Shaw Scope: Volume One: Arrow Blu-ray Collection Review
Arrow’s epic 12-film collection comprises Volume 1 of the Shaw Brothers films, and my favorite special feature is two bonus CDs that contain a ton of music from the films featured here. Well worth the price to add to your collection, this set is a beast!
The Mighty Peking Man (1977) Plot:
An adventurer discovers a giant gorilla man and a feral jungle lady in the mountains of India … and brings them home for the spectacle of it.
Down in the dumps after finding his girlfriend sleeping with his best friend, Johnnie Fang (Danny Lee) accepts a gig to lead an expedition to the jungles of India to find a massive gorilla man locals call The Mighty Peking Man and bring the thing back with him to feature around the world in a touring exhibition. The journey is treacherous: In addition to tigers, killer elephants, snakes, and insurmountable cliffs to climb, the morale is incredibly low, but Johnnie continues on alone, even when his entire crew bails on him. He eventually meets the Peking Man … and he’s huge like King Kong huge! Just when he thinks the massive beast will kill him, he’s rescued by a stunningly beautiful jungle woman named Ah Wei (played by Swedish stunner Evelyne Craft) who’s dressed only in a very, very tight animal skin bikini. It’s love / lust at first sight for them both, but the sexy stuff bothers the Peking Man, who clearly has had a fixation on the woman since he saved her from certain death when she was a child. After a fling in the jungle with Ah Wei, Johnnie convinces her to get the Peking Man to take them both to civilization and submit to humans, and after a sea voyage, they get to Hong Kong where the creature is immediately exploited in a freak show exhibition. When Ah Wei realizes that Johnnie is still in love with his previous girlfriend, she flees (still in her skimpy outfit) on foot through the streets of Hong Kong to find her true love, the Mighty Peking Man. When the creature inevitably gets loose, the military is called in to destroy it, leading to a climax on the top of a skyscraper, which sounds really familiar.
A real delight from start to finish, the sexy and adventurous The Mighty Peking Man is a great hybrid of King Kong cross-pollinated with a Lady Tarzan / Sheena-type movie. The movie dares to tread awfully close to the storyline and climax of King Kong, but thankfully it does its own thing too and manages to be a pretty enjoyable adventure. Star Craft is jaw-droppingly beautiful and it’s great fun watching her run around and cavorting in her nip-slip bikini through the whole movie. With old-fashioned effects, forced perspective, and rear-projection-style gimmickry, the movie may seem a little dated, but I enjoyed the heck out of the whole thing. From director Meng-Hua Ho.
Special features include a commentary, archival interviews, and a slew of trailers, one of which (the Hong Kong trailer) features nudity not seen in the movie.
The Chinatown Kid (1977) Plot:
An illegal immigrant from China goes to San Francisco and works his way up to becoming a powerful enforcer who can’t shake his good nature … and incites the wrath of the cartel he works for.
A sweet natured and innocent Chinese immigrant named Tam Tung (Alexander Fu Sheng) goes to Hong Kong to live with his very poor grandfather, who tries showing him the ropes of street life and panhandling. Tam Tung is enterprising and manages to start a little orange juice-squeezing cart on the street, and he gets the notice of a local enforcer who works for the big mob boss in town. Tam Tung reveals himself to be a very tough and formidable fighter, and the enforcer offers him a shot to prove himself: Snatch a whore being held captive by some thugs in an apartment complex. Tam Tung jumps at the chance, but when he smashes all the thugs around and gets the girl, she tells him he’s working for the wrong side – that the guys he smashed up actually saved her from the mob. This doesn’t sit well with Tam Tung, and so he harbors her and ends up becoming a marked man in Hong Kong. He’s offered a chance to escape the country and go to the USA as an illegal immigrant, and he takes the chance. Fresh off the boat, he gets a job at a Chinese restaurant and makes friends with a Chinese student named Yang Jiawen (Sun Chien) also working in the restaurant. When Tam Tung is fired for helping his boss fight off enforcers demanding protection money, he becomes homeless for a spell, but is soon offered a position as an enforcer for the mob because of his fighting abilities. Months pass and Tam Tung rises in ranks and becomes the most feared enforcer on the streets, but when he finds out that his friend Yang Jiawen has become addicted to heroin because of the drugs being offered due to his efforts, Tam Tung turns against the mob and fights crime … instead of enforcing it!
