Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)

This is a bit more like it, although I’m not sure exactly who to credit; Lo Wei is listed on the print as director but Chen Chi-Hwa is “executive director”, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. IMDB and Wiki ascribe Chen (who I gather is not the same as Jeong Chang-Hwa who made King Boxer) the directorial credit, for whatever that may be worth. Or should we credit young J. Chan, who was action director as well as star on this film? At any rate the action is somewhat more plentiful, though once again the story is hampered somewhat by its structuring (which leaves possibly the most important driving aspect of the plot unexplained until almost the very end)… this time round Jackie is a young mute man studying at Shaolin Temple, apparently neither the best nor brightest of the bunch, who one day ventures into a forbidden area of the temple and there finds a somewhat sinister figure chained up; this latter assists him with his kung fu training and speeds him through to the combat with the titular wooden men, which is the final test… but after graduation there’s the real world to face, and an even bigger test. Odd that the abbot doesn’t ask him exactly who he trained under until after he’s left, but never mind… At least Chan gets to evince more charisma here, more of a sense of what’d eventually make him great—though it’s not a comedy by any means he does at least have some comic business to perform—and the film’s focus on him is far stronger here, which is good given how much he carries it. The extraordinary opening dream-sequence duel shows more promise in six minutes than the whole of NFoF; and I fear I’m overrating it a bit, that maybe it’s not really quite as good as it looks by comparison with that film, but it is a definite improvement either way… if only I could work out who was responsible for it.

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