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Mainland Chinese film about the early years of Fong Sai Yuk
THE YOUNG HERO OF SHAOLIN (1984), the on-screen title on my VHS edition of this film, is a Mainland Chinese kung fu film about legendary martial artist Fong Sai Yuk and is not to be confused with an earlier Hong Kong film sometimes listed by that title (and listed on IMDb as ENTER THE WHIRLWIND BOXER, 1976) that's also about Fong Sai Yuk. I've seen only a handful of Mainland Chinese kung fu films, some of which are better than others (e.g. the Jet Li version of SHAOLIN TEMPLE, 1982). This one is comparatively well-mounted, with authentic settings, a large number of extras, and expert staging of the fight scenes.
The film focuses on Fong as a youth, from infancy to early adulthood, including early training from his martial artist mother before entering Shaolin Temple as a student and then graduating from the temple and traveling until he is compelled to take on a formidable opponent at a tournament in Hangchow. That's basically all the plot there is. Most of the fights are presented in the context of training, tests, challenges, and tournaments. Time is spent on his period as a cocky, immature youth who pulls pranks on his fellow students and teachers before getting taken down a peg and buckling down to train seriously. His mother is a prominent character in many films about Fong, but we actually see both his parents here throughout the entire film. We also see the Buddhist nun who taught his mother and who interacts with Fong from time to time. Legend has it that Fong's mother subjected him to herbal treatments as an infant to make him invulnerable. We see those treatments early in this film, although his invulnerability does not figure in the plot as much as it did in various Hong Kong films about Fong that are better-known and much more exciting, e.g. MEN FROM THE MONASTERY (1974) and SHAOLIN AVENGERS (1976), in both of which Alexander Fu Sheng played Fong, a part he also played in HEROES TWO (1973) and SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1976). Meng Fei played the role in THE PRODIGAL BOXER (1973) and Jet Li played the role in FONG SAI YUK (aka THE LEGEND, 1993).
As a character, Fong boasts a generally cheery and optimistic demeanor here. Despite the mischief he engages in during his early tenure at Shaolin, he is shown to be a good-hearted soul who gets into trouble for taking food from the temple to share with a poor girl ("White Flower") and her ailing grandfather living in a hut near the temple. Shi Bao Hua, the young actor playing Fong here, is spry and agile and also a very good acrobat and fighter and consistently fun to watch in action. The big fights at the end are staged as part of a competition on a public platform in which an evil master and his son, "Captain Ray Hung" (as he's named in my English-dubbed copy), take on various challengers in Hangchow and use devious means to beat, maim and even kill some of them. The two villains had threatened Fong's family when Fong was a baby, as seen in the film's opening scene, and have been holding a grudge ever since. Fong's final battle with them is the most grueling and satisfying in the film, at least until the rather abrupt ending.
My English-dubbed VHS copy (from Ocean Shores) runs 91 minutes. The English dubbing isn't bad at all, with the crowd scenes handled particularly well. The main character's name is spelled Fong Sze Yu in the opening text and Fang Shiyu in the closing credits. The lead actor's name is spelled Shi Bao Hua in the closing credits and Sze Po Wah on the VHS case. He sometimes went by the name of Barry Tze and starred in a sequel that was released in the U.S. on VHS as part of the Wu Tang Collection under the name, IRON MAN, which I am unable to find on IMDb.
Given that there appears to be no IMDb page for the sequel, I should add a comment about it here, especially since I watched it right after watching the first film. My notes indicate that its original title was YOUNG HERO OF SHAOLIN 2 and had a 1986 release date. It follows the further adventures of Fong Sai Yuk, but with a greater emphasis on his onetime Shaolin comrade, Hu Wei Chen, a prominent character in other Shaolin-themed kung fu films. Hu is involved in a dispute with local villain Dragon Head, who's backed by a corrupt court official. When Fong comes to town, he immediately takes sides with Hu. Complicating matters is the fact that Dragon Head's sister is attracted to Fong and secretly helps him. When Hu's sister is kidnapped by the gang, all hell breaks loose as the heroes, joined by Fong's mother, Dragon Head's sister, and eventually a whole cadre of Shaolin monks, enter into a pitched battle with increasing numbers of opponents. At one point, Fong and his allies fight the spectacular Golden Formation, seen in shifting patterns in some impressive staging captured in long shot in a prelude to the big fight. There is also a colorful Lion Dance sequence and a surprise appearance by San Te, the monk character featured in THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN. The editing is extremely disjointed and makes the movie play, at times, like excerpts from a much longer film. It was quite confusing early on, but once the kidnapping occurs over halfway through, the plot settles into gear and it's one solid fight scene after another. Like the earlier film, this one is shot on picturesque Chinese locations and uses an ample number of extras. The first film is more cohesive, but the second one is more wildly entertaining. My Wu Tang Collection VHS copy of IRON MAN is dubbed in English, runs 93 minutes, and was transferred in a pan-and-scan edition at the EP speed.
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