Two Champions of Shaolin
"We have dudes in monkey masks, poisonous darts, massive spears, metal hoops, brains getting bashed out, and opponents being broken in half at the waist."
Two Champions of Shaolin (1980)
AKA: 2 Champions Of Shaolin; Two Champions Of Death; 2 Champions Of Death
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong
Cast: Lo Meng, Chiang Sheng, Candy Wen (Xue Er), Lu Feng, Chin Siu Ho, Yeung Hung, Lam Chi Tai, Chan Hon Kwong, Tiu Lung, Chan Shu Kei
Running Time: 101 min.
Plot: Dramatically set amidst the splendor of the infamous Ching Dynasty period, "Two Champions Of Shaolin" follows the story of two young warriors from the rebel Shaolin Clan who are engaged in a deadly secret mission that could bring down the empire. Fierce rivalry with the vicious Wu Tang warriors explosively punctuates their battle for political and social freedom.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOE909'S REVIEW: Back in Spring semester of 1994, my friends and I started up a weekly kung-fu movie night. One of our favorite flicks to watch was Two Champions of Shaolin. In fact, once we had a viewing with the college basketball team. These were hardcore dudes, mostly from the inner city, Brooklyn especially, guys who started a riot when our campus cable provider lost the BET network.
I remember they were mesmerized by Two Champions, and it's easy to see why. This movie has a total charm, even if it's shallow as far as plot and storytelling go, and even if head Venom Kuo Choi is nowhere to be found onscreen. But what it lacks in those areas is made up for by a total, unabashed desire to thrill the viewer with acrobatic displays of martial fortitude and blood-drenched violence. For God's sake, a guy's balls get ripped off in this movie.
One thing always mentioned in reviews for this film is that Kuo Choi chose not to appear in it, due to a falling out with Lu Feng, over who was going to become the lead choreographer. Kuo remained behind the scenes, acting as fight instructor; this was balanced out when Lu Feng didn't appear in the next Venoms film, Ode To Gallantry. Kuo Choi generally took the lead role in the Venoms movies, but his absence doesn't harm this film at all. In fact, it gives co-Venoms Lo Meng and Sun Chien a chance to shine.
The story is a myriad of revenge schemes; everyone in this movie wishes to kill someone. It opens with Lo Meng, a Manchu by birth who's been raised at Shaolin after his parents were killed by fellow Manchu, leaving the Temple to get his revenge. The Wu-Tang clan, Shaolin's rival, has aligned with the Manchu, and so Lo has to watch his back out in the real world. Lo discovers this real quick, as he's attacked in broad daylight by a knife-wielding Wu-Tang fighter (Yu Tai-Ping, the only actor who was in all of the Venoms films).
Lo barely manages to get away alive. He stumbles into a house owned by noble warrior Sun Chien and his cute but deadly sister, Yeung Jing-Jing. Turns out these two have specialized in a style that counters the Wu-Tang knife-throwing technique; this style was taught to them by their father, an influential man who was, coincidentally, killed by Yu Tai-Ping. So these two are also seeking revenge. Lo goes back out into the city to take on Yu, and there he meets Chiang Sheng, who plays the role of Hu Hui-Gan (the same role Chi Kuan-Chun played in Men from the Monastery), a Shaolin rebel famed for his skills. The two hit it off.
They lure Yu back to Sun Chien's place, where the four of them waste the poor bastard and his cronies. Now the Wu-Tang, lead by Yu's brother Wang Li, want revenge. Only one of them stays distant from all of the vengeance, however: young Chien Hsao-Hao, in a role originally intended for Kuo Choi. He plays a young man who was raised by the Wu-Tang after his family was killed by the goddamn Manchu. Instead of vengeance, he just wants peace with his fellow Chinese, and understands why Shaolin is rebelling against these foreign Chings. His Wu-Tang brothers ignore his pleas.
The best part of the movie arrives with a tournament between the top Wu-Tang fighters and Chiang Sheng and Lo Meng. Squaring off in one-on-one combat, this segment of the film makes the Mortal Kombat movie look like the cheesy shit it was. Lots of carnage on display here, including the aforementioned ball-ripping. After killing more enemies, Lo and Yeung decide to get married. But weddings never go well this early in a film; Wang Li and his comrades launch an attack, with the departed Yu's daughter Candy Wen arriving to gain vengeance personally, wasting Lo's brand-new wife in cold blood. Lots of lives are lost here, and Lo's taken captive. Chiang Sheng, meanwhile, is in a drunken stupor and misses everything.
Back at Wu-Tang, Chien Hsao-Hao manages to keep his brothers from murdering Lo, and then helps him escape. Lo then runs into Lu Feng, who, unbeknownst to Lo, is a Manchu assassin sent here to kill the Shaolin rebels. The movie gets a bit dry here, with Lu seemingly wanting to feed every human being he comes across. Finally Lu sets his trap, and we're treated to a finale that ranks up there with the best Venoms climax, despite Kuo Choi's absence. We have dudes in monkey masks, poisonous darts, massive spears, metal hoops, brains getting bashed out, and opponents being broken in half at the waist.
There are only two things that keep this movie from being perfect. One, the downward spiral that occurs directly after Lo Meng's wedding. The preceding hour is awesome entertainment, and every time I watch this half of the movie I can't believe how good it all is. But after that it's obvious Chang's killing time until the finale. This leads to the second problem: It seems that Kuo's departure really messed up the script, and instead of rewriting everything they just cut down the time devoted to his intended character. The ending was also affected, of course; I highly doubt Kuo Choi would be as little involved in the final battle as Chien Hsao-Hao is. However, one thing that distinguishes this from other Chang movies is that there are no clear-cut villains, other than Lu Feng. Wang Li, for example, has as much a right to vengeance as our "heroes" Lo Meng and Sun Chien, as does the wife-killing Candy Wen.
Regardless of the middle-half slump, this is a great movie. The costuming, sets, and choreography are all the usual Venoms quality. The costumes are different than the normal Chang Cheh kung-fu garb; everyone wears silk kung-fu uniforms. The Wu-Tang get the coolest clothes, with nice black and white patterns. I'm also impressed by the tournament stage, which is a large platform that's encircled by paintings of dragons. Weapons used are nice and bizarre; there's a part at the end where Chiang Sheng tells his men to "bring the weapons." You might expect swords or spears, but the guys come out with hoops and a metal baton.
The Celestial remastered release is the usual flawless presentation. I can't believe how well they've cleaned up these old classics. I recommend all Venoms/Shaw Brothers fans to seek this movie out, despite the fact that Kuo Choi was too busy sulking to appear in it.
JOE909'S RATING: 9/10