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Shaolin Mantis (Orig. Tang lang) is a 1978 Shaw Brothers film directed by Lau Kar-leung. Starring David Chiang and Liu Chia Hui. Shaolin Mantis tells the story of a man who learns martial arts by observing a praying mantis.
This is one of Sun Chung's best works, on par with his other masterpieces like THE AVENGING EAGLE (1978) and HUMAN LANTERNS (1982). Other of his commendable works in the same genre are JUDGEMENT OF AN ASSASSIN (1977) and the cult classic, currently unavailable on DVD, TO KILL A MASTERMIND (1979).
The plot blends wuxia and martial arts with mystery, about a mercenary swordsman (Wang Yu) on a secret mission to deliver a valuable box, whose contents are confidential, owned by a prince (Ku Feng) to Xi An.
However, dangers follow him throughout his journey as the news about the Prince's offering a handsome amount of reward for whoever can deliver the package safely has spread out among swordsmen of the martial arts world.
Throughout his 30-day journey, before finally arriving in the town to hand over the box to the Prince, the mercenary swordsman must face- off not only dozens of other swordsmen intending to sabotage the delivery and get the reward but also uncover a devious plan behind the mission. Thus, bloodshed ensues and victims fall as the tension mounts. Realizing that the mission is a decoy, he decides to put an end to it and confront the traitor even at the expense of his life.
Chen Kuan Tai plays a master swordsman on the same trail of the delivery as is Lo Lieh, playing as a master beggar and other Shaw Bros regulars - all with unique villainous characters. Even Wang Lung Wei and Venoms supporting cast Yang Siung (most memorable roles are as the Brass Head in THE KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, Iron Fist in THE REBEL INTRUDERS,and the giant club-wielding fighter in SHAOLIN RESCUERS) have a cameo appearance as the antagonists.
The production design is artistic - from an abandoned Buddhist temple in the opening scene to a run-down watermill in the climax.
The fight choreography is good, though not as impressive as that of the Venoms, and uses some slow motion shots at effective moments.
One thing worth mentioning is Wang Yu's weapon to fend off his assailants, an iron umbrella with razor-sharp spokes, which also holds a sword in its handle. Weird but cool.
For fans of Sun Chung's works for Shaw Brothers, RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH (1980) comes highly recommended.
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