From director Chang Cheh, The Chinatown Kid is an epic-sized (the 115 minute version was reviewed, not the 90 minute version) story of a very good-hearted guy who goes bad, but then redeems himself later on. Star Fu Sheng (who passed away six years later from a car accident) is a standout in it, and the plot plays out very believably as it goes along. It takes its time, develops characters, allows the villains to be fleshed out, and gives the movie plenty of action to flex its muscles. In many ways it resembles an early-mid ’90s Jackie Chan vehicle, but has a much more serious tone to it, and deserves a look, especially for purveyors of solid Hong Kong action cinema.
Special features on the disc include a brand new 2K transfer of the 115 minute version, a new audio commentary by the author a book on Fu Sheng, a scene-select commentary by co-star Susan Shaw, a featurette, trailers, and an image gallery.
King Boxer (1972) Plot:
A martial arts tournament is coming up, and one fighting school tries to eliminate the competition before the big day … which doesn’t sit well with one of the students from the attacked school.
Chao Chih-Hao (Lieh Lo) is about the best there is at fighting in his corner of the world, but he gets a rude awakening when his father figure and teacher is attacked by a group of thugs from another fighting school. The teacher tells Chao that he’s taught him all he can to defend himself, but that he’ll need to be taught by another master who can help him with more innovative techniques. Chao leaves and goes to the next town where he is greeted at the other school with some trepidation; he displays his abilities to the school and its teacher, but clearly he is outmatched. The teacher reluctantly agrees to take him on, and with a big fight tournament coming up, the school will need its best at their best to compete and be victorious. When a competing school full of miscreants, hired thugs, and cheaters launches a campaign of fear, intimidation, and humiliation against Chao’s new school, Chao takes it upon himself to humble the biggest threats and emerges victorious in a barroom brawl, but his teacher scolds him for doing that because retribution from the other school will be forthcoming, but seeing greatness in Chao, his teacher bestows on him a sacred and secret art of fighting he’s never before offered any of his pupils, and humbled by the gesture, Chao goes off into the country to study the new technique. Later on, when he’s greatly outnumbered by thugs, his hands are viciously broken, and ashamed to return to his master and school, the tournament looks like it will proceed without him. But lo and behold – after vigorous training and some convalescence – Chao steps into the tournament just in time and gets his hands bloody!
A verifiable kung fu classic, King Boxer (otherwise known as Five Fingers of Death) has some outstanding moments and a really excellent physical performance by its star Leih Lo, who shines in the film. He reminded me a lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme, and it’s easy to see how this film inspired Bloodsport and Kickboxer, and even King of the Kickboxers. With some eye-popping fight scenes, eye gouging, stabbings, and an entire sequence set in the dark, the movie has some nice surprises and a score that Quentin Tarantino sampled in Kill Bill. Directed by Chang-hwa Jeong.
Arrow’s new 2K presentation of this one sparkles, and the disc includes a new audio commentary, a newly filmed appreciation, interviews, a three-part documentary, alternate opening credits, an image gallery, and more.
Dirty Ho (1979) Plot:
A rapscallion thief is taken under the wing of a very wealthy and formidable martial artist, who also happens to be a son of royalty.
“Dirty” Ho Jen (Yue Wong) is a thief, and proud of it. He flaunts his booty and makes a big show of his wealth, which gets the attention of Wang Tsun Hsin (Chia-Hui Liu, also know as Gordon Liu), who happens to be dining nearby when Ho gathers all the whores and dancers around him and makes a game out of giving his gold away. Wang plays the game too and gives away his money, and he has much more than Ho could ever have, and what’s more is that Ho ends up swindling Ho’s treasure in a clever way and leaves him high and dry. Ho is intrigued: Who is this guy and how can he be like him? Wang takes the challenge: He has Ho poisoned and forces him to come to him for the antidote, and then makes him his protégé: He will teach him how to perfect his martial arts, how to gain wealth, and how to gain respect, but then Ho makes a discovery about his master: He’s the 11th son of the Emperor, and stands to inherit the throne and much wealth … but one of Wang’s brothers is out to kill him so that he will become Emperor. Wang and Ho team up and take all comers in this bouncy comedy filled with fun fight scenes, including one where they use umbrellas like Spartans use shield to ward off an onslaught of arrows.
