Friday, June 15, 2012

Shaolin Traitorous - Say What Now?

You know that movie that is so terribly ridiculous that the moment you finish watching it you phone a friend to tell them about the spectacularly silly movie you just watched and insist that they watch it too so they can confirm how hilariously preposterous the whole thing was? And they say yeah, yeah, whatever, I'll watch it someday... but you know they won't, so the next time they're over you slap it in the DVD player before they can say anything, and before you know it you're both rolling on the floor unable to speak with crazy hyena laughter?

YEAH... That's Shaolin Traitorous

Yes folks. This past week we watched this 1976 Kung Fu classic starring the likes of Carter Wong, Sammo Hung, and a woman that Kelly thought looked like Linda Rondstat, and MJ thought looked like Delta Burke. Either way... it was a hoot, and we will now share a nugget of the experience with you.

So, getting down to business. We start with goats. Lots of black, bleating, annoying goats being herded by a small boy. A young couple and an old man, presumably the boy's family, are doing chores around the outside of their humble home in a quiet and entirely benign manner, when suddenly we are assaulted by a title screen and are forced to turn the volume down about 10 clicks, as we may have just been deafened by crazy intro music. A whole army of sound effects folk bang together empty halves of coconuts as a band of ridiculously clad men ride for a good three minutes of film through the Chinese countryside up to the family's house, because apparently there was no other way to have enough time for the credits. Upon arriving at the family's home, these men feel a need to tear down their fence, despite the fact that it is made of sticks and could have been blown over by a light breeze. And has an entry arch in the middle of it. Anyway, come to find out that this now fenceless family, the Yangs, is under arrest for... umm... err... shhhrrrrrnaberbenflaven.... and this bad guy, Tien Erh Keng and his buddies (Sammo Hung and Some Other Dude) have come to haul them off, but the Yangs refuse to go. Some words are exchanged, the grandfather laughs like a maniac, a battles ensues, there is much punchy punchy stabby stabby eye gouging, along with a really fantastic display of eyebrows, some epic slow falling, and the entire family is killed, but for the boy who hid in the woods and saw his family murdered.

So here's where we have to make a confession.
We are still impossibly unclear as to what these people did that was so terrible, resulting in these horrific deaths overly saturated with sound-effects. Why, you ask? Why, when we are such connoisseurs of kung fu cinema, are we unable to follow a simple storyline? I'll tell you why.

These subtitles were unquestionably written by a drunken monkey relying solely on Google translate and a sack of Scrabble letters. The way I figure it, he had to have plugged the characters from the script into Google, then tossed the sack of letters in the air and whichever tiles fell out, he added those letters into the fractured sentence somewhere. We'll highlight some of our favorite examples as we go, such as 'all're', a horrific contraction used repeatedly and without shame.

But at least, despite the preposterous dialogue, we can determine that bad people killed good people and good people must be avenged, right? Right. So then we're thrown headlong into a scene of much pomp and circumstance with a voice-over, no subtitles, and a screen full of characters that we can only assume are intended for us to absorb by pressing our foreheads to the screen. But we can devise from the back of the DVD case that this Tien Erh Keng is some sort of very powerful fella.
Did we mention the DVD case also says something about all these bad guys being eunuchs? 
Yeah. We don't understand either.

In the meantime the little boy, Yung (Yung Yang! So cute!), grabs his dead mother's bangle with bells all over it with the specific intention of annoying you for the remainder of the film and runs off to kneel in the hot hot sun outside the Shaolin temple until someone agrees to train him.

'He's very hard, how wonderful.' says the old monk fellow. 
We're sure this has something to do with the boy's character, given who it's coming from, but.... really?

The monks take pity on the boy after three days of kneeling and sweating and allow him to come work in the kitchens with a cantankerous cook. Yung asks the cook to teach him Kung Fu, and when asked why he communicates his desire for retribution... via flashback, which is telepathically absorbed by the cook's 6-inch eyebrow antennae. It's a theme. The cook agrees, and immediately sets the boy to fetching buckets of water bigger than himself up enough stairs to kill a... well... me. Then the cook takes Yung to a room in the temple where 18 statues (that breathe, and wobble occasionally) are standing around in various acrobatic positions looking entirely uncomfortable in a film of gold spray paint, saying...

'These 18 bronze-men're Shao Lin's highes know ledge!'

Say what now?

Eventually we figure out that the kid has to learn all 18 of these different forms in order to master the art of Kung Fu. Why he couldn't just say that, we're not sure. But again we reference the drunken, scrabble toting monkey.

QUE MONTAGE! Suddenly Yung goes from small child who is training hard, to adult with not very impressive eyebrows, but mad kung fu skills, the ability to jump out of a muddy hole in the ground and run up those aforementioned steps without spilling any water, and an inexplicable obsession with ripping bags of rice open with crazy hand-stabby moves. To this, the cook tells him he's ready to go out and seek his vengeance. And then the cook retires, and Yung dons a lovely hat and takes his mother's irritating bangle out into the world to seek out the mean dudes who killed his family.

Over on the other side of town, Tien Erh Keng has started up this strange tower of Kung Fu acrobats called the Tien Lo Net Set. Here's how it works: His ruffians stand on each other's shoulders three men high to make some kind of impenetrable wall, or cheerleading pyramid formation. We're not entirely sure why he did this, other than that he's evil, he's got wicked eyebrows, and scheming is required, to some degree.

