There’s always something magical when you sit down to watch a movie and the first image that appears on the screen is that big “SB” logo on a blue background, made complete with its majestic fanfare, rivaled in the world of cinema only by the 20th Century Fox theme. That’s right campers, I’m talking about a Shaw Brothers movie! This time, the king’s of martial arts cinema bring us the tale of a kung fu feud in 1980’s “Two Champions of Shaolin.”
The premise here is simple…there is a bit of a rift between the kung fu masters from the Shaolin temple, and the warriors of the Wu Tang (pronounced more like Wu Tongue in the dubbed version). Tung Chien-Chen (Lo Mang) is a Shaolin muscle man of sorts, and he has been sent to deal with those nasty Wu Tang but he quickly has trouble dealing with the bizarre throwing knives and extreme mutton chops of one of their leaders. He ends up getting a knife in the back, but he is found by a brother and sister team who know the secrets of dealing with this sort of attack. The girl trains him in the ways of fending of the knives…and in the ways of love. Tung also meets up with Hu Wei-Chen (Chiang Sheng), a Wu Tang who supports Shaolin.
From here, we get lots of back and forth as each side kills off members of the other side for revenge. The Wu Tang knife attackers are taken down, then they respond by killing Tung’s bride on their wedding night. Then the Shaolin meet up with a man who seems to be able to help them against the Wu Tang, but his motives turn out to be more sinister. Of course, all the while there’s a whole bunch of kung fu action.
As with any Shaw Brothers film, the main reason for watching is the action, and there is plenty of that to go around. However, I don’t know that I would rank this among the best of the Shaw Brothers films I’ve seen. The story does get a bit confusing. There are a lot of characters, and they come and go at an amazing rate. There is this back and forth as the Shaolin and the Wu Tang seek revenge on each other throughout the film. So characters are introduced and killed off, new ones come in, more fights, more deaths. It is a little bit hard to keep track of.
The actions scenes didn’t really blow me away either. Don’t get me wrong, they are skillfully done. It’s not like I think I could do better or anything. However, most Shaw Brothers films have one or two or a half-dozen kung fu moments that just make me say “Whoa!” With this film, I never really got that. The final epic battle does come close. It’s got a huge cast of fighters using all sorts of unusual weapons, not to mention a truly cringe worthy death for one of the villains. It’s a great sequence, but still lacks that awe factor the Shaws have provided so often before.
If you love curling up with a good kung fu flick, you’re still going to find a lot to enjoy about “Two Champions of Shaolin.” That “SB” logo is still a true mark of quality, I just wouldn’t put this one among the best films to wear that badge of honor.