30 May 2015 | BrianDanaCamp
Good cast, adequate fight scenes, muddled plot in below-average kung fu movie
The title on the VHS video box when I bought this was DRAGON FIST. The on-screen title on the film itself is SHAOLIN HEROES. Neither title has anything to do with the film, at least as far as I can tell from the English dubbing, although it's conceivable that two or more of the heroes in the film had actually trained at Shaolin once upon a time or that one of them is actually skilled at Dragon Fist, although it's never mentioned among the many styles that are called forth. The plot description on the video box is even more confusing than what's actually in the film so I wouldn't look for help there. I never quite understood what was going on as I watched it and it only became gradually clear who the heroes were and what their relationship was. If I had to sum it up I would say that it's about different factions trying to gain possession of the celebrated "Light Sword," whose properties are never exactly enumerated so we never quite find out why everyone wants it, nor do we get to easily find out from the action since there are so many fake Light Swords in circulation. There's also a plot about Mongolian agents infiltrating the Ming court to secretly pave the way for a Mongolian takeover of China although we hear about this more than we actually see it.
The hero, played by Wang Kuan Hsiung, is the son of a noble who's been accused of the murder of another noble and is thus a pariah within the larger clan structure. Wang then tries to find out who really murdered the noble. In his travels, he meets a waiter at a roadside restaurant-inn who wants to be his kung fu student. The waiter is clearly a girl although I'm not sure she isn't supposed to be masquerading as a boy. She is played by Doris Chen (Lung Chung Erh), a mainstay of these films and, as expected, there's a lot more to her character than meets the eye. There's also a transvestite assassin who is voiced in the English dub by an actress as though the dubbing director didn't realize the character was actually a man. Another mysterious woman, referred to only as "Mistress," travels the country following the path of Wang, and may or may not be Wang's enemy. Chung Hwa (sometimes spelled as Tsung Hua) plays another member of Wang's clan, but is the son of the murdered noble and holds it against Wang.
It all culminates in a big tournament staged on a platform situated in the middle of a lake to determine which clan gets possession of the Light Sword. Snake Fist and Drunken Master are among the combatants. One memorable bout has Golden Chicken (who uses—you guessed it—Chicken Style) defeating Tiger Claw and then taking on "Sick Doctor," who seems to examine his opponents as he's fighting them. The action then shifts to a forest road where a battle royale between the various protagonists and antagonists is staged to settle things once and for all.
The fights are fun to watch and come at a regular pace. Although Wang Kuan Hsiung (LADY CONSTABLES and GREEN JADE STATUETTE) was never the most rigorous of fighting stars, he does at least have a solid star presence and consistently commands our attention. Doris Chen is always an engaging performer and a welcome addition to any kung fu cast, although the streaks of dirt on her face during her stint as a waiter were quite distracting and made me wonder why the innkeeper/restaurant manager didn't make her wash her face. She has one major fight scene. Chung Hwa had been a leading man at Shaw Bros. in the first half of the 1970s (THE SWORDMATES, THE BASTARD) before turning up in numerous minor kung fu films made in Taiwan in the late 1970s to early '80s. Regular kung fu villain Lee Keung plays one of the opponents and spices up the action when he's on-screen. As far as I can determine, the director, Yang Ching-Chen, made only 12 films total in his career. I've only seen one other film of his, TWO GREAT CAVALIERS, which starred John Liu and Angela Mao, and I'd need to see it again to refresh my memory of it.