Kung Fu Concussion Discussion - Shaolin Temple
Updated: Mar 12, 2023
For our second Kung Fu Concussion Discussion, well, there’s a bit of a setup. [Again?!? – Ed.] I’ll keep it short this time though, really, I mean it. [Uh-huh. You clearly think I’m an idiot. – Ed.] Anyway, I ended up buying one of those 50-movie packs from Mill Creek, the one simply titled Martial Arts. Then, I bought Iron Fist Frenzy, another 50-movie pack also from Mill Creek…which is still on its way. When all is said and done, I’m going to have 100 more than likely pretty bad kung-fu movies to watch. And, if today’s entry is any indication, this is probably going to really…REALLY hurt.
Today we take a look at Shaolin Temple. The short version of the story is that the Emperor and most of his family are killed (we’ll get back to that) in a coup by his Minister of War. The Prince escapes with the help of a faithful General, but he too is killed…I think…yes, he’s actually killed. In his dying words, he passes orders that the Prince, who has been hit with a poisoned throwing knife, be taken to his two daughters (the General’s, not the Prince’s) and then taken to a Shaolin temple (hence the title) to implore the monks for the poison’s antidote. Yes, yes, there’s evil troops in pursuit and all that jazz, some kung fu happens on occasion…so on and so forth. Upon reaching the temple, well, for lack of better phrasing, the monks are dicks. They task the General’s daughter to progress through the temple, defeating each monk in a test, before they’ll give her the antidote. And, for as video gamey as this sounds, to finish the analogy, she gets one life and no continues…if she fails any of the tests, she can never come back to try again. If I had to do a quick guess, thanks to quick Wiki research, maybe these tests coincide with the Noble Eightfold Path associated with Buddhism…but, again, that’s strictly based off of a quick once over on the Buddha Wikipedia page…so I don’t even pretend to be remotely correct on this. It also doesn’t help that I simply cannot remember how many monks there were in this film. Eight seems right…but it could’ve been seven. Okay, definitely more than 5, less than 10.
Enough of the so-called plot. Is the movie any good? Of course not, it’s in a 50-pack for goodness sake! Okay, so does it fall into so bad it’s good territory? Not really. There are some redeeming qualities in the film’s badness. First off, you can tell right away that this film is PERFECT fodder for the MST3K treatment. The poor placing of the camera, the poor shot selection, the poor compositing and blocking of each scene…everything, visually, is a bit of a wreck. Sure, I could also be critical of the film quality and the transfer to digital being terrible, but, again, 50-pack. This shouldn’t be unexpected and yeah, I’ll admit, is actually part of the charm. Another point of interest I alluded to in the previous paragraph. Yes, people die in this film…rather a fair amount, really…but most of them? Suicide. Seriously. This movie should be called ‘Suicide: The Movie’. While, yes, the Emperor is killed by the Minister of War, he’s not the first casualty…that honor goes to the Queen. She offs herself because the MoW (yeah, I’m shortening it) was her cousin and her suggestion for the position. How she does it will cause at least a chuckle. In the middle of a fight, where I’m sure there are no shortage of sharp, pointy stabby objects…she opts to simply run into a pillar. Now, for this to work, I’m imagining you’ve got to do this head first at a good bit of speed. Yeah…not so much what we see on film. In fact, I think she made first contact with her body, then bumped her head. This doesn’t even look like it’d qualify for even the mildest of concussions. No, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the first death by goose-egg. At least the make-up guy associated with the picture tried to make it look bad…but at best, it just looks like she scrapped some skin off. That’s not going to kill you. And, like I said, she’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are fools throughout the film just looking for the slightest reason to off themselves. Take the pilot of the ‘escape boat’…realizing that he’s going to get questioned about this when he gets home...suicide. The film doesn’t really show how he does it…just one minute he’s there, looking pensive, next thing you know there’s a yell, camera pans back, dead fat boat guy. To paraphrase Bugs Bunny, they do this sort of thing all throughout the picture. I have to admit, it did keep me watching…but still, if I’m watching a kung fu movie, I want to see people killing each other with some goddamn kung fu! Not suicide-o-rama. There are cults for that sort of thing.
Can I recommend this film on the strength of having more suicides that Shakespeare’s collected works? No. What kills this film is its pacing. We spend a lot of time watching dancing both at the beginning and the end of the film. The flight from the palace with the Prince first to the General’s two daugthers, then to a hiding spot and then finally the tasks at the Shaolin temple take up 98% of the movie. The remaining 2%? The Prince finally making good on his vow to avenge his father and retake the throne. How is this done? He dresses in drag, we get another dance sequence, thwip, dagger in the bad guy, then the Prince takes the throne, we get a terribly unconvincing “Hail to the King” or “Long live the King” or whatever and boom…the end. Now, look, don’t get me wrong, I get (and love) the fact that most kung fu movies don’t have winding down endings…where you go from the action of the final fight into a talkie bit where they wrap up all the dramatic loose ends. No, kung fu films are more like a roller coaster…action action action…sudden stop, the end. The criticism I have of this film is that if we didn’t spend so much time on non-actiony stuff, like all the dancing or some of the hiding bits were unnecessarily long, we’d have had room for one last action scene with the Prince and the MoW/Despot having a kung fu fight to the death…and THEN the end. But no. The film is a slog with really only the hope for more silly suicides to egg you on…but it’s just not enough to save the film
So that’s one down. 99 more to go.
God…this is gonna hurt.
[Clearly, you’re a cinematic masochist. And a very sick man. – Ed.]