Sunday, February 23, 2014

HUO SHAO SHAO LIN SI (1976) - A Review
One of the DVDs we picked up in San Francisco recently was this mid-70s Hong Kong martial arts period piece, The Blazing Temple. I'd never heard of it, but it was brand new, the cover art looked promising, and it was only a couple of bucks. So why not?

I'm glad we took a chance, because this movie is a lot of fun, has plenty of action, and features high production values throughout. Both my wife and I enjoyed it very much.
The plot is fairly standard: An Evil Emperor is out to destroy the Shaolin school of martial arts, because they're the only ones who might possibly be able to oppose his evil (of course) plans. He sends a huge battalion of soldiers with cannons to destroy the Shaolin Temple and the monks who live there. The temple burns, hence the title, and most of the monks are killed. The handful who survive want to rebuild their school - but first, they'll have to get some getback on the Emperor. Their efforts are made more difficult by a traitor in their midst, but, in the end, which is wonderfully abrupt, the (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) Evil Emperor finally gets his head lopped off. END!
This was one of four films that director Joseph Kuo turned out in 1976, and it seems to possibly have a tie-in to his The 18 Bronzemen (parts one and two), since the bronze men make an appearance here too. Given the somewhat fractured nature of the subtitles, I'm still not quite sure what exactly the bronzemen are - men in gold paint? Spirits? In any case, they are one of many nice visual touches here.
Though the actual blazing temple is clearly a model - a very good model, to be sure - all the other sets, locations and effects are top-notch. Several scenes feature hundreds of costumed extras, so it looks like some money was spent on this production. The acting is generally good, there are touches of humor at times, and good use is made of a number of outdoor locations. Several shots show meditating monks in the lotus position being calmly engulfed by flames as the temple burns, an image that's clearly meant to evoke the monks who had recently emolliated themselves to protest the Vietnam war. I don't know if the filmmakers were trying to draw any parallels between recent events and their story, but whatever the meaning, the images are pretty eerie.
But, of course, the action is what movies like this are really all about, and The Blazing Temple does not skimp on that commodity. It wouldn't be accurate to say this film has non-stop action, but it is spread liberally throughout the entire story. Things start with a young woman challenging and fighting the Emperor's personal guards, and ends (SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) with the same woman suddenly reappearing and decapitating the Emperor. END!
In between, there are numerous well-staged martial arts scenes - both between individuals and with larger groups. There is kicking, there is sword fighting, there is all manner of jumping, spinning and acrobatics. There's a sword-proof vest, and a bracelet that shoots poison darts. The fight scenes are varied in style and content, and all uniformly well done. I can't imagine action fans wouldn't be pleased with this movie.
There are also some wonderfully garbled subtitles at times. After one battle, the character Fung is badly, badly beaten, obviously nearly dead. One of his comrades tells him, "Fung, cheer up." Needless to say, Fung is way past simply cheering up.

I'm not going to pretend to know how much of this story is based on any sort of historical facts, or to know a lot about the cast or crew of this film. I don't. All I do know is that I'm glad we gambled a couple of bucks on this DVD, because it turned out to be pretty great entertainment. Now I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for more films directed by Kuo, and/or featuring Ling Chia (AKA Jia Ling) or Barry Chan (AKA too many names to list here).

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