From director Chia-Liang Liu, Dirty Ho is extremely light-hearted and fluffy, and with some fun performances by the two leads and almost a spoofy tone, the movie should appeal just as much to fans of Hong Kong comedies as to fans of martial arts cinema. Colorful and goofy, it maintains a steady pace and might very well be one of the funniest Shaw Brothers movies ever made.
Dirty Ho is presented in a new 2K restoration, a newly filmed appreciation, an image gallery, and the trailer.
Heroes of the East (1978) Plot:
A wealthy young Chinese man marries a Japanese girl in an arranged marriage and discovers that his wife is a formidable martial artist in Japanese martial arts, which creates an intense divide between them.
Ho Tao (Gordon Liu as Chia-Hui Liu) gets a bomb dropped on him on a random, ordinary day: His father tells him that he will be married to a Japanese girl in an arranged marriage. Ho won’t hear of it, but when he lays eyes on his wife Yumiko (Yuka Mizuno) he changes his mind immediately. They’re married, but after the wedding, he is surprised that Yumiko is extremely serious about practicing her Japanese martial arts very religiously … and vigorously. She is so intense about it that she destroys their backyard with her practice, and so he tries to reason with her to bring it down a notch. This only makes her more intense: She’s so adamant about her practice, that she and Ho get into it a little bit by sparring with each other, which leads to an out-of-control competition with each other to see which of them practices the superior martial arts. When Ho defeats her over and over, she is not humbled at all, but it drives a wedge between them and she returns to Japan where her old flame and martial arts instructor, a master of Ninjutsu (played by Yasuaki Kurata) is waiting for her, despite the fact that she’s just been married off. Ho, in frustration, sends her a letter that tries to challenge her to a final competition, but it doesn’t have the desired effect – her entire martial arts school in Japan sends its best in each form of weaponry and martial art to fight Ho in a week-long challenge. Ho, with no choice but to take on all comers, is forced to defend himself, his honor, and his marriage, as he’s faced with the biggest challenge of his life.
I’m not really sure why this movie is called Heroes of the East, but this was one of the best movies in the Shawscope collection. Filled with really meticulous and complicated looking fights from an assortment of guys who looked like real pros, it felt like one of those fun movies like The Quest or Lionheart, which featured all sorts of unique martial arts from skilled fighters from all over the world. Gordon Liu really shines bright in this one, as he must adapt his skills, weaponry, and styles (including drunken boxing in one segment) to defeat his opponents. The movie ends abruptly and sort of forgets the fact that the hero is married to an insufferable woman who will never learn that her husband is a better fighter than she is. Honestly, Mizuno plays a character I grew to dislike very much, and it was obvious that Ho was better off without her. From director Chia-Liang Liu.
Arrow’s disc for Heroes of the East is paired with Dirty Ho, and contains a new audio commentary, plus an interview with co-star Kurata.
Crippled Avengers (1978) Plot:
A man whose wife was killed and whose son was dismembered by a gang vows hatred against all, and he ends up being the direct cause of several innocent men becoming crippled in various ways, and eventually he’ll pay for his hatred and his sins against mankind.
