Martial Arts Movie Review 1

I've decided to start reviewing martial arts movies, mostly because I came up with a 2-part rating scale that pretty much defines what I want out of a kung-fu movie. Do you watch martial arts movies for intense drama, intricate plotlines, and stellar acting? No. No one does. We watch martial arts movies because we like to watch people get the stuffing kicked out of them in new and creative ways!

My rating scale works like this:

Pain-face rating: How good the movie is overall, including fights, artsy-fartsy stuff like cinemetography and costuming, plot, acting, etc. I should stress that fight scenes are weighted more heavily than the other stuff... this ain't Masterpiece Theatre. This is on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the absolute pinnacle of awesome. For reference, Fist of Legend gets a pain-face rating of 10.

Pain-face-per-minute (PFPM)!: How often (in my very rough estimation) someone on the film is making a painful face. Let's be honest. We're looking for beat-downs here, and the more the better. This number doesn't have to be high to make for a good martial arts movie, but a high number here could make an otherwise abysmal movie worth watching...

So, for my first subject, I chose to watch 5 Fighters from Shaolin.

An old, crazy (and possibly drunken) Shaolin monk leaves his temple and assembles a rag-tag band of 5 fighters to train under him in a compound of their own design, in the event that his long-time rival (a black magic practitioner and generally evil guy) comes back to steal a sacred kung-fu manuscript. I should stress that continuity was not important to the makers of this film. You have to watch at least an hour of this movie to piece together the premise. That's not really a problem, because the whole film is so ridiculous, it's kind of amusing. This is definately a comedy, and it relies primarily on slapstick martial arts. The 5 fighters train in 5 different styles. As far as I can tell, these styles are: Punching and kicking things, Being big and strong, Gymkata, Jumping really high, and Fighting with poles. Training sequences make up about 30 -45 minutes of this movie. At times they can be a bit tedious (mostly because the dubbed whining in English gets old fast), but they are fun to watch. At least three of the five students are actually quite good athletes (I'd say "martial artists", but one of them is the Gymkata guy, and he's clearly just a gymnast.) This makes for some fun fight scenes and fairly elaborate martial choreography, which is the whole reason we're watching these movies in the first place.
However... the plot is... well, it's a bit thin. Plus the crazy, sadistic old monk spends most of the movie cackling like an evil gnome. The bad guys are easy to pick out - they're the ones in capes and/or reflective metallic robes. Wirework? Check. The gore is spotty. In the opening scene, the bad guy sacrifices a mostly naked girl who literally explodes in a shower of blood. Then, there's several fight scenes with no gore at all (when maybe there should be), and all of a sudden you have bodies that detonate at the slightest provocation! Soundtrack and sound effects? Oh, yeah, this movie's got 'em.... But it's not anything you couldn't do yourself with a little 10-key Casio synthesizer. Also, this movie is not available in subtitles. However, while the accents are a bit strange (sometimes they sound like the Beatles?), the voice acting itself is not actually bad. At times, one does wonder about the translation, though. (Apparently in Taiwan, they taste with their HANDS!) Finally, the ending is, shall we say, abrupt.

This is not a really good kung-fu movie. This is a ridiculous, very campy kung-fu movie with frequent, very watchable fightscenes.

PFPM: at least 12!

Pain-face rating: 4