FIVE SUPERFIGHTERS: Shawscope Vol. 2 – Roundtable Reviews

Cinapse is all about cinematic discovery. This Shawscope Volume 2 column is, therefore, a watch project for our team, and guests, to work through this phenomenal set from Arrow Video. These capsule reviews are designed to give glimpses of our thoughts as we discover these films for ourselves. Some are kung fu cinema experts, some less so; all are excited for the adventure.

The Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio cranked out a staggering number of feature films over its lifetime. With worldwide influence continuing to this very day, their contributions to cinema are myriad and undeniable. Arrow Video has curated a second volume of titles; an intentional way to wade into the deep waters of the Shaw Brothers. Beyond capsule reviews, our team also offers thoughts on the set curation and bonus features. Watch along with us, join us in the comments, or reach out on social media (linked below) if you’d like to submit your own

Ed Travis

Whether you love Shaw Brothers films or hate them, it can’t be denied that these bad boys follow formula. Sometimes the ingredients mix together for magic. Other times they feel rote and paint-by-numbers. Unfortunately, Five Superfighters falls into the latter category for me. Braggart wandering kung fu master whips the ass of a few young fools’ master. Those young fools make a pact to split up, train with whatever masters they can find, and meet back up in 6 months to get their revenge. But these idiots (young people are always idiots in Shaw Brothers films) don’t so much as leave a note for their master. So, feeling abandoned in his time of need, the master slides into alcoholism. The young idiots train up, their master receives some encouragement from a neighbor and kind of gets his drunken kung fu on, and eventually they all fight this boring-ass villain that set them all on this course. The “train up to avenge my master” trope is not a problem in and of itself, but this one doesn’t infuse much heart or soul into the age-old formula. It’s also filled with unfamiliar names and faces to me (which is a little odd since I’ve now seen dozens of these movies). It does appear that writer On Szeto has no less than 170+ writing credits to their name so I’m thinking we’ll encounter them again, but I’m not familiar with director Mar Lo or really any of the leads. All this said… the martial arts are, as always, spectacular, and these actors all do impressive work. It’s just a pity that the story doesn’t back up the martial arts with anything to latch onto so it becomes very forgettable. 

Dan Tabor

Given last week’s rather dour entry, this week’s Five Superfighters was a perfect kung-fu palette cleanser. The film again features Monkey Style, and has one of the most absurd premises yet, and I mean that in the best way possible. The film features a wandering kung-fu critic – if you will – who challenges both teachers and students to see if they are up to his standards. After beating a monkey style kung-fu master he inspires that particular teacher’s pupils to go away for six months, and  improve their skills to prove to the critic their master’s kung-fu is worthy. These six months will eventually land them on their master’s birthday, so this is essentially a birthday present.

While the bulk of the film is your standard training film, with some spectacular hand to hand battles, what throws this film over the top is when the three disciples go out into the world looking for masters. One of them happens upon an older woman who learned kung-fu from her blind father. The student witnesses her effortlessly dispatch a man who wishes to be the widow’s next husband. The student never officially requests to be her student, and I think it’s because of her gender and age and instead attempts to secretly learn kung-fu by spying on her nightly practices and working for her making bean curd. 

It’s not only how the film depicts this particular character – she wasn’t portrayed as “cute” or a damsel in distress, or a simply a conquest, that makes this a stand out entry as far as gender roles in these films goes. While toiling making bean curd for her during the day, at night he is only able to spy on her practicing alone to attempt to learn her leg heavy style. It’s only when the student meets her father, does the student throw himself on another man’s mercy to learn kung-fu. Instead of robbing her of her agency here, the father says he can not teach the student because his daughter’s rigorous curd making techniques have put him on the path to their family style already making her his teacher. I mean he still doesn’t throw himself on her mercy but it’s a definite step in the right direction. 

Justin Harlan

The oddly named Five Superfighters features far less than five actual “superfighters” and the story really isn’t about most of them. In a movie that starts off hot and has such a fun title, it’s a bummer to quickly realize it’s a generic, mid-level entry in the Shaw catalog. Like so many other films in the classic Kung Fu genre, it’s about a quest for revenge… and, even while there are some really fun fight scenes, a video gamesque soundtrack that makes for some extra fun elements, and a few laugh out loud moments, it’s ultimately just another Kung Fu film.

I watched this film just a day ago and have already forgotten most of what it’s about that isn’t just me repeating that it’s a standard revenge film. The most standout things about the film were the idea that the main antagonist was a man who traveled around from town to town “correcting” bad Kung Fu. He primarily seemed interested in mocking the teachers and proving to them how their methods weren’t working. He never seemed too keen on actually helping anyone learn better. This premise, coupled with the first 10 minutes or so, were the top things about it. Sadly, it fell into a trap where it didn’t deliver on its early promise.

Admittedly, I may just have a bit of Shaw fatigue settling in, as happens when working through a collection such as this, but I’m excited by next week’s return of the great Chang Cheh and his Venom Mob!

And We’re Out.

Previous post MAD HEIDI is a Grindhouse Throwback that Understood the Assignment
Next post THEY CAME TO CORDURA Spotlights Tab Hunter’s Finest Moment