Director: Chang ChehNotable Cast: Lo Meng, Phillip Kwok, Ku Kuan Chung, Jason Pai Piao, Chiang Sheng, Kuo Chui, Sun Chien, Yang Hsuing, Yu Tai Ping, Tony Tam Jan Dung, Lau Shi Kwong, Wang Li
If there is anything you can guarantee about watching a Venom Mob movie, it’s that the charisma of the film is going to be top level stuff. While a lot of their films can be hit or miss overall, even the quality within a single film can be hit or miss. Two Champions of Shaolin failed to run with its thematic thread about sins of the father and Invincible Shaolin spent so long on the training sequences that it forgot about the two parallel storylines to flesh out. Luckily, there is always that charisma they can fall back on. Shaolin Rescuers, the topic of this review, is of that same vein. At times this film wants to be ridiculously epic and with a heart of gold, but too often it’s too epic for its own good and spreads itself thin. The film is still ridiculously charming and this makes it a fun martial arts film, but far from great.
Lo Meng is a small time tofu worker spending his time perfecting his kung fu while getting up early to make tofu and staying late to close shop for little money. His one highlight is when he gets to spar with his friend, who works as a mischievous waiter (Phillip Kwok) down the street and can turn any item into a deadly weapon – including a bowl with chopsticks. When a heroic rebel leader (Jason Pai Piao) stumbles into the tofu shop, injured, the two young men decide that their lives are worth the fight…even if they lose everything.
|The Mob that trains together, Venoms together.
Unfortunately, the film tends to want to pull away from them for the sake of a more epic plot line. Director Chang Cheh, who isn’t afraid of using slightly twisted formulas/structures for his films, instead injects a lot of plot and a LOT of characters. Just in the opening credits, there are 4 shaolin “heroes” introduced that die before the credits are done. There is even a third ‘shaolin rescuer,’ played by Venom Mob member Ku Kuan Chung, who shows up well into the film as one of the leads. However, his character doesn’t nearly have the backing or connection that our other main protagonists do and he feels a bit wasted in the film. This happens again and again. Chiang Sheng is introduced, we get five villains thrown into the mix, and that doesn’t even touch on our rebel leader that our two main heroes save. There is just a lot to consume in a very short time and it doesn’t always work to its maximum (and emotional) benefit.
|Classic Shaw Brothers action!
Shaolin Rescuers is far from being the best Venom Mob film from the Shaw Brothers studio and like the others I mentioned at the beginning of this review, it’s a mixed effort. Fortunately, it is carried by the sheer charisma and screen presence of our cast to be highly entertaining and enjoyable…even if it misses the mark on a lot of the plot and theme work. This is recommended mostly to kung fu fans, but it’s a great way to spend a Saturday evening.