One of director Chang Cheh’s finest martial arts films provides Alexander Fu Sheng with arguably his greatest martial arts performance as a penniless bumpkin from the country who fights his way to quick riches in the city as an enforcer for a textile factory that’s threatened by a competitor. Upon arriving in the city, Kuan Fung-yi (Fu Sheng) gets an entry-level job at a textile factory thanks to his friend Huang Han (Chi Kuan-chun). A rival factory with inferior fabric starts harassing the skilled workers at Kuan’s job in an effort to lure them away. As fighting breaks out between the two companies, Kuan steps in with his superior kung fu skills and winds up in charge of training the workers in kung fu so they can defend themselves. When the textile factory boss is murdered, Kuan takes his place. Although Kuan’s quick rise in stature brings him wealth and easy women, he alienates his friends including a potential lady love and his old friend Huang Han who is haunted by memories of his own mistakes as a once ambitious martial artist in a corrupt and violent city. Huang Han’s warnings go unheeded and Kuan soon finds himself fighting for his life when he walks into an ambush set by the rival factory bosses. With masterful kung fu choreography from Lau Kar-leung and an enduring narrative from Chang and co-writer Ni Kuang that is reminiscent of FIST OF FURY and THE BOXER FROM SHANTUNG, this film packs powerful punches and equal parts dramatic prowess. Fu Sheng is brilliant in this role which draws on his ability to ably balance comedy, drama and all-out fisticuffs, with an ever-present dose of vibrant charm. Chi Kuan-chun is also terrific in the understated supporting role of a wise elder brother whose sense of justice allows him to unleash his full fighting force as we would expect from one of Hong Kong’s great screen fighters. As one of the lead villains, Fung Hak-on steps forth from his past status as a minor player to begin establishing himself as a top-tier martial arts baddie. From cast performances to production standards, this is a rare kung fu movie that manages to find the right balance between the exceptional fighting standards that genre fans love and general purpose filmmaking that not only makes great action but great cinema. On a side note, this film is sometimes listed as being part of Chang’s Shaolin Cycle, a series of kung fu movies depicting the exploits of martial arts heroes originating from southern Shaolin folklore. However, the film’s only connection to Shaolin folklore is leading man Fu Sheng, who played a couple different folk heroes in Shaolin Cycle films, and his use of Hung Fist kung fu in this film.
DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN is available on DVD from Image Entertainment.REVIEW: Disciples of Shaolin (1975),
Alexander Fu Sheng • Chang Cheh • Chi Kuan-chun • Disciples of Shaolin (1975) • gallery • Genre: Kung Fu • Lau Kar-leung • Ni Kuang • shaolin • Shaw Brothers