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"The Shaolin Temple" & "North and South Shaolin"

"The Shaolin Temple" directed by Chang Hsin Yen and Xinyen Zhang.
Starring Jet Li.
Release Year:  1979 
Review Date:  12/16/02 


Don’t worry, these two films are not at your local multiplex right now.  The films were shown at the Four Star here in San Francisco, an art house theater that does double features for $7 and on Thursdays, they do kung fu double features.

“The Shaolin Temple” is a 1979 action classic that marked the debut of Jet Li, who was all of 18 years old when the film was released.  He sure looks it here, playing a kid named Chieh Yuan that wants to become a Shaolin Monk so that he can master the fighting techniques being taught at the temple.  The film is basically a two-hour lesson on ten different fighting styles, and director Chang Hsin Yen spends a lot of time with each character as they train and show off their moves before fighting an army bent on finding Yuan and taking down the temple.

The plot is bullshit—even if it really is based on real events surrounding the temple’s history—but, what is even worse is the English dub job that “The Shaolin Temple” features; I have heard some bad dub jobs, but the English one here in this film is so bad that it almost totally destroys the film.  People were laughing their ass off in the theater as the voice for Li’s character yelled out “MASTER!!” over and over again near the end of the film.  Whenever this film does not feature fighting, it straight blows.

But, when the story turns to fight sequences, “The Shaolin Temple” is a great, great film.  The fight scenes in this film are l o n g—which, is perfect if you like watching guys really go at it for a long time before being vanquished.  The stunt work is incredible here, and the lack of body doubles means extended master shots of Li going up against various bad guys without a cut in the action.  Some of the other fighters from the temple are more fun to watch though, especially the guy that uses the “drunken” style...I really don’t get why using the drunken style was such a good idea back in the time of the ancients, but I do know that I have seen it used in enough films to believe that guys actually tried to get good at it!

The scenery in “The Shaolin Temple” is also a sight to behold, and the production looks ritzy for a 1979 action film.  The camerawork is mostly pretty good and the print we saw on 35mm was fantastic.  The music was atrocious, though, and the typical action kick-punch sound effects were bad, plus a little off in their timing.  (They weren’t as funny as the sound effects from “Master of the Flying Guillotine”, which I saw earlier this need to check that one out, since that shit was just hilarious.)

My friend Max and I stuck around to watch the first 40 minutes of the twin bill, “North and South Shaolin” (part three of the trilogy of these films), but we were both pretty tired and decided to catch that one on a day when we were both more awake!  Needless to say, though, what I saw of it was so bad that I didn’t feel the need watch the second half of the film that night; from the action to the fact that many of the first film’s dead characters were back alive for part three, “North and South Shaolin” was dogshit.

Rating for "The Shaolin Temple":  $9.00 Show
Rating for the 40 minutes of "North and South Shaolin" that I saw:  Hard Vice


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09