One of the best martial arts films I've ever seen in my life
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 09/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Man, oh man, this is one fantastic martial arts film. If Five Shaolin Masters doesn't have it all, it certainly does come close. Not only do you have numerous well-choreographed fight scenes involving groups as well as individuals, you've got a whole buffet of fighting styles served up for your viewing pleasure. Speaking of viewing pleasure, the print is fantastic. I can't speak for the DVD specifically, but the print that I saw was in vivid, glorious widescreen, looking more like a modern-day Hong Kong release than a film dating back to 1974.
As the film opens, the Shaolin Temple has just been destroyed by imperial Manchu forces. Thanks to a traitorous spy among the Shaolin disciples, the bad guys were able to take the Temple by complete surprise, killing all but five of its members. After fighting their way to safety, the survivors head off separately to make contact with other rebels. The Manchu are never far behind, as they are determined to stamp out all the rebels once and for all. Numerous fights ensue along the way, leaving the five Shaolin disciples alive but unsure of themselves, having learned that they are no match for the kung fu fighters of the Manchu. Having encountered their enemies (including the traitor that betrayed the Temple) face to face, though, they are now aware of their enemies' strengths and weaknesses. Proving that knowledge is power, each of them begins intensive training in the particular fighting style he thinks he will need in order to defeat his adversary. That, of course, sets the stage for one hell of a battle in the film's final 15-20 minutes.
I'm no martial arts film expert, but my understanding is that the great writer/director Chang Cheh brought together two generations of top-notch martial artists for this film. The five would-be Shaolin masters are played by Ti Lung, Chi Duan-chun, Mang Fei, Alexander Fu Sheng, and David Chiang, with the last two turning in particularly memorable performances. The Manchu kung fu experts are a few years older than the heroes, but their skills remain honed to a razor-sharp edge. Pao Yu-lung (Choi Wang) is deservedly renowned and feared for his skill with the Flying Axe, while his buddies (played by Kong Do, Fung Hak-on, Chien San, and Ma Fu-yi) are just as masterful at their own individual fighting styles. One of them kills a man with a mere snap of his ponytail, which was so impressive I had to immediately pause and watch him do it a second time.
The big fight at the end is the equivalent of five main events all rolled into one, featuring a display of martial artistry showcasing the Tiger and Crane style, advanced usage of the chain dart and fighting staff, a whopping ten complementary styles by one fighter, and all kinds of other impressive action. The realism extends all the way through the aftermath of each pugilistic duel, as well. Liu Chia-Liang's fight choreography is spot-on throughout the entire film, as is Chang Cheh's direction. For the time being, at least, Five Shaolin Masters is my new favorite martial arts film.
On a final note, a prequel to this film, Shaolin Temple, was made in 1976, so you might want to hunt that one down before watching Five Shaolin Masters. If you have any interest in kung fu cinema at all, though, you're definitely going to want to see this 1974 classic - with or without the prequel."
A 1975 classic is seen the way it should be - almost
Michael W. Jaworski | Fairfield, NJ USA | 03/24/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The maestro Chang Cheh made this Shaolin versus Manchu classic "Five Shaolin Masters" in 1975 for his independent Chang Ho Film company (which was affiliated with Shaw Brothers). First, the movie itself is classic Chang Cheh, right down to his themes of brotherhood, patriotism and honor.
The Shaolin heroes are comprised of his "first team" ~ Ti Lung as Tsai Te-Chung, the late Fu Sheng as Ma Chao-Hsing, Chi Kuan-Chun as Li Shih-Kai, David Chiang as Hu Te-Ti & an odd choice in Meng Fei as Fang Ta-Hung. Odd because it's Meng's only appearance in a Chang Cheh film to my knowledge. Billy Tang & Gordon Liu both make cameos, I don't know why he didn't use one of them. Anyhoo, Chang rounds out the film with great "villains";(shown with their own music) Tsai Hung as Pao Yu-Lung, Liang Chia-Jen a.k.a. Beardie as Chien San, Feng Ko-An as Chiang Chin-Chiu, Chiang Tao as Chen Wen-Yao & Johnny Wang Lung-Wei as Ma Fu-Yi. The story is simple; Manchus attack and destroy Shaolin with the help of a spy (explained in the prologue), each Shaolin hero gets matched up with their Manchu adversary, the heroes get beaten, they regroup, spend a year brushing up on their fu in the Shaolin ruins and have a 15 minute finale with our "improved" heroes taking on their Manchu enemies. However, Chang Cheh executes the narrative like no other. The Liu brothers, one of whom makes a cameo, deliver the goods in the choreography department, especially the end fight between Chi Kuan-Chun using the Cross Fist style against Feng Ko-An's Mantis Fist & Eagle Claw styles. Awesome stuff here and great stock music.
Now for the DVD; digitally restored & remastered blemish-free print. Widescreen, uncut, and it includes the original Chinese/English credits. One complaint though. Even though I would prefer subtitles and original Chinese audio track, I didn't mind the English dubbing here because it was those familiar "Drive-In Movie" voices that I grew up listening to. But here's the problem, the English track this DVD company had wasn't in the greatest shape. It was audible and all, but there were synch glitches left and right (probably because of the different region origins of the video and audio), and the audio track kept switching between two different audio tracks. It wasn't that bad, I'm being a little nitpicky I know, but it was slightly distracting, but the picture quality is top-notch.
Bonzai Distribution, who did this one, are hit and miss. Sometimes they do a fantastic job like "Ten Tigers of Kwangtung", "The Weird Man" and "House of Traps", sometimes they do a real crappy job like "Magnificent Ruffians". "Five Shaolin Masters" a.k.a. "Five Masters of Death" falls in between - excellent picture, so-so audio, no special features. Well, there's my opinion for what it's worth. Hope it helps."
The best shaolin movie of all time !
J. Tarnue Moryan | Minneapolis, USA | 09/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the best kung fu movie of all time. It features the beloved Fu Sheng, who I think is the best."