|Shaolin Mantis (1978)|
|Starring:||David Chiang, Lily Li and Huang Hsing-hsiu|
|The Plot: Our story focuses on Wei Fung (David Chiang), a young man who is taken before the evil emperor due to his scholarly ways and skill in Kung Fu. The new government sees opportunity with this multi-talented young man, and they hope to use his abilities to crush the rebellion. After he demonstrates his skills for the emperor, he is given a dangerous and daring mission. He is told that the Tien clan is rumored to have been looking to usurp his tyrannical throne, so he tasks Wei Fung with a missions that involves going undercover and finding this clan’s ulterior motives. The emperor is cruel, but he isn’t unjust. He wants definitive proof of these transgressions and he establishes a very strict deadline. In three months, Wei Fung’s father will be stripped of his title. In six months his family will be imprisoned. After the one year mark, his entire family will all be decapitated. When Wei Fung stumbles upon this Tien clan, he immediately catches the eye of the young Tien Chichi (Huang Hsin-Hsiu) who hires on the young man as her teacher. What follows is a game of cat and mouse as the family soon discovers Wei Fung’s secret, but due to Chichi’s love for the man he is not killed but he will not be allowed to ever leave the compound. With possible death waiting at every corner, what will Wei Fung do?|
At no point do you ever feel as if Shaolin Mantis is simply following conventions. Granted there are plenty of fight scenes, and some of the reasons that our characters have for fighting are weak to say the least, but Liu Chia-Liang does a spectacular job at making his film feel completely original in concept. There is an air of maturity that seems slightly more modern than the era that this film was actually produced in. In a genre where success is often predicated more on costumes and gimmicks than on new or creative narrative devices, Shaolin Mantis isn’t afraid to try new things and deliver something unique. Such is the case when during the first half of the movie the Tien family actually discovers exactly what Wei Fung’s purpose is in their home. This goes in the polar opposite of everything we have come to expect from general film conventions. Normally the undercover agent, in any situation, remains hidden until the final moments so that his escape can be seen as that much more daring. In this situation however, all of that suspense is redirected in a different direction. We see both sides of the angle and when Wei Fung goes before the Tien clan and asks to leave so that he may see his family, we know that this means the end of his life. The build up to such scenes is quite daring and very unique for a Kung Fu film.
The narrative aspects of the film are ultimately what drew me to it and caused me to fall in love with the movie overall, but there’s no getting past the ton of action that the movie boasts. In the same way the narrative doesn’t flow in the manner one would expect, neither does the action. There are sequences that seem to follow the plot more than any action film cliches, but when the choreography picks up it is always quite enjoyable. The more formulaic moments seem to come along in the back end of the movie as we see David Chiang and Huang Hsin-Hsiu have to fight through a series of mini-boss-like fighters who protect the Tien compound. This is followed up by the actual Mantis Kung Fu, which we only see during the final twenty minutes of the film. If you come into the film expecting wall to wal Mantis style Kung Fu, you may be left rather disappointed. With an open mind, you’re likely to find one of the more engaging pieces of Kung Fu cinema you’ve likely ever seen.