Executioners from Shaolin (1977)
A couple unite - she is fluent in the crane style of kung fu, he in tiger style. They have a son, but the boy's father is killed by the evil eunuch Bai Mei. Disguised as a girl, his mom trains him in crane style while he secretly learns tiger style from his father's training manual.
- An opening narration explains that the ruling Manchurian Court has tracked a resistance movement against its rule, to the Shaolin Temple, which they were using as a cover for their activities. They ordered one of their chief enforcers, priest Pai Mei, to lead a raid on the temple. Pai Mei and his right-hand lieutenant, Governor Kao Jinzhong, led an army and set the temple on fire. In a bid to save his students, the head priest of Shaolin, Chi Shan, engaged Pai Mei in a crucial duel to the death.
The opening credits play as Chi Shan and Pai Mei are shown engaging in their battle against a plain red-screen backdrop. The kung-fu duel seems close to evenly matched until Chi Shan executes a kick to Pai Mei's groin. But Pai Mei, as a eunuch, has no testes, and has further trained his body that someone trying to kick him in the groin only ends up with their foot stuck between his legs. Pai Mei knocks Chi Shan to the ground and drags him backward, by his trapped foot, several yards, before finally breaking both of the Shaolin high priest's legs.
A contingent of rebels, led by a senior member of the movement, Hong Xiguan, is fleeing the Shaolin Temple. Many rebels are wounded from fighting, some dropping as they run. Hong has to urge his best friend, Xiao Hu, another leader, to keep running.
They meet up with another of the rebel captains, Tong Qianjin, who is leading another contingent of rebel fighters. Hong is alarmed that Tong is the only member of his contingent to escape. Tong brings news that Chi Shan was killed by Pai Mei. Hearing that his teacher and master has been killed, Hong Xiguan goes into a rage and tries to run back to the temple to exact revenge. Tong, Xiao Hu and all of the other men led by Hong, all run after him to stop him. They know they've lost the battle, but a lot of their men escaped, and trying to avenge Chi Shan now will only result in their rebellion being completely wiped out.
They run into an ambush of Manchurian archers, who take some more of the rebels down. Tong is wounded, an arrow piercing his leg. He pleads with Hong to take command, and then Tong takes a few soldiers to provide cover by engaging the archers. While the archers are reloading, Tong and his men rush at them, attacking with swords and hand-to-hand. Archers not under direct attack cannot fire again without hitting their own fighters.
Tong is handling nearly the whole contingent of Manchurian swordsmen by himself when Governor Kao Jinzhong arrives. Governor Kao orders the small group of men with him to take Tong alive, but they are no match for him. Kao then sends his majordomo, a Qing Court Fighter, to battle Tong. The Qing fighter is more of a match for Tong and seizes an early advantage. But when Governor Kao mocks Tong and tells him not to resist, Tong becomes angry and and more fierce, taking on the Qing Fighter and the rest of Kao's men all together and beating them. Finally Tong reaches Governor Kao himself, and even Kao's kung fu fails against Tong's onslaught. Governor Kao is badly injured, and losing his patience, orders the archers to kill Tong, even at the cost of friendly casualties. The rain of arrows take down several Manchurian fighters as well as Tong, and even in death, Tong's face is frozen in a look of stoicism and determination that gives Governor Kao pause.
At the Manchurian Court, Governor Kao, still hurt from his duel with Tong Qianjin, reports to the Royal Highness. The court is pleased with the success of the raid on the temple, but Kao is still deeply concerned with the ferocity of the Shaolin rebel resistance. Pai Mei is not worried. He is sure that his victory over the Shaolin high priest has spread fear through the resistance and sent the message that his kung-fu is unbeatable. He tells Governor Kao to simply continue his search without letup, and in the end, Pai Mei is sure that Kao will capture or kill all of the rebels.
