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Young Hero of Shaolin
The film begins with Fong Sai Yuk (Shut Bo Wa) as a newborn. His martial artist mother is challenged by a hard faced master who claims he and his student are superior. After making quick work of the man, he whimpers away claiming that he'll return one day to get revenge on her offspring. So, seeing that day could come, Fong Sai Yuk's mother trains her son as best she can and soaks him in mineral baths daily so he will have a resilient body. Eventually the mischievous youngster needs stricter training so he is sent to the Shaolin Temple where he undergoes a harsher regimen. The budding martial master shows he is very adept not only in body (learning the two-finger punch) but also in soul by giving away his meager food ration to a starving old man and his granddaughter. When Fong Sai Yuk completes his training, he is told to travel to Canton and prove himself in a martial arts competition. There, he finds the revenge driven martial master and his matured student are the overseers of the competition, taking on all who will participate and playing dirty in the process.
Now, why this film should be good is that it features the two of greatest phrases in the pantheon of kung fu films- "Go to Shaolin and train" and "Prove yourself in a martial arts competition." Unfortunately it sours all of these prospects by being pretty dull in all departments, especially the story and the fighting. This mainland film has many real martial artist monks, but the staging of the choreography is often very sloppy and uninteresting. It is pretty telling that in the final fight there are too long cuts to the audience watching the fight instead of the fight itself. Also, there is an extremely intricate sequence involving Fong Sai Yuk's final test, having to break the formation of fifty or so choreographed fighters, but it is long and confusing to see the purpose of their elaborate fight formation or how he actually succeeds.
Actor/martial artist Shut Bo Wa definitely shows he is more of a martial artist than an actor. In trying to make Fong Sai Yuk lighthearted, he smiles a lot. But, he has a really dorky grin, and his Fong Sai Yuk comes across more like a bratty boob than a good natured fighter. It is impossible for me to measure his performance without thinking of Jet Li's (in 1993's Fong Sai Yuk). For Li, the more jovial Fong Sai Yuk was a great contrast to his very fatherly and level headed Wong Fei Hung portrayal. Shut Bo Wa may be a good martial artist, but that doesn't mean you are going to be a charismatic martial cinema star, something that Li, in his prime, was very good at.
The DVD: Crash
Picture: Full-Screen. Bad tape transfer, worn out, washed out, strictly poor vhs, middle of the road bootleg looking quality. Its soft. Its grainy. The colors are dull. The contrast is poor. And, its a shame that this is still constantly the case with kung fu films getting DVD transfers.
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English dub. Well, they didn't get great thespians to do this dub, that's for sure. If the image of Fong Sai Yuk wasn't goofy enough, the voice actor dubbing him adds quite a bit more goofiness.
Extras: Chapter and "Jump to Fights" Scene Selections
Conclusion: Even if the far superior Fong Sai Yuk with Jet Li or Prodigal Boxer (1973) with Meng Fei didn't exist, this would be a pale kung fu movie. Still, I'd give it a passing grade for kung fu aficionados if the transfer were decent, but Celestial and the like have raised my expectations for how good the genre can look. Skip it unless you are a die hard fan looking for a light, no expectations purchase, and want to add to your collections of Fong Sai Yuk films.