SHAOLIN RED MASTER is one of those kung fu movies where everything is shrouded in mystery for so long into the story that by the time we learn what we need to know, we find it wasn't worth the effort. This is too bad because there are some good performers and a handful of good fights, including a great knockdown, drag-out hand-to-hand bout at the end between star Chi Kuan-Chun and villain Chang Yi.
Directed by Sung Ting Mei, the film opens with a lengthy treatise on Tibetan Buddhism and its spin-off Lamaism and its Red and Yellow branches, all of which have virtually nothing to do with the movie proper. Instead, the plot is all about a stolen box of Ancient Ginseng originally prescribed for an ailing kung fu master by a doctor who was then killed. Ten years later, the doctor's son, Su (Chi Kuan-Chun), seeks revenge and winds up mixing in with a group of shady characters including Flying Tiger Chi Pao (Lung Fei) and the attractive but deceptive Miss Hung (Hu Chin). All paths eventually lead to a `Red Master' called `Old Devil' (Chang Yi) who is also looking for a hidden Jade Buddha.
Su continuously intervenes when other characters are attacked, usually by killer monks, but he gradually arrives later and later until, one by one, the various characters die before he can save them, none of which seems to bother him very much. There is a fat waiter and his equally hefty wife who help out Su, but also provide questionable comic relief, including a scene where the couple is about to make love but are interrupted by the boss lady, Miss Hung.
It's not a bad movie, but the unnecessarily busy plot slows things down and actually keeps the hero from doing what he does best, i.e. fight! Better known for playing Hu Wei Chien in several of Chang Cheh's Shaolin Temple films, Chi Kuan-Chun is in fine form here, as fit and toned as ever. Short, but with long and well-muscled arms and legs, Chi found few opponents who made a good fit with him on screen, but he is particularly well-matched with Chang Yi in the final battle. Chi made lots of films in Taiwan after leaving Shaw Bros., from the sublime (EAGLE'S CLAW, also with Chang Yi) to the ridiculous (IRON NECK LI). SHAOLIN RED MASTER was shot on location in Taiwan and while it's well-directed it pales next to the same director's TRAITOROUS (1976).
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