Two Champions of Shaolin (1982)
Director: Chang Cheh
Writers: Ni Kuang (possibly?)
Starring: Sun Chien, Lo Meng, Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng

The Plot: Lo Meng plays a strongman (of course!) known as The Shaolin Hercules, who despite being born in Manchu, hates the Ching government. You see, his father and mother were killed by the Manchu and was abandoned at Shaolin where he was raised. His hatred for the Manchu grew, along with his incredible strength and martial ability, until the day he finally reached the age of leaving the Shaolin temple. With Shaolin Hercules leaving the school, he sets out on a clear path of vengeance. Hu Wei Chen (Chiang Sheng) works for the Wu Tang, who are in cahoots with the Ching government, but he secretly resents the occupying force and spies for the rebels who look to overthrow this government. As Chiang Sheng’s character snoops around, we see how Shaolin Hercules gets into trouble by walking around with a chip on his shoulder picking fights with any Ching soldiers he can find. After being attacked by some Wu Tang men, Lo Meng is left with a flying dagger in his back and ends up on the doorstep of Chin Tai-lei (Sun Chien). Coincidentally, Chin Tai-lei has been taught to avoid all flying dagger attacks and his sister has been taught the offensive maneuvers of using flying daggers. With their help, Shaolin Hercules is able to learn the Wu Tang clan’s primary weapon style and is once again out for vengeance against the Wu Tang. He teams up with Hu Wei Chen and the two pull off a vast conspiratorial mission to rip the Wu Tang apart from the inside out.

The Review
We here at Varied Celluloid love martial arts cinema, that is a given, but we particularly love the Kung Fu films of Hong Kong released during the seventies and eighties. This was a glorious time known to fans as the “old school”, when sets were obviously built in a studio and the leading men were stoic superheroes. These were men who relied on their physical attributes and although that didn’t always carry over into an exceptional dramatic acting career, with these films you never question the actor’s ability in martial arts. No name stands out as much from this era as much as Chang Cheh’s does. Even when this man’s work would delve into the bottom end of his ability, the action was generally well done and there was enough to make for a very fun time. If you are an action junkie, then Chang Cheh is the perfect dealer. Ever since first seeing Five Deadly Venoms, I have been addicted to Cheh’s work but most especially I have loved his films made with the venom mob. For those who aren’t aware, the venom mob (or venom clan) are a troupe of actors who take their name from the first big success that featured all of these actors, the previously mentioned Five Deadly Venoms. This group of six actors starred in numerous films together, usually in groups of three or more depending on the project, and most of the time their films featured a gimmick of some sort that added an extra degree of entertainment. With Two Champions of Shaolin we are given four members of the venom mob and the film does a good job in demonstrating the strengths of all involved.
This time out we have Lo Meng essentially leading one of Chang Cheh’s famed ensemble casts. Lo Meng has always been one of my favorite members of the venom mob. Although he probably wasn’t the strongest dramatic actor of the group, he had an incredibly athletic physique and was much bigger than just about any other leading actor from his time and era. During a time when many martial artists were portrayed with bodies similar to Bruce Lee, which is to say they were smaller but had very little body fat, Lo Meng looked more like a bodybuilder in comparison. This film does a good job in capitalizing on that look, even going so far as to nickname Lo Meng’s character as “Shaolin Hercules”. As ridiculous as that nickname is, he manages to live up to the title by proving himself with several Herculean acts throughout the movie. Memorable and silly, we watch Lo meng demonstrate his magnificent strength by literally pulling a tree out of the ground, roots and all. Another entertaining sequence involves Meng lifting giant pots half his size up in the air with only one hand. These are quintessential Shaw Bros. moments, and showcase the testosterone fueled bravado that only these films delivered.

Lo Meng isn’t the only one who gets to show off, of course. Sun Chien shows up in the film as a martial artist who has been shown by his father all of the defensive maneuvers in order to protect himself from the flying dagger techniques employed by the Wu Tang clan. We get to once again see Sun Chien show off his magnificent kicking abilities as he jump kicks various objects out of the air. A Tae Kown Do expert, Sun Chien often called in this talent during many of his performances. Unfortunately Sun Chien doesn’t have a pivotal role in the movie, but he does manage to show off his plethora of skills in what little time he is granted on screen. The gimmickry, a trait that Chang Cheh was known for, doesn’t stop with just Lo Meng’s strength or Sun Chien’s kicking. Although it may have seemed as if Chang Cheh had expressed exery possible dagger-throwing idea imaginable with Life Gamble previous to this, he manages to take things into even more absurd territories as he gives his fighters the ability to defy gravity and throw knives at a pitch that makes them return in a circular fashion. These boomerang knives may not seem all that plausible, but they sure make for an entertaining spectacle! Then we have the characters known as the “Yuen brothers”, who dress up with monkey-masks. These fighters come out in the very final half of the movie and almost seem as if they were cast away ideas from another project. Their monkey style of Kung Fu is very entertaining however, as the three rely on one another in order to fight in any given situation. Expect a great deal of co-operative choreography when these three do battle!
A problem I have found quite often with Cheh’s work is that if he doesn’t start off with a simple enough premise, he gets overindulgent in his rather complicated plots. Some of this can be felt in Two Champions of Shaolin, but with a faint knowledge of Chinese history and culture you can easily navigate through the plethora of characters introduced. The best parts are still when the film simplifies itself, as is the case when Lo Meng’s character stumbles upon Sun Chien’s home and begins his very quick training session. This, along with the following tournament and subsequent twists and turns comprise the most entertaining half of the film. Lo Meng and Chiang Sheng really play well together here, and the two seem to have this cocky charisma working for them while their characters make fools out of he Wu Tang clan. The film looks as good as Chang Cheh’s productions always did. There are a lot of great primary colors, and the sets, despite looking so evidently fake, are beautiful. Cheh also keeps his choreography in frame at all times and uses ever inch to display everything that Shaw Scope could deliver.

Another part of what made Chang Cheh the director he is would be his use of violence. Never afraid to use the red stuff, Cheh splattered the screen with his paint-style blood in many motion pictures. Two Champions of Shaolin included. Although far from his most violent, there are several moments throughout the movie that Cheh takes things slightly over the edge. One such scene has Chiang Sheng literally ripping the testicles off of a fighter who delivers a jumping kick at precisely the WRONG moments. A bizarre sequence indeed, this is something I never expected to find in a Shaw production. The culminating fight at the end of the film isn’t without its own share of brutal moments, with the lead bad guy (no spoilers!) receiving a gory death that really BENDS the line of bad taste! Hah! An absolutely terrible pun, I know…

The Conclusion
Although the movie definitely has its trappings, I can’t help but admit that I liked it. The movie doesn’t really deserve the full four star treatment, in my opinion, but it just barely misses that mark. I give the movie a solid three out of five stars. It is above average and you really can’t go wrong picking it up if you’re trying to get into the venom mob!