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  Shaolin Wooden Men Take It To The Plank
Year: 1976
Director: Chi-Hwa Chen
Stars: Jackie Chan, Kam Chiang, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Her Du Wei, Cheung Bing Yuk, Kong Kim, Yuen Lung, Tien Miao, Yuen Biao
Genre: Martial Arts, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dumb Boy (Jackie Chan) is a mute student at a Shaolin Temple, and has nightmares not only about the temple's harshest trial, but a terrible event in his childhood where he witnessed his father's murder at the hands of a masked man. It was seeing this that rendered him mute, but everyone thinks he is stupid as well, and his fellow students make fun of him, although he doesn't really mind. Today the test is a gruelling one, as the students must wear iron shoes and carry a pair of pails full of water from the river up a long flight of steps to fill their barrels. Unfortunately, Dumb Boy is not very skilled at this task, and everyone else beats him at it, but when threatened with expulsion by the head monk he begs to stay, because for his own peace of mind he must learn fighting techniques to gain his revenge on his father's killer...

Although the title of this is Shaolin Wooden Men, or Shao Lin Mu Ren Xiang in its original form, those tree based figures don't make up much of the film, and are a type of initiation ceremony that our silent hero must undergo halfway through the film. They look as if they're supposed to be puppets of some kind, but it's pretty obvious that there are people inside, with long corridors of punching and kicking wooden men the ritual that the challenger must endure if they hope to graduate. Until then, there's damn little kung fu action, and as if to make up for that the opening is a lengthy sequence of Dumb Boy dreaming that he taking on various experts in specialised techniques.

After that, most of the film is training, but the role of Dumb Boy, while not proving much of a stretch for Chan in the acting stakes, is physical enough for the star to strut his stuff. As with many of the martial arts films of the time, lessons play a major part, but for a bit of novelty Dumb Boy has two masters to teach him. The first is an unruly wildman (Kam Chiang) who lives chained up in a dungeon deep inside the mountain and is discovered by the student, who feels sorry for him and feeds him, also supplying him with wine from the resident alchoholic monk (who he imitates to adapt to methods of balance). In return, the prisoner - while still chained up! - verses him in the ways of his fighting style.

Dumb Boy's other teacher is a more serene presence, a middle aged Buddhist woman (Cheung Bing Yuk) who we can be confident never falls over thanks to her skills at prancing around on slippery oil, something that Dumb Boy picks up quickly. If by this time you're impatient for a fight sequence, then never fear, for once he has run the gauntlet of the wooden men, our protagonist sets out in the wide world to get involved with a kidnapping plot. Meanwhile, the wildman escapes, and the film's theme of the student besting his teacher gets underway as he is actually a murderous villain who the Shaolin monks are desperate to return to the dungeon. Will Dumb Boy have anything to do with his recapture? The climactic battle is worth waiting for, and takes up a good ten minutes of screen time, but before that the combat is pretty much of the kind you'd expect, nothing especially inspiring, but it does the job. This is a typical example of the genre overall.

[Hong Kong Legends' Region 2 DVD only has a few trailers as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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