SLICE AND DICE

The Spoiler-Free Shawscope Volume 3 Preview

BILL WOOD | JUNE 15, 2024

Kung Fu poster by BIll Wood.

This article is an early preview of the upcoming Arrow Video release Shawscope Volume 3. After the set is released and I have it in my hands, this page will become a proper review. If you're looking for my reviews of earlier Shawscope releases, you can find Volume 1 here and Volume 2 here.

 

And here I thought it would never see the light of day.

 

With their heavy focus on vintage ‘70s kung fu, Arrow Video’s Shawscope Volumes 1 (2021) and 2 (2022) are two of my favorite Blu-ray collections of all time. I realize it’s only been a couple of years since their release, but to me it feels like ages ago. Volumes 3 and 4 have long been said to be in the works if not officially announced, but when Arrow skipped over 2023 to make room for the Shout Factory Shaws sets as well as their own Bruce Lee series, I honestly feared that Arrow might be done with the historic Hong Kong film studio.

 

So you can imagine my excitement when Shawscope Volume 3 was finally announced on June 7, targeting a November 26, 2024 release. I literally could not hit that pre-order button button fast enough, now comes the grueling five-month wait! Since we have a formal announcement from Arrow, let’s take a quick peek at which films will be included in the newest Shawscope box set (movie summaries via IMDB):

 

The One-Armed Swordsman (1967): A noble swordsman, whose arm had been chopped off, returns to his former teacher to defend him from a villainous gang of rival swordsmen.

 

Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969): Our hero has been living in solitude as a farmer, but circumstances cause him to come out of retirement and take on The Eight Kings, each warrior with their own unique fighting style.

 

The New One-Armed Swordsman (1971): Lei Li loses his right-arm in a sword duel with the master of a martial arts school. Now he must defend himself with just his left arm.

 

The Lady Hermit (1971): A virtuous swordswoman takes revenge on the Black Demon who injured her.

 

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972): The Four Seasons Brothel is run by a ruthless madam, Lady Chun Yi. Countless young girls have been kidnapped or bought and then sold into a life of servitude, prostitution, and torture at this brothel.

 

The 14 Amazons (1972): The Yang family was constantly at war with their rivals from the west. At the climax of the war, Commander Yang Tsung-Pao is ambushed and left for dead. After hearing of the tragic news, the Grand Dame sets on the quest to avenge his death.

 

The Magic Blade (1976): Chinese sword masters pair up to fight off a villain for the deadly Peacock Dart.

 

Clans of Intrigue (1977): After three Clan leaders are assassinated, Kung Nan-Yen accuses Master Thief Chiu Liu-Hsiang as being the only man capable of the murders, but generously allows him one month to clear his name.

 

Jade Tiger (1977): Zhao Wuji embarks on a tragic adventure with full of intrigues to avenge his father, who is beheaded by a traitor working for Tang, on the eve of son's marriage.

 

The Sentimental Swordsman (1977): A righteous swordsman's sense of justice brings about his downfall, as his drinking problem leads to trouble.

 

The Avenging Eagle (1978): Chi Ming-sing is a former disciple of a gang run by overlord Yoh Xi-hung. Yoh's disciples hunt Chi relentlessly as he travels on a soul-searching journey.

 

Killer Constable (1980): Righteous constable Leng Tian-Ying has a fearsome reputation of killing criminals without remorse. But after being assigned to track a gang that robbed the imperial treasury, he comes to find that his reputation is being used against him.

 

Buddha’s Palm (1982): The Buddha's Palm, a technique by which an ordinary hand is transformed into a formidable force. Ku, a blind recluse living in a cave, knows its secret, which proves to be as much a blessing as a curse as it attracts all manner of mayhem.

 

Bastard Swordsman (1983): Hsu Shao-chiang stars as a veritable Spider-Swordsman - master of the Silkworm Style - in this eye-filling, mind-bending martial arts phantasmagorical which truly warrants the description "unforgettable."

 

Fans will notice right away that this set is nowhere near as kung fu-centric as the first two volumes, instead there is a heavy of focus on the wuxia (swordplay) genre that brought the studio much success in the 1960s. I’m not familiar with these films outside of One-Armed Swordsman series* but I will say I am looking forward to them. This film selection leads me to believe that Volume 4 will inevitably feature even more swords-over-fists action, which may or may not please Shaws fans.

 

* - One-Armed Swordsman is the wuxia series that catapulted lead actor Wang Yu to superstardom. He eventually left Shaw Brothers to further his own career, where he wrote, directed and starred in several films as a one-armed martial artist, discarding wuxia in favor of the massively popular kung fu movie genre. One of Wang Yu’s films—Master of the Flying Guillotine—is my all-time favorite kung fu movie.

