When betrayal comes from the top can two opposing sides see the truth before conflict destroys them?
What They Say
The growing power of the Shaolin drives a warlord to betrayal. His devious plot: manipulate two Shaolin schools into a brutal feud. The warriors of the north are framed for murder, stoking the fires of revenge in those from the south. Before the scheme is exposed, men from both sides will die. The kung fu superstars who portrayed the iconic Five Venoms (Lu Feng, Sun Chien, Chiang Sheng, Wei Pai, Kuo Chui, and Lo Mang) reunite in Invincible Shaolin, a fighting masterpiece from Chang Cheh, the director of Five Deadly Venoms and John Woo's mentor. The film's displays of athleticism and acrobatic violence demand repeat viewing to be believed, and Invincible Shaolin's memorable training sequences will remind you of why going to the movies is so much fun.
For the purposes of this review the viewing of the film was done in its original Mandarin mono language option. The audio is clear with no drop outs or distortions noted though the dialogue seems almost too clear, as if it were either post film rerecorded or a floor mike was directly in front of the actors. As a result there is little 'depth' to how far an actor is from the screen and the volume of the voice. The English dub was spot checked and there were no distortions or drop outs there either though at times the difference between the two stand out as the Mandarin has the almost unnatural clarity and the English dub has points where one must really pay attention to hear all the dialogue as some is muted in its delivery.
The biggest disappointment in this release is that its 16:9 presentation is not anamorphic widescreen. The film was created in 1978 and outside a couple of moments that demonstrate minor print discoloration in two spots that are not unnatural to find in works from that period. On the DVD side the colors are bright and the video has no major problems outside a few instances of video combing.
For the cover FUNimation used a scene of two of the characters in martial arts stance against a blue colored scene from one of the training parts of the film for the upper half. At the middle of the cover they have a white bar with the title written in red and black with the Shaw Brothers logo present. The bottom quarter or so has a scene from the end of the film with red ink mimicking a blood spatter. The back also uses several shots from the film as well as including a picture of the original release theater poster. Like FUNimation's other Shaw releases this one comes with a cardboard sleeve cover that contains the same pictures and copy as on the DVD cover.
The menu is a static close up of the two fighters on the front of the package above the logo and options which are in a big white banner running from about center screen to the lower quarter and two of the images in red from the back shot are present there. The menu select is quick to respond and load selections.
This release contains no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The film opens as members of the Songshan Shaolin Temple in the North have sent three representatives to appear before a Chinese general. The general tells them he has also sent for representative from the Southern branch-Putian Shaolin Temple and explains he is looking for men to teach his army martial arts. The film introduces the three members from the North-Bao Shanxiong who is an expert at leg kicks, Xu Fang who specializes in palm strikes and Yang Zhongfei who is an expert with the segmented pole. The General greats the men and confronts the men showing he does not believe the monks should be allowed to teach martial arts and Fang brings up an ancient agreement. The general appears appeased and wants a demonstration first of the three men from the North and then of the North and South combined. The three men from the North show their skills on some wooden dummies and impress the general.
The men from the North are then lead to the training hall where the men sent from the South are waiting. The general proposes that the two schools face off and while the North initial disagrees the South gets baited into it by the talk of the general wanting to find out who is best and those instructors will be the leads in training his army while the losers will be assistants. The competition begins and there are three one-on-one demonstrations of skill. What follows are some impressive martial arts choreographed fights with the North being demonstrated as clearly the superior side. After their defeat the men from the South are preparing to go back and get more experienced men sent. They discover to their shock though that the general has other plans. He has set a plan to kill the men from the South and frame the men from the North thus setting a cycle of revenge into play and hoping the two sides will wipe each other out as he perceives them to both be threats to the court. The three bodies of the men from
the South are sent to their teacher while the general's aid accompanies them to make sure that the men from the North are blamed and targeted for revenge by the South. As the teacher tries to be calm the aid slyly supports the voices who want revenge and the school decides to send three more men to challenge the men from the North while taking care of their dead.
The men from the North are shown their new quarters and demonstrate they feel that the deaths of men from the South are suspicious and they suspect the court may be planning against them. The men from the North try to go to pay their respects for the dead but tempers are running too high and there can be no accord. Shortly after they then have to face the three men which results in the death of two more men from the South and the disgrace of a third. The Southern teacher then sends three more men to learn new skills from masters of more exotic Southern style disciplines that will give the men an advantage over the three from the North. What follows are scenes of the men from the North making their way in the capitol and finding girlfriends while investigating there machinations of the court while the three men from the South engage in a protracted series of martial arts training skills filled both with excellent choreography and also many clichés. As the Southern men near the end of their training and the Northern men their investigations will they find themselves at each other's throats or at the throat of the hidden foe who has manipulated them to this point?
Invincible Shaolin has some incredible martial arts displays set amidst an ambitious course of betrayal and political intrigue. Sadly the film does a poor job of narration as the time spent between the men from the North and the South never fully lets either develop. The examination from the North seems more just inserted and more time is spent on the women the three men meet while being inter cut with scenes of the men from the South training. Having two protagonist sides the audience is set to root for going against each other is an interesting twist but sadly with neither side developing enough in personality it seems a bit wasted.
Invincible Shaolin is a title with a lot of impressive choreography and political suspense and tension that fails to live up to the highs of what it wants to do in its premise but is still enjoyable for the Kung-Fu film fan. The hard core fans may get more out of this film than the more casual viewer but it can be entertaining to both and is highly recommended for those who like impressive fight scenes.
English Language, Mandarin Language, English Subtitles
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