10 Brothers of Shaolin/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Believe it or not, it's difficult to review traditional martial arts films. That's because a vast majority of them don't have anything plot-wise to get your teeth into, especially when compared to later entries into the genre. The way these storylines usually go is like this; Someone is wronged, someone sets out to right that wrong, someone does eventually right that wrong with a ton of ass-kicking along the way, the movie ends on a freeze-frame. Let's be honest here, shall we? Watching old-school kung-fu for the plot is like watching porn for the same reason. Nobody does. You're just there for the action. Now, while this usually means that most of these efforts clock in at around the 80/90 minute mark and are usually packed to the brim with mucho-mucho violence and wreaking of Inn's in backwater towns, as a writer it's kind of hard to find a way to explain to you - dear reader - why you should go and check it out when all you can really say about the script is "Yeah, it ain't Shakespeare". "So then, Neil, you devilishly handsome roughish fellow, how do you solve this tricky conundrum?" I hear you ask. To which I reply, simple, you find something that stands out and run with that and in 10 Brothers of Shaolin, that thing is Ling Chia's performance. But before we get to this, the plot.
Master Chu is the former leader of the nation and head of the Ming Dynasty. Or it could be The Ching Dynasty as the copy I have of the movie comes with subtitles that you can hardly read whenever there's daylight - think that scene from Austin Powers: Goldmember and you'll know what I mean - and when they are legible, they seem to be having a crisis of confidence in what they're saying, and keep changing his clan name around. But I digress - in fact, I used to be a professional digresser - and Master Chu, having spent a few years at The Shaolin Temple since his family's fall from grace, is summoned back to the fight to try and reclaim his throne. To add him on such a perilous journey, the Buddhist Monks send their 10 best students to make sure he gets to his destination and overthrow his rival, played by the always excellent Chang Yi. Even though the plot may be simple, there's still a lot to like about 10 Brothers of Shaolin. For example, the second in command to Chang Yi's character is absolutely terrible at being a bad guy. Seriously, he should've chosen a career path as no matter what he tries, or how many men he takes with him, he usually ends up on the ass end of an ass whipping. The fight scenes themselves are quite good for the time it was released as well. Yes, you get the usual 'everyone stands in the background dancing from side to side until it's your turn' shuffle that is prevalent in almost all of these films until Jackie Chan upped the ante, but it's not as distracting as most due to the fact that the action keeps ticking over nicely and nobody waits around too long to feel the business end of a Kung-Fu chop or pointy sword. Yet, the real reason to watch 10 Brothers of Shaolin - outside of the fact it's 70s Martial Arts goodness - is as I've stated, Ling Chia.
One of the best tropes that 1970s Kung-Fu flicks gave to the world was strong female characters. Ladies who could and did hold their own while dishing out and taking a beating. Now, I admit that the damsel in distress role was still something that production companies and scriptwriters would fall back on, but I've always felt that there were more hard-hitting heroines than weak, defenseless plot devices in these movies. Ling Chia's performance here definitely falls into the former category. She takes no prisoners, breaking heads and smashing throats, and her final scenes where she fights and defeats Chang Yi's son and his right-hand man, before going out in a blaze of glory as the irate father takes his revenge, are some of the best I've seen in all my years watching martial arts flicks. And yes, you did read that right, she dies. This in itself is rarely heard of, as the rule of thumb has always been "If she kicks ass, she's making it to the credits". Sadly, she doesn't, but it is her performance throughout 10 Brothers of Shaolin that is reason enough for you or anyone to watch it. The 10 Brothers themselves are entertaining enough, but Ling Chia steals the whole damn show.