|All images courtesy Celestial Pictures.|
|Lau Kar Wing|
|left to right: Leung Kar Yan and Johnny Wang Lung Wei|
|top, left to right: Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun|
below, left to right: Bruce Tong Yim Chaan,
Tino Wong Chueng and Gordon Liu Chia Hui
Eventually, Gang and Han complete their training, but on the way back to see Tian, they get word four Shaolin students have been recently captured by the Manchus, prompting them to go into rescue mode. For an instant, it looks like their new abilities put them on equal footing with Kang and Pi, but they fall short of that. Gang and Han are killed, but the pupils manage to escape the Manchus' grasp and tell Tian about the bad turn of events.
|left to right: Simon Yuen Sui Tien and Feng Yi|
|top, left to right: Irene Chan Yi Ling and Yuen Man Tzu|
bottom, left to right: Kong Do and Funk Hak On
Despite having young ladies in his yang gang scenario, Cheh directs SMA assuredly, with as much attention given to the pensive moments as are the boisterous ones. The photography by Miyaki Yukio (Kung Mu To) helps to set the proper atmosphere, particularly with a good usage of darkness in well composed low-lit scenes. Kwok Ting Hung's editing is adroit, enhancing the grace, beauty and intensity Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gaii bring to the choreography of the training sequences and the fights. (Only the climatic battle ends with a whimper, but that's more of another script problem.)
The cast handles their parts capably. Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan Chun make a great team, both at (or near) their physical peaks, and while Chun gets his fair share of acting opportunities (and is very good), Sheng carries the picture with his winning personality and an underplayed performance, even during his comedic scenes with the winsome Yuen Man Tzu. Irene Chan Yi Ling (forever "Princess" in Cheh's Young People) shows impressive range in what time she gets to be seen as Tian's daughter (and Rong's girlfriend). Lo Dik, Feng Yi, Chiang Nan and Simon Yuen Sui Tien are great as the Shaolin sifus, with Tien a true scene stealer as the obstinate Liang, who gives Yao no mercy. Supporting player Bruce Tong Yim Chaan gets a rare weighty role as the Shaolin student fated to die at the hands of Pi; why this above average actor and fighter didn't get a chance at stardom is mystifying. As already noted, Kong Do (Ping) and Fung Hak On (Lian) are given skimpy roles, but they give enough of a spark to them they don't come across as cardboard cutouts. As always, other familiar Shaw faces are present throughout, including the likes of Tino Wong Chueng, Dang Tak Chueng, Chan Dik Hak, Li Chen Piao, Lo Wai and Lam Fai Wong.
|left to right: ? and Leung Kar Yan|
Brother Fang cuts to the chase: "A special dose of Shaolin, featuring the ascending Fu Sheng and early looks at Gordon Liu, "Beardy" and Lang Lung Wei. Recommended!"
Keeping it trivial....
Brother Fang, Shaolin Temple.