Stranger From Shaolin (HK 1976?)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/24/01
Cast: Wong Hang Sau

Wong Hang Sau's masterpiece. Probably the best biographical picture about the legendary Yim Wing Chun, the only woman to ever study at Shaolin Temple. (although one of her teachers was a woman, which raises a few questions) She is also credited with developing the fast and powerful close quarters fighting technique known as wing chun. The film begins with Wing Chun's family being slaughtered by the nasty Manchus. She manages to escape with the aid of a stranger, and he agrees to help her get accepted at Shaolin to learn kung fu. Disguised as a boy, she spends two years in Shaolin Temple learning kung fu, and then she sneaks away in order to avenge her family's death. Her kung fu still isn't quite enough to take out the main villains, so she returns to Shaolin and continues to refine her wing chun fist style under the tutelage of an old priestess. Ultimately, the film builds to a ferocious climax as Wing Chun, her best friend, and her teacher take on the evil General Kang and his gang of professional killers.

First of all, the kung fu in the film is wonderful and watching Wong Hang Sau practice is pure delight. She's deadly and beautiful, and gives an excellent portrayal of Wing Chun as a woman of fierce conviction and burning hatred. Her execution is quick and powerful, and her form is lovely and graceful. In short, she's awesome. A must-see film for any fan of girl fu. I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of the film, particularly when one of the lines of dialog is "and since he's been drinking children's blood, he's become even more powerful," but it's closer to the mark than Yuen Woo Ping's enjoyably campy "Wing Chun" (1994). Unfortunately, the film suffers from drop-frame editing and some bizarre continuity flaws towards the end. During the final battle, the place where they're fighting becomes covered with snow for about a minute, and then it's back to being a clear and sunny day. Additionally, one of Wing Chun's partners mysteriously vanishes for the last ten minutes of the film. Weird. Definitely an exciting and enjoyable kung fu outing.