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  • Slaphammer119 January 2002
    Back in the mid-1980s, when was around 10-14 years old, there was a show on one of the basic cable channels called either Black Belt Theatre or Kung Fu Theatre...I can't remember which (whenever they came back from commercial, they would quote from Confucious before resuming the film). They played lots and lots of Shaw Brothers films from the 1970s, among other martial arts films. I remember trying to tune in every Sunday afternoon to get my fix of kung fu action.

    Anyway, these days I barely remember anything about the movies I saw in those days...I remember a scene here and there, but nothing major. One movie, though, burned itself into my brain and I've never been able to forget it -- that film was Five Masters of Death (aka Five Shaolin Masters). About six months ago, after not having seen this movie for well over a decade, I decided to see if it was still as great as I remembered so I hopped on the internet and found a place where I could buy it on VHS.

    This movie is still excellent. My VHS copy is of understandably poor quality, but the film is still a joy to watch. Each of the five protagonists specializes in a different style of fighting, as do the opposing five antagonists, so the film is chock full of great kung fu. I also find the story to be more engaging and epic in feel than most martial arts movies I've seen (however, I am far from being an authority on the genre). The theme music which plays repeatedly throughout is helps give the film its epic feel and is very catchy--I find myself singing it in my head for days after watching this movie.

    At any rate, I love this movie. I wish there was still something like Black Belt Theatre (or Kung Fu Theatre) on cable so I could catch some more of the Shaw Brothers era of kung fu film. Martial arts films of today use undercranking and especially wirework far too much--I find myself more impressed by films like Five Masters of Death which rely on "natural" skills.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Chang Cheh's FIVE MASTERS OF DEATH (aka, FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS, 1974) is an all-star kung fu film with five stars playing survivors of the burning of Shaolin Temple and five others as the villains who pursue them and track them down. The heroes split up and travel the Chinese countryside rallying the people to support the faction opposing the Manchus and then reunite about an hour into the film to re-train at the burned-out temple. Then the five villains, joined by three henchmen, arrive for the sprawling final brawl, all staged on a series of Taiwanese locations.

    Unlike the same director's SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS (1974, listed on IMDb as SHAO LIN MARTIAL ARTS) and SHAOLIN TEMPLE (aka DEATH CHAMBER, 1976), this is a fairly low-budget production and offers no shots of Shaolin or the burning of the temple. At one point, the heroes return to the charred 'temple,' which looks more like a burned-out storefront. This film forms a trilogy of sorts with SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS and SHAOLIN TEMPLE, although it takes place immediately following the events depicted in SHAOLIN TEMPLE.

    The five heroes are played by Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Ti Lung, and newcomer Meng Fei. Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan-Chun starred in SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS. All but Meng Fei returned for SHAOLIN TEMPLE. The five villains are played by Liang Chia Jen (aka Leung Kar Yan), Wang Lung Wei, Feng Ko-An (aka Fung Hak On), Chiang Tao and Tsai Hung. The first four were also the villains in SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS, although only Wang Lung Wei returned for SHAOLIN TEMPLE (where he played the same character, Ma Fu Yi). Not yet directing films himself, Liu Chia Liang (aka Lau Kar Leung) was co-fight choreographer on this one with his brother, Liu Chia Yung (Lau Kar Wing).

    Clocking in at 109 minutes, FIVE MASTERS is not quite as elaborate or full of spectacle as the other two films in Chang Cheh's Shaolin trilogy, but it's got a great cast of fighting stars and nonstop kung fu action and is a cut above the same director's other, lower-budgeted Shaolin films from 1973-76: HEROES TWO, MEN FROM THE MONASTERY, DISCIPLES OF SHAOLIN, and SHAOLIN AVENGERS.