Hong Xiguan and Xiao Hu have split up. Xiao and his men make their way to the border of Gwangzhou and come across a small town where a theater troupe is putting on a play based on a local figure named Yue Fei. The troupe is also part of the resistance movement, and the Manchurians have tracked them to the town. A squad of Manchurian soldiers raid the theater. The troupe's leader, Master Chen, and a number of his men escape. Xiao Hu sees them being pursued and rushes to aid them, killing the Manchurian pursuers.
Chen brings Xiao Hu to a 'red boat,' a group of Shaolin rebels that have established cover as theater performers traveling along the riverways by boat. Hong addresses the men on the boat, telling them to remember the temple and the priests and brothers who died defending them. They have come back to Kwangtung, a province under Governor Kao's control, to continue the fight. Hong says they must divide their strength and thus become more vulnerable, to ensure they are never completely wiped out. They will continue traveling and performing, discreetly giving aid to oppressed townfolk wherever possible and engaging Manchurians in ongoing guerilla tactics.
At a riverside village, a woman named Fang Yongchun is giving a kung-fu demonstration. The Red Boats arrive as she is giving her demonstration, and many of the villagers run to greet them, which makes Yongchun jealous. She complains to her uncle about their continued arrival wherever she and he go to stage their own performance.
The Red Boat troupe debarks from their boat, giving their pitch to the villagers about their latest show, and giving a small kung-fu demonstration as a sampler. A jealous Yongchun marches up to them and tells them that she thinks their kung fu is nothing special and orders them to leave the village. Xiao Hu, flustered, tells his men to escort Yongchun away. But Yongchun handles all of them easy with her own kung fu, proving far better than them. Xiao Hu spars with Yongchun himself, to find that she is able to take a stance so firm and stable that he cannot budge her legs and feet, even by kicking at them. She shrugs his blows off and then kicks him away, causing the villagers to laugh.
Hong Xiguan arrives and he's impressed with her technique. Yongchun offers to take him on, saying she has plenty of fight left in her. Intrigued, Hong spars with Yongchun, and the two of them are evenly matched. As they battle, they recognize each other's style and technique: Hong is expert in tiger kung fu, while Yongchun is a crane kung fu artist. Uncle Fang finally tells Yongchun to back down. Hong is impressed with Yongchun's skill, apologizing on behalf of his men. Seeing that Yongchun is also a traveling kung fu performer, he invites her and her uncle to travel with them on the Red Boat. Yonchun isn't too thrilled about the idea, until she and Uncle Fang overhear Xiaohu call Hong, 'Brother Hong.' Immediately they both recognize the name and know that he is Hong Xiguan.
Yongchun and Uncle Fang travel with the Red Boat, and Yongchun and Hong begin to grow increasingly close. Xiao Hu, who has become something of an incorrigible prankster from his time posing as a theater performer, jokes about needing to start calling Yongchun, 'Mrs. Hong' (a brief, amusing scene follows where Yongchun chases Xiao Hu about the boat to smack him one). But Xiao proves right, as soon after, Yongchun and Hong are married. Even on their wedding day, Xiao's mischief is near relentless, and both Hong and Uncle Fang must keep both Xiao and Yongchun (who's ready to give him another thrashing) reined in. Even when a cabin is prepared as a bridal suite for the marriage to be consummated, Hong has to throw Xiao Hu and the other performers off to get some peace with Yongchun.
Xiao's persistence in trying to eavesdrop and spy finally drives Yongchun to some mischief of her own. She clamps her knees together while lying on the bridal bed, challenging Hong to push her knees apart if he wants to consummate the marriage that night. Hong finds that all his strength cannot budge Yongchun's sturdy legs, and she smiles in complacent satsifaction as she bids her husband good night.
The next morning Xiao Hu finds Hong asleep outside the cabin, and Hong angrily drives him off the boat. Later in the day, as Uncle Fang is returning with the rest of the men with more supplies for the boat, he and Hong talk, and Uncle Fang has some advice for keeping Xiao Hu in line. That night, Hong tells Yongchun he's ready to give another try. She lies down on the bed and presses her knees together. After a few moments, Hong comes up with a kung fu technique that successfully pushes her knees apart. Yongchun petulantly swats at Hong, who fends her off as he tumbles into the bed and draws its curtains closed with his feet.
