North vs South
Rebellion is a common thread through the world of Shaw Brothers, although few make it so muddled as to who to root for. Invincible Shaolin follows a brewing war between north and south Shaolin schools, manipulated into conflict.
The northern side chooses to investigate mysterious deaths, the southerners choose revenge. Yet, it’s not the pacifists Invincible Shaolin spends numerous training montages following, rather the aggressive south. That’s an odd choice, muddying the moral scope.
It’s otherwise pedestrian, providing the slick fight sequences expected from the genre, and in varied form. Weapons and fists clash, at times offering the wild fantasy kung fu does well. One fighter strikes his opponent’s chest, waits, and then explodes their ribs. That bit of cheap gore adds some luster to the familiar battles, while small time romantic comedy brightens the stale narrative.
While the cast is laced with Shaw Brothers notables, their characters fall into their respective schools rather than individuals. Thankfully, come the finale, that hardly matters. It’s a lengthy, fast-paced affair, and the choreography has a number of creative motions to take note of.
One of the better offerings from the Shawscope box set, Invincible Shaolin uses a superb master that’s to a point of showing too much. Every wig and tape mark is revealed by this high resolution scan, even in mid-range shots. Minimal (but not minimized) grain lets the encode breathe, leaving behind no messy artifacts. Fidelity takes full advantage of these circumstances. No texture is spared.
Excellently calibrated color keeps the primaries in check while still looking well saturated. Blues and reds coexist alongside the spot-on flesh tones. Likewise well-established black levels drive dimensionality, and the print itself hasn’t faded over time. Contrast shows a consistent heft and brightness.
Per the norm in the Shawscope sets, Mandarin, Cantonese, and English tracks use DTS-HD. Mandarin mono lacks firmness, but reasonably so. Roughened dialog and menial score perform as expected, nothing more.
Things begin on a 2003 interview with Robert Tai who speaks for 24-minutes. Author Terrence J. Brady presents a new video essay running 26-minutes. Trailers and stills follow.
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Murky good versus evil roles hampers Invincible Shaolin, but the finale is worth waiting for.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 40 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: