Thursday, June 5, 2014

Shaolin Hand Lock (Shi Zi Mo Hou Shou, 1978)

What goes on folks? Hai!Karate returns with another flick for your pleasure! This one is a relatively undiscovered gem from the Shaw Brothers Studios, Shaolin Hand Lock!! The film is rich in talent, with David Chiang starring alongside the great Lo Lieh and macho action star Chan Wai-Man! Representing for the ladies are Chen Ping, Shum Lee-Mei and Kara Hui. Role actors Chen Shen and Dick Wei also pop up here. And in the director's chair for this film is the famed Ho-Meng Hua.

Shaolin Hand Lock starts with Li Bai (Wei)observing his son Ching Yang(Chiang) and daughter Meng Ping(Ping)training hard outside of their home. Li Bai takes a moment to talk to them both about his lethal technique, known guessed it, the Shaolin Hand Lock. He also shows both of them the protection he has against the one flaw in the technique being exploited. The kids leave and his servants go to prep lunch. At that moment Fang Yu Biao(Shen) shows up to relive old times. See, Li Bai was a smuggler back in the day. And his old partner wants him out of the way. Fang then rubs out Li Bai who tries the Shaolin Hand Lock, but doesn't have on his gear. He dies, and Xiaofeng takes out the servants. Ching Yang and Meng Ping rush home to find the bodies. A witness tells Chingyang where to find Xiaofeng. Who by the time he finds him, is off on the next boat to Bangkok, Thailand. Chingyang goes off, but not before burying his father and telling his sister to stay behind 'as it's man's business.' Chingyang arrives in Bangkok and finds Fang curled up with an escort in a brothel. Chingyang yokes him up and forces Fang to confess that he was under orders by Lin Hao(Lieh), who is a very wealthy and influential man in town. He then breaks his neck and plots out how to get close to Lin Hao.

Chingyang also finds out that there's a shipment that Lin Hao is expecting, which is guarded by his daughter Lin Ai(Lee-Mei). Chingyang then disrupts and steals the shipment. He then goes to Lin Hao and brings back the goods but not before going toe to toe with his right-hand man Li Kun Shi(Wai-Man). This leads Chingyang to be one of Hao's main men. Of course, this puts him under heavy suspicion by Kun Shi. Lin Ai also keeps an eye on him, but out of faint romantic interest. Of course, this intricate bit of deception faces a lot of peril and questions. For one, why does Lin Hao detest his wife, Blind Mama Li(Karen Yip)? What will Chingyang do to throw Kun Shi off the trail? What will he do when Meng Ping shows up? How will he defeat Lin Hao?

Shaolin Hand Lock is an interesting flick that doesn't get a lot of talk directed this way, and that's a shame. That's not to say that it's a cinematic standout. The plot does stretch itself thinner than Kelly Ripa's arms. I mean, how tight of a villain can you be if you've got more holes in your security than a honeycomb? Also, there's a certain twist with Lin Hao and Blind Mama Li that smacks of soap opera. Put that on the screenwriter Ni Kuang who usually didn't get that far off the path. Also, Shum Lee-Mei as Lin Ai? This was her only film role ever, and sadly we can see why. She kind of fades into the back a lot. But cheesy elements aside, there's a good deal to enjoy here. The fight scenes are crisp, fast-paced and compelling. Let's also not forget abundant. They pop up every few minutes so you can't get too bored. David Chiang is on his charismatic game here, but does employ good emoting as Chingyang. Lo Lieh as Lin Hao is calculating and sneering as the villain. Plus that Brylcreem job that's his hairdo works for him. Chan Wai-Man does well as Kun Shi and it's good to see how he and Chiang spar against each other. Meng Ping however is, outside of a quick action scene, just relegated to a foil. It went against her rise at that time in the studio for both action roles and those that leaned a bit on the cheesecake side. The rich settings of Bangkok add a nice touch to the film, especially the reliance on the many boats and the ruins. Ho-Meng Hua keeps the film going nicely at an even pace. You don't feel like anything is rushed, even if there are one or two moments where you could use a bit more character development. Some trivia for you: Karen Yip as Blind Mama Li would star here in her next to last feature before retiring. One little tie in with Chan Wai-Man is that they both starred in flicks set in the Scandinavian country of Denmark. In the same year. Odd, huh? Kara Hui plays one of the servants who gets offed in the early part of the film. This would actually be one of a couple of roles that she'd take on her eventual path to Hong Kong cinema stardom.(Her breakout role was her third, in 1977's The Brave Archer.) If you're looking for a film to just chill with for a little bit, Shaolin Hand Lock will do just the trick.


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