Du Tianado (Chen Kuan-tai) is greatly wronged by a brutal gang, the Three Tigers of the South: They murder his wife and chop of his son’s hands. Reeling with rage and anger, Du has metal hands made for his son Du Chang (Lu Feng) so that one day he can avenge his crippled state, and he has him train for years, but in the training is sprinkled fervent hate and rage. A few years later, they are out and about town and over a petty grievance, Du Chang assaults several innocent men – just some poor commoners, and one man is blinded, while another is made deaf. Later, Du Chang and his father cruelly give another young man brain damage, and that poor guy becomes a simpleton. Those three crippled guys band together and join another guy named Wang Yi (Chiang Sheng), who teaches the three poor crippled men how to train in the martial arts, using their various maladies as starting points to overcome their disabilities and use them for their advantage. In time, all of them become masters of their craft, and when the time is right, they are able to take their revenge on Du Tianago and his metal-handed son, but with revenge, there’s always a price to pay.
A gimmicky premise aside, Crippled Avengers is full of Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatic martial arts that look meticulous and complicated. The entire movie feels like a training montage until the climax, which does indeed pay off in spades. Outlandish and gory at times (the metal hands are like axe blades and have spitting darts in them), the film retains an appeal for wild martial arts films, and it’s never boring or dips in its intent. If you can get past the crazy premise, the film will easily entertain fans of the genre. From director Cheh Chang.
The film is presented in a new 2K restoration, and includes a new featurette on the filmmaker, plus includes the trailer and new English subtitles for the movie.
Five Shaolin Masters (1974) Plot:
After a massacre decimates their Shaolin order, only five masters remain, and they split up to gather more followers to their cause and spend the next year recouping and training for revenge.
An entire Shaolin order is decimated in a massacre by Manchu soldiers, and five students survive. They five men vow to split up and regroup some time later, but they must gather more followers to their cause and maintain secrecy, using a secret hand signal as their call sign. A year passes and the five young masters have slowly built up a following each on their own terms, and they realize that that the massacre would never have occurred if it hadn’t been for a traitor in their midst. When the time comes to reveal themselves to the region and take their revenge, they regroup and make ready to have their vengeance, but first they must face their betrayer.
Simple and direct, Five Shaolin Masters from director Cheh Chang offers a low common denominator plot and execution. The fight choreography seems a little slow and off by at least a beat or two, but it’s still in keeping along with the usually high standards of the Shaw Brothers productions. Featuring Alexander Fu Sheng, Kuan-Chun Chi, and David Chiang in a cast of top-notch performers, the film has a satisfying conclusion and wrap-up.
Shaolin Temple (1976) Plot:
The last of the Shaolin practitioners try defending their temple against a horde under the authority of the Qing, who are intent on destroying the Shaolin way forever.
Under the Qing authority, the way of the Shaolin monks – their teachings, their way of life, and all martial arts associated with them – are becoming extinct due to the systematic eradication of all things Shaolin. The last of the old monks make a drastic decision: accept as many new students as they can while they can in order to try to ensure some longevity for the Shaolin way, but the biggest problem with that idea is that it takes a lifetime to fully absorb the Shaolin teachings and time is not on their side this time. With a handful of new earnest students desperate to learn their ways before the Shaolin arts are gone for good, the monks take in the new prospects and begin training the young students, but with the passage of months, the monks realize that there’s at least one traitor in their midst, but with that realization comes the reality that the Qing will likely wipe them all out before the young students have a chance to completely grasp the concepts they’ve learned. When the Qing horde and all their enforcers show up with several traitor monks on their side, the students make a last stand to defend the Shaolin way … but it may not be enough to keep the precious teachings from becoming completely extinct.
A slow moving but involving martial arts story that focuses on a handful of characters and the teachers who imbue them with the skill sets to survive, Shaolin Temple has a long, drawn-out showdown that takes up a big part of the movie, but it’s startling to see the good monks get slaughtered or who die at their own hands rather than face death by the weapons of the Qing soldiers. The late Alexander Fu Sheng plays one of the young students who lives to carry on the Shaolin arts another day, and there are some impressive (and exhausting) fight scenes throughout the film. From director Chang Cheh.
Arrow’s Blu-ray double feature of Shaolin Temple and Five Shaolin Masters comes with a bonus standard edition of Shaolin Temple, as well as an alternate opening sequence for the film, plus extra trailers.
