Five Shaolin Masters (HK 1974)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/20/04
Director: Chang Cheh
Martial Arts Director: Liu Chia Liang, Liu Chia Yung
Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chi, Meng Fei, Wang Lung, Leung Ka Yan, Gordon Liu (Liu Chia Hui)

The nasty Chings burn down Shaolin Temple once again, and only five disciples manage to escape, including David Chiang, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chi, and Meng Fei. They wander the countryside meeting up with other patriots, with the Ching bosses constantly on their heels. After several brushes with defeat, our heroes go back to the ruined temple to hone their skills. A year later, they lure all of the Ching bosses into an extended fight to the death.

I'm not a big fan of Chang Cheh's work, but this one really hits the spot with its all-star cast and the masterful action direction of Liu Chia Liang. It's definitely in the classic Chang Cheh super-team mold, but the direction and execution seems tighter and more polished than usual. The fight sequences are lengthy and exhausting, and nicely executed. Fans of the genre are sure to be pleased. The cinematography is beautiful and the fighting arenas set the tone very nicely. Surprisingly, the music score is also quite good for a kung fu movie, but the movie does occasionally suffer from an overzealous Dolby re-mix (a common problem with HK DVDs). All of the players are wonderful, with the exception of Fu Sheng, who plays a headstrong bumbling idiot for comic relief. I swear, he's like the missing member of Spinal Tap.