Is it the Shoes?

While there’s seemingly a communist slant to Disciples of Shaolin, the script isn’t so simple. Poor country teenager Sheng Fu enters city life, ignoring warnings about the local business leaders, then becoming corrupted by their influential greed. On the surface, that’s a blight on private ownership and capitalism, but Disciples of Shaolin distrusts all authority, from the underlings to the highest-level bosses.

Star Sheng Fu begins this morality tale with a smile. He’s his usual jovial self, ever the charismatic charmer on-screen, naive enough to blot out the cruelty around him. As a hero, Sheng Fu delights. As ego takes hold though, the story’s harsh turn against the actor’s natural proclivity for laughs lacks the same value.

While numerous in action/fight scenes, Disciples of Shaolin doesn’t focus on those

While numerous in action/fight scenes, Disciples of Shaolin doesn’t focus on those. Unusual for Shaw Brothers genre efforts, the script is determined to poke at a society that favors wealth above all, placing itself amid a war between textile factories. Neither offers a better environment for their exploited employees. One poaches workers over competitive fears, the other is run by a man who won’t help a now fatherless family financially after their father defended the company.

Warned by his own brother, Sheng Fu continues to gain respect, position, and wealth as his fighting skills bring an equality to this violent marketplace feud. Success leads to a rejection of personal values, the greed taking precedence above all. By becoming a company man, Sheng Fu dismisses common sense and all that he learned in an isolated life. It’s not dissimilar from Shaw’s Chinatown Kid, aside from the setting; that film also starred Sheng Fu.

Notable in its storytelling, the construction fails. The final act, aside from brief moments where the choreography holds things together, struggles in maintaining momentum. Flashbacks run the pacing aground, and the actual finish is minuscule, even abrupt. Nothing feels resolved. A brief mention of a failing legal system means the systemic issues will stay unchanged, an unusually mopey message for this genre that so often pays heed to those willing to persevere and fight back. It’s defeatist and dour, stating that nothing can overpower the will of a few. That, in addition to the strangled pacing, turn Disciples of Shaolin against itself.

Video

As presented by 88 Films, the master for this Blu-ray draws some ire. It’s too smooth, even with grain still intact to a degree. Disciples of Shaolin isn’t an unnatural mess, although periods of overly waxy imagery do appear, especially wider angle shots. Faces turn to mush, whereas in close, textural qualities can break free from the digital smoothing. Luckily, the encode is stout enough as to not add any additional faults.

The rest is all positive. Sensational color saturation provides lift to the flesh tones, then decorating various set designs through bold signage, decor, and other touches. It’s gorgeous, plus wholly natural, if with a little boost from modern scanning.

A minimal crush to the black levels looks to be more on the source materials and cinematography than the disc. This means black levels maintain consistent power, bringing dimensionality to the frame, then aided by bright contrast. Boldness is plentiful.

Audio

Provided in both an English dub and Mandarin (both mono, both uncompressed DTS-HD), the original language track is overly loud. Keep the volume down a few points in preparation.

There’s nothing memorable to the mastering. Static persists through much of the dialog, an age defect, not mixing. A simple score strains the treble and lacks bass.

Extras

The included booklet is worth mentioning first as it includes not only and essay on director Cheng Cheh, but also an interview with Jamie Luk and two pieces on Fu Sheng. On the Blu-ray, a commentary brings historians Mike Leeder and Anne Venema together. Journalist Samm Deighan takes on a second commentary solo. Additionally, there’s an interview with actor Jamie Luk.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Disciples of Shaolin
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

A tale of success, ego, and crude business, Disciples of Shaolin has fun between its dramatic high points.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 38 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: