Sunday, September 28, 2014

Movie Review: Shaolin Wooden Men

Shaolin Wooden Men (Shao Lin mu ren xiang)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Miu Tak San, Cheung Bing Yuk, Chiang Kam, Hwang Jang Lee, Kam Kong, Yuen Biao
Director: Chen Chi-Hwa 
Lo Wei Motion Pictures, Hong Kong, 1976.
This is an early Jackie Chan movie, the review is based on English dubbed version from Jackie Chan Early Collection 6-movie box set published by Pan Vision Finland. (The films are of VHS quality, but it is not easy get better versions with original Cantonese soundtracks). 

The movie starts with Dummy (Jackie Chan) dreaming of challenging a bunch of Shaolin masters. After the tests he is however beaten by wooden robots. Dummy is a young and mute student of Shaolin kung fu. When he was a child his father Su Ling was killed by a fighter with a sack on his head. Hard training day starts with wearing lead shoes to strengthen feet muscles and carrying water buckets. A Buddhist nun (Cheung Bing Yuk) encourages Dummy to practice. Gradually he gets stronger and manages to carry water without spilling. Next he must chop wood. He gets advice from a drunken monk (Miu Tak San) who shows some Drunken style kung fu moves. 
jackie chan
Dummy (Jackie Chan)
Carrying water buckets is a heavy job
Drunken monk is skilled but has some difficulties to stay on his feet
Next he sees some monks bringing food to an angry man (Kam Kong) chained in a cave. Jackie gives him a fallen bread. Next the students witness a student fighting the wooden men. The student loses and is scolded. Secretly Dummy takes food and wine to the man in the cave. The man in the cave knows Lion's Roar technique that can be used against the wooden men. The man teaches Dummy the vicious moves that aim to cripple and maim the opponent. The nun gets worried and teaches Dummy that kung fu is meant to maintain health and strengthen the body. She shows the Gliding Snake technique. It isn't easy so that means more practice for Dummy. 
Dummy feeding the chained man
The nun and her Gliding Snake technique
Shaolin monks
Having learned the skills Dummy goes to fight the funny looking wooden men. He figures out the limitations of the chain controlled robots and uses his skills to defeat them. He gets a permission to start the final test in the city. He helps a girl Mei Mei (Chung-Erh Lung) who is being harassed by ruffians. 
Epic waterfall training scene
shaolin wooden men
Maybe Chopping Wood technique is the best approach
wooden men
Ancient Chinese robot technology
However the chained man is Fat Lu, the leader of the Green Dragon Gang and he uses Dummy to escape. Dummy notices his mistake and also meets a man whom he suspects of killing his father. He seeks the help of blind monk Lin Kun (Hoh Gong) who with the abbot Fa Tsu (Chang I-Fei) teaches Dummy the best skills. So it's still more training before the final fight. Jackie shows the flexibility of his shoulder blades. 
Shaolin style push-ups
jackie chan
Jackie gets angry
Also some swordsmen try to attack Dummy
The movie is a good old school kung fu training story. Masters of different styles show Dummy their techniques. There is also some humour in the first part of the movie with the scenes of Jackie and the drunken monk. Fight scenes are well choreographed and Jackie shows his acrobatic skills. The movie is one that has inspired the Kill Bill movies. This is shown with Jackie carrying water buckets up the stairs and the main villain also tries to use the five point finger exploding hand technique. Fun fact: after this movie Jackie went to a cosmetic surgery to shape his eye-lids for a more Western look. 

Rating: Good

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