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Shaolin Mantis

88 Films // Unrated // March 13, 2022
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted March 21, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Directed by Lau Kar Leung, the man who brought you The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, 1978's Shaolin Mantis doesn't get off to the fastest start you've ever seen. In fact, by martial arts movie standards it could be considered fairly slow as its focus isn't on fight scenes (though there are a few) but on story development. It builds to a very satisfying conclusion, however, and proves to be a pretty interesting movie.

The plot of this period film concerns Wei Fung (David Chiang), a student who is hired by the Emperor to make nice with the Tien Clan and to prove that they're working hand in hand with the Ming loyalists in hopes of taking down the Ching Dynasty. Wei's under quite a bit of pressure to make sure he gets everything right for the Emperor, because the lives of his family members hang in the balance. Being a scholarly type, he figures the best way to get inside the Tien Clan is to work that angle and so he pawns himself off as a tutor and winds up working with Chi-Chi (Huang Hsin-Hsiu), the granddaughter of the senior Tien (Lau Kar Wing), patriarch of the clan.

Things are going okay until Tien figures out who Wei Fung really is and tries to kill him. Chi-chi, in love with her tutor, saves his life by convincing him to marry her and convincing her grandfather that they'll leave never leave the village, thus ensuring their loyalty. The catch here is that Wei Fung knows he has to get his findings back to the Emperor or his family will be killed, a dire situation that forces both Wei Fun and Chi-chi to have to choose between one another and their respective families.

Rather than write a story around a bunch of martial arts set pieces, here we have a film in which the martial arts set pieces are centered around the story. This isn't an hour and a half of wall to wall fights as some might want, though it has plenty of expertly choreographed combat scenes, but rather a fairly intelligent reminiscence on loyalty, a popular theme not just in the Shaw Brothers' stable but in both martial arts and Hong Kong action films in general. Lau Kar Leung's direction is controlled and calculated, keeping us interested in the story and the characters through some interesting developments and a few clever plot twists while throwing in just enough kung fu to entrench the film in action movie territory.

David Chiang does a fine job of carrying the film here, and the vast majority of its success rests, if not on Lau Kar Leung's shoulders than on his, and he uses his noble screen presence well in this picture. The inevitable scene in which his character perfects his new style which he hopes to use to overcome his adversaries may be a bit of a cliché in films like this but here it's at least a little more interesting in how it plays out and it ties into the title nicely. It's also really well-shot, incorporating the bits where Wei Fung observes the praying mantis he takes his inspiration from with the requisite shots of him perfecting his style very effectively.

A nice mix of weapons fighting and more traditional hand to hand styles are employed throughout the film and while its emphasis is on story, the film isn't necessarily short on action - it's just that the action happens in context. Nicely shot, well-acted, very well-choreographed and interesting enough to hold your attention, Shaolin Mantis is a rock solid kung-fu film from start to finish and one well worth seeking out.

The Video:

88 Films brings Shaolin Mantis to Blu-ray framed in 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taking up 32GBs of space on a 50GB disc. Colors look quite good here and black levels are fine but some digital noise reduction appears to have been applied, some detail is on the soft side and the image is seemingly free or natural looking grain. There's virtually no print damage, however, and the transfer is free of obvious compression artifacts and edge enhancement.

The Audio:

24-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono options are provided in both a Chinese language option with English Subtitles and in an English dubbed track with English SDH subtitles. The Chinese track plays best, it suits the film more and it sounds quite clean with no audible issues. The English track is fun in the goofy sort of way that dubbed tracks tend to be for older Shaw Brothers movies.

The Extras:

Extra features begin with another audio commentary by ‘Asian cinema experts' Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. They start off covering the different names that the movie is known for before then dissecting the opening credits, going over David Chiang's career, going into detail on pretty much every cast members that shows up here (keep your eyes out for Gordon Liu's cameo!), Cecilia Wong's importance to the film, the film's distribution and how at times some of these movies were quite hard to come across, the simplicity of some of the characters and the goofiness of the romance in the storyline, the Venoms and their films, some of the more ludicrous plot points in the movie, people who keep praying mantis' as pets and the film's fight set pieces, particularly the finale which makes up for the dialogue and character driven aspects of the movie that set everything up.

A second audio commentary with Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng, who used to run Tai Seng Entertainment is also included. He goes into a lot of detail about the different cast and crew members involved in the production, the different fighting styles on display in the movie, the film's production history and its place in Shaw Brothers history, the use of calligraphy in the movie, the way that the female characters are depicted in the movie, some of the themes that the movie explores and plenty more.

Complicated Families: David West On Shaolin Mantis is a fourteen minute piece where West breaks down the film, going over its title, the film's credits, the script and what sets it apart from a lot of other Shaw kung-fu movies, some of the themes that the film explores, background info on the different actors in the picture and more.

The disc also contains an interview with actor John Cheung titled Uncle Tien Chung that lasts for twenty-one minutes and discusses how the Shaw Brothers tried to get home on a contract, his early work with Jackie Chan and what he was like to work with, his work as a fight and action choreographer, his work on Cleopatra Jones And The Casino Of Gold, the different Shaw classics he was involved with, some of the different actors that he worked with over the years, getting injured on set, some of the directors that he has collaborated with over the years, how advancements in technology have made making martial arts set pieces much safer and easier than they used to be and what makes a good action film.

Rounding out the extras on the disc are a US trailer and an original Hong Kong trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options.

This release also comes packaged with a slipcover, some reversible cover sleeve art (featuring newly created art by "Kung-Fu Bob" O'Brien on one side and the original one-sheet art on the reverse) and, folded up inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase, a nice double-sided replica of the film's poster art on one side and the newly created art on the reverse. Also included in the case is really cool set of four postcard-sized lobby card reproductions.


Shaolin Mantis is a really vintage martial arts film. It's a bit different from a lot of Shaw Brothers kung-fu movies in terms of its structure and its pacing but this sets it apart and helps it stand out. It's tense, exciting, as violent as it needs to be and overall just really well made. 88 Films has finally done right by the film and given it a proper special edition Blu-ray release that comes highly recommended.

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.

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Highly Recommended

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