Review: Executioners From Shaolin (1977)
starring Lo Lieh, Kuan Tai Chen, Lily Li, Yu Wong, and Gordon Liu.
Fight Choreography by Lau Kar-Leung
Directed by Lau Kar-Leung
The film begins as we center on two fighters: Shaolin Master Zhishan (played by Hoi Sang Lee, the Justice Abbot from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin ) and Pei Mei (Lo Lieh, and yes, it is the same Pei Mei Quentin Tarantino used for Kill Bill) Pei Mei has been ordered to kill all of the Shaolin, and Master Zhishan stands in his way, but not for long as Pei Mei dispatches him after Master Zhishan tries to crush Pei Mei’s testicles and get this:
Pei Mei is able to pull his testicles into his groin. I am not kidding you.
He will pull this trick over and over the entire film. You’ll hear a little popping sound to know his nuts are somewhere within his body. Now THAT is kinda F***ed up. I mean, what happens if they get stuck up there? Do his guys suction them back out with a plunger or something?
I digress. We then follow Hung Hsi Kuan (Chen) as he leads a group of shaolin fighters escaping Pei Mei’s army, when they run into fellow brothers led by Brother Tung (Liu) who, with a small group of men run a diversion so the others can escape. This is Gordon Liu’s one and only scene, and he has a great fight with the soldiers, moving fast and gracefully before he dies in a hail of arrows.
Hung Hsi Kuan, along with his brother Hsiao and the remaining men acquire red boats they use to disguise themselves as an acting troupe, and sail all over China performing while at the same time aiding any rebels they happen across. They come across one town where a kung fu perfomer, the beautiful Wan Yun-Chun (Li) and her uncle, are tired of the red boats, not realizing who is on it. She challenges Kuan to a fight, and her uncle stops it once he realizes who they are, and he and his daughter join them. Months pass and Hung Hsi Kuan and Wan Yun-Chun fall in love, and are soon married. Months later Pai Mei discovered that the Red Boats are what the rebels are using, and has his men attack them wherever they are found. Hung Hsi Kuan takes the now pregnant Yun-Chun and with his brother abandon the boat, hiding in a small village. Time passes and Yun-Chun has a child, Hung Wen-Ding. As Hung Hsi Kuan grows up, he sees his father training day after to day to finally avenge the Shaolin by killing Pai Mei…
Executioners From Shaolin is a film that spans more than a decade, which is pretty ambitious. Lo Lieh is fairly one note as Pai Mei, but his fights are great, making Pei Mei look like a formidable opponent. Gordon Liu has only one real scene, but he is fantastic in it. Hung Hsi Kuan does a great job playing a man obsessed with killing Pei Mei, even as time passes and he has a family. Lau Kar-Leung has a good cast, but not a very large budget as the camera quality and sets are not very well done, ShawScope or not. A few areas of the film actually blur up a bit.
The fights are well done but I was a bit underwhelmed. The opening fight with Gordon Liu was great, and the Pei Mei fights were fairly good, but the final fight between Pei Mei and Hung Wen-Ding was terrible. There was no flow to it, and it seemed they saw the running time of the film and were like” we gotta wrap this up quickly!” and Wen-Ding easily defeats Pei Mei, which doesn’t jive with the 80 minutes prior of seeing Pei Mei kick all kinds of ass, not to mention the fact that it isn’t Hung Hsi Kuan who defeats him.
The ending mars what is otherwise a fairly decent kung-fu film. Pei Mei is a great bad guy character, but his defeat at the hands of an immature boy just makes me feel as if I was cheated out of a better film somehow.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Some of the best stuff belonged to Gordon Liu, but the Pei fights were great. This falls short of anything better because the final fight was simply not up to par. Lau Kar-Leung has done better than this.
STUNTWORK: (7) The fight on the stairs leading to Pei Mei had many stunt men falling down them, and they made it look fairly good. They performed their duties as cannon fodder well.
STAR POWER: (8) Lo Lieh is the bigger star here, and a cameo by future star Gordon Liu and Kuan Tai Chen, veteran of many Shaw Brothers films gives the proceeding the gravitas it needs.
FINAL GRADE: (7) This film is famous for the villain Pei Mei, whom Quentin Tarantino had Gordon Liu play in Kill Bill. The film itself has its moments, which makes it worth a watch, but the final fight is too disappointing to overlook.