American Shaolin (1991)

Posted in Reviews by - April 16, 2013
American Shaolin (1991)

Affable if honkingly predictable Sino-American romp from Seasonal Films who add a lighter tone to the Shaolin temple story.

After humiliation at a kickboxing tournament at the hands of contemptuous head-crunching uber-douche Trevor Gottitall (see what they did there?), American teen slacker Drew Carson (Madigan) boards a quick flight to China to study at a mostly English speaking Shaolin temple.

Shaolin is portrayed as a military boot camp, where new inmates are bossed about by a stern kung fu captain who has them breaking rocks like prisoners. Drew has a Spartacus moment after befriending his fellow monks with the help of American pornography and a song and dance routine where he teaches everyone the words to Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues (charmingly altered to Shaolin Temple Blues). But he soon gets into the swing of things, learning discipline, humility and loads of kung fu.

The film enters Raiders of the Lost Ark territory as Drew confronts the fabled wooden dummies guarding the Shaolin exit besieged by a series of falling traps. He conveniently graduates in time to face Trevor in a final battle at a wushu tournament in Shanghai. “The Shaolin monks are pussies!” yells the cretinous Trevor, whose cheap finishing move involves pulling his opponent’s pants down.

Trevor represents a crass symbol of western aggression, obsessed by ego and prestige and the antithesis of the Shaolin way. Drew’s cathartic journey, both physically and spiritually, transcends to such a degree that he almost opts out of the final fight.

He doesn’t, obviously, leaving more screen time for Corey Yuen to showcase his sublime choreography. The film also makes space for some authentic location shots and an erstwhile morality. As an accessible introduction to the wisdom and teachings of the Shaolin temple for a younger western audience, the film is perfectly acceptable and rather enjoyable.

AKA: King of the Kickboxers II; No Retreat, No Surrender 5

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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 keyboard in London, UK.

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