A son's quest for vengeance turns into more than he bargained for under the Thailand sun. Is his Shaolin Hand Lock strong enough to win the day?
What They Say
From the director who gave Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung early breaks in film, Ho Meng-hua teams up with Mr. Kung-fu hero, David Chiang, in a funky, over the top, martial arts chiller based upon a secret kung-fu technique that is also the film's English title, Shaolin Hand Lock. Fans and non-fans of the genre will elate to again see Chiang match fists with Shaw Brothers' number one villain, Lo Lieh.
My initial viewing was of the original Mandarin mono soundtrack; given the age of the film, it was surprisingly clear and free of any hiss, distortion, or other defects. The English stereo track was checked at points heavy in dialogue or foley rich action sequences; it provides a minutely richer audio experience also free of issues.
For a film from 1978, the picture was remarkably pristine, a gorgeous transfer of the film in its original 16:9 aspect ratio. The only noticeable issue was some motion blur at points in the beginning, but this is brief and not during any of the kung fu sequences. I was expecting the dull, faded colors I remember from my youth but was dazzled by a vivid, clear picture that had me focusing on just how good it was for a few minutes rather than focusing on the story.
The DVD case is within a cardboard sleeve that features the same artwork, as the DVD cover. Our hero is posed on the front though showing off the titular technique. The reverse features all the requisite information about the film and contents of the DVD.
The menu system is simple featuring the same image from the DVD cover and a snippet of music. It will not win any awards for creativity, but it will get you setup and into the kung fu fighting quickly and intuitively.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
In my youth, many a Sunday afternoon was spent watching USA Network's Kung Fu Theater. It was the television bookend for my weekend; Creature Feature for the spooky, Kung Fu Theater for the oddly dubbed fists of fury. Whether it was called kung fu or chop socky, those that watched the films streaming out of Hong Kong in the early '80s caught at least one Shaw Brothers film. As we all grew up, we learned how legendary that name was producing some of the notable kung fu films and stars. A giddy sense of nostalgia gripped me when I first heard Funimation had acquired the rights to distribute the titles available from the Celestial Pictures Library.
One of their first releases under the Hong Kong Connection banner is Shaolin Hand Lock; like the bulk of these films, it is a tale of revenge centered around a son or student tracking down the killer of their father or master. This story revolves around the murder of Chengying's father, creator of the nearly invincible Shaolin Hand Lock technique. However, someone knows the technique's weakness and exploited it to brutally cut down his father and their two servants.
The search for the killer leads him to Thailand and to the murderer. The murderer turns out to be a hired gun for Ling Hao, the most well-known philanthropist in the area. Chengying undertakes a dangerous gambit to get close to him; he steals a shipment of Ling Hao's gold and then uses it as leverage to become one of Ling Hao's closest bodyguards. What follows is a story of secrets upon secrets punctuated with boat chases and the occasional kung fu battle.
David Chiang had already won numerous awards prior to the role of Chengying, and one can instantly realize why. His experience as a fight trainer and stuntman allowed him to effortlessly step through the choreographed action, and he had the cherubic good looks to be a leading man. Unfortunately, Shaolin Hand Lock is a tad light on action sequences to show off his abilities.
What fights are on screen are brilliant; Ling Hao is quite familiar with the hand lock technique and has developed an arsenal of hidden weapons to combat it. The final showdown is a deadly dance designed to strip Ling Hao of his weapons and eventually his life.
The bulk of the film though is given over more to revealing the secrets each character holds. Most of them are transparent, but there is enough humor and boat chases thrown in to keep things relatively interesting between the actual kung fu battles. As the hand lock is designed to snap ones vertebrae, the film is light on blood, most of it occurring from knife wounds.
An added bonus is some brief nudity when Chengying confronts his father's murderer in a brothel. The more prurient sort may find this a drawback, but it was comforting to see that Funimation is not holding anything back in the release of these titles. Their English dub also proves they spent their childhood much like mine; the dialogue is fairly faithful to the actual Mandarin, but they punch it up a bit and restore the wonderful out-of-sync lip flaps that are virtually synonymous with English dubbed kung fu films now.
Shaolin Hand Lock may not be the most action packed Shaw Brothers title to pick up, but it does serve as a decent introduction to the style and flair of their work along with the genre in general. The presentation is remarkably gorgeous for a film produced over three decades ago; toss in an amusing out-of-sync English dub, and you have a good first entry in the Hong Kong Connection line that makes me wish they were producing them at a rate that would allow me to relive a youth spent watching these films every Sunday.
English Language, Mandarin Language, English subtitles
Sony Bravia KDL-46S4100, Panasonic RP-82 via component video cable, Sony STR-DH800 receiver, Bose Acoustimass-6 speakers