Mill Creek continues on with their affordably priced genre sets, this time bringing “Kickin’ it Shaolin Style”, a 12 movie collection of Shaolin themed fighting films. Stretching from the early 70’s to early 80’s they are the stereotypical examples of the genre, full of dubbed dialogue, fast camera zooms and men defying gravity with their fighting styles. Many different directors contributed to these films such as Joseph Kuo, Godfrey Ho, Joseph Kuo, Jo-Myeong Jeon, Joseph Kuo, Xiang Chi and Joseph Kuo (this was his specialty).
After watching most of each of the 12 films the big thing with these movies is they follow a simple yet strict formula which works nicely for the genre. This usually involves one or two men who are either new in town or have lived in the town their whole lives. Then there is either a new evil or a long standing evil that needs to be defeated. And at some point the final fight scene is fueled by some sort of revenge. With this, the finale inevitably involves one person or a group of people fighting a seemingly indestructible master fighter. More often than not, the villain is the archetypal elder with flowing white hair, fu manchu facial hair and thick, wavy eyebrows.
Much unintentional humor can be derived from these films and their stereotypes. I do not mean this in a derogatory way. It only adds to their charm and helps reinforce the fascination with the era. The voice dubbing is purely functional without much thought put into matching the voices to the mouths. The kick and punch foley work sounds like they used whips and banging ping pong paddles together. Many of the films recycle the same soundtrack, which can be quite good at times. One of the films actually used about 10 seconds of music from Star Wars. It was wildly amusing. The fight scenes all look the same. They are well choreographed but still all the same. After going through them back to back to back you start to get the sense that there was one basic formula and they beat it into the ground mercilessly. You know that feeling you get when you watch your favorite movie over and over again but you wish there were slight changes in it every time you watched it, just so part of it seems new again? That’s basically what you get with all these films. The same thing just slightly different. Having said that, these films ultimately helped contribute to the action films of the 80’s, 90’s and today. Not all of the films were memorable but some of the standouts were:
The Shaolin Death Squad – This film has a more cinematic feel than the rest.
The Dynamite Shaolin Heroes – Features some funny fight scenes and had the most grindhouse feel.
Stranger from Shaolin – This had some nice imagery and set pieces.
Video and audio:
Upon insertion of the disc you are given a grainy and scratchy film menu. I can see Mill Creek using such a grindhouse motif possibly to make the video quality seem more acceptable. The case has all 12 movies on 3 discs stack on top of one another. Each disc ahas four films and each film is 13 chapters long. Most of the transfers seem to have been culled from VHS sources.
The Dynamite Shaolin Heroes- Video is VHS quality with tracking issues. The print is riddled with white specks and there is much scratchy print damage especially around the reel changes. The audio is tinny and wobbly.
Shaolin Invincible Guys – This cartoonish movie appears stretched and zoomed in giving is a blurry look. The audio is serviceable at best.
The Cavalier – Fullscreen image with poor video quality and much blurriness throughout. Poor audio quality.
18 Shaolin Riders – Widescreen version with better video quality than the rest. Far less print damage. Audio is average.
Stranger from Shaolin – This one sports a horrible video transfer. Probably the worst of the bunch.
Shaolin Kung Fu – 2.35:1 widescreen image with not much print damage. Audio is poor.
Fist from Shaolin – Fullscreen transfer with better picture quality than most of the others. Same for the audio.
The Shaolin brothers – 2.35:1 widescreen image with average video and audio quality
The Rebel of Shao-Lin – Fullscreen image with average video quality
The Shaolin Death Squad – 2.35:1 widescreen image with slightly above average video. This film has a more cinematic feel than the rest. Audio is average.
Super Dragon – Fullscreen image with poor quality featuring many VHS tracking lines. This movie is memorable for using Star Wars music at certain scenes.
The Magnificent – This one differentiates itself with having a snowy setting. There is much print damage and white specks. It features barely passable audio.
If you are a super fan and want to soak up all the 70’s and 80’s Kung-fu you can get your hands on then this set is for you. Even non-super fans will get a kick out of some of the vintage, grindhouse ridiculousness as these discs would be a fun late night spin with some friends. The price point alone makes it worth the time you will spend surfing through the movies. The video and audio vary from barely passable DVD standard definition to poor VHS quality.