Most helpful positive review
Enlightened Ones Fight Back
on May 19, 2012
Arhats in Fury is a 1985 martial arts movie, produced in China, that can be a little confusing at times but is ultimately an enjoyable kung fu movie to watch. This review refers specifically to the DVD version of this movie with ASIN number B00006L93H (the photograph on the front cover shows a bearded monk holding a young woman in pale blue aloft, with the title in red Chinese characters on the right-hand side). Amazon has this DVD listed as a '2-Disc Version;' this is incorrect, as there is only one disc.
This historical film revolves around a young monk, Zhi Xing, and his involvement in the conflict between the local people and the Jins who are invading. Zhi Xing's monastery leaders are stubbornly clinging to the temple's rules of nonviolence and therefore forbid any physical resistance to the Jin incursion, yet any infraction on the part of the monks is met with very violent discipline by the abbots, including brutal beatings, severing of limbs and death. Zhi Xing ends up fighting the Jins in order to defend people at a local village; this act starts a sequence of conflicts between Zhi Xing and both the Jins and his monastery.
There is a nice, non-obtrusive romantic interest for Zhi in the film, but the platonic master-student relationship of Zhi and his master, Jiao Yuan, turns out to be the more moving relationship in the film. The depiction of Jiao's fatherly protection and compassion towards Zhi gives this film much of its humanity, and the scene in which Jiao desperately pleads for the abbot to spare Zhi's life and take his own is striking in its emotional effect. The Jin characters, on the other hand, are mostly one-dimensional and treated essentially as crude, repulsive villains.
There are only four or five main fight sequences in this movie - although each is fairly lengthy, if you expect wall-to-wall action in your martial arts films, you won't find that here. This film is very heavy on story, especially in the first thirty minutes, and the long fight scenes are not gratuitous, but rather are well-integrated with the plot. The first fight between Zhi and a Jin soldier has some impressive acrobatics that look fairly natural (that is, without wires or excessive editing tricks). I always enjoy watching this fight, as well as the one between Zhi's shackled master and the Jins that takes place at the monastery. There is another large-scale fight involving many animals and birds that must have been difficult to film, but is unusual and interesting to watch. Of course, there is the big show-down at the end. On the whole, the movie seems to be fairly big-budget, with beautiful photography, locations and costumes.
The first time that I watched this DVD, I was confused by the sequence of scenes early in the film. Only a second viewing cleared up some of the confusion. When you watch, the movie begins with Zhi and Jiao struggling to survive out in the wilderness. What then follows are a series of rather quick and often baffling scenes of events that have already happened that have lead up to the two monks being in the wilderness. About twenty minutes later, the film picks up once again with them in the wilderness as they are attacked by birds, and from there the action moves forward and is quite linear. On first watching, I thought that the wilderness/birds scenes were two separate instances and wasn't sure what had happened, so I hope that this helps you to make better sense of the story. There are still a few odd moments, like the flying head-to-wall suicide and the brief 'horror-movie' element while Master Jiao is being beaten, but they just add to the fun. It is a serious film, but there are several instances of intentional and unintentional humor.
You can hear the movie in Mandarin, Cantonese or an English dub, and view subtitles, as well. The English subtitles do not exactly match the spoken English dub. In order to get the most from the movie, I would suggest watching it once with the English dub, which is often quite humorous (one of the temple's masters sounds a bit like John Wayne). But with the Mandarin language enabled, the voice acting is very good, full of emotion and gives the movie the weight that it deserves.
The picture quality is not perfect but is very good, except for about the first couple of minutes and the last couple of minutes. At those points, the picture has some noticeable film damage, but almost all of the rest of the DVD has a clean picture. There are no extras to speak of, apart from some trailers of other movies from the same studio. (Incidentally, one of these, Chun Tao, is also a very good, if somewhat depressing, movie.)
I consider a movie to be good based on whether I would like to watch it again. I have watched Arhats in Fury three times and plan to watch more, so I give this one the full five stars for its genre. You may not like it as much as I do, but if you enjoy martial arts films and have patience to follow a sometimes complicated story-line, then you may enjoy this one.