 

I’m not revealing spoilers on any of the Vol. 3 films (mainly because I haven’t seen them myself!), but I will chime in with some general thoughts and opinions. I am looking forward to diving headfirst into the wuxia genre, but at the same time I’m a huge Venoms fan and was hoping there might be one or two hidden gems left to uncover. After all, it was Five Deadly Venoms that kindled my passion for Shaws theater in the first place! Having said this, I do realize there are plenty of  film buffs who are looking forward to more diverse material. The studio’s history is both long and exhaustive so it’s great to see other genres get some attention, and the general reaction to the Volume 3 content has been mostly positive amongst fans.

 

It's worth noting that the wuxia genre is absolutely essential to the development of what eventually became '70s kung fu. Particularly the Shaws films, which in the late '60s began to veer away from graceful and female-driven to overly-masculine and violent.

 

The first two volumes each had a quirky selection that didn’t exactly mesh with the rest of the set’s theme, namely Volume 1’s Mighty Peking Man (a kaiju-esque King Kong knockoff) and Volume 2’s The Boxer’s Omen (squeamish action-horror and a huge fan favorite). I’m really hoping that Volume 3 has at least one of these outliers as well, and based on the small amount of research I’ve done, it sounds as though I may get my wish.

 

The Vol. 3 box set packaging looks identical to the first two volumes design-wise, save for the color theme (1 = blue, 2 = orange, 3 = green). I feature these sets prominently in my entertainment center and can’t wait to have Volume 3 sitting beside them. Also included is the usual assortment of Shawscope goodies, including a 60-page booklet filled with essays by some of the genre’s top scholars. If you own either of the first two volumes you’ll know that these booklets are chock-full of great imagery and interesting info, they’re definitely a centerpiece of the collection(s).

 

One final note about this set is that it is rumored to be a lower production run than the previous two. I can't confirm this but it does make sense when you consider that (a) the first two were probably overproduced since they're still readily available on discount, and (b) there will almost certainly be lower projected interest amongst the kung fu die-hards which constitute the majority of the Shaws' English-speaking fan base.

 

Also take into consideration market saturation; this is the ninth Shaw Brothers box set (Scope 1-3, Classics 1-4, Lung/Chiang Collection, Brave Archer) to hit the U.S. market within the past four years; factor in the various standalone releases (One-Armed Boxer, The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, etc.) and we're over 100 movies total (!). If Volume 3 is indeed a lower production run, then it makes sense to get that pre-order in before it's too late.

 

If you’re a massive Shaws fan like me and absolutely cannot wait for Shawscope Volume 3, the good news is you have a ton of excellent material to hold you over until late November. This includes the first two Shawscope box sets as well as the Shout Factory releases, Shaw Brothers Classics Vols. 1-4. All things considered, there’s never been a better time to be a fan of classic Asian cinema. - BW

 

Hungry for related reading material? I've got you covered! Check out my reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, plus a list of entertaining kung fu movies that weren't created by the Shaw Brothers. I also have a synopsis on the current state of my favorite kung fu movie, Master of the Flying Guillotine, as well as an art gallery full of custom kung fu poster art, many of which are available in book form here.

 

Bonus Material! Shaw Bros. Classics Vol. 1 Mini-Review

 

Since I'm waiting for Shawscope Volume 3 to arrive, I figured there's no better time to check out Shout Factory's Shaws sets, starting with Shaw Brothers Classics Vol. 1. Like Shawscope Vol. 3, this set is heavily focused on the '60s wuxia era. The Shout Factory sets are well-packaged with the Amaray cases housed in a rigid slipcase, but they are also quite smaller than the Arrow sets with their oversized hardbound book-style cases.  This may actually be a positive for some as I've heard complaints about the Shawscope footprints being too large; I personally prefer the expanded packaging.

 

Content-wise you're getting about the same value with Shout Factory, a couple less films and less supplemental material for a slightly reduced price on average. The Shout Factory transfers are from the Celestial archives and are on par with Arrow as far as I can tell, which means they're excellent. I won't run down the individual movies as that info can easily be found online, but generally speaking Vol. 1 has a solid selection of '60s wuxia featuring the top talent of the era.

 

On a personal note, I loved seeing a young Chang Yi—dastardly villain in so many low-rent '70s kung fu films—take a heroic turn in The Bells of Death.

 

These movies feature the many of the same actors and lavish set designs from the Shaws kung fu era and are typically a bit slower-paced than the kung fu films. Being a huge fan of classic Japanese chanbara cinema, I find that wuxia falls somewhere between chanbara and kung fu in terms of action versus drama, with a bit of spaghetti western mixed in for good measure. After watching several movies in this set I definitely have a newfound appreciation for wuxia.

 

The Shout Factory sets feature some nice on-disc extras such as audio commentary and video interviews with cinema scholars, but there are no booklets, music CDs or any other fancy items such as those found in the Shawscope sets. All in all, the Shaw Brothers Classics sets make an excellent companion to Arrow's Shawscope sets. They're a superb value (roughly ten bucks a movie on average) and I'll definitely be purchasing them all eventually. - BW

 

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Kung Fu poster by BIll Wood.
Kung Fu poster by BIll Wood.
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