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Shaolin Mantis

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 11/02/2010

Martial arts fisticuffs takes a backseat to the story in the Shaw Brothers picture Shaolin Mantis, which has caused division among fans of old school kung fu movies, some of whom see this as one of the best of the genre produced during the period, while others think it should be regulated to the lower echelon of Shaw Brothers releases. This particular reviewer falls somewhere in the middle -- while the attention to the story is appreciated, it still would have been nice to have a few more fight scenes thrown into the mix.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 03/17/2007

Seamlessly branching genres "Shaolin Mantis" has something for everyone though the film's English title is a tad misleading (aside from Gordon Liu's cameo in the preface the word Shaolin is never uttered and its likeness disappears with the actor's brief appearance). The film's romantic angle is decidedly lighthearted, but the script's central conflict -- because it is of a time-sensitive nature -- makes for drama of consequence. Atypical of your regular Shaw Brothers programming the champion's a member of the Ching Dynasty (the good guys) attempting to expose a group of rebels (the bad guys). The cast includes David Chiang, Cecilia Wong, Lau Kar-wing, Norman Chu, John Cheung, and Wilson Tong who all perform admirably within the protagonist-learns-a-new-style-by-watching-an-animal/insect template.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 09/27/2006
Summary: It could have been a classic!

David Chiang plays Wai Fung, a Qing scholar who is sent to infiltrate the Tien family, a well known base for Manchu support. He quickly makes himself part of the family and takes over the tutelage of their youngest daughter Tien Gi Gi (Cecilia Wong). His family having been threatened if he does not report information, Wai constantly sneaks around the compound looking for secrets, which leads to a few close encounters. However, he can find nothing and his father and mother are demoted, jailed and finally threatened with death. Wai decides he has no choice but to leave, but by this time the Tien's have figured out his secret. Tragic consequences follow as Wai tries to break out of the compound and return to his family.
Shaolin Mantis had a great concept, but in the end failed to meet with my high expectations of a Liu Chia-Liang directed film. David Chiang has never been in my list of favorite martial arts actors, but he is usually surrounded by excellent fighters who make up for his lack of skills. He is rather slow and seems to be following strict patterns, while the other fighters react to him. Wilson Tong, John Cheung and especially Lau Kar-Wing seem blindingly fast and skilled compared to Chiang. David is an excellent actor, but he is not particularly suited to kung fu-centric films. Another slight disappointment was the fact that the mantis style never really makes an appearance until the final 20 minutes or so of the film. There was good use of mantis weapons (i.e. 3-section staff, twin daggers and staff), but it was all too brief to be satisfying.
The plot had very interesting twists, with David Chiang portraying the seemingly sympathetic role of the Qing scholar, and the Tien family (Kar-Wing, Cheung, Chu and Tong) playing Manchu sympathizers and antagonists. A twist in the finale seems to bring everything back to the normal Shaw Brothers political bent. The acting overall is excellent, with nods to Chiang and Cecilia Wong for their many humorous scenes. Wong is quite funny as a jubilent teen more interested in training in kung fu and playing tricks than learning reading and writing from Cheung.
Shaolin Mantis could have been a legendary film with a more accomplished martial arts practitioner and more focus on the development of the mantis style and good training sequences. Instead of seeing Gordon Liu in a cameo appearance as a Shaolin monk who gets soundly beaten, I would have preferred to see him in the lead role, fighting in one of the most interesting and cinema-friendly styles out there.


Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 10/22/2004
Summary: 8/10

**** SHAOLIN MANTIS: David Chiang in a Lau Kar Leung-directed film somehow seems wrong to me, despite the fact Lau had directed Chiang in countless action scenes for Chang Cheh... so my expectations for this film were not very high. Surprised, I was, then - because it's great! Probably David Chiang's best film and as good as any of Lau Kar Leung's films. A strong story, good direction and acting and some great fight scenes make for a solid kung fu film. Lau Kar Wing is particularly good here (why was he never a bigger star?), and Huang Hsing-hsiu is quite delicious and spunky, and Lily Li makes a very fetching mother! Nothing revelationary but all very solid example of the genre. Don't be misled by the fact Gordon Liu dominates the DVD sleeve - he's only in it for a few minutes at the start.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Django
Date: 07/16/2004
Summary: kung fu tragedy

Leave it to Liu Chi Liang to break new ground. In this film the "hero" (David Chiang) is a spy for the Emperor trying to inflitrate the Ming revolutionaries. However he is a hero only in as much as he is the protagonist of the film. The politics mean nothing to Chiang as he is only trying to save his parents from the emperor's punishment should he fail. You can't even call Chiang an anti-hero since he doesn't fit that descrpition either. I found myself rooting for the grandfather since he believed what he was fighting for.

