When I still had enough financial means to buy a cheap DVD whenever I wanted, I set about trying to grab all of the readily available kung fu movies from Mainland China made in the wake of Jet Li’s debut, Shaolin Temple (Zhang Xinyan, 1982). Aside from inspiring thousands of Chinese youth to learn martial arts and making considerable profit, the real success of Li’s first film was the authentic location shooting. For the first time (possibly) ever, the Shaolin Temple looked like the actual monastery, because it was the actual monastery and surrounding areas in which the film makers shot their movie.
Zhang Xinyan, the director of Shaolin Temple, came from Hong Kong, where he had made a number of films for left-wing studios like Great Wall (including the important Mandarin language 1966 wuxia movie, The Jade Bow). Native Chinese film makers swooped in to emulate that success. That success varies from film to film. Sun Sha’s Undaunted Wudang is great. Hu Mei’s film, Jiang Hu Ba Mian Feng (江湖八面风 1991) is maybe less so (an aside: as is her recent Confucius). But whether directed by Hong Kong or Mainland film makers, the wave of traditional martial arts films from 1980’s China have similar virtues: attractive and authentic location filming, usually serious-minded plotting and characterization, and Wushu champions and coaches in leading roles. Not least of these are the Wushu performers.
Actually, Shaolin Brothers stars Ding Lan, the female lead from Shaolin Temple, and the reason I bought the Tai Seng DVD in the first place. She’s ill served by the choreography, as are the rest of the performers, many of whom I recognized from other films. I also recognized locations. The eponymous Shaolin sees several scenes, as does a large fortress that Zhang Xinyan filmed more cinematically in Yellow River Fighter. The production feels much like it’s tagging along behind other films calling “me too!”
Nine Demons and Attack of the Joyful Goddess, about which, enough said.
Here’s as much of the story as I gleaned: An acrobatic troupe of street performers including Hung Cai-Xia (Ding Lan) and Hung Cai-Yun (Lee Bing) runs afoul of the lecherous Monkey Ho, whose father, the Shaolin trained crime boss Ho Lien, controls much of the countryside by threat of violence. They beat up Monkey and run, pursued by Ho Lien’s men, and eventually ask for help from their brother, a Shaolin monk himself, who eventually helps them to kill Ho Lien and his minions. The early Republican era setting recalls those early 70’s kung fu flicks which feature similarly limp fight choreography.