Governor Kao finds out that the Shaolin rebels are using the Red boats as cover. He dispatches soldiers to burn the boats, flush out the rebels and kill them. Over several months, a number of boats are burned and its crew slaughtered. A few survivors manage to make it to Hong's boat. Hong says they have to give up their last boat, get to shore and all scatter, keeping in contact as necessary to continue their work. Xiao Hu, his demeanor properly respectful and disciplined now, wants to go with Hong and Yongchun, since Uncle Fang has gone up north.
Months pass. Hong and Yongchun have settled in a house in a quiet town. One day Xiao Hu comes to Hong with urgent news. Yongchun is about to deliver a baby. The two rush back to Hong's home where Yongchun is being tended to by the town midwife. The baby is a boy, and Hong and Yonchun name him Wen-Ding.
Nighttime, six months later. Yongchun sews a baby garment, her infant son in a crib nearby, while Hong studies a manual of advanced tiger kung fu. Hong is concerned because he hasn't been practicing lately, and he needs to get his kung fu back into peak form. His primary goal is still avenging his master, and his friend Tong. Yongchun is deeply worried. Tiger kung fu is nearly unbeatable, but Pai Mei is no ordinary kung fu expert, having strength unmatched by any. Yongchun wants to teach some of her crane style to Hong to supplement his tiger technique. But Hong, proud and stubborn, refuses to do this. Against Yongchun's better judgement, he's gotten her to make an agreement that they will not learn each other's kung fu technique. When Yongchun tells Hong that he'll have to practice ten years in order to depend entirely on tiger style, Hong says without hesitation, that he'll do so.
Ten years have passed and Hong is able to rip the bark off of trees, and even knock down young trees with his bare hands. Meanwhile, Yongchun has been teaching crane kung fu to Wending.
Yongchun has had Wending practice holding a basic crane stance for as long as he is able to concentrate on holding it. A group of young boys comes by and starts making fun of him. Because of Wending's hair style and learning the style of kung fu practiced by his mother, rather than his father, the other children think that Wending is overly effeminate. They hop into the yard where he is stancing and try to pull his legs apart to topple his stance, but he holds firm and throws them all off with a simple knee flex, which brings a smile to his mother's face. Finally Wending chases all of them away from the house and into the field. Yongchun tries to call him back but then relents.
Hong, however, is less pleased when he sees Wending wrestling with one of the boys. However, when Wending hangs his head very sadly after a scolding, Hong also backs away and becomes more gentle. Moved to mischief, Wending leaps up on his father's shoulders, challenging Hong to topple him. If Hong can't, Wending says he gets to ride home on Hong's shoulders. Hong is at first reluctant because he doesn't want Wending to be hurt. But he finds that the ten-year-old's stancing and leg and foot strength has become very firm in its own right, and he can't topple his son off his shoulders. Looking both impressed and vexed, Hong carries his son home.
But on arriving home, Hong needs to talk seriously with both his wife and son. Resistance scouts have found the location of a temple that serves as Pai Mei's base of operations. Hong tells Wending why Pai Mei has to be killed. Yongchun is still deeply worried that Hong will not be strong enough to beat Pai Mei using only tiger kung fu. She tells him that if Hong can, to kill Pai Mei, but if not, he should run. Hong looks at his wife and gives a nod of assent.
Hong finds the Pai Mei temple relatively unguarded. Two acolytes sweep the long stairway leading up the hill. He easily subdues them and drags them to the outer cloister of the temple, where a group of acolytes see him and rush to defend. Even all together they are no match for Hong, and he is beating them from pillar to post.
