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少林木人巷 (1976)
Shaolin Wooden Men


Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 11/06/2007
Summary: A bit second hand.

A mute and underachieving Shaolin student (Jackie Chan) endures mistreatment and disdain by his contemporaries for his disability while the masters think he’s lazy and lacking in ability. He harbours a secret past: as a child, he saw his father assassinated, and has vowed to find the killer. One day, as he slaves away at the temple, he spots a secret cave within the grounds and investigates it to find a man chained to the walls. Living on scraps provided by the guards, the mute strikes up a friendship with the prisoner and trades extra food for Kung Fu lessons. He also gets some tuition from a Shaolin nun and a drunken monk, and soon he is skilful enough to take the ultimate graduation test – crossing a corridor lined with large wooden mechanical dummies that attempt to pummel the students back to the safety of the temple. Once released to the wide world the mute again meets his prisoner friend, who is now a free man, and seeks the killer of his father.

Back in the day when Hong Kong movies meant Jackie Chan movies and vice versa to me, I thought SHAOLIN WOODEN MEN was a pretty great film and certainly one of the best from his time with Lo Wei. A few hundred movies or so later, I have to admit my horizons have been broadened and the shine has been knocked off this particular nugget a little.

For a start, it’s a bit of a knock-off of 18 BRONZEMEN, which was released the same year and is quite a bit better than this even taking into account its own faults. Furthermore, well, it’s just a bit...naff. The villain (who I’m not going to reveal, just in case there is someone out there who can’t figure it out from my plot synopsis) is pure comic-book cliché and there’s a bizarre scene where a misunderstanding leads to him killing a family in front of Jackie and a restaurant worker (played by Chiang Kam, one of the few familiar faces amongst this nondescript cast). There’s an attitude of: “hey, you shouldn’t have done that. Oh well, never mind. Let’s bury them”. This odd behaviour runs throughout the film and everyone seems to be prone to it at one point or another.

The Shaolin Wooden Men of the title are but a minor part of the film and serve merely as a final test for each student to pass. There’s little sense of drama here, especially seeing as how Jackie takes the test mid way through the film and passes. Even if you’re not looking too carefully, you can see the head of one of the wooden “robots” lifting to give a glimpse of the performer beneath! I actually prefer the first half of the film, where Jackie is being tutored by the three very different masters. His relationship to the chained man is quite unusual for a film of this nature, and it’s a pity their ties to each other wasn’t explored more deeply. Jackie, in his only “silent” role, is surprisingly flexible without the dialogue and shows a decent range of facial expressions.

It’s the second half, where Jackie is let out into the world, that things get a bit haphazard. He is befriended by a family of restaurant workers (including the aforementioned Chiang Kam and Doris Lung, who would go on to feature in HALF A LOAF OF KUNG FU) and helps them out of a few scrapes with a gang of thugs (which includes a young Yuen Biao). From here on in, it’s a standard Kung Fu movie, and not a very memorable one at that. Jackie finds the killer of his father and the two duel to the death. The action choreography is passable and occasionally pretty good with Chan throwing in some flips and some other impressive acrobatics, but sadly there’s nothing to pump the adrenaline through the veins.

I find these days that I want to like SHAOLIN WOODEN MEN a lot more than I do. I guess I’m never going to think of it as fondly as I used to, but it still has a few things going for it. There’s a rousing score and the opening titles are really great. They show the Wooden Men in a series of still silhouettes (even though you can actually see them moving most of the time!), and the effect is quite striking. Maybe if they’d played more of a part in the film, it would have been better. There again, maybe not...

Reviewer Score: 5

Reviewed by: Masterofoneinchpunch
Date: 10/18/2005
Summary: The Lion's Roar

Shaolin Wooden Men was the second film Jackie Chan did for Lo Wei Productions and the first film he did under director Chen Chi Hwa (who also directed Jackie in Half a Loaf of Kung Fu) – though Lo would get Supervising Director credit. Chan was lent out to this up-and-coming director who would give him more room to experiment. Jackie gave more effort on his martial art styles by mutating traditional forms like the snake form (one of Jackie’s favorites) giving more flowing and flamboyant movement and being less classical in structure. Unfortunately, he did not have much say in his character development with a character that was still in Bruce Lee’s shadow. Shaolin Wooden Men was considered the second flop in a row for a Jackie Chan led film.

