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"Shaolin Hand Lock": The Joyless Lock Club

by on May 6, 2010

The Shaolin Hand Lock is a fearsome attack that can effectively kill an opponent in seconds. It has only one weakness, and that’s an attack to the sides, which can easily be deflected by a metal vest. Only one family knows of this attack, and most of them have been taken out by the murderous Fang Yun Biao. Chingyang and Mengping, children of the late master, must travel to Thailand and avenge their father. And in the guise of a bodyguard, Chingyang discovers that a certain philanthropist may not be as good as he seems.

FUNimation has been on a kick of late, trying to expand their offerings beyond Japanese imports and the random American show, like WildCATS. They have been going into live-action movie territory, and recently acquired a cluster of films by the Shaw Brothers studio. Except for Five Deadly Venoms and the awkwardly hilarious The Super Inframan not many titles in the Shaw’s vast library are memorable, partly because the studio cranked out a dozen every year.

Shaolin Hand Lock does not stand out amongst them.

The movie runs for an awkwardly paced hour and a half. The death of the master occurs within the first few minutes, setting up a fast tempo, and Chingyang’s investigation into the murder moves similarly quickly, suggesting that this will be a movie that goes from beat to beat in minutes. But once Chingyang joins with Lin Hao as a secretive bodyguard, the movie instantly begins to drag. There’s a fight between him and Kunshi, the other bodyguard, with both claiming to suspect the other is a traitor; and there are a few revelations about the main cast of characters; and then everything comes together in a final fight, and there’s an important death that happens only seconds before the end of the movie. It’s as if the producers couldn’t sustain the initial quick pace, and then panicked into speeding up again when they realized that they needed to wrap things up.

While the action is pleasant and well-choreographed, and the plot has the appropriate and surprising twists and turns, at the end of the day, it feels like any number of martial arts films you may have seen. It’s the Chinese take-out of movie genres; you enjoy it at the moment, you like the flavors, but you’re only going to be hungry later. The acting works, even if some characters look awkwardly aged via barely-graying hair, and the budget barely covers the story’s needs with obvious cheats, as with gold bars that are plainly just pieces of wood painted gold and scars that are just as plainly made of putty. The English dub is over-acted.

There are no special features, which is to be expected from a release that doesn’t stand out in any way, and the only work FUNimation has put into it is subtitling and a dub track. Still, something extra would have been nice, if only a bit of info on the Shaw Brothers, or even a character guide.

Outside of some nudity Shaolin Hand Lock brings nothing new to the genre. While it’s worth checking out if you like Shaw Brothers films, it’s just another martial arts flick.

Check out toonzone’s Kung Fu Week:
Review: “Opium and the Kung Fu Master”: You Don’t Need Drugs to Enjoy This
Review: “Hong Kong Godfather” Offers Entertainment You Can’t Refuse
Blog: Cool Stuff: Wing Chun Mechanical Arms
Blog: Top 5 Martial Artists of Animation
Review: “The 14 Amazons:” When Effort Trumps Skill
Review: “Shaolin Hand Lock”: The Joyless Lock Club
Blog: Cartoon Intro Cavalcade: Hong Kong Phooey
Blog: Cool Stuff: Red Dragon
Blog: Cool Stuff: Kung Fu Bunny
Blog: Top 5 Martial Arts Fights of Animation

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