Pai Mei finally comes out and orders his acolytes off. Pai Mei is unworried and amused on realizing that Hong Xiguan has come for him. He tells Hong that the rules of the temple dictate that Hong must defeat two swordsmen before he can challenge Pai Mei himself to battle. The two swordsmen attack, and Hong dodges their swishing blades until he is able to disarm them both and use the swords to kill them.
But in Pai Mei, Hong finds he's met his match and more, as Pai Mei easily fends him off, hardly attacking, seemingly toying with Hong as he taunts his adversary, trying to get Hong to admit that Pai Mei is better at tiger kung fu. When Hong lands a tiger claw strike to Pai Mei's groin, Pai Mei merely asks him, "Can't you find it?" Hong delivers a tiger claw strike to Pai Mei's eyes and face, but Pai Mei takes the impact like a stone statue and strikes Hong aside like a paper doll. Suddenly Pai Mei starts hitting back, delivering several blows that cause blood to trickle from Hong's mouth. Hong hears Yongchun's words to him in his head and, despite his pride, is able to silently force himself to admit he's been beaten. Striking aside the acolytes who are behind him, Hong turns and sprints out of the cloister to make his escape.
Hong loses his footing as he rushes to the stairway and starts to tumble down them. Rushing to a massive urn-shaped stone sculpture at the peak of the stairs, Pai Mai shoves it off its small dais, causing it to roll down the stairs after Hong. The urn is about to roll over Hong and crush him when Xiao Hu leaps in front of it, deflecting it just enough that Hong is able to roll out of the way.
In so doing, however, Xiao Hu is mortally wounded. With his dying breath, he tells Hong something crucial that he's learned; Pai Mei is weakest between the hours of 1 pm and 3 pm. Hong is distraught at seeing Xiao Hu die before his eyes, but Pai Mei and his acolytes are starting to run down the stairway. Turning, he leaps over a stone fence and finishes his escape.
Back home, Hong is nursed by Yongchun. Wending is also saddened at the death of Xiao Hu, who was like an uncle to him. He rushes away, crying out that he needs to finish growing up into adulthood.
Seven more years pass and Wending is a young adult. Although more mature, he has developed a determination to be able to outspar his parents that borders on obsession. Again, Yongchun is more forgiving than Hong. Over the last few years, Hong has been studying and relentlessly training in the more advanced aspects of tiger style kung fu. In his practice area is a bronze training statue, with many metal ball bearings fitted into various groves. Hong strikes areas on the statue to make the ball bearings slide down the grooves, and then plucks one out. Some of the ball bearings are painted with symbols corresponding to various times of day. Nearby are several wooden markers that catch the sun's shadow, and are also painted with similar time symbols. Hong finally catches a particular ball bearing with a particular symbol and starts to speak Pai Mei's name.
Wending picks that moment to moment to leap in and try to catch Hong off-guard. Unfortunately, despite his growing skill and self-confidence, Wending can't quite match his father. Adding to this his obsessive desire to do so, and even at the dinner table he can't resist a chance to sneak in a blow. One night the sparring gets out of control, and several freshly washed clothes are knocked off the clotheslines, and a few of them are torn. Finally losing her patience, Yongchun makes them re-wash the clothes, and sew up the torn ones.
Yongchun smiles as she sees Hong prick his finger on a sewing needle, but when the sight of his blood brings a hard look to Hong's eyes, her expression becomes concerned again. She goes to him and he says that the last few days have had him thinking hard about his oath. He's practiced particularly hard the past few years, and while he and his Shaolin brothers have continued fighting Manchurian rule, they can't make much progress unless Pai Mei were killed. Yongchun looks particularly worried, and more so the next day when Hong sets out. When Wending asks her about it, she confides in him that she's positive that Pai Mei let Hong escape last time because Pai Mei was far superior to him. But Hong's tiger kung fu has improved significantly by now, meaning Pai Mei will take him as much more of a threat. Yongchun is sure that if Pai Mei defeats Hong again, he'll make completely certain that Hong doesn't escape again.
