Foreign Film February: Five Shaolin Masters (1979)

five shaolin masters poster

I’ve watched enough Shaw Brothers kungfu flicks at this point to recognize that their plots are all mostly the same. There is usually a good clan and an evil clan. The evil clan picks a fight for one reason or another which leads to lots of drama and even more fight scenes and it all ends in a climactic big final battle. There is sometimes a love interest, usually a training montage, and often the Master is killed. There are variations on this, but more or less that’s what happens in all of them.

Sometimes they are funny or really goofy, and sometimes they are deadly serious. Mostly the scenes between fights is utterly pointless, but the best ones at least keep them interesting. But the real reason to watch is the fight sequences. When they are good, there is nothing better, when they aren’t so good they are at least entertaining.

Five Shaolin Master’s fights are just ok. The story is worse.

Some Qing soldiers burn down the Shaolin Temple. Five dudes survive and vow their revenge. They work out a series of secret codes to tell each other apart. This makes sense once they start enlisting other people who are sick of the Qing soldier’s evil deeds. They also learn that there is a traitor in their midst and suss him out.

Our heroes are no match for the Qing fighters and get their collective arses handed to them. They regroup, train heavily for several months, and come back for a final showdown. It is all mostly dull with the fight scenes being merely adequate. The final, big battle is pretty fun with eyes getting snatched, testicles being destroyed, and lots of jumping and flying about.

But other than that this one is utterly skippable.

Foreign Film February: Fist of Fury (1972)

fist of fury poster

Over the last couple of years, I’ve really gotten into kung fu movies. That’s something I loved when I was a kid but had completely gotten away from as an adult. Somewhere during the pandemic, I started watching old Shaw Brothers’ films and that has rekindled my love of the genre.

While the Shaw Brothers made a lot of movies filled with kung fu action, sword fights, crazy costumes, and ridiculous storylines, they never did make a movie with Bruce Lee. I’ve not actually watched a lot of movies with Bruce Lee. I did, however, recently purchase a boxed set of Bruce Lee movies from the Criterion Collection, so maybe I’ll remedy my deficiency soon. The other day I watched Fist of Fury, which I sadly found to be not that great.

Lee plays Chen Zhen, the best kung fu student at his school. When his mentor and the master of the school dies, Chen thinks it must have been murder. He blames the gang of Japanese dudes that have been harassing his school for weeks. The rest of the school urges Chen for restraint, as their master always preached that kung fu was not to be used for revenge.

But Chen cannot restrain himself. He goes to the Japanese dojo and kicks some serious ass. The action scenes are pretty good, but they are far from the best I’ve seen in a kung fu movie. But they are definitely worth watching. But everything around the fights is utterly dull. Kung fu flicks aren’t exactly known for their great drama, but the best ones are at least interesting, or funny, or something. This one is utterly forgettable. You really are just biding your time until Bruce Lee takes his shirt off and gets down to business.

The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

8 diagram pole fighter blu-ray

As you’ve probably guessed by now I’m a huge film of genre cinema. I love horror movies, detective movies, film noir, kung fu movies, and many more. What I love about a genre is that you know what to expect coming in. Genres have conventions. There is something comforting about watching an old western and knowing John Wayne is going to win in the end.

What I love about great genre movies is how they can subvert those conventions. It is really fun to watch a movie where you think you know what is going to happen, only to find out that what happens is completely unexpected.

I don’t know that The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter subverts any of the conventions found in kung fu movie, but I do know that it is a really great kung fu movie with fight scenes that will blow your mind. Sometimes that’s all I really want in a genre movie. You can read my review of it here.