Saturday, June 18, 2011

Late Night Kung Fu: Executioners of Shaolin

Obviously, God intended us to screen foreign films with subtitles. Yet, watching cheesily dubbed Kung Fu movies in drive-ins or on night-owl television is a rite of passage in danger of passing. Happily, Fuel-TV is going old school with Late Night Kung Fu, a Saturday night showcase of dubbed HK martial arts gold, hosted by Kelly Choi, which premieres tonight with Liu Chia-liang’s Executioners of Shaolin.

When civilians think of martial arts movies, it is probably the releases from the Shaw Brothers’ studio they have in mind. With their eerie mystical look and prototypical kung fu dubbing, SB films secured global distribution and a rabid cult following. Frankly, Executioners is just as good a film to start with as any other from the Shaws, guaranteeing a fair amount of gravity defying aerial fighting.

Hung Hsi-kuan is a near master of tiger style kung fu. His wife Wan Yung-chun is quite accomplished in crane style. Their son Hung Wen-ding is okay with crane but a complete novice at tiger. Maybe the family that trains together, stays together, but the senior Hung has sworn vengeance against Pai Mei, the evil albino eunuch priest who killed his Shaolin master and brothers. Nearly invulnerable, the legendary Pai is a deadly kung fu practitioner (who turns up in Tarantino’s Kill Bill as well). It is also a bad idea to kick him in the junk. It works out poorly for the kicker and leads to some of the most uncomfortable PG images in martial arts cinema.

There are some cool fight scenes in Executioners and a whole mess of training sequences that do not make a lot of sense. Of course, that is part of the genre’s charm. Shaw Brothers veteran Chen Kuan-tai certainly knows how to acquit himself during a fifty-to-one melee. In fact, Hung Sr. is one of his signature roles. However, it is Lily Li Li-li who really delivers the beat-down goods as Wan.

Ragingly politically incorrect, Executioners is a lot of fun in just the way you would expect. As an added bonus, Late Night Kung Fu is hosted by Kelly Choi. Though I have not seen any of her segments yet, I’m totally on-board with them in principle, especially if she plays them straight. Airing Saturdays at 11:00 PM Eastern, which seems like the appropriate time, Late Night Kung Fu kicks off the Shawfest tonight (6/18) with Executioners.