Hearing this, Wending rushes out to stop Hong from leaving. He's even ready to fight his father again to keep him from going to his death; battling harder than ever. After defeating his son again, Hong gives him a hard lecture on how many of Hong's fellow Shaolin fighters died for him and those who still fight today; including Chi Shan and Tong Qianjin... and Xiao Hu, who Wending himself said he wanted to emulate as a hero. Despite all this, Hong has bided his time, also waiting for Wending to reach young manhood, but now he feels that if he continues putting off his oath, he will lose the will and courage to continue fighting.
When acolytes spot Hong's approach, they race in fear back to the inner parts of the temple. This time Pai Mei has many more fighters and Manchurian soldiers at his disposal, all of whom try to stop Hong. Wielding his staff with fury, Hong sweeps them aside. At the top of the stairs, Hong notes the sun overhead and jams one end of his staff into the earth, noting by its shadow that it's 1 pm. Fighting unarmed now, he again sweeps aside the guards and soldiers toward the inner cloister. Acolytes tell all the other fighters that Pai Mei has ordered them to disengage and block off all exits from the temple to prevent escape.
Governor Kao is with Pai Mei in the inner cloister. Pai Mei looks pleased to see Hong, saying he knew there was no need to search for Hong, since Hong would return to the temple eventually, looking to make another attempt to kill Pai Mei.
Governor Kao engages Hong first, and Hong handles him and his personal guard almost as easily as the rank-and-file fighters; Pai Mei noting how much improved Hong is. Hong engages Pai Mei and seizes an early advantage, staggering him briefly and ripping a patch off the front of his tunic. He staggers Pai Mei again, landing several tiger claw attacks. Pai Mei sees he can no longer toy with Hong and starts to fight more aggressively, like in his duel with high priest Chi Shan. But after striking Hong aside, he says that Hong is using the tiger style to lead his attack, and can't hope to reach Pai Mei's vital point.
They clash again, Pai Mei hitting Hong hard and sending him sprawling. Hong notes by more shadows cast by the sunlight that the time is 3 pm. Pai Mei spots Hong looking at another shadow on the ground and smiles, taking a guard stance that gives Hong a moment's pause. When Pai Mei's hands both move to guard low, Hong attacks again. Once more they clash hard until Hong lands a kick to Pai Mei's groin.
As with Chi Shan, Hong's foot becomes trapped there, and falls prey to the same counterattack that beat Chi Shan. Pai Mei knocks him to the ground, drags him backward by his foot several yards, and delivers crushing blows to both of Hong's legs. Standing over Hong and gloating, he says that Hong was almost right in deducing the location of Pai Mei's weak point, but over the years he's learned to move it at will, and now, when it's supposed to be down low near his groin, it's actually up high at the crown of his head.
Pai Mei tells Governor Kao to take Hong alive, as there is much information about the Shaolin resistance that the Manchurian court can torture out of him. But as Kao's men move to seize Hong, he suddenly strikes out again, smashing aside the men and suddenly taking out Governor Kao's leg and using a finger strike right at his throat. Pai Mei executes a sweeping blow that sends both Hong and retinue guards all flying. Much to Pai Mei's outrage, Governor Kao is dead... and so is Hong.
Hong had told Yongchun and Wending that he would return in ten days. When twelve have passed, Yongchun knows that her husband is dead. She tells Wending that if he wishes to truly aspire to be a hero, as his father and Xiao Hu, it falls on him to face Pai Mei. But she tells him that he shouldn't use his crane kung fu until necessary; at first he should use tiger style. But Hong had never been willing teach tiger style to Wending, because Yongchun had been teaching him crane. Hong's pride and stubbornness were such that he believed that tiger style should never be combined with crane. Yongchun remembers that Hong kept a study manual, and they need to find it.
