Adventure of Shaolin (1978)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2012-03-12
Summary: Confusing beyond belief...
Adventure of Shaolin is a Taiwanese production using the historical character of Chang Sheng-Feng (alt Zhang Sanfeng) as a basis for its story. Chang Sheng-Feng is credited as being the originator of the internal martial art T’ai Chi Ch’uan and having eventually become a Taoist priest and settled at Wudang Mountain. This tale has Chang staying at the Shaolin temple and stumbling upon the secret manuscripts that lead to his expertise in the Crane and Snake styles of kung fu. When the local baron To Ka-Kan (Cliff Ching Ching) passes through a town and is nearly assassinated, he employs a disgraced monk (Tin Ming) with an axe to grind to root out the offenders. A bevy of swordsmen and thugs clash in a series of battles that lead to a thoroughly confusing plot. Warning: spoiler alert ahead, but the plot is so convoluted it may not make any difference.
As far as I could tell, the story is as follows: 18 years prior the Baron murdered General Ma Chin Chung in battle. A fellow general (Tien Feng) took Ma Chin’s son as his own and cared for him until he was somehow adopted and raised by the Baron. Back to modern day, the ex-monk suspects the local innkeeper/secret general (Tien Feng) of plotting and harboring the assassin (Tung Li) who attempted to kill the Baron. He sends his men to arrest the assassin, but a wandering swordsman (Wong Goon-Hung) steps in and dispatches the thugs with the help of another wandering swordsman (Sze Ma-Lung) who has been following him for a couple days. The daughter of the innkeeper (Polly Kuan) also helps out in the fight. The ex-monk sees this as an opportunity and accuses Chang Sheng-Feng of the attacks, demanding he be handed over for punishment. Chang bolts from the temple, is chased by the Baron’s men and eventually escapes with the help of the daughter. The Baron takes a monk as hostage until Chang shows up, but eventually decides to just kill the monk instead. Confused yet? Eventually, the Baron catches the original assassin and Chang is forced to rescue him, and another monk who has been captured. It all culminates in a battle in the desert between the Baron, the ex-monk, the two wandering swordsmen, the daughter, Chang and the assassin. Oh, and at the last second the adopted son reveals to the Baron his true identity and kills him. Phew!

As you can tell, the plot to this film is an absolute mess. Either the version I saw has been re-edited and dubbed without understanding who the characters are, or the director started out with an ambitious story that eventually fell apart when it was evident that there were too many back stories to explain. What you end up with is a plot that resembles Swiss cheese. Events that should have nothing to do with each other are weakly tied together and plot lines are left hanging at every turn. It’s difficult to even try and explain the issues since they make no sense even having watched the film.
The only other redeeming factor could be the martial arts, but they are nothing to write home about either. Sek Gung (Chang Sheng-Feng) is not the most dynamic screen fighter, and for portraying the founder or T’ai Chi Ch’uan, there are parts where he doesn’t look like he could fight his way out of a paper bag. Polly is ok, but is woefully underused. The only actor with evident skills is Sze Ma-Lung, and unfortunately you’re spending most of your time trying to figure out who he is and what he is doing in the story in the first place. Cliff Ching Ching has a nice solo form with a Quan Do, but he fighting scenes are a bit underwhelming as well. He has a cool “black hand” fighting technique that poisons his opponents, but other than that it’s a pretty basic white-haired villain role. The film could have been an interesting introduction to the character of Chang Sheng-Feng, but instead is a mess of confusing characters, motivations and events.

Reviewer Score: 3