There is a long tradition in kung fu films with strong female characters. There’s also a great tradition of one-armed fighters. Our film today gives us both…a one-armed female fighter out to save her father’s kingdom. This film is known by several titles. Sometimes called “The Snake, The Tiger, and the Crane,” but on the IMDB this 1980 kung-fu fest is known as “Emperor of Shaolin Kung Fu.”
As the film begins, the evil warlord Li Tzu-Cheng (Hsieh Wang) has invaded, and it appears that the emperor (Li Tsu Liu) is doomed. Rather than subjecting himself to whatever horrors the invaders have for him, he decides it would be best to kill himself. He also determines that he needs to kill his daughter, Princess Chang Ping (Nancy Yen) as well. But, he only succeeds in relieving her of one of her arms. She then manages to escape and ends up living with a bunch of Buddhist nuns.
But being short one arm isn’t enough to keep this princess down. After healing a bit, she sets out to try and find a man to lead the fight against the warlord. Meanwhile, her servant girl heads out to rally the troops. The princess quickly finds a man willing to help, but when he and princess attack Li Tzu-Cheng and his men, they are quickly overtaken. Escaping once again, the princess next finds man who likes to sit around playing his flute, but who also happens to be a kung fu master. He even has a knife blade that pops out of his instrument. At first he leads the princess to believe that he will help, but he soon betrays her to the enemy. Lucky for the princess, the man has a servant who is sympathetic to her cause, and helps her escape.
Now the princess is being pursued by the enemy soldiers. Along the way, she meets back up with her servant. When they are cornered, the servant girl severs her own arm before donning the princesses clothes and killing herself…to lead the enemy to believe the princess is dead.
Now, the princess hides in the village, believed to be dead she waits for the opportunity to strike. She pretends to be a crazy woman, and ends up being harassed by many of the villagers. But a kindly butcher (Carter Wong…he was in “Big Trouble in Little China”) defends her. Of course, he also happens to be a kung fu master who has a reason to get rid of Li Tzu-Cheng. He marries the crazy woman (really the princess) to fulfill his mother’s dying wish that she live to see him marry, and then sets out defeat the warlord. But when he gets in a jam, his kung fu princess wife joins in the fight as well.
“Emperor of Shaolin Kung Fu” is a solid kung fu film, even if it’s not exactly at the level of a Shaw Brothers classic. The action sequences are somewhat impressive, but often I felt like I was only seeing half of the battle. The camera tends to focus on just one of the fighters, rather than showing the give and take of both warriors.
Story is not always the most crucial element of a kung fu film. Action can carry the film a long way, but the story is pretty strong here. There are, of course, some things that get a bit lost in translation. The princess’s motivation for pretending to be crazy, and never really letting the butcher in on the fact that she’s not, is a bit confusing. The viewer also has to get past the really poor English dubbing of the dialogue. This is something that can often keep modern audiences away from these films, but in this case it’s worth the effort to endure it.
There are certainly better kung fu films out there. “Emperor of Shaolin Kung Fu” probably won’t “Wow” the average movie viewer, but it is an enjoyable kung fu adventure. For those who haven’t had a lot of other experience with kung fu films, though, you may want to have a few more under your belt before tackling this one.