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"I'll get my ninja gear"
A UK region 0 DVD review of THE YOUNG HERO FROM SHAOLIN 2 by Slarek
 

You don't have to be a devotee of martial arts cinema to work out that The Young Hero of Shaolin 2 is a sequel to – go on, take a guess – The Young Hero of Shaolin, a rarely seen but average genre piece that fluffs a few opportunities to stand out from the crowd, but remains memorable for its briskly staged old school kung-fu and Busby Berkeley-esque formation fighting sequences.

The first film's hero Fong Sai-Yuk is back, once again with a subtitled variation on his name, though at least the Fong Sze Yu suggested here is couple of notches closer than the Fung Hsuin-Yu of the first film. He's perfected the two-fingered strike he developed in Part One and starts things off with a demonstration of its power, a balancing act that echoes the one employed by one of Fong's former masters to an equally enthralled gathering of students in the previous film. It's a weapon he's going to need. Out to get him is a local mobster known as Dragon Head, and Commissioner Chang Bill, a fighter looking for revenge for the death of his brother at Sai-Yuk's hands. Fortunate, then, that Sai-Yuk teams up with former school friend Wu Wai-Kim and his sister, both formidable fighters in their own right.

Anyone familiar with Part 1 will soon spot the changes here. Gone are the extended Wushu demonstrations and stumbling attempts at comedy, while the pace and action quota have both been noticeably increased. Barely five minutes pass without someone hitting someone else – in some cases the build-up to battle is excluded completely and we arrive on the scene with fists and feet already flying. Early fights are brief and staged primarily to establish who is aligned with and against whom, but once Wai-Kim's sister has been kidnapped by Dragon Head and his boys, the narrative simplifies and the battles expand to epic length. The longest of these involves the return of the memorable formation work from the first film, although the decision to considerably speed up the frame rate gives the spectacular aerial shots an unintentionally slapstick edge.

Speed and efficiency are the martial arts watchwords here, although occasionally inventiveness also gets a look in, the fight involving coloured cloth and a practice session with courtship overtones being particularly enjoyable. But there is a trade-off here, with the constantly busy pace maintained at the expense of character depth and development. If you've seen the first film then you should have some investment in Sai-Yuk already, but martial artist Shi Bao Hua, cheerfully likeable though he is, lacks the easy charisma, star quality and showstopper choreography of a Jackie Chan or Jet Li or Stephen Chow. There's nothing wrong with the fights here, which are consistently energetic in the old school tradition, but there's nothing outstanding about them either, despite the increased use of Sai-Yuk's deadly two-fingered strike and the sheer density of the action in the formation encounter.

Young Hero of Shaolin 2 is a definite step up on its predecessor, and is lively enough to keep genre fans reasonably happy, though never does quite enough to stand out from a large and busy crowd. The generic pleasures are definitely there and extend beyond the kung-fu to some amusing translation work and that old school martial arts cinema habit of hijacking passages from Hollywood movie soundtracks, the most surprising example here being the opening bars of Frontier Town from Jerry Fielding's splendid score for The Outlaw Josey Wales.

sound and vision

As with Soulblade's release of The Young Hero of Shaolin, the transfer here is framed 2.20:1 and lacking in anamorphic enhancement. Initial impressions are otherwise quite good, with the opening dust soon disappearing and colours nicely rendered. This does tend to vary, though, with some intermittent quality drops resulting in the weakening of the solid contrast and black levels of the earlier scenes. This variance can be on a shot-to-shot basis, suggesting more than one print was sourced for the transfer. At it's best, though, it's not at all bad.

Both Cantonese and English mono dubs are on offer, with the Cantonese considerably louder than the English track. There's a treble bias here which adds a slight hiss to the dialogue, something not evident on the more muffled English dub. The sync is also out for a while on the English track, though it makes better use of background sound – mountain wind, for example – than its Cantonese cousin.

The subtitles are once again located outside of the picture area and will require a vertical shift on the picture if you are to zoom in on widescreen TVs. The minor grammar hiccups from the first film remain, but are less frequent.

extra features

English Credits
Both the start (2:00) and end (0:24) credits for the English language version, seriously squeezed up and of fluffy quality.

Stills Gallery (2:05)
A rolling slide show of FOH stills and posters for the Hong Kong release, plus two video covers.

Chinese Wushu Academy (1:03)
A rolling textual slide show outlining the Academy of the title, plus some contact details if you're interested in signing up. There's a lot of text on each page and you'll probably have to pause to read it.

There are also trailers for a truckload of Souldblade and Dragon releases.

summary

If you enjoyed The Young Hero of Shaolin then you should be well happy with the sequel, which is faster paced and bristling with action, though it's unlikely to convert the uninitiated and remains primarily one for the genre fans. Soulblade's DVD again lacks that always preferred anamorphic enhancement, but although the print is uneven in quality, at its best it improves on its predecessor.

The Young Hero From Shaolin

Hong Kong 1986
95 mins
director
Ngai Hoi-fung
starring
Shi Bao Hua
Cheung Wang-mooi
Chui Ngai
Lam Chuen

DVD details
region 0 UK
video
2.20:1 letterboxed
sound
Dolby 2.0 mono
languages
English
Cantonese
subtitles .
English
extras
Stills gallery
Trailers
English credit sequences
Wushu Academy intro
distributor
Soulblade
release date
2 September 2007
review posted
26 September 2007

Related review
Young Hero of Shaolin

See all of Slarek's reviews