    ADDENDUM (6/24/12): I finally watched the R3 DVD edition of this film from Celestial Pictures, which is in Mandarin with English subtitles. It clocks in at 105 minutes. I don't know if that's because four minutes were cut or because it was slightly sped up because of the transfer from the PAL encoding system. The latter's more likely. I was pretty amazed at the sheer number of fight scenes in this. It probably has more fight scenes spread out through it than any other Shaw Bros. kung fu movie I can think of.

    Also, I made a few corrections in my earlier review. I still don't understand why a "spoiler" warning was posted on it.
  • In 1974, Chang Cheh was roughly halfway through a career that already included such milestones as "The One-Armed Swordsman", "The Heroic Ones" and "Blood Brothers". While it can be argued that all martial arts movies are fantasies, Chang's films ("Blood Brothers", especially) were peopled by vividly wrought, three-dimensional characters that the viewer cared about. But, despite assembling a stellar cast for "Five Shaolin Masters", it is here that the veteran director begins to eschew character development. Of the titular masters, only Fu Sheng has any humanity; the remaining heroes (David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chi Kuan-chun, Meng Fei) and all of the villains (Wang Lung-wei, Chiang Tao, Fung Hark-on, Tsai Hung, Liang Chia-jen) are emotionless comic book figures, boldly but crudely drawn. From this point forward, Chang's characters and plots would become increasingly stylized until he was directing what were essentially live-action cartoons, like "Five Element Ninja". The films were still entertaining, but with rare exceptions (such as "The Chinatown Kid") were no longer engrossing. But hey, I won't get too stuffy in my analysis of what is undeniably an entertaining movie. There are lots of fights, both empty-handed and with weapons, and they're beautifully choreographed by Liu Chia-liang--soon to become a director in his own right--and Liu Chia-yung. (Look for brief cameos by the latter and by the Lius' adopted brother, "Master Killer" Gordon Liu.) Judged strictly on action, "Five Shaolin Masters" is a winner, and fans of the genre will want to see it more than once.
  • Cheh Chang directed this martial arts masterpiece (well, I thought it was when I was a kid) in 1975, and kids like me knew it by the title "5 Masters Of Death". I loved this film. I saw it on TV when I was in about 2nd or 3rd grade, and it changed my youth! Because it was after this film that I was being dragged into the Princible's office for trying to flex my Karate skills in the play yard! Of course I was one of those kids who made my own num-chucks, and bonked kids heads with them, until my parents made me dismantle my weapons of destruction. But until then, I thought my hands were illegal weapons. I can still recall the day my Mom picked me up from the school and took me to get a milk shake, while she proceeded to tell me "no more Karate! I'm throwing away your weapons!" and that milkshake went down my throat like a brick, as the tears swelled in my eyes. I know this isn't much of a review, but I want to convey the power this film had on my youth. I wanted to be a killing machine (but one of the good guys as well!), because this film burnt a hole in my young psyche. Like a lot of things, I did abandon my desire to learn Karate. But the film still nestles in a place of my youth, and I did finally locate a copy on video. Unfortunately my memory served up a far nicer looking print. The quality looked horrible! But the film was fun to watch again, and I might still learn Karate yet. I give it a 10, because it's fun!
  • poe4264 October 2011
    Warning: Spoilers
    As per prevailing wisdom, when it comes to movies, action IS character- and there's a lot of BOTH in FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS. (Chang Cheh's movies, more than most, are excellent examples of action-as-character.) We see the blazing Shaolin Temple and the subsequent flight(s) therefrom as our five heroes are introduced. They meet in short order and make plans for revenge. Here, Alexander Fu Sheng is clearly suggested to be possibly the weakest link: he can't remember the secret hand signal(s) or the numerical codes the others use. Hand-to-hand battles between the five masters and the kung fu experts sent to kill them are outstanding throughout. When Ma (Fu Sheng) is captured by Ma Fu Yi (Wang Lung), he realizes that Ma Fu Yi is the traitor- but will the assault on the prison to free him come in time to warn the others...? FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS is an amazing achievement, from the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, which are beautifully shot on scenic locations, to the performances and the direction. This one is, indeed, a kung fu classic.
  • I was influenced by this movie to start training Martial Arts, first Kung fu, then Tae Kwon Do. It gave me some motivation when I lost almost all my friends because I was the kind of kid always searching for adventures and physical activities and they just disappeared from the scene because of the Atari's video games.

