Shaolin Mantis review by Bobby Blakey
I love all things martial arts and grew up with the iconic Kung-Fu Theater on TV that often times featured films from The Shaw Brothers. In 1978 they debuted the feature Shaolin Mantis starring David Chiang, Lily Li, Cecilia Wong, Chia-Yung Liu, Wilson Tong and Chia-Hui Liu known to American audiences as Gordon Liu in a cameo role from Disciples of the 36th Chamber and Legend of the Drunken Master director Liu Chia-Liang.
Shaolin Mantis follows scholar Wei Fung who is hired by the Emperor to infiltrate a clan of rebellious Ming loyalists, but his mission goes adrift after he falls in love the clan leader's granddaughter and his plans are discovered.
This is another great flick from the Shaw Brothers with a ton of fights, but the story is just all over the place and ridiculous. There is an interesting direction it goes with the lead having to infiltrate the other clan, but the direction it goes and just random information left out makes it feel rushed and make little sense. Thankfully that isn’t why anyone is watching these movies, we are here for the martial arts action and there is plenty.
I love all these old school fighting styles where they are characters all their own. Each character has one and special techniques that allows them to showcase different things and pit them against other styles. They are all well-choreographed and like beautiful dance routines with precision techniques and all kinds of awesome. Sure they aren’t the high impact or fast paced fights we are used to now, but still all kinds of greatness.
Once again we have a character that discovers and trains in a new style, but this one might be one of the more creative incorporating an actual praying mantis into the mix. It is pretty clever how they infused the movements of the real mantis with the guy figuring out how to make it work before implementing it into the actual fight. OF course the entire thing is ridiculous, but knowing these animal styles exist you are willing to use these moments to see them come to life.
There are so many silly moments in the story that it struggles at times to really deliver, but thankfully we had so many great fights it still works. Also great to see the always awesome John Cheung in action who modern day fans might know him from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Bloodsport. In addition to this great classic martial arts flick this release offers up bonus content including interviews, trailer, commentary, featurettes, double-sided fold out poster, booklet and more.
Grab your copy of Shaolin Mantis when it hits Blu-ray on March 22nd from 88 Films.