Challenge of the Masters (1976) Plot:
The son of a martial arts master has been dejected and disappointed his whole life and denied his chance to learn the martial arts, but when he finally gets his chance, he more than delivers on his potential.
Wong Fei-hung (Gordon Liu) has watched his whole life as his father, a martial arts teacher, has taught countless pupils in the ways of the masters, but his father has denied him his chance to learn as his students do. Always stuck on the sidelines, Wong’s only desire in life is to become a martial artist, and as fate will eventually have it in store for him, he’ll get his shot someday. When a huge competition comes up that involves all the martial arts schools convening for a wild game of snatching fire crackers in the air (a weird competition, but whatever), Wong desperately tries to get in the mix of it, but he’s so woefully unprepared that he embarrasses himself when he tries joining in. When a competing school wins the tournament, one of Wong’s friends is murdered afterwards, and wanting his revenge, he finds a teacher willing to teach him to fight. He becomes Lu A Cai’s (Chen Kuan-tai) student, and Wong takes to the training like a fish to water. In less than a year he has become a very formidable fighter, and Lu instills in him a sense of mercy and humanity that he otherwise might not have been given under another’s tutelage. When the next big tournament (also with the firecrackers) comes up, Wong shows his true colors, and he reveals himself to be a man of honor … and unparalleled strength.
A very solid coming of age story that also serves as an origin story for a folk hero, Challenge of the Masters gives star Gordon Liu an excellent role, one of which he’s very well suited for. With exciting fights and training montages, the movie builds to a satisfying conclusion. Colorful, multi-faceted, and appealing for fans of the genre, director Lau Kar-leung’s film is one of the better films in this collection.
Arrow presents Challenge of the Masters is a new 2K transfer with newly translated subtitles, plus a newly filmed appreciation and multiple archival interviews and an image gallery.
Executioners From Shaolin (1977) Plot:
A cult run by an evil priest has wreaked havoc on a Shaolin Temple, and over many years the son of one of the Shaolin students works his way to having his revenge.
An evil priest named Pai Mei (Lo Lieh) has a Shaolin temple and all its practitioners destroyed, but several students escape. They form a patriotic travelling drama team that go to small villages on the coast, and when one of them – Hong Xiguan (Chen Kuan-tai) – meets a local young woman with martial arts skills to rival his own, they marry and have a son. They name him Hong Wending (played as an adult by Wong Yue), and they instruct him in all the martial arts that they know. When the boy’s father is killed by Pai Mei, his mother disguises him as a girl and teaches him crane style (his father taught him tiger style), and his sole purpose in life is to avenge his father, and when he’s finally ready to confront Pai Mei, the old master cult leader has a real shock coming to him when the fighter reveals himself to be much more than he can handle.
An epic story that spans more than a generation, Executioners of Shaolin gets better as it goes along, but it’s always incredibly entertaining and even mythic. Sexy and playful, and that’s not even mentioning how great the fight scenes are, the movie consistently surprises and exhilarates. The climactic fight is one for the ages, and there’s never a dull moment. Director Lau Kar-leung delivered what is likely his best work with this one.
The Boxer From Shantung (1972) Plot:
A lowly but self-sure street urchin rises in the ranks of the crime rings by using his sheer strength.
Ma Yung Chen (Kuan Tai Chen in a dynamic star-making performance) is a poor drifter who lands in Shanghai with nothing but a penny or two in his pocket. He immediately sets his sights on becoming a powerful crime kingpin, which seems like a far-fetched dream, but with his cocky, self-sure attitude and unflinching ability to win any fight he gets into, he almost instantly announces his arrival by getting the big bosses in the area’s attentions. In short order, he defeats three of the biggest bosses in the area and by doing so he accrues a following of the lower classes who rally behind him as their boss who will protect them from other bosses. This doesn’t sit well with the higher ups in the crime syndicate, but they’ve seen young upstarts like Ma Yung Chen come and go countless times before, only this time they’re up against a real tiger of a man in May Yung, and they’ve never quite encountered anyone like him. Over the course of time, Ma Yung accrues a modicum of wealth and power, but instead of becoming complacent he decides to muscle in on the other bosses’ casinos and announces his takeover (it’s not like other takeovers; he walks in a place and says what he came to say and takes dozens of guys on all by himself). When Ma Yung takes as much as the big big boss is willing to let him take, they finally have enough and plan to trap him in an assassination plot … which doesn’t quite go the way they expect it to.
