The seventies-Shawtastic opening credits promise a rickety, low-budget kung fu movie, but Shaolin Handlock is nowhere near as predictable. Shaw favorite Lo Lieh plays Lin Hao, a mature Chinese crime lord living in beautiful Thailand. After Lin sends an assassin to kill kung fu master Li Bai (Dick Wei) by successfully attacking the Shaolin handlock’s only weak spot, Li’s son Chengying (David Chiang), inheritor of the technique, heads to Thailand to seek revenge. Once he insinuates himself into Lin’s gang, Chengying cleverly deflects suspicion onto Lin’s bodyguard Kunshi (Michael Chan Wai Man), the very man who might hold the key to the Lin and Li families’ dark secrets.
Lo Lieh puts in an unusually humanistic, highly commendable performance that is a real must-see for Lo fans and young fighter Chan Wai Man brings a youthful energy and hard-hitting intensity that compliments the more mature and thoughtful actors Lo and David Chiang. Firmly supported by Dick Wei, Karen Yip Ling Chi and Lak Apichat, the three co-stars deliver an action story that builds up to a fun, dramatic conclusion.
There is something very satisfying about watching an expertly-timed mistaken identity plot unfold, and Ni Kuang’s screenplay is in this respect clever and well-designed. Shaolin Handlock’s weakness lies in its unfortunate first act, which is at times laughably formulaic. However, this awkward start soon makes up for itself. Once Li Chengying arrives in Thailand to seek revenge, things liven up and plot complications begin to unfold at a nice pace. As Chengying’s plans are thwarted by Kunshi at every step, he must continually use his rascally resourcefulness to extricate himself from danger while trying to move closer to revenge. There are some interesting twists, and a fast-paced third act successfully tells two stories at once, making the final showdown doubly meaningful. Hats off to director Ho Meng Hua for his excellent pacing on this intricate story.