Shawscope Volume Two: Limited Edition Box (Hong Kong, 1978-93, Arrow Video, 8 Blu-rays + 2 CDs, NR, 1,415 min.). Four films were directed by Chang Cheh and feature his so-called basher boy band, the Venom Mob. They are “Invincible Shaolin,” “The Kid with the Golden Arm,” “Magnificent Ruffians” and “Ten Tigers of Kwangtung.” One of the group’s first appearances was in “The Five Venoms.”

“Invincible Shaolin” (1978, 106 min., 3 stars) sees three North Shaolin disciples arrive at the Qing court to instruct the soldiers of Gen. Xu Kang-tu (Wang Lung-wei), only the general has them compete against three South Shaolin disciples. The Northern three win the competition, but then the general has the three Southerners killed, as his plan is to have disciples of the two disciplines go to war with each other, removing a perceived threat to the Qing Dynasty. Venom Mob members Philip Kwok, Lo Meng and Wei Pai play the replacement South Shaolin who initially feel they must seek revenge against the Northerners. Learning the truth, they combine forces to fight the general’s men.

There is some humor in the training scenes and complexity to the fights. Extras include a 2003 interview with fight instructor Robert Tai (23:59) and a new look at the Venom Mob by Terrence J. Brady (26:28).
In “The Kid with the Golden Arm” (1979, 86 min., 2.5 stars), the Hu Wei Security Bureau is hired to transport 200,000 taels of gold to famine refugees. The Deadly Valley gang, run by the Golden Arm Kid (Lo Meng), plans to hijack the cash. Yang Hu-yun (Sun Chien) runs the relief mission, while Hai Tao (Philip Kwok) is a sheriff who joins the effort. In one fight, Hai defeats a group using only a wine jug. There are poisons, deadly gases, betrayals and two fights pitting an unarmed combatant against one with a sword. The only extra is an alternate cut of the fight between Iron Robe (Wang Lung-wei) and Hai.
“Magnificent Ruffians (1979, 105 min., 3 stars) has a central villain in Master Yuan (Lu Feng), who is rich, spoiled and deadly. Early on, he kills seven fighters brought to test him with his Golden Blade. Yuan owns property on both sides of the Hu Wei Security Bureau, owned by Guan Yun (Lo Meng) with his sister (Annie Liu), whom Yuan wants to marry, and Guan’s mother (Wang Lai). They refuse to sell the ancestral property.

A strong subtext to the film is that in the more modern era, with guns, trains and steam engines, kung fu skills are rather useless. Thus, many martial artists have become unemployed drifters, including “Twin Blades” He Fei (Chiang Sheng), “Magnificent Kicks” Feng Gia-ji (Sun Chien), “Sharp Axe” Zeng Qiao (Wang Li) and “Magic Pole” Yang Zhui-feng (Philip Kwok), who often eat in restaurants and sneak out without paying. When Yuan learns of their skills, he invites them to stay with him, hoping to use them against Guan. Instead, the potential adversaries become friends. This is one of the rare martial arts films to evoke emotion over a death.

“Ten Tigers of Kwangtung” (1980, 90 min., 2.5 stars) doubles up on the number of Venom Mobbers used. It has a more complicated narrative, with lengthy flashbacks and a late shift in perspective from heroes to villains. Two Ching Dynasty mercenaries set out to kill descendants of the Ten Tigers. After three killings, the flashbacks begin, showing the formation of the Ten Tigers, who pride themselves on their righteous stand against the Ching authorities. Initially the team consists of a fighter (Ti Lung), his hot-headed sibling (Alexander Fu Sheng) and two Shaolin trained brothers (Wei Pei, Dick Wei). They must protect an anti-Ching agent (Ku Feng) who needs safe passage out of Kwangtung. More loyal fighters are enlisted, including a master who works at the harbor (Lu Feng) and a skilled kicker (Sun Chien). However, those loyal to the Ching trick a quartet of kung-fu experts to serve the government’s purposes. An extended clash ensues, and the truth is revealed to those who were deceived. Back in the present, their descendants must fight against the Ching avengers.

Extras include audio commentary by Brandon Bentley; a video essay by Jonathan Clements on Shaw Brothers’ depiction of Chinese myth and history (22:34); and a 2003 interview with actor Chin Siu-ho (21:17).