An epic, 134-minute crime saga in the style that countless other crime sagas would later emulate (think Scarface, for example), The Boxer From Shantung is a shining star vehicle for Kuan Tai Chen, who is pretty amazing in this. He’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger on his best day with his can’t-touch-this swagger, and the martial arts sequences are astounding. The film has nonstop, no-holds-barred fight scenes, and Chen always takes center stage in all of them. He’s featured taking on dozens upon dozens of guys at once almost every time, and there’s a standout sequence where he takes on a huge hulking western champion. It will remind modern viewers of how Donnie Yen as Ip Man would take on Darren Shahlavi in Ip Man 2. The film doesn’t really offer anything new story-wise, and it ends up in a place you know it’s headed, but the journey there is a rich, fun, and exciting sojourn. Directed by Cheh Chang and Hsueh-Li Pao.
Arrow’s new 2K restoration of the film is crisp and filmic, and the disc comes with a handful of archival interviews and discussions.
The Five Venoms (1978) Plot:
Five deadly assassins with unparalleled skills in secretive martial arts techniques are pitted against one another for a priceless treasure.
A dying martial arts master summons a student he trusts to learn five secret and deadly techniques (Scorpion, Turtle, Snake, Lizard, and Centipede) in order to find and defeat his five most deadly pupils who have mastered one style each. His five deadly venom students are evil and the master’s penance for teaching them is to undue them all with a single student, but there’s a big catch: Not even the master knows the identities of his students! They are unknown to each other, which makes the new pupil’s task that much harder, but when he uncovers the identity of one, he is on to something. When an entire family is murdered by at least one of the venoms, a plot unfolds: The family was entrusted with a priceless treasure, and the venoms each desire it, and an investigation is instigated to find out who killed the family and why. When the new student figures out that the only way to defeat all the venoms is to pit them against each other for the treasure, his task is lightened a bit as they all undergo torture, and murder amongst themselves. The final confrontation will be a doozy!
One of the most well known and regarded of the Shaw Brothers films, The Five Venoms is also one of the lightest on fights and it serves more as a mystery than a fight film. With some bloody torture scenes (one guy gets a hook shoved up his nose and gets his brain punctured, while another guy gets a red hot suit of armor strapped to his back) and a plot that unfolds like a murder mystery, the film has some outlandish fights highlighting each character’s skill. Cheh Chang directed.
Arrow’s epic 12-film collection comprises Volume 1 of the Shaw Brothers films, and my favorite special feature is two bonus CDs that contain a ton of music from the films featured here. Well worth the price to add to your collection, this set is a beast!
Hi-Def (1080p) Blu-ray presentation of King Boxer, Boxer from Shantung, 5 Shaolin Masters, Shaolin Temple, Mighty Peking Man, Challenge of the Masters, Executioners from Shaolin, Chinatown Kid, Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers, Heroes of the East, Dirty Ho
Brand new 2K restorations by Arrow Films from the original camera negatives of King Boxer, The Boxer from Shantung, Challenge of the Masters, The Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers and Dirty Ho
Brand new 2K master of the longer international cut of Chinatown Kid from original film elements
Original lossless mono Mandarin, Cantonese (where applicable) and English audio
Newly translated English subtitles for each film
Hours of bonus features including brand new commentaries and critic appreciations on selected films, new and archive interviews with cast and crew, alternate credit sequences, trailer and image galleries for each film and more to be announced!
60 page book featuring new writing by David Desser, Simon Abrams and Terrence J. Brady, with cast and crew info for each film plus trivia and soundtrack info
New artwork for each film by artists including Matthew Griffin, Chris Malbon, Jacob Phillips, Ilan Sheady, Tony Stella, Darren Wheeling and Jolyon Yates