Kids From Shaolin (1984)

Directed by
Jet Li's second film is goofier but ends with a bang
Reviewed by Simon on 2024-03-24

Two families live on opposite sides of a river. One has inherited Shaolin kung fu and only has boys. The other inherited the swordplay of Wu Dang, and has only girls. Both boys and girls would quite like to mingle, but the Wu Dang father is desperate for a son of his own to inherit his swordsmanship, and is very hostile to the idea of it being absorbed by his rivals.

It's an interesting twist on the Shaolin vs Wu Dang rivalry that features in many martial arts stories - or an interesting twist on star-crossed lovers like Romeo & Juliet, if you prefer. Although not a true sequel to Shaolin Temple (1982) it does feature many of the same faces, including a very boyish Jet Li. There is also a fresh intake that gives the film its name though (I suppose it should really be be Kids Of Shaolin And Wudang).

The film feels like a throwback to an earlier era of cinema, with its traditional morality, childish humour and the occasional musical number. It's... quaint, I guess. The paternalistic values are only lightly challenged, with the father trying to get ten cows for his daughters' hand only being slightly criticised... mainly for being on the high side. Of course he is ultimately going to realise that it's more important they be with someone virtuous.

Along the way there are a series of skits and minor skirmishes and it's all quite light and breezy... which makes it all the more shocking when a group of vicious bandits raid the Wu Dang household in the final reel and it erupts into an almighty battle of swords, poles, fists and acrobatics. The Beijing Wushu Academy get to really unleash their skills at last.

It was mainly because of this part that I actually used to prefer this to Shaolin Temple... or perhaps it was the massive crush I had on Huang Qiuyan (the first Mrs. Jet Li) that did it. After rewatching them both I have reversed my ratings - this one is uneven, and the lows are lower even if the highs are on par. That doesn't make this a bad film by any means, but it maybe doesn't have the same "wow" factor as the first.

This film benefits even more from the stunning landscapes available to them in mainland China though... the river flowing through the mountains is an absolutely beautiful backdrop for the film, which quite rightly milks it for all it is worth.