Arhats in Fury Review
The ARHATS IN FURY of the title refer to the animals, observed by a monk, who live around a temple. When foreigners try to take over his temple, the monk uses the martial arts he has learned from the animals to help defend himself.
After watching the film but prior to reading the above synopsis I had no idea what the title Arhats in Fury meant, and similarly on first viewing there were few instances during this eighties chunk of Hong Kong action cinema that I actually had any clue as to what was going on. Not because it’s particularly complex, I was just finding it very difficult to muster up the effort required to take in the storyline which is introduced through a series of poorly edited scenes that lack much in the way of cohesion. Opening with a set of events which show the disagreement in a Buddhist temple on how the monks should interpret their faith and tackle an invading army that is closing in on their land (the choice is sit idly by and do nothing, or fight back) we soon learn it was all a flashback in the head of Zhi Xing (Lau Jan-Ling), a young monk who is out travelling with his teacher when they come upon a village under siege. Struggling against the Buddhist way imposed upon him by his order of doing sod all when others are in need of help Zhi Xing eventually hits boiling point after one too many woman are raped and a young boy is skewered by the marauding army and he busts some fairly kick-ass moves that help send them packing.
Much of the events that follow involve Zhi Xing gaining favour with his fellow monks-in-training who look up to his will to fight for what he believes in, while the elders hold steadfast to the rules of the temple and revel in dishing out sadist punishments. Later when the invading army lays siege to the Buddhist temple Zhi Xing once again steps into the fray to prevent anymore waste of life and finds himself both a hero and a traitor to the Buddhist temple he lives for and is soon being hunted by both his fellow monks and the invading army alike. Taken in by the retaliating forces (led by a gorgeous young lady who true to form in these old martial arts flicks is mistaken by all to be a young man) Zhi Xing eventually foregoes the Buddhist way of holding all life dear and plans out a strategy that sees him and his new allies take down the villains in spectacularly epic and bloody ways.
Lacking any narrative value and feeling more like an early martial arts production of the kind Hong Kong were producing on the factory line in the early seventies (this film was made in 1985) Arhats in Fury is one of those rare films where I can actually appreciate the value of a corny English dub. Quite frankly watching the film in its original language with subtitles enabled makes the film more of a chore than it already is in the early scene-setting stages, whereas the English dub comes replete with exaggerated voices yet stays true to the basic dialogue helping to lend some entertainment to the proceedings. Later when the action kicks in and themes of revenge are introduced you can enjoy some great lines such as "People will remember your treachery and they'll piss on your grave!"; delivered with a cartoonish glee that makes it one of the most amusing moments of the film. It can also serve to enhance a few of the genuine delights to be found in the film, such as the enthusiasm one of the female leaders shows towards Zhi Xing’s fighting techniques when they first meet in the village under siege, or later when she is revealed to be a woman (in a wonderfully over-the-top reveal) and all the men clear the room with knowing tones in their “Let’s leave them alone” comments.
Elsewhere in the action stakes you'll find yourself rewarded for twenty-minutes of patience as the first set-piece gets underway, and like the string of one-on-one and martial arts army battles that follow what they lack in technical proficiency (both in the choreography and use of camera) they more than make up for in sheer enthusiasm with the combinations of fists, feet and weapons allowing for some thoroughly engaging moments which are only enhanced towards the latter stages of the film when the voracity is increased and cruel brutality plays out on screen to often amusing effect. There is also some unique use of animals in a couple of the action set-pieces, a feature which has gained the film some praise and appears to bear some relation to the title’s meaning. What you basically see though is a group of brave extras first fielding off the vengeance of a few monkeys and then running into a field populated by all manner of birds and other small critters only for them to have the expected reaction and dart about in a fashion that is dangerous to anyone in the middle of things.
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Compared to other titles from the same label the presentation here is something of a revelation, though still distinctly average by anyone's standards. Presented in approximately 2:08.1 anamorphic widescreen the print sourced is most likely cropped ever so slightly, though certainly not enough to be a real problem. Similarly there are numerous and constant speckles of dust and grit with black and white lines appearing frequently, though I hardly found them to be all that bothersome as the colours and detail levels (though hardly outstanding) are also stable and constant throughout. This leads to an average presentation but one that can be appreciated given the treatment films of this type usually receive on budget labels.
In the same way we can be thankful for the option of English, Cantonese and Mandarin 5.1 mixes, with the Cantonese track being the original language. Sadly there is no original stereo option, but in all three cases the 5.1 is very much front focused with no outlandish attempts to bring the rears into play. From spot checks (I only listened to the English dub in its entirety) all three tracks also appear to be clean with no signs of hiss or drop outs.
Unfortunately if you do choose the Cantonese or Mandarin language tracks then the optional English subtitles will probably disappoint. Using a thick and rather ugly yellow font the real problem lies in the frequent spelling mistakes, monks chanting "Notting comes from Nothing" and suggesting "Disaster is not fat" can be experienced in the opening 10-15 minutes alone with I'm sure many more to be found throughout.
Extras are limited to the original trailer, a look at other releases from 55th Chamber and weblinks.
Released on the 55th Chamber label the promotional material (and I'm led to believe the blurb on the back of the cover) suggests all their films be watched for nostalgic reasons, the kind of kung fu gems you found in your local rental store back when VHS was in vogue. At £7.99 this is competitively priced and the DVD presentation is good enough for most casual viewers, though I doubt many will return to the film for repeat viewings. I suspect many readers will know if this is their kind of film though, and despite the low rating this is one of the better, lesser martial arts films I've seen.