Its hard to say I enjoyed this film because I was hoping in vain that Chiang would lose every fight he was in. The acting is good as are the fights. I can't remember when Chiang looked so good. I think Liu deserves a lot of credit for trying something new. This tragedy worked for me because I was wrapped up in the film the whole time. I particulary enjoyed the ending which isn't typical for a Liu Chia Liang film.

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 11/04/2002

Possibly the worst of Liu Chia Liang's directoral efforts for Shaw Brothers, "Shaolin Mantis" has many talents as well as David Chiang. Lau Kar Wing makes an excellent villain; Norman Chu, John Chang and Wilson Tong are awesome uncles, and Celica Wong is a great period actress. Unfortunately, the film is nearly ruined by the slow choreography, which is either due to it really being slow or me watching too many fast-paced movies (Roar of the Lion, e.g.) lately. The action is nowhere near as good as in Legendary Weapons or in 8 Diagram.

Also, this story may have the most unsatisfying ending I have ever seen.


Reviewed by: CaptainAmerica
Date: 06/13/2002
Summary: "Shaolin"? Not exactly!

The title of this Lau Kar Leung classic, SHAOLIN MANTIS, is a bit of a misnomer. First of all the lead character, played by David Chiang, isn't Shaolin! Second, this film is undoubtedly Lau Kar Leung's fanciful take on what would happen if the Shaolin didn't create the Mantis style of martial arts at their temple. In spite of those two liberties, we have a spectacular, complex story of loyalty, treachery, and revenge.

Chiang plays a young noble enlisted by the Ching government to infiltrate a family suspected of being Ming loyalists, and is given a bit of "incentive" in the fashion that if he doesn't get evidence of their pro-revolutionary activities in a year, his entire family dies! He finally does get inside the family's home posing as a new teacher for the patriarch's spoiled granddaughter (Wong Hang Sau). They begin falling for each other and eventually a marriage between the two is arranged. But time is running out, and the patriarch (Lau Kar Wing) -- who is a Ming loyalist -- suspects his grandson-in-law's true intentions. Things go straight into the fan in short order when the newlyweds try to escape. From these tribulations, Chiang's character finds inspiration to combat his enemies by watching a mantis in action!

I won't spoil the whole story for you, but I can say this. Not only is the martial arts amazing in this movie (is there any Lau Kar Leung film where the martial arts aren't nothing less than amazing?), the plot of the film presents a moral quagmire. Chiang is undoubtedly the hero of the film, in spite of his working (against his will) for the Chings, but what he does he does for his family. Lau Kar Wing by contrast ultimately marks himself, in a jolting moment, as a villain (in spite of his stance against the corrupt Chings) because he will literally do anything for the rebellion, including sacrifice family members who stand in his way! Talk about role reversals!

Fair warning: this film is a blast, but it's also pretty bleak. Highly recommended!

Reviewed by: steveonkeys
Date: 12/19/2001
Summary: Absolute Shaw Brothers Classic

One of my all-time old-school favorites, this is an excellent outing from Lau Kar-Leung. Great story, and Lau's trademark twists on kung-fu plot conventions are always a pleasure.

The fighting is fast and mean throughout, David Chiang has never looked better, and Lau Kar-Wing is VICIOUS. You can never go wrong when he is the main villain in your film ("Knockabout," "Legendary Weapons of China.") I can't think of anyone better for the part. 9.5/10

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: SBates
Date: 03/03/2001

A very good classic martial arts film by Lau Ga-leung. However, the novel idea of having the hero be a Ching spy was used earlier in Joseph Kuo's "The 18 Bronzemen 2".

Reviewed by: battlemonkey
Date: 12/21/1999

A Ch'ing spy (Chiang) is assigned to infiltrate a family suspectedof being Ming revolutionaries. Chiang becomes a teacher for the family's daughter, whom he eventually falls in love with. Plans for marriage are complicated when Chiang discovers the family is part of the revolution, and the family discovers Chiang's true identity. Chiang and his new wife fight their way through the family, but she is unable to fight to her full potential against her own brothers, and ends up being killed. Chiang goes to the woods and learns mantis fist by watching an actual mantis. He returns and kills the family, thus returning home to be the hero of the day. Amid the celebration, however, his own father kills him, revealing that he (Chiang's father) was also a revolutionary, and hated his son for killing heroes of the cause. The emperor then kills the father, and thus, everyone ends up completely unhappy and dead. It starts out looking like a comedy, then becomes a very bitter tragedy with constant unexpected twists. Interesting because David Chiang plays a Ch'ing spy, making this possibly the only movie with a Ch'ing hero--they are almost always the villains (this is similar to Liu Chia Liang's other film, CHALLENGE OF THE NINJA, which is one of the only films to feature non-evil Japanese). Chiang is actually a villain, at least historically, so Liu Chia Liang has broken yet more ground by providing a villain who is fully developed and thus, becomes the good guy. Usually, the villains just laugh a lot and kill.