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Secret Of The Shaolin Poles
cast: Mang Fei, Yasuaki Kurata, Lau Kar-wing, and Doris Lung

director: Ulysses Au Yang-chun

95 minutes (15) 1977
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Prism Leisure 55th Chamber DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
No, this isn't the heart-warming story of a bunch of Polish monks in 15th century China. It's actually another in the seemingly endless line of traditional martial arts films in the typical vein of the Shaw brothers' Hong Kong epics.

The basic plot here is, as usual, one of revenge. To avenge the unjust death of his friends - along with the kidnapping of his mother and girlfriend - Fong Sai-yuk (Mang Fei) encounters oppression and assassins, and finally engages in a duel atop booby-trapped Shaolin poles against a merciless Japanese boxer (Yasuaki Kurata). And that's about it, really. The rest simply follows the usual line of fight, training sequence, another fight, more training, and big fight at the finale.

The fight scenes are expertly choreographed, but suffer by comparison to the exquisite balletic violence as seen in films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. Punches are fast and effortless, but clearly make no contact; kicks and jumps are reasonably athletic, but the movements are lacking in the ethereal dance-like quality modern viewers have grown used to seeing by way of Ang Lee and Yimou Zhang. There are however some wildly entertaining scenes featuring the use of a fan as a deadly weapon, a few interesting training sequences, and I'm sure the aforementioned Ang Lee must have at some point watched the scene involving the eponymous Shaolin poles. To be honest, old school fight flicks like this one have a lot to compete with in the modern genre; they are probably best enjoyed as pieces of action cinema history, their flaws embraced and allowed for in what were obviously low budget productions.

It's difficult to assess the acting in this film as the dubbing is so bad, and the transfer on the DVD certainly left a lot to be desired. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had here if you're in a particularly forgiving mood. After all, without the pioneering influence of films like Secret Of The Shaolin Poles (aka: Prodigal Boxer 2), the sublime House Of Flying Daggers might not even have existed.

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