It’s amazing how much difference a decade makes. Executioners from Shaolin is considered, by fans at least, as one of the best films that the Shaw Brothers catalog and it’s an iconic classic in a variety of other ways. It’s loved for so many reasons and all of them are legitimate. The stars, the action, the story… you name it and there’s a reason why Executioners from Shaolin is considered a cornerstone film of the cornerstone studio.
Yet, just ten years ago in the early days of Blood Brothers, I wrote a very lukewarm review of the film. It’s not a very well-written review, to be frank, and part of me hates to link it HERE, but it’s important to recognize the flaws of the past. That’s what Executioners from Shaolin teaches us anyway. To learn from the past, make the proper corrections, and move forward to claim justice.
A few years ago, I was graciously asked to write a new piece on the film for the official Celestial Pictures Shaw Brothers website - which can be found HERE, and in that time I saw that I was perhaps a bit harsh on the film initially. With its inclusion in the Shawscope Vol. 1 boxset from Arrow Video, now it’s my third time addressing the film and I like to think that it’s the charm.
Not that I have much else to say beyond the previously mentioned two articles above, but this latest release deserves a mention. It should be stated that while I still think Executioners from Shaolin has a structural issue in its pacing and some of the tangential sequences that go on for a bit too long, this film easily charms its way into my heart with its strong characters and large multi-generational storyline. This is a film about the family, about honoring those before us or those who sacrificed for us, and that is a theme that rings loudly through the gimmicks and occasionally silly comedy.
The action is superbly crafted, the gimmicks are impressively memorable including Pai Mei’s invincible balls or the ball bearing iron training dummy, and the casting is top-notch. Yes, my initial review called it one of Lau Kar Leung’s more perplexing films, but that’s because he is doing a lot of intriguing things with the film that spin the formula. He’s pushing boundaries and owning them with confidence. Even using a comedic father and son bit from the second act to heroic effect in the third. It’s smartly crafted, heartfelt, and entertaining as hell. We all have to learn.
Executioners from Shaolin has such a strong standing with fans, it’s a bit of a shock that Arrow Video didn’t pop it off as a standalone release like they have already announced for Come Drink with Me and The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter. Instead, it’s featured as part of the first volume of their Shawscope series, and for good reason. It’s a cornerstone film. It’s smartly partnered with Challenge of the Masters on the disc and features a ton of features that I briefly mentioned in my coverage on that film HERE.
Nonetheless, when it comes to Shaw Brothers martial arts movies, it’s hard not to admit now (with a bit of time and less of a head up my ass) that Executioners from Shaolin is one of the quintessential films of the catalog and a great place to start for more curious newbies to kung fu. It’s fun and thoughtful, while it never sacrifices its strong action choreography and iconic characters for the sake of its story. Definitely a must-see.