Jet Li stars in “Martial Arts of Shaolin.” Courtesy Arrow Video.

 

“Martial Arts of Shaolin” (1986, 93 min., 3.5 stars), starring a young Jet Li, was one of the last films director Lau Kar-leung Made for Shaw Brothers. He also served as martial arts instructor on “The Bare-Footed Kid” (1993, 86 min., 3 stars), presented here on the same disc. Li plays North Shaolin disciple Zhi-ming, a very happy trainee, who secretly helps out a group of eight youths, whose lion dance participation in the birthday celebration of Lord He Suo (Yu Cheng-hui) he uses as a cover to try and kill He Suo, who killed his parents. Also attending the celebration with plans to kill He Suo is Sima Yan (Huang Qui-yan), posing as a dancer and whose parents He Suo also had killed. South Shaolin disciple Zhao Wei (Hu Jian-qiang) is sent to keep Sima safe.

The assassination attempts fail but lead to some entertaining fights throughout the city. With the roads out guarded, Zhi-ming has to pose as a female sheep herder, with Sima and Zhao disguised as part of the herd. The climax takes place on He Suo’s boat and the bamboo rafts used to halt its progress. The film uses mainland China locations exclusively.

Extras include audio commentary by Jonathan Clements; Tony Rayns discussing the film (29:40; he says Jet Li and the director often clashed); a 2004 interview with screenwriter Sze Yeung-ping (42:15); and a standard definition version in English or Cantonese.

Jacklyn Wu and Aaron Kwok star in “The Bare-Footed Kid.” Courtesy Arrow Video.

 

“The Bare-Footed Kid,” basically a remake of 1975’s “Disciples of Shaolin,” was directed by Johnnie To and stars Aaron Kwok, who also sings the title song, as naïve, bare-footed country boy Guan Feng-yao, who lands within a war of two textile companies. Dragon Spinners, led by evil Ke-hu-pu (Kenneth Tsang), is the aggressor, trying to shut down or buy Four Seasons Weavers, led by the kindly widow Miss Huo (Maggie Cheung), who takes a liking to Guan. Assisting Miss Huo is Duan Qing-yun (Ti Lung), a friend of Guan’s father who is hiding his identity as a skilled martial artist.

Once hired, Guan meets and falls for teacher Huo Xiaolian (Jacklyn Wu) and joins her class of youngsters so he can learn to write. Guan’s violence in getting a deed back from Dragon Spinners threatens retaliation from Ke, so Duan tries to send him home. Instead, Guan enters and wins the town’s fighting competition, leading Ke to hire him as head of his fighters. The fighting here is good, especially Duan’s last fight. Extras include audio commentary by Frank Djeng and Rayns discussing the film (16:28).

The remaining two films are outliers. “Mercenaries from Hong Kong” (1982, 95 min., 2 stars) is a cliché-filled action adventure, set in modern times, filmed in Thailand and directed by Wong Jing, also the writer. It stars Ti Lung as Lo Lik, whom we see assemble a team of six to go after killer Naiman (Phillip Ko Fei), who leads one of two rival Thai drug gangs – yes, there is a big battle scene between them – and recover an audio tape being used for blackmail. There also is a bar brawl and a fight in a parking garage, as well as some betrayals. The sole bonus is a 2010 interview with action director Tony Kai (28:50).

The final film is the schlock horror film, “The Boxer’s Omen” (1983, 105 min., 1.5 stars), directed by Kuei Chih-hung. It goes from the laughable (bat puppets) to the bizarre (a corpse is reanimated in the body of a crocodile) to the icky (lots of gooey stuff and body parts). The film opens with a violent kickboxing scene, in which the winner is brutally attacked afterwards by his Thai opponent (Bolo Yeung). Chan Hung (Philip Ko Fei) seeks revenge, but an apparition of monk Ching Chiu (Elvis Tsui) tells him he first must become a monk, as they were twins in a past life and he must defeat an evil magician to save both their lives.

This is another film with extensive on location shooting. Extras include audio commentary by Travis Crawford; Rayns discussing the director’s career (21:02); and an extended sex scene taken from a VHS source.

The set also comes with a 60-page collector’s book with new writing by David Dresser, Clements, Lovely Jon and David West, as well as cast and crew listings and synopses and notes on each film and the soundtrack music, found on discs nine and 10.

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwest-ern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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