Disciples of Shaolin is frequently cited as a high point in Shaw Brothers-produced Kung-Fu cinema. The film, directed by genre master Chang Cheh, stars Alexander Fu Sheng as Kuan Fung Yi, a young textile worker whose ascension in the social order in his local town teaches him an important lesson about social status and the hollowness of material wealth. Story-wise, it’s a little bit different than most of its kind. There are no temples per se, no roving bandits — just the cruelty of capitalistic competition, the laborers trapped in the middle and, in this case, the martial arts they use to rid themselves of oppressors.
Fu Sheng is the highlight here, delivering a charming performance that includes a lot of humor. He’s pretty great. Unfortunately, the actor died young. Thankfully, he left behind this and several other iconic roles that have stood the test of time.
Although the film offers great fights and a cool story, this isn’t where I would start with classic Shaw Brothers Kung-Fu. It is, however, a good follow-up to Chang Cheh’s Five Deadly Venoms or Crippled Avengers.
88 Films’ new release of Disciples of Shaolin is a gorgeous package. It features a booklet of essays about the film and its place in the genre, a large double-sided poster and two great audio commentary tracks. The film itself boasts a new HD remaster. It isn’t quite as gorgeous as 88’s The Chinese Boxer release earlier this year, but it’s still an impressive-looking release.