Executioners from Shaolin (1977)

Posted in Reviews by - March 18, 2016
Executioners from Shaolin (1977)

As an expert in the Shaolin discipline of Hung Gar, this was Lau Kar-leung‘s first attempt at contextualising the style’s historical and dynastic roots. It is also the first film to delve into the Chinese internal systems via the brilliant character of evil eunuch Pai Mei (meaning ‘white brow’) who first appeared in the original Fong Sai-yuk films and had a small outing in Shaw Brothers’ Shaolin Avengers, but takes centre stage here. The film follows events directly after the burning of the Shaolin temple at the hands of Ching dynasty despot Pai Mei (Lo Lieh). Famed rebel Hung Hei-kwan (Chen Kuan-tai) leads his fellow Shaolin escapees on board the infamous ‘red junks’ disguised as a touring Beijing Opera troupe, where he marries the formidable Crane master Yim Wing Chun (Lily Li). Her stance is so strong that Hung spends his wedding night out in the cold after failing to prise her legs apart. The two eventually seek refuge in Guangdong where they raise a son, Hung Wen-ding (Wong Yu). The boy is used by Lau as a symbolic representation of the need for balance in learning the southern Chinese kung fu systems. His father, a Tiger Fist expert, refuses to learn his wife’s Crane style which he sees as an affront to his masculinity, and his tussles with Pai Mei ultimately end tragically. Wen-ding, however, is taught by his mother and is depicted by Lau as androgynous; he wears a pinafore and has buns in his hair. He is forced to cobble together a hybrid system of both the Tiger and Crane to ultimately defeat Pai Mei. In contrast, the eunuch is shown as asexual with a seemingly retracting penis, or perhaps no penis at all. His ‘golden bell clasp’ technique, derived via meditation, has resulted in an impenetrable body armour and movable weak spot. He is the archetypal tyrannical monk with a mystifying internal strength who would invariably feature in many subsequent kung fu films. This is the first film to depict the Hung Gar story and it is delivered with both grace and exuberance by Lau Kar-leung. Many subsequent films have dealt with the same topic, notably Lo Lieh’s Fist of the White Lotus, Wong Jing’s New Legend of Shaolin and Donnie Yen‘s 1994 TV show The Kung Fu Master.

AKA: Executioners of Death; Hung Hei Kwun; Shaolin Executioners.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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