4 July 2016 | Leofwine_draca
Fitfully entertaining kung fu
DRAGON ON SHAOLIN TOWER is one of many kung fu yarns shot out on the back lots in Taiwan where filmmaking was cheap. This one ploughs the usual territory in its story of Chinese patriots battling evil Japanese invaders, although this time around the story is a little different from usual; the whole movie is focused around a competition whereby fighters must climb a huge tower built of wooden scaffolding. The fighter who reaches the top wins. Such a scenario usually engenders plenty of suspense and danger with opponents falling to their deaths from the top of the structure and others engaged in vertigo-inducing battles right on the edge of a drop, and I've seen the same idea used in the likes of Jackie Chan's DRAGON LORD and Tony Jaa's ONG BAK. It's put to great effect here, even though the tower doesn't play that big a part in the film itself.
For the most part this is a predictable movie, at least in terms of plot. There are a couple of martial arts schools, rivals of course, and they fight at regular intervals throughout the movie. Where DRAGON ON SHAOLIN TOWER is different is in the characterisation: it actually exists here and that's mighty rare for a kung fu flick! Along with the expected melodrama, we get a ton of emotion as each character goes on his or her own arc. There's suicide , alcoholism, jealousy, bravery, and much more, and the surprise is that the emotion's good too – especially from the alcoholic 'Big Brother', driven to drink after being tricked by a beautiful woman.
The fight scenes are plentiful and well staged even if they break no new boundaries in terms of the choreography. The director pays particular attention to some violent training sequences which are all well and good and there are some pretty grisly moments with characters walking on the edges of swords and knives and getting their feet sliced to shreds. Inevitably, the best stuff is saved for the extended climax with a great high-rise fight scene atop the titular tower. DRAGON ON SHAOLIN TOWER ain't a film that's gonna change the world, and to be honest there isn't much here that you'll remember afterwards – but it does do what it says on the box and that's something!