieh, Lily Li Li-Li, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Wong Yue, Kong Do, Lee Hoi-Sang, John Cheung Ng-Long, Cheng Hong-Yip, Shum Lo, Tin Ching, Lam Ching-Ying, Fung Hak-On
The Skinny: Chinese folk hero Hung Hze-Kwan and the notorious "White Eyebrow Priest" Pai Mei lock horns in this so-so tale of revenge that spans two generations.
 
Review by
Calvin McMillin:

The 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 ask.

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?

Executioners from 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 2004)

 
Notes: • This review is based on the Ground Zero DVD, a severely cropped, English dubbed version of the film.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited
Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English, Chinese and Bahasa subtitles
Trailers
Also see: Heroes Two (1974)[aka: Kung Fu Invaders, Blood Brothers, Bloody Fists]
Men from the Monastery (1974)[aka: Disciples of Death]
Clan of the White Lotus (1980)[aka: Fist of the White Lotus]
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