Two Shaolin brothers, Ling Yun-Chang and Ko Lung-Ta, find themselves on opposite sides when Ko Lung-Ta is appointed South China Area Commander by the Ching. Lung-Ta sends his emissaries to recruit Ling Yung-Chang and the other Shaolin to the Ching cause but they, being "loyal patriots trying to protect their country" - ie the Ming - refuse.

Ling goes to see Ko and discovers that his brother has stolen their master's magic robe, which renders its wearer impervious to harm. Ko hits Ling with a poisoned dart and, believing Ling to be "no longer a factor", turns his attentions to General Chang and the remaining rebels.

Chang, however, is a rather more wily adversary. Pretending to be dead, he is escorted out of town as part of a contingent of hopping corpses...

Will Chang and the other rebels escape? Will Ling be able to avenge Ling's treachery before he succumbs to the poison? What do you think?

Shaolin Brothers is one of those films that is difficult for the non-native to appreciate, relying as it does on a background in Chinese history - that the various Imperial dynasties represent different ethnic groups, each having a tendency to oppress the others - and myths - the mystic powers of the Shaolin, hopping corpses being led back to their native soil by a Taoist priest, and so forth. This in mind, one's conclusions must be treated as somewhat tentative and contingent.

As action spectacle the film works well enough. Director Joseph Kuo keeps things moving and has sufficient resources at his disposal to create a good sense of period and place. Just don't expect Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or you'll be disappointed.

Translation and dubbing make it difficult to judge the writing and performances fairly. Broad brushstrokes dominate and there is little scope for nuance and complexity along the lines of Ann Hui's suspiciously similar Romance Of Book And Sword.

Where Hui's film problematised its conflict between two brothers and the factions they represent, sounding out and critiquing their respective cases, Shaolin Brothers presents a straightforward morality: the Ming loyalists are good, the traitor Ko and his Ching lackeys bad.

All told, Shaolin Brothers is a workmanlike piece of old school wuxia action. It's not the worst of its type, but neither, in this version at least, could it be said to be the best.

Reviewed on: 16 Jan 2003
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Chinese mystical martial arts historic adventure, full of magic and fast paced action
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Director: Joseph Kuo

Writer: Joseph Kuo

Starring: Carter Wong, Tang Wei, Tong Lin, Chin Mong

Year: 1977

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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