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Two fighting heroes in the martial underworld team up to track down rogue Shaolin monks known as the Six Demons of Guangdong who are systematically wiping out the underworld’s top clans. A trail of death leads Lei Xun (Derek Yee) and Qiao Yiduo (Jason Pai Piao) to Shaolin Temple where they must defeat monks in three tests of fighting skill in order to identify the culprits. In challenging Shaolin, the heroic duo discovers a vengeful mastermind hiding within and plotting to take over both Shaolin and the entire jiang hu realm.

This kung fu/wuxia film is the second of three solo directorial efforts from seasoned action director Tang Chia. As such, the film is very action oriented, with a simple and forgettable plot constructed around a series of sophisticated and unforgettable fighting sequences.

Like similarly themed movies THE 18 BRONZEMEN and Tang’s directing debut SHAOLIN PRINCE, SHAOLIN INTRUDERS combines intricate kung fu fighting with super-powered/fantasy action and intrigue most commonly found in wuxia storytelling. Chang Cheh’s THE FIVE VENOMS is perhaps the most famous example of this genre hybrid.

There is little to recommend in the rudimentary story although it serves its purpose in forming a basic foundation for a series of battles. Former CTV star and martial artist Jason Pai Piao reunites with future directing dynamo Derek Yee (THE SHINJUKU INCIDENT) after they both appeared in SHAOLIN PRINCE. This time, they’re heroes teaming to track down Shaolin-trained masked assassins responsible for killing off entire clans of fighters. They both play common genre archetypes. Pai Piao is a roguish, fun-loving hero with a gambling habit and a variety of trick weapons at his disposal including a collapsible sword and smoke bombs shaped like dice. This is a role that would have been ideal for the late Hong Kong film superstar Alexander Fu Sheng had he still been alive at the time. Pai Piao had his fair share of comical-leaning action roles and fills this one adequately.

Staying comfortably within his rather limited acting and fighting range is Derek Yee who once again portrays the handsome and earnest hero that he appears as in numerous wuxia films throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s. In a lesser starring combat role is Taiwanese actress Liu Yu-po who previously appeared in several Shaw Brothers productions including SHAOLIN PRINCE. She performs some rigid moves suggesting limited screen fighting training. The only distinguishing feature about her character, which is a fighting heroine, is her use of spring-loaded throwing knives mounted on her forearms. For those familiar with the sometimes ambiguous moral conventions of wuxia weaponry, this might provide foreshadowing of twists revealed late in the story. Not surprisingly, the real star of the movie is Tang’s choreography and he doesn’t bother to hide it.

It takes about 30 minutes of warm up with a series of short skirmishes mixed in with exposition and brief bits of comedy until the film’s action really gets going as the two heroes begin challenging Shaolin Temple’s disciples. Pai Piao and Yee each battle a different group of monks in two standout sequences employing tightly coordinated and wire-assisted formation kung fu fighting on the part of stunt actors portraying monks. The guan dao and three-section staff are the primary weapons of the monks while the heroes use swords. Shaolin team leaders are played by prolific stunt actor Philip Ko and future Category III king Elvis Tsui, best known for playing sex-crazed characters in a string of popular Category III films beginning with the cult classic SEX AND ZEN.

The film’s best fight takes place about 45 minutes in as Yee and Pai Piao together face off against Chan Shen who is portraying one of the temple’s junior abbots. This heavily wire-assisted fight takes place entirely on stacked benches and could be likened to Yuen Woo-ping’s staging of an epic duel between Jet Li and Chin Siu-hou on and around a stack of logs in THE TAI-CHI MASTER. Regardless of what anyone thinks of wire-fu action, this is a flawlessly arranged battle and a highlight for Tang despite years of producing screen fighting highlights in Hong Kong cinema.

Unfortunately, SHAOLIN INTRUDERS looses its way dramatically in the lead up to the finale as the heroes close in on the Six Demons of Guangdong and the villains go on their final rampage. The mastermind is revealed and a flashback is introduced to explain his motives. At this point all we need to see is more killer formation fighting and instead it’s mostly generic wuxia “hack ‘n’ slash” brawling. Tang rallies at the end with a vicious, seven-minute duel between Yee and the “mastermind” that is worth sticking around for.

Due to its high quotient of quality, wire-assisted fighting and weak story structure, SHAOLIN INTRUDERS is recommended for kung fu and wuxia fans with a high tolerance for exaggerated action and remedial intrigue, and not so much for general audiences. It’s still a title worthy of repeated viewings and viewing parties. Thanks in part to the high-grade production muscle of Shaw Brothers, the wire-fu action in this film actually looks better than a lot of the advanced wirework in early ’90s martial arts classics from the likes of Yuen Woo-ping and Ching Siu-tung that so wowed Western audiences. With superior lighting, editing and camera work, you won’t see wires here and they’re employed with a high degree of creativity. For this reason, Shaw Brothers and Tang Chia both deserve respect for their part in advancing the art of wirework use.

REVIEW: Shaolin Intruders (1983), 7.7 out of 10 based on 7 ratings Related Topics:
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  • Fang Shih-yu

    Mark Pollard is back with two new reviews? It IS “Christmas in July”! As usual, this one and the one for “Opium and the Kung Fu Master” are good, informative reads!