Shaolin Kung Fu Review
No...dubbed! I thought we'd had seen the back of dubbed movies. Subtitles, yes; dubbed English language films, no. Don't distributors get this yet?
I repeat - subtitles, yes; dubbed, no.
Well, there are exceptions to every rule and this is one of them. Shaolin Kung Fu is the type of foreign language film that is improved just ever so slightly by dubbing. With interest flagging half an hour in, give a rickshaw driver an outrageous cockney accent and ten minutes later, have one of the gangsters threaten our hero in an accent straight out of Brian Glover's Tetley adverts - "Go on, get stuffed".
Using the ages old reluctant hero story, Shaolin Kung Fu stars Wen Jiang Long as Lin Fung, a humble rickshaw driver who works for a local company. Lin Fung spends much of his time looking after his wife, who is blind, and getting bullied by the employees of a competing rickshaw company, run by Tongyang (I have no idea who plays Tongyang, but I'm sure he is now being employed as a Saddam Hussein double in Baghdad) who uses hired heavies to build his business. Literally heavies in this case as Tongyang only hires really fat guys who look completely out of place at the business end of a rickshaw. Now let's see - rickshaws involves lots of running, martial arts require a lot of physical training. So...where did these guys come from?
Unlike most of his colleagues - old men, guys fatter than the villains - Lin Fung stands out as young, thin and an expert in kung fu but at some point at some time, he made a promise to his mother that he would not fight. The problem is that this promise-making back story is not completely clear. Every so often, fights start, Lin Fung is just about to get stuck in when he stops, gets a look that says, "...or maybe not" and a woman's voice reminds him of a promise. A woman who could be his wife, sister or some woman who appears in the back of Lin Fung's rickshaw and whose role is never fully explained.
Regardless, Lin Fung can only take so much. He eventually snaps and, following the suicide of his wife, from running into a wooden pillar, he goes on a rampage. Firstly, Lin Fung clears out the fat guys only to find that there are some decent skinny fighters held in reserve. I'll assume that from here on in, you know the rest. If you're not sure, listen to Kenny Rogers' "Coward Of The County" to get the general idea.
Sounds excellent, no? Well, inappropriate dubbing just isn't enough to turn this rickshaw into a Roller - it's not a great film. It appears to be from an era in which, following the success of Bruce Lee movies, revenge-driven kung fu films were big box-office. The problem is that Shaolin Kung Fu is a pedestrian work and although Enter The Dragon is possibly not as good as its reputation would indicate, Shaolin Kung Fu is a very, very pale imitation of even a mediocre martial arts film
Shaolin Kung Fu is really only recommended to collectors of martial arts movies who may just about watch anything so long as it's got some kind of fighting in it, even van Damme and Seagal films. That's the kind of quality we're talking here - not Bruce Lee, but van Damme. It's disappointing as the label name Old Skool Kung Fu conjures up a fantastic impression of what the films might be like but sadly, the content just doesn't live up to it.
Shaolin Kung Fu has been badly transferred onto DVD in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio but it is non-anamorphic. The print used is of a very low quality with a significant amount of grain, scratching and dirt as well as being fuzzy, noticeable when the film is running as well as when the picture is paused.
In addition, the colours are washed out leaving the film with a plain look although how much of this is to do with the print versus the original quality of the film is open to question.
The soundtrack is fixed as English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with no other language options. As the film has been dubbed, there is a distinct separation between the dialogue and the ambient effects.
The music throughout is, however, great - wah-wah'd guitar and loud brass, exactly as a 1970's martial arts film ought to be.
There are no subtitles.
Given the nature of the film, it would be surprising were there many extras on the disc and, in that, it fails to exceed expectations:
Trailer (4m15s, 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic, Mono): This pretty much contains every key moment in the film, summarised in just over four minutes. The picture quality is terrible but unlike the film, it is in the original language.
Trailers for Other Available Titles: Trailers are also included for The Unbeaten 28 (2m01s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, Mono) and Return of the 18 Bronzemen (3m06s, 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic, Mono). Neither trailer is particularly exciting and while the latter looks the more impressive of the two, the trailer for The Unbeaten 28 has possibly the worst sound I have ever heard on any DVD since the technology was developed. Both are available from on the Old Skool Kung Fu label.
I blame the Wu-Tang Clan and the Beastie Boys. I seem to remember an issue of Grand Royal, the magazine published by the Beastie Boys, giving a large amount of space to an article on Bruce Lee. Later, the Wu-Tang Clan opened their debut album, the still thrilling Enter The 36 Chambers with the words, "With your wu-tang sword style and shaolin shadow boxing...". The link between hip-hop and old skool kung fu was complete.
I just don't know about old skool Kung Fu and I don't simply mean the label as they may well have some fantastic films that are yet to be released. I mean the idea that being retro automatically ensures better quality, where you can't be a true gamer unless you appreciate retro gaming and as good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is, real martial arts fan are more appreciative of the old skool thrills of Shaolin Kung Fu.
Complete rubbish, of course, and it's high time that old skool thrills were shown up to be as fake as the emperor's brand new old skool Dunlop Green Flash trainers. Shaolin Kung Fu is utter nonsense but it's a canny label that repackages it with a certain degree of credibility. If you're looking for Wu-Tang inspired old skool thrills, enjoy the Old Skool Kung Fu label trailer, which is great, but take the rest with a good pinch of salt.