Deadly Mantis (HK 1978)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 12/17/00
Alternate Title: Shaolin Mantis
Director: Liu Chia Liang (Lau Kar Leung)
Cast: David Chiang, Wong Hang Sau, Liu Chia Yung, Lily Li, Wilson Tong, Tsui Siu Keung (Norman Chu), cameo by Liu Chia Hui (Gordon Liu)

Another kung fu classic from Liu Chia Liang, similar in structure to his classic "Mad Monkey Kung Fu" (1979). Wei Fung (David Chiang) is sent by the Ching emperor to spy on the Tien clan, which is supporting the anti-Ching movement. Unfortunately, if he doesn't succeed in his mission, his family will be put to death. He gets a job as a teacher for the Tien's youngest daughter, Chi-chi (impishly cute Wong Hang Sau), but soon the elder Tiens begin to suspect him. Chi-chi interferes and begs her grandfather (Liu Chia Yung) to spare him, on the condition that the two of them get married and stay in the mansion forever. Meanwhile, Wei's family has been imprisoned and is awaiting death. Unable to deal with the situation anymore, Wei Fung and Chi-chi make a daring escape out of the Tien mansion, and the final hour of the film is a non-stop kung fu assault that only the genius of Liu Chia Liang could mastermind. Utilizing a familiar formula, first the hero gets badly beaten, then he learns and masters a new fighting technique, and finally goes back and defeats his foes. In Wei Fung's case, he learns mantis kung fu while hiding in the woods. In one of the most fascinating training sequences ever, not only does Wei observe and mimic the movements of the praying mantis, but the mantis actually coaches him! As silly as it sounds, it's brilliantly filmed and amazing to watch. With his newfound skills, he returns to the Tien's mansion and kills them all, but there's no way he can predict what's waiting for him back at home... Another excellent kung fu outing from master Liu Chia Liang with a healthy helping of girl fu courtesy of Wong Hang Sau and Lily Li. Ms. Sau's fighting is competent and elegant, but she doesn't seem completely comfortable with it, making some of her scenes look sluggish and restrained. A minor quibble, though.