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Shaolin Iron Fist Collection: Secret of the Shaolin Poles

Crash Cinema // Unrated // May 25, 2004
List Price: $14.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Carl Davis | posted November 9, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Crash Entertainment has certainly found their niche with DVD buyers by releasing numerous films from the golden age of Hong Kong Kung Fu. Countless films were produced during this time and in order to keep up with the demand, Crash Entertainment has resurrected their Venom Mob Films label for the release of cheaper, often more generic films that have previously been released under multiple titles. Each wave of films is being released as part of a thematic collection with special packaging to differentiate one set from another. I was fortunate enough to be able to review the Shaolin Iron Fist Collection, comprised of 4 DVDs. Let's see how Venom Mob Films does.

Shaolin Iron Fist Collection: Secret of the Shaolin Poles is hands down the best entry in the Shaolin Iron Fist Collection and is just a great movie in general. The cropped picture not withstanding, it has the best image and sound quality, as well as, the best acting, fighting and story of the whole collection. I know that there have been countless movies based on the legend of Fong Sai Yuk and the character has been played by several different actors, but after seeing Jet Li's Fong Sai Yuk films, I thought that he gave the definitive performance. I felt that he really emphasized the character's sense of playfulness and optimism, which was very different from the stoicism of Wong Fei Hong, another Chinese cultural hero whom Jet Li has also portrayed (Once Upon a Time in China Trilogy). So it was a pleasant surprise to find that Fei Ming's portrayal of Fong Sai Yuk was just as good as Li's and in some regards (Li's portrayal sometimes verged on the cartoonish) maybe even better.

The Shaolin temple has been destroyed and the Officials of the Manchu Dynasty are hunting down all the monks who have escaped in order to wipe out the Shaolin teachings for all time. Fong Sai Yuk, a young monk and master of various Shaolin fighting styles, has become a hero to people of his town. Since the destruction of the temple, he fights injustices committed by the local Government against the people. Commander Ma has been entrusted with bringing him to justice and immediately captures, tortures and kills two of Fong's closest friends. Hearing the news of his friends' murders, Fong heads to town with revenge on his mind, but encounters someone impersonating him along the way. Fang Ting has holed himself up in a local brothel, and has been pretending to be the young hero for the perks (free drinks, lots of women), but I guess no one mentioned the large bounty that Ma placed on Fong's head.

After an impressive battle, including dueling Iron Fans, the two settle their differences and decide to become friends. Commander Ma hears that the Japanese killer, Dragon Lee is in town and decides to hire him to deal with Fong Sai Yuk once and for all. Lee has a history with Fong already, as he was the man who killed his brother Tiger Lee in a duel. With a chance to gain revenge for his brother's death, Dragon accepts Ma's offer, even if he does low ball the figure a bit. For some added pizzazz, Dragon and Ma decide that they will be able to lure Fong Sai Yuk out of hiding and trick him into fighting atop the deadly Shaolin Poles, of the movie's title. It seems that Shaolin poles are about the same width and just half the height of an average telephone pole, but can also contain deadly traps. Ma makes several proclamations offering Fong amnesty if he will face his champion, Dragon Lee, atop the poles, but it looks like it will take more than that to draw out our hero.

Once Ma and Dragon make several threats towards Fong's mother and girlfriend, it's Fang Ting that steps up to defend their honor. Fang is quickly dispatched and it's up to Fong now to take on Dragon Lee, but during the fight Dragon triggers the Poles many secret traps. Beams split into two and then snap back like a bear trap, bamboo spears shoot out of nowhere to spear unwary combatants, Poles sink straight into the ground without warning. All work to Dragon Lee's advantage as Fong Sai Yuk is beaten and badly injured. If not for the quick action of the dying Fang Ting, Fong too would have perished. Instead, he is able to be whisked away to safety by the ever protective townspeople and is brought to the care of Mai Chu, a crippled beggar and master of the Shaolin Poles. Here Fong is brought back to health and trained in the ways of the Poles.

Meanwhile, Ma and his minions are torturing many of the townspeople to no avail trying to find out where Fong Sai Yuk is hiding. He finally breaks down and kidnaps Fong's Mother and Girlfriend (as he threatened to do earlier) and gives the Girlfriend to Dragon for some extra fun. Dragon once again tries to lure him out of hiding, this time by threatening to rape his Girlfriend right there on top of the Shaolin Poles. Fong appears and the rematch begins. I don't want to give too much away, but this is the best fight of the film. Both fighters are in prime form and the stunts based around the Poles traps and the way Fong counters each and every one of them are phenomenal. Needless to say, Fong Sai Yuk gets his satisfaction as Dragon lee joins his brother Tiger in the afterworld, but now he still needs to rescue Mom from the evil clutches of Commander Ma. A Hero's work is never done and this Old School Brawler ends with the jarring, but somehow timeless unexpected freeze frame.

The DVD:

Picture: The movie is presented in a Full Screen aspect ratio. I believe that this transfer comes from a Video Source, but other than some of the poorly cropped scenes, it's relatively free from scratches and debris. Although, the source material being what it is, the picture never is able to achieve the level of clarity and detail that a purely digital or even a film source can provide.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track was of the Dubbed English and wasn't too terrible. For once all the Sound levels seemed to be properly calibrated and I didn't find myself tweaking the volume constantly.

Extras: Included as Extras on this DVD are a Stills Gallery and a Fight Index where you can skip to a particular fight in the film.

Conclusion: Shaolin Iron Fist Collection: Secret of the Shaolin Poles is a great big fun flick from the glory days of Hong Kong Kung Fu Classics. I now have a new take on the Fong Sai Yuk character, and this story (also recounted in Jet Li's Legend of Fong Sai Yuk, of the fight atop elevated poles is actually true, although, I am sure that the various interpretations of this fight have been exaggerated for the sake of the films. Still, this one is easily a classic and deserves a company to go out and do a fitting restoration. While they're at it, maybe they could also clean up the film that came before this, Prodigal Boxer in which Fei Ming first portrayed the Fong Sai Yuk character? This was one of Crash's first releases and even though it's taken from the Original Film elements, it could still stand to do with a cleaned up print. I know that a cleaned up, Special Edition Prodigal Boxer Double Feature would get me to open up my wallet again. In the meantime, if you're going to drop some dough on one of these Shaolin Iron Fist Collection DVD's, than this is the one to get.

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