Monday, July 25, 2022

In a Pinch: Shaolin Mantis (1978) Updated Review

When it comes to director Lau Kar Leung, his ability to create charming, action-packed, and humanistic martial arts films is almost unmatched. As the recent Shaw Brothers burst of releases continues to pour out onto collector’s edition Blu-Rays, it’s a stark reminder of just how impactful his films were on the whole, even if he wasn’t nearly as prolific as some of his peers at the studio. With a recent string of his movies getting brand new editions on the shelves, it’s time to look at one of his best. Put your index fingers and thumbs together, it’s time to revisit the Shaw Brothers classic, Shaolin Mantis


Although this film is a regular watch in my rotation for kung fu flicks, revisiting this latest 88 Films Blu-Ray of Shaolin Mantis re-solidifies many of the opinions I carried back when I originally reviewed the film here at Blood Brothers (please see that review HERE). Shaolin Mantis is one of the most intimate and effective films he’s ever made. Sure, everyone will have their favorites, but there is a simplicity and honesty to the Shaolin Mantis that so many of his other films sacrifice for more complex plots or ensemble casts. 


Centered around the relationship between David Chiang’s Wai Fung and Cecilia Wong’s Chi-Chi, both of whom know how to play their charms up to 11 even when the characters are meant to be stubborn or annoying, its romantic plot is the heart of what makes the film work. All of the fight work, powerfully choreographed by Lau Kar Leung and Wilson Tong, feeds into the emotions of their relationship and it gives the film a uniquely interesting angle on the usual political kung fu conspiracies that fuel the actual plot. 


Once the film gets moving, the plot quietly steps to the back burner for the sake of the romantic relationship that devours the screen. While the final 45 minutes are pure kung fu classic fights and training montages (the key one where Wai Fung develops his titular ‘mantis style’) that exemplify the incredible secondary cast including Lau Kar Wing, Wilson Tong, Norman Tsui, and a small role for Lilly Li Li-Li that absolutely pops - Shaolin Mantis sticks to its guns about how the romance seeps into to the meaning of everything. It’s a choice that makes the entire film dynamic. 


This latest release of Shaolin Mantis from 88 Films is the definitive one, featuring a fantastic interview with David West about the familial strife within the film and not one, but two commentaries from HK cinema experts Frank Djeng, Mike Leeder, and Arne Venema. Although the original Dragon Dynasty disc made the cut previously for US audiences, it’s time to upgrade to this one. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

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