When Wending finally finds the manual, he finds to his dismay that age and vermin have caused most of the pages to be badly damaged, and it looks plausible that Hong had torn many of the pages himself after moving on to more advanced technique. When Yongchun asks to see the manual, Wending is afraid to show her how badly damaged it is, and manages to talk her into backing down by reminding her of her agreement with her husband never to learn each other's styles.
Wending spends a year practicing and learning as best he can from the manual, although he cannot be certain exactly what it means when he catches specific ball bearings from the grooves in the brass training dummy. When he catches unmarked beads, he's not sure of the exact moment that a particular time marked bead fell out of the dummy, so he's not sure if he hit too fast, or too slow, or the wrong part of the dummy.
Yongchun asks to see Wending do one of the exercises. When she tells him that one movement didn't look right, and he needs to do it again, Wending uncomfortably says that he worries it will remind her too much of Hong and make her upset. Yongchun becomes quiet again and tells Wending that he was right. She leaves the training area so Wending can practice alone again.
Wending goes into the field, performing a number of tiger movements. Unfortunately the manual is too damaged to show the next followup moves. Finally Wending decides that at this point he'll stick to crane style.
Finally Wending and Yongchun feel that he's as ready as he'll ever be. Wending has only trained in tiger style for one year, but he's trained very hard, and he has his crane style as a supplement, something Pai Mei has never faced in the Shaolin resistance.
Wending goes to the Pai Mei temple. With the death of Hong Xiguan, the temple is mostly unguarded again, and Wending has little difficulty sneaking to the inner cloister where Pai Mei is meditating. Wending first asks if Pai Mei is the same person who killed the Shaolin high priest and Hong Xiguan. Pai Mei simply nods affirmative. Wending attacks, Pai Mei noticing that the initial strikes are tiger style. A large number of acolytes rush in after an intial clash between Pai Mei and Wending.
Pai Mei notes that Wending's tiger kung fu is nowhere near the match for Hong Xiguan. He wonders aloud how many more Shaolin fighters there are, and asks Wending his name. When Wending tells Pai Mei his full name and says he's Hong Xiguan's son, Pai Mei is pleased. He's more than ready to kill Hong's son. Still, Pai Mei doesn't take Wending as much of a threat, until one of Wending's attacks rips loose a piece of Pai Mei's beard, and then in another clash, Wending tears the sleeves off of Pai Mei's robe. Pai Mei is confounded, as many of the moves Wending moves seem almost custom developed; he is used to facing standard tiger style, while Wending is combining it with crane. Pai Mei becomes angry and starts to fight harder, grabbing initiative and smashing Wending around several times. And even when he has the advantage, and after delivering a hard blow that has Wending bleeding from the mouth, Wending's kung fu is leaving him confounded and increasingly angry.
They clash on the outer cloister. Wending fakes being hurt worse than he is, collapsing to the ground, and then delivers a kick. The kick hits Pai Mei in the groin, taking him off guard for a brief second, but then Pai Mei traps Wending's foot, the same as with Chi Shan and Hong. Pai Mei asks if Wending has any further tricks up his sleeve, before throwing the deadly attacks meant to break his legs and end the fight.
But Wending does have another trick; he vaults up in the air with a crane maneuver and sits on Pai Mei's shoulders. As with Hong so many years ago, Pai Mei finds he cannot break Wending's crane stance and can't topple the young fighter from off his shoulders. He manages to throw Wending's weight backward and lands a scoop kick, but this only rights Wending's posture, and with a tiger move, Wending tears a large patch of hair off the crown of Pai Mei's head, and follows with a crane-beak attack right to the crown of Pai Mei's head, and then a double crane beak strike to his eyes.
Having struck Pai Mei's vital point, the double crane beak attack proves completely devastating; Pai Mei screaming in wild agony, spinning around on his feet. He loses his balance, taking Wending with him as he rolls down the stairs. The camera freezes as Pai Mei convulses wildly into the air; a closing narration stating that the combination of tiger and crane kung fu was what finally killed Pai Mei.