TEN BROTHERS OF SHAOLIN (1979) has a simple plot, one that we've seen plenty of times before, but it has a strong cast of notable kung fu performers, most notably the always dazzling female star Chia Ling (aka Judy Lee, from QUEEN BOXER and IMPERIAL SWORD), so it remains worth seeing. The plot involves an effort by Shaolin monks to smuggle the deposed Ming "king" (emperor) past the assembled forces of the upstart Ching invaders to safety in southern China. Wong Tao (CHALLENGE OF DEATH, DEATH DUEL OF KUNG FU) plays Chi Yung, the disciple assigned to personally escort the emperor through back roads. The ten brothers of the title lie in wait along the route, in various guises as travelers, peddlers, farmers, etc. to provide backup support for the hero when Ching spies and scouts spot their quarry along the way.
Chia Ling plays the niece of a Ming General who waits for the emperor so he can rally an army on his behalf. Chia has three fight scenes, including one extended spear fight about an hour into the film. Venerable kung fu performer Phillip Ko (FEARLESS DRAGONS) plays one of the Shaolin Brothers. The villains include kung fu heavyweights Chang Yi (EAGLE'S CLAW), Leung Kar Yan (THUNDERING MANTIS) and Tung Wai and Chan Chia Kai, both from MARS VILLA.
The low-budget film is shot on location, with a number of fights staged in the woods. The fights may not be the best we've seen in these films, but at least there are lots of them to keep us interested. The music score features a number of familiar Chinese tunes (including the oft-used Wong Fei Hung theme) splattered indiscriminately across the soundtrack. (Well, at least we don't hear the theme from HANG 'EM HIGH for the umpteenth time.)
One amusing aspect of this film is that it points up a curious tendency of kung fu films to show characters traveling long cross-country distances on foot without any luggage whatsoever. No changes of clothing, no food, no water, no materials for sleeping or shelter. And when the hero and his royal charge stop at a roadside inn to eat, they're recognized and immediately attacked by Ching spies, so they can't eat or sleep that way either. How do they survive on the road? Best not to ask.
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