The Plot: Under the rule of the Manchu, Shaolin temples were ordered to be destroyed and the lead man put in charge of this extermination of Shaolin was the Priest Pai Mei. A long white haired master of Kung Fu who has almost no weakness. After destroying a temple and the teacher who lives there, the remaining Shaolin students left alive were forced into exile. They take refuge under the guise of a theater troupe but remain heavily involved in the conflict against the Manchu. The group lead by Hsi Kuan (Kuan Tai Chen) lives only for vengeance of their dead master. They fight them through their plays which are vehemently against the Manchu and through their physical might. Along the way Sei Kuan finds love with a beautiful young girl who practices Crane style, which he views as inferior to his own Tiger style. However, they make it work and are married. Before long, they have themselves a plump young boy who is to be trained in Crane style by the mother. After years of training though, Sei Kuan feels he is ready to take on priest Pai Mei. With his son in training and growing better along side him, if he is to fail his mission, someone else will step forward for vengeance!

The Review
I can’t tell you how long I’ve been meaning to get around to this one. Executioners From Shaolin is the genesis for a film that ranks in my top five favorite old school Kung Fu flicks; the excellent Fists of the White Lotus. So, I really don’t know why it wasn’t a top priority of mine to track down this one. Truthfully, I’ve just been so tuned into other genres as of late that I guess I just forgot about my love of Kung Fu cinema. Ashamed as I am to admit that. However, there’s a certain time of the year we can all make it up to our loved ones, isn’t there? That special season, when the air gets a little nippy and the people are a little bit nicer. That’s right, Kung Fu Christmas. This is only my second one at this point but I do want to keep our celebration going on a yearly basis. Executioners From Shaolin may be the film I’ve been looking forward to most for this year, but does it live up to all of the hype? You’ll have to read on to find out!

Within minutes of first starting the movie I was pretty shocked to see Gordon Liu biting the big one. When you know Gordon Liu is in a movie, you just expect his part to be a leading role. It’s like seeing Janet Leigh die at the beginning of Psycho, from there on out you don’t know what to expect! However, Liu Chia-Liang (famed brother of Gordon Liu and director of 36 Chambers of Shaolin amongst many others) leaves us in more than capable hads with both Kuan Tai Chen and then later on Wang Yue. Kuan Tai Chen, who most will likely know from his leading role in The Iron Monkey, fills the shoes of our hero very well. I like Kuan Tai Chen as he really fits that regal personality you expect from a leading man and that quality is on full display with Executioners From Shaolin. Everything he does he seems to do with a certain level of confidence and class, even when his character is unsure within a situation he seems far more in control than your average. As an actor he also gets to stretch out and do some comedic work here as well, even though he’s mostly providing the straight man for both Wang Yue and the acting troupe/martial artists his character employs.

The film, aside from the first ten minutes and the final half hour, is essentially a set up for several comedic sketches. Hong Kong comedy is always a subjective thing, moreso than your average because a lot of it is made up of silly faces and over the top sight gags that make Henny Youngman’s set seem fresh and original. Still, Executioners… actually does come across with a little more maturity than your average. Some of the jokey scenes are actually played very well. Although there is a wiry characters meant especially for laughs here, he actually isn’t that over the top. Certainly not like you would expect. Between that character being a more toned down version of what you would expect and Kuan Tai Chen’s rock solid performance, it actually works. One of the funniest moments in the film comes from Hsi Kuan’s (Kuan Tai Chen) wedding night. So as you can guess, we get to see the use of Kung Fu to initiate lovemaking… a pretty bizarre concept, right? You see, after Hsi Kuan’s men give his fiancee a hard time in the run up to their wedding, she gets sick of their childish taunts. They say things about her kung fu and this eventually causes her to challenge her husband on their wedding night with the stipulation being that the only way he’ll be getting a chance to consummate their relationship is if he can force her legs apart. You see, her kung fu is based upon leg power and generally no one can trip her up or spread her legs. So, essentially his best men TOTALLY block him in a big way. That means Hsi Kuan goes without any nookie on the night of their wedding. He of course eventually figures out her weakness and exploits it but the funny thing is where I come from, we call that rape.

Even though I’ve seen quite a few kung fu flicks in my time and I am slightly more familiarized with a lot of the little odds and ends that come with the culture and time that these movies are based around. Such as the fact that Pai Mei has the power to make himself invincible, I’ve seen that before in a few different films at this point. I wasn’t even surprised by the fact that he can grab his victims using his crotch, which apparently turns into a catchers mitt when he uses his kung fu. I saw this before in Fists of the White Lotus and to a certain degree in Born Invincible. However, for the life of me, I cannot understand why Hsi Kuan’s son dresses like a girl. I understand that the mother’s crane style that he trains in is a more feminine style of Kung Fu, but WHY does he have the silly girl hair? I do not understand it. However, Wang Yue has never looked sillier. Strapped with a pair of pig tails that are out of this world, his character dresses and looks more girly than even his mother does. Then has to fight off all the bullies who point out this fact for him. It’s funny, on a “what the…” kind of level but you’re really left kind of stumped on the issue. Regardless, Wang Yue is really great in the role and even with all of the comedy I would say this is a more serious martial arts film than anything. I also see layers in it, believe it or not. Although it’s never explicitly dealt with, I think there’s actually something to be said about relationships in the struggle between Hsi Kuan and his wife. Although I know it’s a stretch and yes I know it’s just a simple Kung Fu movie but the perils that Hsi Kuan and his wife endure would have been easily avoided had the two been more open and sharing of their martial art talents with one another. This was mostly due to Hsi Kuan’s feelings on his wife’s style but in the end it is their son and his mix of their two styles that makes the perfect combination. It’s a solid metaphor and gives it a really different spin than any other Kung Fu film I’ve ever seen.

The Conclusion
I don’t really even need to comment, with the cast that this film has and Liu Chia-Liang directing the action, but the fight sequences here are really great. Solid work by all, with Lo Lieh really stealing the show with his presence in the role of Pai Mei. He’s awesome here and every fight sequence featuring him is golden, especially his back and forth between both Wang Yue and Kuan Tai Chen. Really solid stuff. Another thing worth mentioning would be the training sequences for the heroes, featuring a Kung Fu dummy that has a really complex ball system that drops a series of marbles throughout the body that our heroes must attack and rip out in a certain amount of time. This stuff was kind of confusing to be honest, but still pretty cool and unique. Overall, I think Fists of the White Lotus is the stronger movie but Executioners… is a lot of fun itself. I give it a four out of five. Definitely give this one a look see some time.

You might also be interested in: