Two princes in hiding for 20 years must combine their martial arts abilities to overthrow the villain who usurped their birthright and is making life miserable for the common man.
What They Say
Twin brothers are marked for death by an iron-fingered villain who covets the throne on which they were born to sit. Starring Ti Lung (A Better Tomorrow, The Legend of Drunken Master) and written by the legendary Jing Wong (Naked Killer, God of Gamblers), this Shaw Brothers' masterpiece introduced audiences to the 18 Buda attack, a fire-fisted assassin, holy fools with deadly moves, badass brothers bent on revenge, and a magic sword with the power to exorcise your demons!
For the purposes of this review the Mandarin audio track was selected. The track exists as a mono track only but it is a very good representation of the effort that can go into such a track. There are no distortions or dropouts noticeable during the feature and the dialogue comes through clear and is never muddled do to background music or effects.
The video is disappointing on a number of fronts. Originally shot in 1982 the feature is presented in 16:9 but is not anamorphic. Another flaw in the presentation is that characters and objects at the edges of the screen are distorted because of the filming method used. The film picture is also softer than some of the Shaw Brothers other works and at times there are color fluctuations as white clothing sometimes turns yellowish likely do to print damage.
The front cover features a shot of the younger brother with sword drawn in a combat stance while the far right has a half picture of the older brother looking to be in a meditation pose that takes up a bit more than half the cover. The logo then takes up about 20% and the bottom of the cover has a picture of Lord 9 with his iron hand extended. The back features both brothers with swords drawn and a black and white picture of Lord 9 between them. There is also a small banner with the original Ctheatrical poster shown and the details of year released, director and stars names. Like FUNimation's other Shaw releases this feature comes with a cardboard slipcover that mirrors the cover.
The main menu is a close up of the two brothers from the front cover art with a track from the movie played in the background. The scene select screen uses the black and white image of Lord 9 from the back against the blue and yellow-white background seen there and the audio menu uses a blue and yellow-white pattern fond on the inside cover that appears on a number of Shaw Brothers' works. The menu is basic but quick to respond to chosen selections.
The feature contains no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The film opens with the rightful ruler of the lands castle under assault by traitors acting in the name of Lord 9. In order to keep the country from falling to him the ruler entrusts he two most loyal retainers with his most precious treasures-one gets the treasured sword while the other gets the imperial jade seal-but each is given an even more important item as they are each charged with the care of one of the very young princes. Before the retainers can escape Lord 9's men breach the castle and attempt to capture everyone.
The ruler foresaw the possibility and the other members of his personal guard as well as the two most trusted are dressed identically-each carrying a sword, pouch that looks like it could hold the seal and a small child. When the fight goes poorly the ruler is taken hostage in hopes the princes and treasures will be handed over. The dedication of the ruler is underestimated as he uses the weapon threatening him to take his own life so his men are not torn in their duty. The retainers then manage to elude the invaders and escape the castle.
As the retainers attempt to flee the land they encounter two powerful opponents working for Lord 9-the Fire and Water generals who are capable of using the elements they are named after to their great advantage. The fight is disastrous for the retainers as the men carrying the princes are split up and only four retainers escape. Lord 9 confronts the retainer with the crown prince and seal and overwhelms the 3 retainers though the one with the prince escapes. As the lone retainer manages to get the younger prince to the sympathetic Prime Minister the other retainer can only get the crown prince to the Shaolin Temple's disciplinary hall.
There three very talented but incredibly eccentric monks who are being punished witness the retainer's demise. The monks decide to save the child but the retainer lives just long enough to pass along the seal but not the child's identity. The three monks decide to raise him themselves since he can leave the punishment hall that they are forbidden to and create some of the trouble they miss making.
20 some years then pass in a flash and the crown prince is seen practicing his martial arts. As he attempts to come to where his masters have called him he experiences some lessons from his masters that are actually more like pranks. At the same time the younger prince is suddenly set upon by an assassin at the Prime Minister's residence. His training in the martial arts as he overcomes the task and finds the assassin was actually the last retainer who had been training him the last 20 some years giving him on final test. While the younger prince is skilled in swordsmanship the retainer fears he still is no match for Lord 9's skills.
The film then intercuts scenes of the two brothers going about their training as the younger one tries to figure out how to beat Lord 9 and hide his skills when Lord 9 arrives at the Prime Minister's house and sets upon him while the older brother will have to deal with a set of spies in the Shaolin temple as well as the envy and loathing of some of his fellow monks who he does not train with everyday. With spies about to discover the identity of the younger brother he sets out for the Shaolin Temple to learn the last arts he may need to beat Lord 9 and runs into his brother who is performing an exorcism. The elder brother leads the younger to the Shaolin Temple where machinations put both in the cross hairs of the Temple elders. With mutual foes the two unite to challenge Lord 9. Will their combined forces be enough, and will the true identities of the two become known to all?
Shaolin Prince presents some beautifully choreographed fighting that includes some very good wire works and effects. The story plays out in almost a Shakespearean manner with the brothers first becoming allies, the temporary foes before going back to allies and the audience waiting for the big revelation of identities to be know. On the downside it seems that the Shaw Brothers were not handed their largest budget for the film as the film stock itself seems poor and many of the sets lack the care and attention other of their pieces had to disguise their nature. One scene in particular near the climax is particularly noteworthy as in the close up of Lord 9 one can clearly see the studio doors behind him that were painted to become part of the set.
Shaolin Prince is yet another ambitious undertaking by the Shaw Brothers. While fans of the genera will find lots to love (including the most interesting fight involving a palanquin that I have ever seen) non fans will likely find that the reach of the filmmakers exceeded their grasp. There are a good number of ideas and characters presented but few get fully developed and a few events seem to transpire more because the film needs to bridge a scene than to really add depth to what is going on. Overall it is an enjoyable work that is missing a bit of meat to it to connect all the ideas together in a way that seems less than just superficial.
Mandarin 1.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.