Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2018-03-19
Summary: All action all the time
The plot, such as it is, (you killed my father, now I am going to kill you) unravels quickly when it turns out that so many fighters want to kill Lord He Suo that they get in each other’s way and are thwarted by his not very competent guards. They attempt to strike under the cover of a birthday celebration for Lord He with lion dances, martial arts demonstrations, acrobats and tumbling. Later Zhi Ming,Chao Wei and Sima Yan attempt to escape to the south along the river only to find their nemesis on what looks like a big party boat blocking their way. Both the scenes in the courtyard and on the boat are merely structures for large scale, well choreographed and beautifully executed fights with plenty of very graceful movement and very little wire work.

Jet Li is at his youthful peak of physicality and fitness as the novice monk who doesn’t quite get the Buddhist prohibition against killing anything, including your worst enemy. The training scenes at the beginning of the film are enthralling, especially one that pits the advanced students of pole fighting against the boxers, with the loser carrying water for the winners for 15 days. In contrast to this lighthearted competition, the last fight scene ends with Lord He’s head chopped off (just missed by but strongly suggested by the camera in a dazzling piece of editing) with his blood spattering our heroes.

A few action scenes go on for too long, particularly two with Jet Li in drag as a female sheepherder complete with pork buns as breasts. It probably looked hilarious on the page with Chao Wei and Sima Yan disguised as sheep in the middle of the flock but only worked for a short time on screen.

Some of the exteriors, shot in temples and on breathtaking landscapes of conical mountains, showed the advantages of shooting in the PRC.
Reviewer Score: 8