Jackie played a mute young man (called Dummy in the dubbed version) whose father She Lan was killed by an unknown assailant. I’ve read a couple of different rumors on why Chan was mute in this film: to make it easier on him acting and the other rumor was that Lo did not have confidence in his acting skill. Jackie’s character has sworn revenge and to increase his martial artist skills he becomes an earnest student in a Shaolin monastery. He has trouble at first adjusting to monk life. Such activities as using lead shoes to carry water up and pour in barrels and chopping wood was difficult for the mute but he would note be prevented from learning Shaolin martial arts. It would normally take five years of this training before he could start on his fighting training, but the mute was crafty. He learned balance techniques from a drunken monk (Miu Tak San). He befriended a visiting female Buddhist named Nun Woo Mei (Cheung Bing Yuk) who taught him “Ten Shadows Eight Steps” to make him lighter on his feet. Several scenes of this technique reminded me of several of Missy Elliot’s videos.

In order to leave the Shaolin monastery Jackie would have to pass a test of fighting. He would have to go through a gauntlet of mechanized Wooden Men (strangely looking like a Monty Python gag) that many monks with more advanced training that the mute have failed. The mute was lucky in finding a Shaolin prisoner who befriended him and in exchange for food and wine would train him. Fa Yu (Kam Kong) is a curmudgeon character who says he is only captured until he learns “The Lion’s Roar” which will shatter the internals of his enemies (or at least provide a cheesy sound effect.) He taught the mute several techniques which would help him pass the gauntlet as well as improve his fighting prowess.

The Shaolin Wooden Men only play a small part of this film. The mute inevitably passes the test and burns the dragon and tiger insignias into his forearms by lifting a searing hot cauldron that marks the opening into freedom and the beginning of his travails. First he must deliver a message from Fa Yu to a gimpy pharmacologist who owns the Tsun Chung Pharmacy in the town of Ching Ho who is part of the Green Dragon and White Tiger gangs. This pretty much establishes Fa Yu with those gangs and the rest of the film deals with the (other) inevitable aspects of his escape and why he was imprisoned by the Shaolin.


The martial arts are above standard, but not as good as the later Jackie Chan films. Though the final fight sequence does last awhile and is the highlight fight of the film. The plot is a martial art cliché with a student enrolling in a Shaolin Academy to learn Kung Fu to avenge the death of his father. There is also the ubiquitous training manual “Justice against the Devil” given to Jackie by a blind monk. However, the relationship between the mute and his teacher Fa Yu is an interesting angle reminding me of the relationship of Yuen Biao and Lau Kar Wing in Knockabout. Chan seems a little unsure of his acting ability, even without voice, but he always looks professional with the martial art choreography. I think most people will like the later Jackie Chan films better, but if you find a decent copy of this film they will think it is a decent film -- though not much better. Note: look for an early small speaking role for Yuen Biao.

DVD Info: Choosing the right copy is also important. I own two different copies of the film both with their own problems. The Columbia copy reigns in about 96 minutes though it misses 10 minutes of the beginning. These ten minutes are very fun to watch. It includes the “showcase” beginning with Jackie fighting four monks each with a different animal style. It then includes his character having a nightmare dealing with the Shaolin Python Wooden Men and then a sequence showing normal life at the Shaolin temple. The Columbia version is also cropped to a 1.78 aspect. The line on the DVD about preserving the original aspect is hooey. The benefit of this DVD is that it has the Mandarin soundtrack and good subtitles. The second version I own is the Telefilms Internation DVD (also R1 and also hooey about being the Original Uncut Version) which has the original aspect, a more clear screen and the beginning that is missing in the Columbia version. This version is missing ten minutes that are in the Columbia version though it cost me only two dollars. It is missing any extras like subtitles or other languages. So the best thing to do is look for a copy that has 106 minutes or over, is not cropped and is not R1.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 09/20/2005
Summary: Average

I saw a more quality english dubbed version, and i must say i was bored for the first 20 minutes. Things picked up and the relationship between Jackie and the villian and shaolin is interesting and this what makes it that little bit better than the average kung fu movie. The martial arts action is standard with a few tricks from Jackie, but dont expect too much.

Watchable but not great

6/10


Reviewed by: chen lung
Date: 09/11/2004
Summary: Poor Columbia DVD

Great movie, this is a classic - I love it. One of the decent old skool JC films but unfortunatly, one of the major DVD markets in the world have distrabuted this movie very poorly but perhaps not!

