Chang Cheh directs the fourth entry in his Shaolin Cycle, setting aside the exploits of folk heroes Hung Hei-gun and Fong Sai-yuk to focus on five other Ming loyalists who escaped the burning of Shaolin Temple. The heroes split up to rally Ming rebels to their cause of overthrowing the Qing Dynasty. To tell friend from foe they come up with a series of coded hand signs and tea cup arrangements. Their efforts are hampered by General Chen (Chiang Tao) and a handful of skillful Qing fighters determined to finish the job they started with the burning of Shaolin. Ma Fu-yi (Wang Lung-wei), a Qing spy who had infiltrated Shaolin, takes hero Ma Chao-hsing (Alexander Fu Sheng) hostage and Hu Te-ti (David Chiang) leads a newly recruited band of rebels to free him. Having had their own running battles with the Qing, fellow Shaolin survivors (Ti Lung, Chi Kuan-chun and Meng Fei) rejoin their two comrades. They go into seclusion to improve their fighting skills before General Chen and his men can track them down for a final showdown. With a talented ensemble cast of established and emerging genre heavyweights including Leung Ka-yan, Tsai Hung, Fung Hak-on, and Gordon Liu, this is a star-studded affair certain to please classic kung fu fans. Ample fighting action, set in a variety of interesting locales, is masterfully choreographed by brothers Lau Kar-leung and Lau Kar-wing. As is often the case, Fu Sheng stands out with a memorable comic performance. As the ruthless traitor of Shaolin, Wang Lung-wei cements his status as one of the genre’s best new fighting villains while fellow heavy Tsai Hung leaves a good impression with his handling of an axe blade swung from a rope. Ti Lung deserves mention for successfully transitioning from indistinct swordplay and swingy-armed basher action to the technically challenging shapes kung fu that he had helped usher in two years earlier in the transitional martial arts actioner DELIGHTFUL FOREST. Despite a 10-minute training montage, only minor emphasis is placed on specific techniques in the film. Likewise, with so many primary characters the film skips character development to focus exclusively on the conflict between rival martial arts factions, culminating in an impressive 20-minute match up pitting the five Shaolin heroes against seven Qing rivals in and around a shallow river and gravel quarry.
FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS is available on DVD on the Dragon Dynasty label courtesy of Arc Entertainment.
Revised on January 25th, 2012REVIEW: Five Shaolin Masters (1974),
Alexander Fu Sheng • Chang Cheh • Chi Kuan-chun • Chiang Tao • David Chiang • Five Shaolin Masters (1974) • Fung Hak-on • Genre: Kung Fu • Genre: Shapes • Gordon Liu • Leung Ka-yan • Meng Fei • Shaolin Cycle • shaolin temple • Shaw Brothers • Ti Lung • Wang Lung-wei