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Film / Shaolin Mantis

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So... where's the giant insect monster?

Shaolin Mantis is a 1978 Shaw Brothers martial arts movie starring David Chiang and directed by Lau Kar-leong.

Also known as The Deadly Mantis, this is one of the solo-efforts historical period dramas starring David Chiang in the twilight years of his career in Shaw Brothers, and is often seen as one of his best efforts before Chiang's eventual departure from the studios following Ti Lung, Danny Lee and Jimmy Wang Yu.

It's the end of the Qing Dynasty, and Wei Fung (David Chiang), a scholar, teacher and martial artist, is sent by his father to investigate the Tien clan, whose leader, Master Tien is suspected to be working with rebels aiming to overthrow the Imperial Court. Infiltrating the clan by posing as the tutor of Tien's granddaughter, Chi-chi, the mission becomes complicated when Wei Fung falls for Chi-chi while trying to investigate the Tien family. And when Master Tien finds out about the truth, things are not looking well for Wei Fung.

Do NOT confuse this with the 1956 monster movie of the same name. No giant insect monsters here, this is just a martial arts movie with a praying mantis theme, that's all...

Shaolin Mantis contains the following tropes:

  • Animal Motifs: Wei Fung’s new fighting style are modelled after the movements of a praying mantis, much like the title suggests.
  • Badass Teacher: Wei Fung, being capable of kicking ass besides tutoring.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Wei Fung returns to his father in the Imperial Court, victorious of his mission. Accepting a toast from the emperor, both father and son drinks their wines… only for the father to reveal both cups have been spiked with poison, because with the mission complete they have nothing else to live for. As the father dies in front of Wei Fung, and Wei Fung feeling the poison acting up inside him, he tries to flee from the scene… and the movie abruptly ends after that.
  • Boss Bonanza: Before confronting Master Tien, Wei Fung had to defeat his three acolytes which are Chi-chi’s uncles, third Uncle Bao Jiang who uses a three-sectioned nunchuk, fourth Uncle Bao Tung who uses a massive halberd and fifth Uncle Tien Chung who Dual Wield swords. Wei Fung kills all three of them one by one.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Tien Chi-Chi does eventually loosen up to Wei Fung as he spends time tutoring her and teaching her how to keep an open mind and socialize better.
  • Epic Flail: Tien Chi-chi and her mother both use flails when forced into combat, although against their grandfather, Master Tien, they last for less than five minutes before getting killed.
  • Evil Old Folks: Master Tien, leader of the Tien clan and the patriarch of the Tien family, who is such a Knight Templar Parent that he doesn’t hesitate to kill his own daughter and granddaughter to punish Wei Fung when finding out Wei Fung is actually an imperial spy posing infiltrating his clan but had fallen for his granddaughter.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The final battle between Wei Fung and Master Tien, while at first Master Tien had a pipe which he uses in combat (which hardly qualifies as a weapon) but once Wei Fung disarms him of that weapon it’s strictly fist-on-fist.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Master Tien fights Wei Fung using his long smoking pipe, unlike his acolytes who uses conventional weapons.
  • In Love with the Mark: Wei Fung’s goal is to investigate the Tien clan by posing as a tutor for the clan’s granddaughter, root out their rebel activities and eventually gather enough evidence to have the entire family killed or arrested by the Imperial Court. But he eventually falls for their granddaughter, Tien Chi-Chi, and starts questioning the motives of what his mission entails.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: Master Tien’s demise, after having his guts ripped open by Wei Fung’s newly-acquired Mantis Fist and his intestines pulled out. Its not graphic though, the movie only gives its audiences a Shadow Discretion Shot.
  • Noble Demon: Sure, Master Tien may be the Big Bad of the picture, but rather than installing booby traps or ordering his mooks to lay out an ambush, instead he simply opens the gates of his mansion, have his servants and best fighters challenge Wei Fung one at a time, and when Wei Fung is proven to be a Worthy Opponent, fights Wei Fung mano-on-mano, even ordering his guards to stay down.
  • Offing the Offspring: A twofer, since Master Tien killed both his daughter and granddaughter
    • And then there is Wei Fung;s father, poisoning his son and himself after the mission.
  • Slaying Mantis: The Mantis Fist follows the motif of a deadly praying mantis to strike down opponents.
  • Spoiled Brat: Tien Chi-Chi, the spoiled granddaughter of the Tien clan, which Wei Fung had to tutor as part of his infiltration assignment, who is rude, self-centered, refuse to listen to instructions and starts a quarrel with Wei Fung for no reason (which, given his role as a servant and tutor, he couldn’t really retaliate in any way). She gets better though.
  • Suicide Mission: It turns out Wei Fung is NOT supposed to survive his mission to investigate the Tien clan; upon his return to his father in the Imperial court, he’s offered cups of wine, only to realize they’re spiked with poison after drinking it.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Eventually happens between Wei Fung and Tien Chi-Chi. A rather downplayed example, since unlike most examples of this trope they’re roughly the same age.
  • Uncertain Doom: Did Wei Fung survive the movie, or did he not? Its not made clear, the final shot of the movie is literally him being poisoned and trying to make a run from the Imperial palace. He jumps out of the palace’s entrance, cue freeze-frame, and credits
  • Villainous Valour: Master Tien, upon witnessing Wei Fung kill ALL his acolytes and best warriors one by one, orders his servants and guards to stand down, deciding to challenge Wei Fung in a fair and square last battle.