Hong Kong cinema has a fascinating and complex history. With the advent of streaming services, more and more people are discovering foreign film, but it might still come as a shock to many that the industry itself for many years was the third largest motion picture industry in the world, and the second largest exporter.
Focusing on low budget, fast turnover films that are crowd pleasers, in the west the movies, especially those from the genera of Hong Kong action, gained a strong cult following that could now arguably be described as mainstream. Marvel’s recent offering Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has drawn many stylistic comparisons to more modern Hong Kong wuxia (folk hero) films, but the action and fight scene style can be traced directly back to the movies found here.
READ MORE: Aftershock – 12 Days of Podmas
The Shaw Brothers were famous for reinventing traditional stories, and throwing in some absolutely insane effects, characters and stunts. It was this reliability that made them the premier Hong Kong studio for well over a decade when, at the height of their popularity, they were putting out 30 to 40 movies a year. With their new 12 movie collection, Shawscope Volume One, Arrow Video have put together a celebration of some of the genre’s greatest films. And some of its other films as well…
The first question is: which movies are included? Having already spoken of Shang-Chi and the debt it owes to these movies, it’s interesting to note that the original 1973 comic series was part of the wave of the American kung fu film craze of the 1970s; a craze which started with the stand out title of this series: A King Boxer (AKA The Five Fingers of Death). WIthout a doubt one of the most iconic titles in the entirety of the Shaw catalogue, it has been beautifully restored, with a 2k visual as well as audio clean up worthy of such an important movie.
READ MORE: Last Train to Christmas – Film Review
As ever, Arrow have done a superb job managing to breathe new life into an older film without making it feel overly clinical, and we’re left to enjoy an almost fifty year old movie looking like it was filmed only last year. Six other titles have also received restorations, including The Five Venoms, its emotional sequel The Crippled Avengers, The Boxer from Shantung, Challenge of the Masters, Dirty Ho, and Chinatown Kid. This leaves the remaining films – Five Shaolin Masters, Shaolin Temple, Mighty Peking Man, Executioners from Shaolin, and Heroes of the East – having to make do with a simple digital transfer. It’s true that a movie like Mighty Peking Man is unlikely to make anyone’s top ten list, but that contrast within a set is likely to jar with some viewers.
The special features, as should be expected from an Arrow release, are truly impressive. There are the usual trailers, image galleries, and alternate credits for many of the movies. In addition, hours of older but previously unreleased interviews and features have been included. These, along with some new interviews, give a rich insight into the views and experiences of many of those involved in the making of these films. The set also includes part one of three of the excellent ‘Cinema Hong Kong: Kung Fu’ documentary. There are also five new features discussing the context and giving a much deeper analysis and understanding of the films, as well as four new commentaries. That’s hours of additional and incredibly watchable content. For the completionists there are also a 90 minute alternate cut of Chinatown Kid and an unrestored version of Mighty Peking Man. Also included is a 60 page booklet that was not available for review.
The final special feature is perhaps the most unexpected. Two CDs with music from Shaolin Temple, Mighty Peking Man, Chinatown Kid, The Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers and Dirty Ho. The inclusion of these CDs shows an attention too often lacking in these kinds of sets. These CDs really are a wonderful touch, featuring the work of De Wolfe Music, which itself is steeped in history and film lore.
With Shawscope Volume One, Arrow Video have pulled off quite the coup. Coming with an RRP of £149.99, but available on pre-order for £110, this set represents staggeringly good value. Even with the slight letdown of five of the features not having full restorations, there are more than enough gems to excite established fans of Shaw Brothers movies, all with a price tag that should be low enough to entice those new to the world of classic Hong Kong Cinema. It’s not often a cult set manages to appeal to already established fans as well as newcomers, but if this doesn’t get someone interested in Shaw Brothers movies, nothing will.
Shawscope Volume One is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray on 20th December from Arrow Video.