The New Shaolin Boxers (1976)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-04-15
While watching Zhong Jian (Alexander Fu Sheng) defeat a gang of thugs brandishing knives in “Grandmaster of Death” I thought of an all but eternal cycle of bad karma, reincarnation on lower levels and thousands of thousands of years as a hungry ghost. Both Fu Sheng and his attackers seemed caught in such a predicament—they kept attacking him, waving their knives and he kept beating them up first using his limited kung fu skills, then the full repertory of Choy Lee Fut that he learned from a wise old man on the other side of the mountain. The gangsters never figured out their problem—they continued to attack and continued to be bloodied—and Zhong Jian was just as dense. While the gang led by Leung Kar-Yan at his most vicious slaughtered rivals, enemies and the occasional uninvolved citizen, it didn’t dawn on Zhong to do kill them until very late.

Other than Zhong’s uncle the audience doesn’t empathize with any of the characters because none of them have any recognizable human qualities. The bad guys are utterly despicable; most of the population is willing to stand around uninvolved while men bleed to death in the town square and women are kidnapped and raped and Zhong, while altruistic and noble, was more annoying than anything else. The script provided no motivation for anyone to do anything so the constant knife attacks and beat downs made as much sense as anything else.

The story wandered off a bit to leer at the deflowering, gang rape and subjugation of a young woman but that sequence was so mechanical that the fear, anger and horror that should resonate in those scenes fell flat.

The scenes of Zhong Jian slowly learning the patience necessary to master Choy Lee Fut, including carrying water up a very long flight of steps only to have it dumped on the ground by Master Zhu were well done and enjoyable, particularly if one reminded oneself that this movie was made in 1976 before scenes like that became all but obligatory. During the last fight, the showdown between Zhong and chief villain Feng (Johnny Wang Lung-Wei) there were black and white flashbacks to Zhong learning sword strokes, kicks or punches. He then used the move that had just been illustrated. This added exactly nothing to the effectiveness of this fight scene and actually detracted from what was a well shot and brutal showdown.

With enough wooden acting to build a subdivision, a script that couldn’t get things from point A to point B and excruciatingly uninteresting direction, the Shaw Brothers technical hallmarks—opulent sets, dead on lighting and sharp edged cinematography—went to waste.

Not recommended
Reviewer Score: 3