"I’m not sure if I can put the brilliance of Liu Chia-Liang’s filmmaking into words..."
- Mighty Peking Man
Executioners From Shaolin (1977)
AKA: Executioner From Shaolin, Executioners Of Death, Shaolin Executioner
Director: Liu Chia-Liang
Cast: Chen Kuan Tai, Lo Lieh, Gordon Liu (Chia Hui), Lily Li Li-Li, Kong Do, Lee Hoi Sang, John Cheung (Ng Long), Wong Yu, Cheng Hong Yip
Running Time: 96 mins.
Plot: See review below.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: Hung Hze-Kwan (Chen Kuan-Tai) is one of the lucky survivors who barely escaped Pai Mei’s (Lo Lei) attack on the Shaolin Temple. When Hung Hze-Kwan finds out the high priest (Lee Hoi Sang) was killed during the raid, he dedicates his whole life to getting revenge on Pai Mei.
Soon after the events of the attack, Hung Hze-Kwan flees to Canton where he marries the girl of his dreams (Lily Li), and the two have a baby boy named Wen-Ding (Hsiao Hou). In between being a family man, Hung Hze-Kwan begins his Tiger Syle training and practices it for 10 long years.
Thinking he’s ready to take on Pai Mei, he heads over to his temple and prepares for the ultimate battle. To make a long story short, Hung Hze-Kwan loses. However, he gains more knowledge about his weakness, and observes that you have to hit certain areas, at certain times, in order to defeat him.
I first saw Executioners From Shaolin about 20 years ago. It was the dubbed, panned & scanned VHS version. The film stayed fresh in my mind throughout the years, but what really stuck in my head was how it broke the usual kung fu film mold: intead of your typical ‘train, then take on the main bad guy and win’ routine, we get a ‘train, then take on the bad guy, lose, train again, take on the bad guy again, then uh oh...’ followed by -- ‘a different guy trains, with a different approach, then takes on the bad guy’... It’s a long and winding process, but you know what, it’s entertaining the whole way through.
I’m not sure if I can put the brilliance of Liu Chia-Liang’s filmmaking into words: You have the well-configured choreography, crazy techniques (what’s up with Pai Mei’s crotch hold?) and inventive training devices (I don’t know about you, but I never saw a training dummy filled with moving-metal balls in Black Belt Magazine) - not to mention slick production values - which is a norm for most Shaw Brothers flicks.
Then you have the pre-credit sequence... actually, no, it’s a fight scene that plays during the credit sequence. How cool is that? You get to see who’s in the movie while there’s some chunky action going on. James Bond flicks don’t even give you that.
Lo Lei’s portrayal of the indestructible Pai Mei became such a popular villain amongst fans, that the character was resurrected various times, in some way or another, in a handful of films - most notably in Fist of the White Lotus (where he's called 'White Lotus'). Pai Mei even appears in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2, where he's played by Gordon Liu.
If you’re looking for a straight up kung fu flick with no bullshit, it doesn’t get any better than this. Yeah, some people will say it’s slow, dull or whatever; only someone who owns the Criterion Collection DVD of Armageddon would be dumb enough to say something like that.
Executioners From Shaolin is a must see.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 10/10