So the way this man-wall works.... The White Haired Mantis (Sammo Hung) bangs on a drum in a particular manner for either attack or defence. The defence, Tien Lo Set, is the ginormous wall formation. The attack is Tien Lo Net, in which the top row of the man-wall jumps down, dropping an actual net over their enemy, and spins in a circle until the enemy is tangled. Complicated stuff. In evil-genius style, Tien tests the unit on his adopted daughter, Yuan, as she is well-versed in the ways of Kung Fu, but despite her obvious abilities she is captured in the treacherous net (pffffffffft).

Delta Burke                       Yuan                            Linda Rondstadt

Then we find ourselves at a restaurant, where using words like 'aatually' and 'fveryone' are super hip. We witness the owner and his family being attacked by the royal guard for another entirely unexplained offense. Yuan shows up in hero style, chucks his hat at the main guard, wedging it into a post, and begins showing off his crazy skills. He beats everybody down and says, and we quote:

Go back and tell your head, it's the time for you to repay new. 

Ok, so we kind of get what that means. It means "watch yo back". The guard runs off, and the restaurant manager is impressed and thankful, so Yung decides to stay and protect him further.

Tien is obviously ticked that his royal guard was beaten by some young hoodlum, so he kills the main guard and sends his daughter and his officer (one of the family-killers) to go track down the trouble-maker. When she arrives at the restaurant, Yuan is mistaken for a man, seated at a table, and brought food and booze. Then an incredibly strange exchange ensues where plates and bottles are tossed back and forth between her table and Yung's, resulting in a fight that corners Yung and has him jumping through a screen onto a horse and riding away through the city. Eventually he comes back to face the officer who killed his father, reminding him of his crime, complete with the flashback eyebrow antennae. The officer tells Yung he is the descendant of a traitor (aaahhhh, it's all starting to make sense!) and attacks him. He makes a mistake though when he pulls out the crazy hook-sword things he used to kills Yung's dad, because Yung goes all super-ultra revengey, dodges the crazy flying chains and knives, and stabs the officer in the gut.

Yung: 1
Bad Guys: 0

So then Tien sends the "first head", the "eye-gouger", the "StayPuft Marshmallow Man" himself, Sammo Hung, aka White Haired Mantis (along with his daughter, again...) to finish the job. While Mantis is busy being all important, Yuan and Yung meet in an alley, where she finds out what his plans are for the bad guys, and he finds out she's a girl. She runs back to tell daddy, but he's not there, so Mantis takes action instead, thinking Tien will be all kinds of pleased with him when he arrives home. So Mantis rides out into the desert on the shoulders of his royal guard to find Yung. When he sees the bangle and realizes that he killed Yung's mother, he starts banging on his drum and Yung is forced to fight the Tien Lo Set, which had us rolling about and cracking jokes regarding their resemblance to Monty Python's Knights of the Round Table. Of course, there was a minimal amount of rum, coffee and sugar involved. Or a whole lot. You had to be there.

Yuan, for reasons unbeknownst to us, hides in a bush and beats on a different, tiny drum that somehow manages to entirely confuse the Tien Lo Set... even though it sounds nothing like the Mantis' drum. There is much running about, more Monty Python jokes, and Yung takes the opportunity to quite literally hop away like a bunny. The guard reports back to Tien that his adopted daughter was the one who beat the other drum, and she runs off to find Yung, where she reveals via flashback that Tien destroyed her family, and her uncle sent her to live with Tien to bide her time and get her revenge. So she wants to kill Tien Erh Keng herself, and doesn't plan to let Yung get in the way, but she WILL let him kill the first head. Because she's just so generous like that.

Now that Yung knows where the StayPuft man is hiding, he runs off to go confront the man who killed his mama. What we love about Sammo Hung is that though this character really looks nothing at all like Sammo Hung as we know him, you can totally tell it's him by his stance and movements. But anyway, though the battle is fabulous, he's no match for Yung, who gouges out his eyes and calmly walks away.

Now Tien is absolutely livid. He imposes a curfew and sends his whole guard out to look for Yung.

"There're reward for him too." He says. 

MMm... Good to know. 

Yuan shows up and Tien accuses her of being a spy, at which she goes totally crazy on his ass, but she doesn't succeed in killing him before she has to run away. She runs back to Yung, who helps her with a plan to break through the Tien Lo Set next time Tien leaves the palace. When they find the Tien Lo Set, who have obviously found a new drummer, they find that together they are stronger than the crazy man-wall, and when they try to Tien Lo Net, Yung and Yuan somehow manage to pull this impossible move where they flip the net over and trap everyone under the net and then kill the drummer.

SHEESH...The mortality rate for those drummers is brutal.

The pair of vengeful young'uns find Tien, kill the remainder of his royal guard by reducing their internal organs to a pulp with their fingertips, and proceed to get their butts whooped by Tien. This goes on for a long, long time, with capes and hats and flying about and a little bit of blood spooting before Yuan is finally able to slice off Tien's arm and stab him in the gut, which is pretty much the end of his horrible self. He collapses on the ground, and the movie is literally and abruptly over.

So the storyline is... generic. The film quality is not the best. But the movie does have some good things going for it, namely Sammo Hung, Carter Wong, a girl who can kick some serious butt, absurd subtitling that keeps you on your toes, and eyebrows that just don't quit. Please see it at least once, preferrably with someone who has an MST3K style sense of humor. We're not sure how widely available it is, and it isn't on Netflix currently, but given that it's got some big names it shouldn't be too difficult to track down.

'Til next time, "all're" told watch this good film!

~The Mavens

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