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Invincible Shaolin and Life Gamble DVD Reviews

 

While flawed, “Invincible Shaolin” still manages to deliver thrilling action.

“Life Gamble” is poorly written, but it has two memorable action set pieces.

Grades:

Content: B-

Picture: A-

Audio: B

Extras: D-

“Invincible Shaolin” plot: A cruel warlord who despises Shaolin decides to turn two schools (North and South Shaolin) against each by killing three South Shaolin teachers and having the blame fall on the North. Naturally, the South Shaolin wants revenge for this crime.

By all accounts, “Invincible Shaolin” should not be a movie worth recommending. The revenge plot is thin, the film starts off unbearably slow, the characters are one dimensional, the production values are low, and the characters ramble on about revenge and Shaolin techniques non-stop. However, even with all of these flaws, ‘Shaolin’ succeeds thanks to the action. In addition to the expected fighting sequences involving everything from Shaolin moves, swords, poles, kicks, punches and even a table leg, the movie boasts some of the best training sequences outside of the “Rocky” series. We see a character doing one finger push ups, one character fighting his way out of a wooden box of sorts, etc. It may not sound like much in writing, but trust me when I say it’s engaging (and impressive) to watch.

Training sequences aside, the real show-stopper is the crazy, intense ending which crosscuts between three fights. What’s really appealing about this fight is that we get to see how the fighters training applies to the fights the characters engage in.

“Life Gamble” is the lesser of the two films simply because the story is unfocused, sloppy, and downright confusing. Basically, the plot revolves around a legendary weapon maker/Blacksmith that becomes involved in a game involving group of deadly individuals with various skills duking it out for a valuable Jade stone. Among the fighting experts we see are a knife fighter, a man with an iron fist, and a treacherous gambler.

While watching “Life Gamble,” I was reminded of the disasterous “Mortal Kombat” sequel in which characters just popped in and out at random. Essentially, that’s what “Life Gamble” is like only this film has a little bit more plot. The problem with ‘Gamble’ is that you just don’t care about anything that is going. No one is trustworthy or likeable, virtually every character betrays someone, and no character really seems to have much of a purpose. They’re all throw away plot devices to advance the action.

The only saving graces here are two exciting action pieces. One fight involves a whip vs. a sword and the other involves nunchucks and speared flags.

As with the past Shaw Brothers discs, the widescreen picture quality is astonishing. The colors are  so vibrant and the prints themselves are virtually flawless. I continue to be amazed by the work that is being put into these remasters. It’s a shame more companies don’t go all out when remastering archival releases.

Both discs contain English Stereo and Mandarin Mono audio tracks. Parts of the English dub on ’Shaolin’ are atrocious as the voice acting is extremely awkward (and not in an amusing way). It also sounds like the dialogue is being said into a tin can in spots. The  Mandarin Mono is the way to go here as the original language track is superior in every way. As for “Life Gamble,” the English track is an improvement, but it does sound oddly similar to the comedic voice work from the film “Kung Pow.” Again, I would advise sticking to the Mandarin track.

Both discs contain trailers for the Shaw Bros. “Hong Kong Connection” series, “Ichi,” “Shinobi,” “Hana,” “Love And Honor,” “Daytime Drinking,” “Genghis Khan,” “Mushi-Shi,” and “Ghost Train.”

June 17, 2010 - Posted by | DVD review | ,

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