    I loved the values of this 5 masters of the Shao Lin temple by honoring their ancestors, masters and school-temple and giving some pay back to the bad guys who betrayed and killed their people.

    The stunts are great athletes and for sure great martial artists as well, but above all real combat experts instead of flying wired clowns.

    The music is good, but I don't like the sound that all movie makers add to punches and kicks almost as fake as those "Pow" from Batman but I guess that is or was a standard in the industry so that is not their fault (producers and/or director of this movie).

    Considering the context and the year when it was made, this movie deserves respect because it's original and it inspired so many kids when we start enjoying the benefits of VCR's (Beta format) back in early to middle 80's. Plus it teaches to kids that if you want to win, you need to pay the price and you need to go through training and discipline.
  • Chang Cheh´s Five Shoalin Masters is perhaps the Best Kung Fu Movie ever, besides the Bruce Lee Masterpieces. Ti Lung, David Chiang, Chi Kuan Chun and of Course Alexander Fu Sheng are just great in this Movie I hope this One (and the other great Shaw Brothers Movies) comes on Dvd sometime !!!
  • gavin69425 December 2016
    Five students escape from the destruction of their beloved Shaolin each must take revenge and train in their own separate fighting styles...they will become The Five Shaolin Masters!! The film focuses on Shaolin's historic rivalries with the Qing Dynasty, and in fact this is made clear in the prequel, "Shaolin Temple" (1976). Trying to keep the films straight is a challenge in itself, especially considering how many name changes tend to happen.

    Among the Cheh Chang films, this may have the most epic battles. I love the gimmicks of other films (such as the different "venom" styles), but here we have a great one-on-one fight that rivals anything you would see from Bruce Lee.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Another epic-looking kung fu flick from the Shaw Brothers empire. This one is familiar to many others in that it pits five good warriors against five evil warriors. That's the plot. The first hour and twenty minutes of the film consists of lots (and boy, do I mean lots!) of action and minor bouts, characters dying tragically, the bad guys doing evil things, and training in preparation for the event. While the final twenty minutes offers up some top-notch martial arts fight sequences in a variety of scenic settings (a wood, a river, a field, a mountain), the truth is that at an hour and three-quarters, FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS outstays its welcome, and it is the prolonged running time that stops this from being a classic of the genre.

    Typically I prefer my action film to be short and snappy, and with an emphasis on the action itself. Whilst FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS achieves the latter, there are simply too many extraneous characters in the plot who keep dying and killing each other a lot, so much so that its hard to keep track of - let alone care - about what's going on. The only reason I mention this is because it is the film's sole flaw. Otherwise, it's well-filmed stuff with some of the genre's top martial artists (Gordon Liu, Ti Lung, David Chiang et al) strutting their stuff, plenty of stunts, fun plot elements (the finger and cup (!) signs that the Shaolin use to communicate with each other) and heroism.

    The truth is that the five bad guys in this movie have all of the coolest fighting techniques! There's one guy who swings a huge axe blade around on a rope to chop up and slice apart his enemies, another who whips people to death with his long ponytail by breaking their necks! Another baddie uses Bruce Lee's "fingers of fury" technique from THE BIG BOSS to unpleasantly dispose of another hapless victim. After losing their fights for the entire movie, the good guys decide to train for a year (!) at the end of the film and finally manage to win out against the baddies (but not without loss). Baddies are blinded with weapons, two are impaled on a spear, and a massive pole fight takes place in a river which is spectacular stuff. The film doesn't skimp on the violence either with plenty of people dying bloody deaths and a high body count. FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS is a typical kung fu flick from the Shaw Brothers studio, and it makes for an action-packed way to spend an evening.