Disciples of Shaolin (1975)

Posted in Reviews by - October 19, 2019
Disciples of Shaolin (1975)

Alexander Fu Sheng‘s tragi-comic embodiment of the xiao xi (‘little kid’) persona was never more fully realised than in this triumphant kung fu film. He steals every scene as the rebellious orphan Guan Feng-yi, who arrives in town as a sassy, barefoot bumpkin with exceptional martial arts skills and zero respect for authority. He winds up progressing far at a textile factory because of his fists, rallying his co-workers and protecting the bosses from unscrupulous Manchus intent on taking over the joint. His buddy, another master fighter (played by Chi Kuan-chun), faces his oppressors in a slightly different way, and the two form a yin-yang brotherhood of resistance; one impulsive, reckless, and boundless, the other restrained, virtuous and dignified. Fu Sheng’s boyish hero inevitably becomes corrupted by vice before his fable-like downfall. The rags-to-riches story feels closely aligned to one of Chang Cheh‘s earlier hits, The Boxer from Shantung, rather than part of his ‘Shaolin cycle’ of films made with the fight choreographers Lau Kar-leung and Tang Gaai, and the script writer Ni Kuang. The English title is a bit of a misnomer (Shaolin is never referenced in the film), but its Chinese title, The Hung Boxing Kid, explains its Shaolin connection in the form of Hung Gar kung fu, a southern Shaolin style created by Hung Hei-kwan whose adventures are chronicled in both Heroes Two and Men from the Monastery. The film’s premise highlights what has become of the rebel fighters who escaped the ashes of the temple and continue to fight injustice within their own communities. It also, ultimately, highlights the futility in their cause. The film would prove to be one of Lau Kar-leung’s last collaborations with Chang Cheh before moving back to Hong Kong to direct his own pictures, leaving Chang to toil with his own projects in relative isolation under his own Shaw Brothers subsidiary based in Taiwan. The film’s excellent balance of character, story, comedy, hubris and sublime choreography make this a must-watch; not to mention a great star turn from Fu Sheng who exudes charm and confidence. Lau Kar-leung would later help to remake the film as The Bare-footed Kid in 1993.

AKA: The Hung Boxing Kid; Invincible One.

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