Anamorphic but cropped to 1:78:1. This has a green pea colours that fills the film throughout making it seem like it has been taken from a old VHS found in a dirty goldfish pond. Scratches and all sorts are found and dark details is so poor in some scenes that you can't see a thing. Not sharp but it does hold the picture steady that the 4:3 colourless soft grainy 'Winners Video' which can be as bad as Columbia. Columbia is cut by 15 minutes PAL time. On the sticker that says "New Letterbox print digitaly remastered" but on the back it only mentions audio! I guess they forgot to mention the 'video' part as they always do in their JC/Lo Wei movies - makes you sick to think if the VHS is the same then why put it on to DVD?!

Cuts:

- They have taken a shot from the opening credits and inserted 'Shaolin Wooden Men' in English.

1)Entire footage from opening credits until a new song starts (plays during the time we see the monks in the green fields after the scene Jackie wakes up from his dream with the wooden men) is cut.

Poor dark detail resulting in impossible viewing:

- About 4 scenes in total have the poorest black detail that you can't even see what is going on.

1) When Jackie tries to learn the Drunk Monk's techinque of falling backwards.

2)When we first see the monks on their way to visit the prisoner until they unlock the gate.

3)When Jackie relises that he has been locked in the forbidden area and finds another way out.

4)When we see the prisoner running out from the temple in the forest during his escape.

I want a REAL restoration AND remastering job!


Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 02/24/2003
Summary: Pretty Good

Sorry to disagree with Inner Strength once again, but I quite enjoyed this one. Not brilliant, but a cut above average for the pre-Drunken Master Jackie Chan. The story is somewhat interesting and unusual, with Chan playing a mute who goes to learn kung fu at Shaolin some years after witnessing his father's murder. Of course, he wants to take revenge. However, his progress at Shaolin is not good and he's treated with little regard by his peers... that is until he begins learning from a renegade monk who is kept in shackles in a forbidden area of the temple. With his new skills, he is able to pass through the hall of wooden men and leave the temple to go out into the world once more.

Things get more interesting from there - though if you've read the synopsis that comes on the Columbia Tristar disc you've already had the ending spoiled (at least on the Netflix envelope, which I assume to be taken from the case).

Unfortunately, the Columbia DVD is the biggest problem with this movie. Yes it's anamorphic, but it's clearly sourced from a poor multi-generation VHS copy with terrible colours and almost no detail, especially in dark scenes. Compared to the relatively good work they've done on some of the other early Chan movies, this disc is very disappointing. At least it has Mandarin sound and optional English subtitles (literally translated rather than dubtitled here, showing that they do listen to criticisms at least).

Because of this, I can only recommend SHAOLIN WOODEN MEN to the fairly dedicated Jackie Chan fan. It is nice to see an unusual performance for him (his only mute role?), and there are some well choreographed fights. It's not so good that it's worth sitting through such a crap DVD unless you're decidedly keen though.


Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 01/12/2002
Summary: Pretty bad

I watched this years ago when I was a kid and it had no affect on me then I think, and I recently watched this again to remember it clearly to write a reveiw up here, and my feelings have not really changed.

Slighty more interesting story than a lot of these old kung fu movies, but the terrible acting and slow fight sequences doesn't do much to make up for anything else.

Jackie Chans father is killed, he goes after the killer for revenge. Same old story. Yuen Biao makes an early appearance though,and looks very young.

I don't think this film is really available anyway, unless someone releases it on DVD, but I wouldn't rush to find it if I were you. It's pretty bad.

Rating (out of 5): 2

(This rating is based on the year & genre, so don't think it's based as a comparison on new releases etc.)


Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Chan is a mute who witnesses the death of his father when he is a young child. He then seeks guidance under the Monks of the Shaolin Temple. However he finds the training too slow so he trains under the guidance of a prisoner of the Temple. He loyalties are then tested when his new master escapes and then starts killing people. A fairly standard with the usual amount of kung fu.

(5/10)



[Reviewed by Dave Warner]


Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

A warrior undergoes a deadly test at the hands ofhis Shaolin teachers, in order to discover whether or not he has the skill needed to avenge the death of his father.

(2/5)



[Reviewed by Elliot's Guide to Films on Video]