Invincible Shaolin is one of the first two discs to be released on to the Australian market from the remastered Shaw Brothers catalogue being lovingly restored by Celestial in Hong Kong. For those who don’t know: Shaw Brothers was a powerhouse of a studio operating in HK from the late 50’s to the early 80’s. They made hundreds of films in the kung fu and wu xia genres, and those by this director — Chang Cheh — are amongst the most revered.
This particular one is typical of Chang Cheh’s “heroic bloodshed” films, in that it follows a group of martial artists being Men and Fighting for Honour, both their own and that of their schools. As the film begins, we are introduced to several groups of Shaolin masters who are invited to a warlord’s court to teach his troops martial arts. In reality, the warlord in question is using this as a ploy to set off a feud between masters from the North and South temples, in the hope of destroying them as a threat to the Qing empire.
The bulk of the film is taken up by three interleaved training sequences, as our boys from South Shaolin improve themselves in the hope of exacting revenge upon their brothers from the North. There’s also some romantic entanglement with the local girls (surprising for Chang Cheh, actually) and our evil warlord, played as usual by Johnny Wang, plotting darkly behind the scenes. The warlord’s plot is probably the weakest part of the film, since it’s somewhat surprising to see our heroes and their masters taken in and turned against each other by devices as thin as those employed here.
The fight scenes in the film are first rate, which isn’t surprising given the calibre of the actors as martial artists. These actors are the Venoms crew, a reference to Chang Cheh’s earlier (and much celebrated) Five Deadly Venoms. There are some excellent open-handed and weapons combat scenes, and some particularly impressive acrobatics. Lots of blood everywhere, as is customary, though not so much as in some of Chang Cheh’s other work (for those after more blood, see The Heroic Ones, the other Shaw Brothers disc that’s just been released).
The DVD itself is excellent, with the same widescreen, beautifully restored prints that Celestial have been churning out in Hong Kong for the last couple of years. There’s an English dub for those who don’t like subtitles, and also the original Mandarin soundtrack, which you can watch with English subs. Some trailers for other films (The Heroic Ones, Heroes Two and Two Champions of Shaolin are included), as is a great 50-minute documentary on Shaw Brothers’ wu xia films.
A solid, impressive start to the Shaw Brothers releases in Australia, with strong performances by the Venoms crew. Worth checking out for anyone into kung-fu films.