Emily Madalena reviews the 1984 kung-fu film
I am a movie snob. I look to prestigious organisations such as the British Film Institute and Empire for what I should watch next, and if I can predict the plot from watching the trailer, I often refuse to see it. But every now and again I get a craving for a very particular type of movie: a bad movie. The type of bad where you sit with your friends on a cold Saturday night and laugh at the characters, the dialogue, the sets; basically, the entirety of the movie itself. Hero of Shaolin satisfies that craving.
Directed by Mai Chen Jsai in 1984, the storyline of Shaolin is fairly typical for a kung fu movie. Four brothers, three of which are monks and the eldest who has been refused entry into the order, have been framed for their abbot’s murder, and they set off to bring the Golden Sutra of Da Mor to Tibet. A beautiful female warrior seeking revenge for her father’s murder accompanies the brothers, as they traverse the countryside, fighting ninja assassins, hoodlums, and the undead.
Besides the overly-complicated fight sequences with the phenomenal swooshing and clapping sound effects, comprising approximately 60% of the 94 minute film, you also enjoy:
1. A horribly edited English dub.
While English dubs are common with older martial arts films, there are no other language options on the UK distributer’s DVD. You either watch a Taiwanese man speak with a poorly synced English accent that does not match the speed of his lips in the slightest, or you don’t watch Hero of Shaolin at all.
2. Characters that lack personality, let alone names.
The four brothers are only referred to as “brother” or “[eldest/ second/ third/ youngest] brother,” and as annoying as that can be at times, you slowly realise that it makes sense. The only truly distinctive character in the film is the third brother, with his silliness and love for the female warrior (who happens to be his cousin). Names are pointless in this movie. Everyone is the same — everyone is great at kung fu, and that is all that matters.
3. Some over the top slapstick humour.
As heartless as it is to write, the scene in which the abbot is killed calls for rewinding and watching it again and again, until you are breathless from laughter. It involves the abbot ogling one of his assassin’s bare, tattooed breasts, while another assassin punches the abbot in the back, resulting in extremely watery blood spurting from his mouth.
4. Some cinematic fixation on vascular men.
Several shots involve the eldest brother, who happens to be the best warrior, flexing for the camera and showing off his bulging veins and muscles. Ladies, prepare to swoon.
The film is undeniably bad. The acting is mediocre at best. The dialogue, when it surfaces in between fight scenes, is jilted and repetitive. The cinematography is oftentimes dizzying and disorienting, but I was entertained.
Yes, my favourite films are the ones with substance. The ones that show us a part of ourselves and our world that we might not have been able to see before, the ones whose beauty can make the screen feel more real than our own lives. But those films can be heavy, and sometimes I do not want to explore the human condition. Sometimes I do not want to learn about how horrible our species can be to their fellow man, sometimes I just want to laugh.
Hero of Shaolin made me laugh for all the wrong reasons, but I did laugh incredibly hard.
Featured image credit: Hero of Shaolin film still