Dojo Review: New Shaolin Boxers
Chang Cheh and Wu Ma
Chan Yat San, Hsieh Hsing, Chen Jih Liang
(images courtesy of hkmdb.com)
Plot: Zhong Jian( Fu Sheng), a good hearted young carriage driver, rescues Ms. Huang( Jenny Steng) from an attempted assault from a low-level gangster( Leung Kar Yan) and is injured in the process. Zhong Jian’s teacher, Master Zhou, kicks Zhong out of his school for troublemaking, being reckless, and not having good enough kung fu. Zhong is heartbroken but keeps beating up the local gang members when they do wrong. When Zhong is finally confronted by the big boss Feng Tian Shan(Wang Lung Wei), Zhong is overmatched. Master Zhou comes to his rescue and Feng seemingly retreats from a confrontation with the master. Master Zhou takes Zhong to meet Master Zhu(Chan Wai Lau), a skilled monk in the deadly Tsai Li Fu* style. Master Zhou leaves Zhong to train with Master Zhu as he knows a confrontation with gang leader Feng is coming. Through under-handed means Master Zhou is killed by Feng while Zhong begins his Tsai Li Fu training. A series of events: the gang rape of his landlord’s daughter, the continued harassment of town folk by the gang, and the knowledge of his Master’s death force Zhong into action as he unleashes his deadly Tsai Li Fu skills on the gang and he readies for the final confrontation with boss Feng.
This movie was definitely a showcase for Alexander Fu-Sheng. I mean we knew he had skills, but he is allowed to up the ante in this one! Let’s start at the beginning, I mean the beginning. One thing I have always like about old school movies (especially Shaw Brothers) is the presentation of information on styles that are showcased or seen for the first time. This movie has that element. We see Fu Sheng performing a Tsai Li Fu form complete with explanations of the techniques and some notes on the style’s history. New Shaolin Boxers also has a lot of fight scenes. It opens up with one and establishes the Zhong Jian’s naive, yet helpful character right away. Fight directors Chan Yat San, Hsieh Hsing and Chen Jih Liang do a great job of distinguishing our hero’s righteous fighting style ( he doesn’t pull out hidden weapons) from the thugs’ destroy you by sheer numbers or sneaky hidden weapons style of combat. Another great element is the chemistry between Wang Lung Wei and Fu Sheng (see Shaolin Temple and Five Shaolin Masters). They have a great onscreen rivalry; Wang is the smug looking SOB with awesome fighting skills while Fu Sheng is the naïve, yet cocky kid who can whoop some butt too. When these two share screen time magic happens and New Shaolin Boxers is no exception. The first confrontation between Zhong Jian and Feng is short and sweet; Zhong is no match for Feng. This is another element I like about this movie: it is not complicated. Feng is better at that time than Zhong so Zhong has to train to beat Feng. Watch for the facial expressions between the two when they fight and I started to think there was real animosity between Fu sheng and Wang Lung Wei! The final fight is edited very well; when Zhong is about to execute a significant technique a black and white flashback of his Tsai Li Fu training is shown as a way to show how he’s applying it to the fight! Additionally, the Tsai Li Fu shape (or form) training sequences are very well done and some humor is injected into Zhong’s training by the eccentric Master Zhu.
Directors Wu Ma and Chang Cheh chose the right solo vehicle for Fu Sheng. He gets to show what made him an international star and I like so many others wonder what would have happened to the Hong Kong film industry had Alexander Fu Sheng lived. Fu Sheng always looks competent in his fighting roles( see Chang’s Shaolin cycle of films) but it seems as is the Tsai Li Fu style suit his body and his intensity just a little bit better. One thing I notice is that in Chang’s pre-Venoms films the fights seem to really be more connected with the story and filmed with more emotion as opposed to the Venom Mob movies which were almost like visual comic books ( there are exceptions of course). . It should be in your digital or DVD library! Classic in every sense: a really unlikeable bad guy, a real good guy hero, a moral to the story, and GREAT KUNG FU! I highly recommend New Shaolin Boxers be in your collection.
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*note: “Tsai li Fu” is also romanized as “Choy Lay Fut”