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少林五祖 (1974)
Five Shaolin Masters

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 05/27/2006
Summary: Fragmented

The Shaolin Temple is in flames in a deliberate attack by the villainous Manchu marauding the land of China. However, a handful of Shaolin disciples survive the massacre and scatter throughout the land in search of sanctuary and assistance from other Chinese patriots. Following their own path, they are each tested to – and even beyond – their limits. In fact, it becomes apparent that the only way they can hope to retake their country is by working together. However, it seems they have a traitor in their midst…

This film is a companion piece to 1973’s Heroes Two, with the same shots of the burning of the Shaolin Temple and a short narrated passage mentioning the characters from that film. However, this film follows the story of six other escapees from the slaughter.

The first hour of Five Shaolin Masters is, frankly, a dull mess. After fleeing the Temple, the five leads decide to split up and it’s right here that the whole piece falls down. It’s a similar problem with all of these Shaw Brothers ensemble films – with no single actor being the focus of the story, it starts to feel quite episodic and disjointed. Plus, with so many leads, it often means waiting a long time to see your favourite grab some screen time. The worst affected here is David Chiang, as we really do have to wait the best part of an hour to see him in action (however, each character does have a quite lengthy introduction at the beginning over the start credits – which, infuriatingly, are still running a full thirteen minutes into the film). The reason the five Masters split up, and then reform, is evidently to give weight to the “united we stand, divided we fall” theme that weaves its way throughout the whole movie. However, it has to be said that on the whole the characters do not engage or interest in any way – another result of the fragmented nature of the piece. The one exception is Fu Sheng, who does appear to be the only character imbued with any hint of personality as a naïve yet likeable novice.

Once the five leads are reunited, the film does pick up somewhat. Licking their wounds, they decide to return to the ruins of the Shaolin Temple to complete their training, convinced that it’s the last place the Manchu would look for them. What’s more, it’s true – the Manchu are left scratching their heads until the refugees reveal themselves. Once their training is complete, the usual vengeance is doled out on the wrongdoers.

This film suffers from lacklustre choreography at some points, and even some sloppiness behind the camera – at one point (at 1:42:25 on the Celestial DVD) you can clearly see the shadow of one of the camera crew moving out of shot. But it’s the shallowness of the characters and the indifferent plotting (normally such strong points in other Shaw Brothers films of the age) that really lets it down. Altogether, it really is quite average.

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 12/07/2004
Summary: Fighting fighting fighting!!

Do you know what this movie is about yet?
I didn't find this anything special, 5 shaolin fighters escape after their temple is burnt down, the meet up with other HAN people, the fight against the big guns and loss and train hard until the final confrontation

The fighting itself is nothing much, it is interesting to see so many regoniseable faces. Still it did keep my attention til the end of the movie


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 05/22/2004

Pure Chang Cheh - i.e not much of a story or character development, and tons of slow motion death scenes and... too much fighting! Not often you'll hear me say that. The first hour is pretty weak, but once the 5 disciples realise they have to master different styles to beat their foes it gives all the fighting more purpose, and the film improves significantly.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: STSH
Date: 04/18/2003
Summary: Not as good as you might think

I was expecting something great. What I saw was, well, puzzling.

Right up front, the bad news. The story starts out slowly and, apart from the full-on fight scenes, never really speeds up. This film is mostly slow, ponderous and remarkably talky. And for the first 45 minutes, the fight choreography is dull. That's right, dull. Nothing like the standard you'd expect from this stellar fu cast.

End of bad news and puzzlement.

One thing which kept me going, through the puzzlement, ponderousnesss and poor choreog was the look of this film. If ever one needed reminding of the generally high quality of fu film production in the early 70s, and how much it slipped around the mid 70s, this is a great example. Another example is Jimmy Wang Yu's Chinese Boxer (1970) - stunning cinematography and great direction.

Anyway, the video of Five Shaolin Master which I was nearly cinema quality, and this was another surprise. The packaging of the video signalled none of this. It was a simple photo of two unknown young musclemen biffing each other (neither was in the movie), and had no mention of any of the cast. At least the cover mentioned that it was Shaw Brothers. Probably the reason for the high quality print was that it was a release from the large Australian cinema group Roadshow. Must have been their cinema print. There is stunning scenery here, and it could only look better in a cinema. Terrific stuff.

As I said, once the 45 minute mark is passed, the choreog improves dramatically, and this great fu mob perform at their peak. The finale is a ripper. The five baddies, all masters of their own styles, are taken on by the five titular masters, who in fact doubt their ability to win ! A most unusual outbreak of humility in the fu film world. This finale cross-cuts between the five separate one-on-one fights for a slam-bang twenty minutes. Classic stuff.

And it's interesting to note some of the up and coming talent. Super fu hero Gordon Liu is relegated to 14th billing and has only one scene. Incredible.

I can't quite agree that this film should have the status of classic, but warmly recommended anyway.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: sarah
Date: 01/25/2000
Summary: Yang Gang

A real boy-fest. Fu Sheng oozing boyish charm, Ti Lung looking very dreamy and lots of shirtless warriors with sculpted torsos and improbable pigtails. A star-studded, charismatic cast are set in scenes which artfully complement their awesome manly beauty. Gorgeous silk clothes in flattering cuts, Fu Shengs trademark colour is white, but they all get it on at the end of this splendid movie. Chang Cheh only wanted bands of muscly boys bonding dramatically amongst rivers of their own spurting blood. Luckily his taste and intelligence were highly developed, and the end result was something highly appealling to women and men. The Shaw Brothers kept a stable of actors, who they famously misstreated, and it is very satisfying to see the same talented individuals reappear in movie after movie.
It opens with the burning of the Shaolin monastery by the Manchus, an attempt to quell the rebellion of the Han. These five are the only surviving masters and the legendary ancestors of the Triads. They conveniently encounter five manchu dogs to fight but realise they must brush up their skills if they are going to win, so they retreat to the forest to practise, resulting in some of the most aesthetically pleasing training scenes I have ever seen.

Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

After the infamous burning of Shaolin Temple by Ch'ing Dynastytroops (an actual, historical event), five of the surviving monks vow revenge against the troops, as well as against the monk who betrayed the temple. A classic. Lots of great fighting and action, as well as a great story.