Avenging Warriors of Shaolin (aka Shaolin Rescuers) was released just before Kid with a Golden Arm, and it ranks highly among Chang Cheh's work. The entire 'real' Venoms mob (i.e. not including Wei Pai) is present and many put in creditable performances in this tale of courage and camaraderie. It took HK $1,797,578 during a 12 week run from March 1979. This film was only just outperformed by two Liu Chia Liang films released by Shaw Brothers in the same year (the superb Mad Monkey Kung Fu and the comedic Dirty Ho), but it did significantly out-gross Fist and Guts and Dragon Fist.
The three major roles in this film are handed to Kuo Chi (Philip Kwok), Sun Chien and Lo Meng, whereas Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng play supporting roles. This perhaps reflects the work off-screen given to Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng, who choreographed the film (as in Kid with the Golden Arm) along with Robert Tai. Jason Pai Piao (Dirty Tiger, Crazy Frog and Mr. Big) plays the Chinese hero, Hung Sze Kwan, taking the other major role.
Ah Chien fools about...
Fight for your food...
Ah Chien (Lo Meng) works in the thriving bean curd industry and is good friends with Ying Cha-Po (Kuo Chi) who works as a waiter in a restaurant. Both are treated poorly in their jobs and they pass the time by practising their Kung Fu on each other. This relationship covers most of the initial 40 minutes until they meet Chu Tsai (Sun Chien) by saving him during a street fight. Tsai works in the dye factory and is an expert at fighting on posts in the ground (a really versatile technique!).
However, trouble is on the horizon as the renegade priest Pai Mei (see Executioners from Shaolin and Clan of the White Lotus) is destroying various temples. This has resulted in both San Te (See 36th Chamber) and Fong Sai Yuk (see Fong Sai Yuk aka The Legend) being killed. It is probably a silly way to start the film by killing off two of the most famous characters in kung fu history! But nothing is too remarkable for Chang Cheh.
Hung Sze Kwan (Pai Piao) manages to escape and spreads word of the destruction. To this end Kau-Ching Cheung (Lu Feng) and four other warriors are sent to hunt Kwan down. The injured Kwan falls into Chien's hands and they decide to help him recover, thanks to a prescription note that he is carrying. Chien, Tsai and Cha-Po use their savings to purchase the rare medicine that is required. Kau-Ching Cheung soon discovers that Tsai is buying this medicine due to a traitorous pupil of Tsai, and the warriors close in on Hung Sze Kwan. Han Chi (Chiang Sheng) also arrives later on (under very loose pretences!) to help the good guy cause. This leads to a climactic battle in the dye factory where Ah Chien and Ying Cha-Po manage to become the heroes they always dreamed of being.
As the plot suggests, the fighting is sparse until the last 30 minutes, where the action explodes and Chang Cheh shows his ability to build a powerful story into a blazing crescendo. Before this, much of the action involves Kuo Chi showing off his acrobatics and both Kuo Chi and Lo Meng having flashbacks of their earlier training. Kuo Chi's training involved being taught to "use everything as a weapon", and we are then shown the rice bowl and chopsticks fight (now where have I seen that before?). Lo Meng's training had him using a trident spear to twist metal pipes, again a highly versatile discipline! What does stand out is that the action is considerably less gory than many other Chang Cheh flicks, with the only 'butchering' occurring when Chu Tsai and the others have to confront his fellow workers and students who betrayed him.
Once the real action begins it is five on five, with the majority of the action weapons work. General Cheung (Lu Feng) has the Kwan-do and looks very cool, he is accompanied by the high kicking Tiger boy (Tam Jun Tao), Leopard boy (Lau Shi Kwong) using a ring and a warrior with a sword and shield (Yu Tai Ping) and one with a hammer / mace (Yang Shun). The 'good guys' have a trident (Ah Chien), double hook sword and spear (Han Chi), staff (Hung Sze Kwan), and the chair (Ying Cha-Po). However, they do rotate their weapons during the action and Chu Tsai fights on his 'deadly' posts. This work is superbly choreographed and once again both Chiang Sheng and Lu Feng have some of the best moments (see Kid with a Golden Arm).
Chiang Sheng goes into orbit
Chang Cheh manages to create a wonderful balance to the work by switching between fights in a timely manner. The editing makes sure you are entranced with the fight yet also dying for the camera to return to the previous fight. This film would have been best presented on five separate televisions showing the action simultaneously!
I will not spoil the ending to this film, as it is not as predictable as many others. It is certainly a satisfying conclusion and owes a lot to Chang Cheh refusing to become over-sentimental about his characters. The only detraction for some could be the repeated use of rewind shots and obvious trampoline work by Kuo Chi. A real highlight is Chiang Sheng climbing up a 20-foot pole at breathtaking speed (right).
The injured Kwan
Tiger Boy gets moving
Chiang Sheng climbs the greasy pole
4 on 1, surely unfair?
Nice design, shame about film quality
This review is for the Venoms Mob disc (Avenging Warriors of Shaolin) and not the Ground Zero version (Shaolin Rescuers). To the credit of Venoms Mob, they do make it clear on the packaging that it is a video transfer and not a re-mastered print. The colours and definition are low and unfortunately this is another full-screen offering (see Invincible Pole Fighter). The packaging is very stylish and there is an interesting, if shallow, introduction to the Venoms. The disc also suffers from short freezes between each chapter of about one second, but this is not unbearable. Apparently this is a superior disc to Ground Zero's???
This is a really enjoyable Venoms flick, that spends an uncharacteristic amount of time developing and exploring the lead protagonists. However, for those who like their action hard and fast, the end sequence is Chang Cheh at his masterful best. It is once again a tragedy that this film is constrained to a full-screen and that no re-mastering has been attempted, both the set and the action clearly suffer. What do not suffer are the performances of the Venoms, who still come across well. Prepare to be disappointed by the disc, but not by the film.