Lin Shih Yung (Larry Lee Gam-Kwan) is a student of Wong Fei Hung who finds himself a hero after standing up to a gang that is threatening his local market. He soon opens a kung-fu school, but is pushed into exile after the gangsters attack his students and force his friend Jing-Jing into prostitution. Three of his Kung Fu school brothers (Bruce Leung, Wong Yuen-San & Jason Pai Piao) arrive to offer help, and to kick the crap out of anyone who gets in their way. This includes crime boss Shiao Pei Li (Lau Dan), who employs his own fighters to take on the four Shaolin challengers.
That was succinct. As one might imagine, the best fights come when the Shaolin four take on these hired guns.
Middle-of-the-road kung fu flick featuring and entertaining climax that unfortunately proves to be too little, too late. The Four Shaolin Challengers includes some strong onscreen talent, but the stilted story and mundane set pieces don’t give them much of an opportunity to show off their talents. Some lousy dubbing and painful pan and scanning also make watching the film an often frustrating experience.
Lin Shih Yung (Larry Lee Gam-Kwan) draws the most attention as a supporse student of Wong Fei Hung (who is only mentioned briefly, and his famous theme song is played, but doesn’t actually appear), but his fight scenes are not particularly exciting. More enjoyable (and top billed) is Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle) as Devil Kick Chi. He’s mostly played for comic relief, but gets a few chances to show off some charisma and terrific kicking. The other two brothers are generally unmemorable until the final fight sequence, but Lao Dan as Shaio Pei Li makes an appropriately malevolant villain.
The story, particularly the parts revolving around Jing-Jing and her conversion into prostitution, is confusing at best. Much of it seems to have been devised during filming, and the connection between Jing Jing and the Shaolin brothers is never properly explained. While this does lead to a few confrontations after Jing Jing is raped, it all feels shoehorned in and is obvious filler.
Things do pick up in the last twenty minutes when the four stars finally get to pair off against the hired goons in some one on one action. While the choreography isn’t mindblowing, the weapons on display are original and we get to witness stick fighting, baton fighting, umbrella fighting and (my personal favorite) cymbal fighting. The battles are original and entertaining, though serve to spotlight the wasted potential of the first seventy minutes. As well, this weapons showcase seems to come from nowhere as, except for a brief earlier scene of the thugs showing off their skills, these unusual weapons are never mentioned.
The Four Shaolin Challengers is a public domain film and is featured in the Millcreek Martial Arts 50 Pack. This tranfer is full screen, and painfully pan and scanned which makes even the more entertaining fights hard to enjoy since director Wei Hui Feng loves to shoot scenes in close-up. The sound is also a problem, as the dubbing is particularly poorly done and often hard to hear. Obviously the storyline isn’t particularly engrossing to begin with, but plot details sometimes get lost in bad translations and lousy voice acting.
No special features here except chapter selections. Though, if you just want to jump to the last twenty minutes, this could be very useful.
The original title of the film literally translates to Wong Fei-Hung’s Four Big Disciples which explains how this movie was originally sold. Audiences must have been disappointed to instead find a severe lack of Wong Fei-Hung and, even more tragic, a lack of kung-fu fights. As average as they come, The Four Shaolin Challengers wastes some strong talent on a weak story.