Release Date(s)1975 (December 14, 2021)
Studio(s)Shaw Brothers (88 Films)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B+
One of the more unlikely films in the Shaw Bros catalog, Disciples of Shaolin (aka Hong quan xiao zi) is one of those films that doesn’t follow typical formula, which is always a risk for filmmakers as chances of audiences not accepting it if they’re accustomed to a certain flavor of genre are high. The story of Disciples of Shaolin also doesn’t use typical chopsocky narratives—an outsider comes into a corrupted arena and cleans it up, but what happens after that is more to the point than the violence. The factory that was Shaw Bros was pumping out film after film in succession, and because of that, films like Disciples of Shaolin slipped through. It has little to do with Shaolin (or the Shaolin cycle of films up to this point), nor is it about the hero saving the day and getting the girl. Instead, it’s about what happens when the innocent becomes corrupted, and what others who are standing in the shadows must do to put an end to it.
Sheng Fu (billed here as Alexander Fu Sheng) leads the cast as the naive but skilled Guan who arrives in town in his bare feet to see his old friend and former martial arts student Wang Hon (Kuan-Chun Chi), who works at the local textile mill. Guan tends to be a bit of a showboat, but Wang warns him that revealing his skills can only lead to trouble, and that Wang has left his fighting days behind him. Guan soon takes notice that the textile mill is under threat by outsiders, who regularly stroll into town to cause problems and attempt to recruit new employees. Guan is caught in the middle, and because he’s so good at keeping the peace, he’s given more and more money and power. But ignoring his friend’s advice could cost him more than just a recently acquired pair of old shoes.
Disciples of Shaolin was shot by cinematographer Mu-To Kung on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. 88 Films brings the film to Region A and B Blu-ray with what is advertised as a “HD remaster from the original 35 mm negatives” (which was performed in 2007, according to the copyright at the end of the film). Unlike its predecessor, The Chinese Boxer, this is a much more natural and refined presentation that’s a fine representative of its source. It’s a clean, pleasant, and organic picture with good color and excellent contrast. Deep blacks are on display and the image is stable with only a minor bit of speckling. A mild touch of DNR has been applied and the opening and closing titles have been recreated digitally, but this an otherwise handsome-looking transfer.
Audio is included in English or Mandarin 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with English subtitles. Both audio tracks exhibit strong dialogue reproduction with a touch of sibilance, though the English dub is a bit more pronounced. Some extreme clean-up has been applied as quieter sounds on both tracks are warbled, particularly in the lower register.
The Blu-ray disc of Disciples of Shaolin sits inside a clear amaray case with an insert featuring new artwork by R.P. “Kung Fu Bob” O’Brien on the front and the original Hong Kong poster artwork on the reverse. Also included is a double-sided poster featuring the same artwork options, as well as a 40-page booklet containing the essay Disciples of Shaolin and the Visceral Martial Arts Cinema of Chang Cheh by Matthew Edwards, an interview with actor Jamie Luk by Matthew Edwards, the essay International Bright Young Thing: A Look Back on the Shaw Brothers Classic the Disciples of Shaolin aka Hong Quan Xiao Zi (1975) and Its Gifted, Charismatic Star Alexander Fu Sheng by Andrew Graves, the essay Finding Fu Sheng by Karl Newton, poster reproductions, additional new artwork by O’Brien, stills from the film, and a special thanks page. The following extras are included on the disc:
- Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan
- Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
- Chang’s Disciple: An Interview with Jamie Luk (HD – 25:40)
- Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:52)
Writer and podcaster Samm Deighan provides and audio commentary, examining aspects of the story while delving into the director and the actors, the state of Shaw Bros productions up to this point, and how the film relates to their other films, as well as other martial arts films. Asian cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema are featured on the second audio commentary, discussing some of the same subject matter, but providing additional detail. They also go into detail about Shaw Bros and the films that were being made there at the time, their limited availability on LaserDisc and VHS, and more about Fu Sheng and his short career. It’s the more energetic and informative of the two tracks. Next is an interview with actor Jamie Luk. Over the course of nearly twenty-six minutes, he speaks about his experiences at Shaw Bros and how valuable they are to him, working with the various actors, and how important the film is to him. The interview is mostly presented in Mandarin with English subtitles, though he slips into English occasionally. Last is the theatrical trailer.
Disciples of Shaolin is definitely an unorthodox film. It gives you much of what you would want if you’re looking for great martial arts action, but turns on a dime when it comes to the narrative. It’s a bit of fresh air in an otherwise predictable genre. 88 Films’ presentation and overall Blu-ray package is certainly one that fans of these films will definitely want to pick up.
- Tim Salmons