Shaolin Rescuers was previously released domestically on DVD in a lousy transfer by Venom Mob films under the alternate title of Avenging Warriors Of Shaolin but now lives again and in much better shape than ever before thanks to the efforts of Funimation. Unlike that last release, this one is presented in remastered anamorphic widescreen and includes both its original Chinese language audio track and the optional English dub.
Directed by the late, great Chang Cheh, the film begins when a Manchu priest, Pai Mai (Wang Li), lays waste to a load of Shaolin monks living in a monastery on the top of a remote mountain. One monk, Hung Si-Kuan (Jason Pai Piao), manages to barely escape with his life and he heads to the nearest town to take refuge in the Shaolin Temple there. When he arrives, he manages to meet up with a cook named Ah Chien (Lo Mang), a waiter named Cha-Po (Kuo Chui), and a student named Chu Tsai (Sun Chien), all of whom desperately want entrance to the Shaolin Temple so that they can learn the martial arts. When they meet Hung Si-Kuan, they see him as a way to get the martial arts action they want and to show their patriotism. He's sick, however, and in dire need of medicine and making matters worse is the fact that the Manchu priest has sent some assassins into town to finish him off.
As Hung slowly recuperates, he trains the three men in all that he knows, just as the thugs who would take his life begin to close in on them. It all comes to a head when the thugs figure out where they're located and all involved prepare for the inevitable final battle.
Shaolin Rescuers is a pretty decent film but it pales when compared to the director's best output. The main problem with the film is with the pacing - it really takes its sweet time to get moving, content to spend the first half hour focusing not so much on the plot but on the wacky antics of Ah Chien and Cha-Po as they work their martial arts skills into their dull restaurant jobs to the amusement of only themselves. It's enough to make you forget that there's a neat story about an evil monk and a good Shaolin monk and all that this entails buried beneath the comedy. That's not to say that the movie isn't periodically funny - it is, though the emphasis there is on periodically - but the erratic pacing of the first half of the film makes it feel just a bit off, as far as its rhythm is concerned.
Thankfully, the cast and crew make up for this by delivering a rock solid final third in which all bets are off. A blistering, creative, and amazingly well choreographed fight brings the picture to a close by featuring not only some impressive hand to hand techniques but also some interesting and inspired weapons fighting as well. It's here that Chang Cheh's penchant for heroic bloodshed and for shooting hard and bloody fight scenes really shines and it reminds us that, despite the odd comedy, he is very much in control of this picture.
With three of The Venoms in lead roles here, the cast all do very well with the material they're dealt. Their flair for acrobatic and impressive kung-fu action is given full reign to shine in the last and final fight scene, which more than makes up for the slow first bits and erratic, uneven comedic elements. Shaolin Rescuers might not rank in the upper echelon of Chang Cheh's filmography but it's still a solid film worth seeing for fans of the genre.
Shaolin Rescuers arrives on DVD in a progressive scan anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfer. Generally this is a strong effort from Funimation. A little bit of print damage shows up here and there but otherwise the source material used for this disc has been very nicely restored. Colors are bright and bold and garish in the way that certain Hong Kong films can be (which is a good thing, mind you), this is particularly noticeable in the sets, and detail levels are generally very strong. What looks to be some mild edge enhancement pops up here and there but aliasing and compression artifacts are never a problem. There's really very little room to complain here and it's safe to say that this title has never looked better on home video.
The Mandarin language Dolby Digital Monod track on this disc is well balanced and easy to follow. The optional English subtitles, which cover the text screens and the closing sponsors that appear in the end credits, are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. The score sounds good, never overpowering the performers, while the sound effects are presented at the proper volume as well. It's not a track that will amaze you, but it definitely sounds as good as it needs to. A 5.1 track might have been fun, especially during the zany last half hour, but what's here is good. An optional English languae dub is also included.
Extras are disappointingly light, limited to a few trailers for unrelated Funimation releases and a forced promo spot for their Shaw Brothers line that plays before you can get to the main menu screen (which also offers chapter selection).
Shaolin Rescuers doesn't rank up with the best of the movies that Chang Cheh made with the Venoms, but it's an entertaining and reasonably effective slice of kung-fu comedy that works better than most would probably have expected it to. The cast are all game and do a great job with the fight scenes, while the story, if not riveting, is at least functional. Funimation's DVD is, as is the norm, light on extras but benefits from a nice transfer and decent audio. Recommended for Shaw Brothers fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.