Turn Back The Clock
Shaolin vs. Wu Tang
Distributed by Video Asia
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Remember the days of your youth, when martial arts movies were played every Saturday afternoon on Channel 5 and you tried your very best to imitate all of the new moves you learned each week? I'm a huge fan of the old martial arts films and often search high and low for the films I watched with my brother on Saturdays as a kid. Ah, the wounds we would inflict on each other struggling to get the choreography right, not to mention the mess we would have to clean up before my parents got home. In my search for the martial arts films of my youth, I came across the Shaolin Vs. collection from Video Asia featuring one of the most talked about films of all time Shaolin vs. Wu Tang.
Hitting the theaters in 1981, Shaolin vs. Wu Tang, also known as Shaolin and Wu Tang or Shao Lin yu Wu Dang, the movie centers on the rivalry between the two schools of martial arts and the ways in which the unscrupulous sought to use that rivalry to bring about both schools end. Adam Cheng is Chao Fong-Wu, the top student of a Wu Tang Master whose 8-Divine Sword technique is unparalleled. Gordon Liu is Hung Yung-Kit, the top student of a Shaolin monk and Chin Kang Fist style disciple. Despite the rivalry of their two schools, the two harbor a secret friendship and a very tight bond. Unfortunately, a Qing Prince (Lung Wei Wang, aka: Johnny Wang), having seen the two practice against each other, has decided that he must learn their styles. He first approaches Hung Yung-Kit's teacher, but his request falls on deaf ears. Desperate, he decides to listen to his aide and trick the Wu-Tang Master into teaching him the 8-Divine Sword. The plan backfires and the master forces Chao Fong-Wu to kill him by falling atop his sword. Blamed for the murder of his master, Chao Fong-Wu finds himself imprisoned with several mad women. The Qing prince promises to let him go if he will only reveal to him the secrets of the 8-Divine Sword technique.
Meanwhile, Yen Lan (Ida Chan), Hung Yung-Kit's sister, has witnessed the whole thing and reports everything to her brother. She is in love with the Wu Tang student and wants to help him escape. Hung Yung-Kit devises a plan in which he disguises himself as a prison guard and teaches his arts to one of the more lucid of the mad women. Together, the mad woman (Chen Li), Yen Lan and Hung Yung-Kit rescue Chao Fong-Wu, only to be tracked down by the Qing Prince's army. It is then that the mad woman reveals her deception. The mad woman is actually the sister of the Qing Prince. Having learned both styles of martial arts, her deception is complete and she can now return to her brother and teach him what he is so desperate to learn. Chao Fung-Wu barely escapes slaughter at the hand of the Prince's henchmen thanks to the sacrifice of Yen Lan, who prevents him from being shot by archers, taking the arrows herself. It is at this moment that a group of Wu Tang monks enter the area and, discovering Chao Fung-Wu and believing him to have killed his master, take him away to be punished by the Masters of their clan. Hung Yung-Kit comes upon the scene only to find the Wu Tang Masters on the run, leaving his dead sister behind. Believing that she was killed by the WucTang clan, Hung Yung-Kit vows his revenge, joining the Shoalin monks in an effort to hone his skills and make good on his vow.
What follows are classic training scenes in which the Wu Tang and Shoalin disciples undergo strenuous labors to perfect their skills. I call these scenes classic, because I don't know one martial arts movie in which the hero of the film doesn't go through scenes of arduous training. From the old karate flicks to Rocky to Kung Fu Panda, these scenes are used to show just how much these heroes are willing to put themselves through to become the best. I always enjoy these scenes.
Once the training is done, the two are sent to the Qing Prince to compete against one another and show him which of the two schools is the best. At first, the two friends refuse to fight, but their two schools and the Prince are adamant that the fight must take place. After a while, however, it becomes apparent that the Qing Prince really wants to see the members of each school destroy the other. Hung Yung-Kit and Chao Fung-Wu devise a plan to prevent that from happening and expose the Qing Prince for the evil man he is.
I've been a huge fan of Gordon Liu ever since I watched Executioners from Shaolin. He has starred in more martial arts movies than he probably cares to remember and always comes out looking good. In his role as Hung Yung-Kit, he is a humble man, an unlikely hero who is content to sit in the background while his friend receives all of the glory. Adam Cheng is enjoyable as Chao Fong-Wu, a boastful student who learns humility and strength of character. Chen Li and Ida Chan are as beautiful as they are dangerous in a fight. Johnny Wang is perfect as the evil Qing Prince. You know immediately upon seeing him that this is the foil of the film.
The action scenes, though fewer than most films of this caliber, are really top notch and full of excitement. My favorite fight scene is the one in which the Qing Prince's army has come across the newly freed Chao Fung-Wu. You witness some of the best fight choreography in this scene and the most action with the four "heroic" characters taking on an army of archers and swordsman.
Shaolin vs. Wu Tang is a classic martial arts film in every sense of the word. You have two rival schools of martial arts, a humble hero and a more extroverted one, a couple of very beautiful women who are more than pretty faces and an evil Prince. The Prince's intentions are quickly made clear and the plot moves very fast. So fast, in fact, that you hardly have time to wonder why it is so important to the man that these two schools of martial arts be destroyed. There is no clear reason except that it would supposedly cause the ruin of the Prince's dynasty if the two were to unite. There are the intense training scenes and of course, the huge final battle in which two styles combine. And of course, there are the weird and often funny translations of the film. The version of the film that Video Asia has released contains an English dub accompanied by subtitles that have a completely different translation typed out - makes for some funny moments in the film's dialogue. Every single ingredient for a classic martial arts film is there. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film again and I can't imagine any classic martial arts film aficionado who wouldn't want to have Shaolin vs. Wu Tang in their collection.