The Young Hero of Shaolin - You never have to look too far into the vaults of kung fu cinema before you will unearth another depiction of folk hero Fong Sai Yuk. The likes of Jet Li, Hsaio Ho and Alexander Fu Sheng have all taken their turn in modern cinema at portraying the character. The Young Hero of Shaolin (1984) was a mainland China production featuring the relative unknown Shi Bao Hua (aka Shut Bo-wa). Strangely, this disc talks of the hero Fang Hsin-Yu - but rest assured this a poor translation.
Fans will be more familiar with co-directors Ngai Hoi-fung and Yang Fan. Hoi-fung worked on a number of moderately successful independents in the seventies, including Ten Tigers of Shaolin and The Story of the Drunken Master. However, he was not credited for anything beyond The Young Hero of Shaolin and its sequel two years later. Yang Fan has continued to be active, best known for the critically acclaimed Bishonen in 1998. The Young Hero of Shaolin reached number 42 in the HK box offce in 1984 with HK $4.5m during its two week run. By contrast, Shaolin Temple 2 (the worst in the series) secured HK $22m.
As you can expect from a Fong Sai-yuk vehicle, this depicts the loveable Shaolin rogue as a youthful troublemaker. The film takes us on a journey from childhood prankster into adulthood as he enters the 36 Chambers of Shaolin and emerges to face his childhood nemesis.
The Chinese mainland whilst relatively insignificant in terms of film production, had certainly earned its stripes with Jet Li's Shaolin Temple series. This film also contains plenty of Wu Shu, both action and exhibition form, but it lacks the incisiveness or sheer majesty of the Shaolin Temple productions. The actors / fighters show a certain level of inexperience in the fighting arena, but clearly they are all bona fide Wu Shu artists which explains the dominance of exhibitions throughout the film.
The lead Shi Bao Hua is a credible performer, both energetic and compelling, however, neither he nor the support cast manage to elevate this movie beyond average. The monks seem to follow a formula established in the seminal 36th Chamber of Shaolin six years earlier, and few will really care who wins the fight at the end. There is little to emotionally engage or involve the viewer on Fong Sai-yuk's journey. The production is at times impressive, but this can only take the film so far.
The frame is pseudo widescreen 2.20:1 (non-anamorphic) which has not been remastered. As can be expected it is far from ideal with faded colours and a lack of clarity. The audio is 2.0 stereo, but to Soulblade's credit it has included both the original dub and Cantonese with subtitles. The extras are an acceptable package and certainly win the otherwise disappointing disc a few plus points. There are trailers, a stills gallery, English credit sequence and a Shaolin workout demo, plus plenty of Soulblade trailers.
The highest praise I can confer on this The Young Hero of Shaolin would be acceptable. The disc has some ok features but it I would have been happy to swap all of these for a remastered audio and print. The world of kung fu cinema is marginally better off for this entry, but overall it lacks the finesse or charisma to secure mainstream popularity.