For martial arts movie aficionados, what could be better than watching a battle featuring the great Pai Mei as the opening credits roll to begin a movie? Right from the first frame of Clan of the White Lotus we are treated to an awesome battle pitting two young men, Hu Ah-Biao (King Chu Lee) and Hung Wen-Ting (Chia-Hui Liu a.k.a the great Gordon Liu) battling the silver haired and lighting quick master. With dazzling acrobatics and breakneck speed the two determined antagonists finally overcome their seasoned foe and mete a final winning blow.
As the scene cuts to an emissary reading out a declaration from the emperor, a narrator explains that all prisoners that were followers of the Shaolin temple including Ah-Biao have been pardoned and are to be released. But the White Lotus Pai Mei (Lieh Lo who also directed the movie) does not take the news well and sends out his thug army to kill all of the prisoners that were released with the primary goal being to kill Ah-Biao, Wen-Ting seeming to have avoided incarceration. While the ambush is a slaughter for the newly freed Shaolin disciples marching their way home, Ah-Biao himself is spared having left the group earlier. But the clan of the White Lotus, eventually track him at his home where his pregnant wife Mei-Hsiao (Kara Hui), Wen-Ting the equally deft fighter Tsing-Tsing are welcoming the warrior back home.
No sooner does Ah-Biao settle in for a long awaited home cooked meal with his beloved and good friends does Pai Mei’s conscript’s arrive to settle the score with Ah-Biao and his his companions. But the two couples, each highly skilled fighters in their own right, put up an effective but eventual losing battle. Wen-Ting and Mei-Hsiao flee, leaving Ah-Biao and Tsing-Tsing to suffer the ultimate fate at the hands of Pai Mei.
The two take refuge with a relative of Mei-Hsiao, where she soon has her baby and as Wen-Ting endeavors to enhance his fighting skills so that he may one day enact revenge on the seemingly unbeatable master, so named after his bushy white eyebrows. Wen-Ting believes that the answer lies in combining Crane style and Tiger style fight manoeuvres, but every time he pits himself in battle against the silver haired Pai Mei, he still proves to be no match. Practicing against paper clothed bamboo mannequins, it is Mei-Hsiao that diagnoses his problem. His over aggressive, full force styles of conflict must be tempered with a soft touch. She teaches him that his Crane and Tiger stances must be abetted with tender, woman like strokes like that of threading a needle in order to have a comprehensive and effective fighting arsenal. The solution is further improved when Wen-Ting discovers acupuncture as a means of ‘threading the needle’. With that newfound technique in hand he takes one last stab (pun intended) at the villainous master.
While perhaps not as revered as other Kung Fu movies of it’s era, the Shaw Brothers studios’ Clan of the White Lotus (also known as both Fist of the White Lotus and Fists of the White Lotus) is the epitome of the genre. Superb and agile action sequences framing a quasi-realistic and passionate story line. The fighting and practice scenes are both streamlined and intricate along with a dollop of comic relief in the guise of a lazy relative and a few cliché Kung Fu grips such as the seven second death touch.
If some of the above seems familiar (as it should), the character of Pai Mei was more recently brought back into the spotlight in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2, and played by Gordon Liu for an ironic role reversal. Tarantino being a longtime fan of 70’s martial art films, often uses both characters and actors from the heyday of the genre and Clan of the White Lotus was obviously an influence.
While the English transfer does suffer some hiccups and slightly confusing bits (the exact nature of the opening sequence being one) presumably due to poor translation or actual scene omissions, the end result is still more than satisfying.This masterwork is not to be missed.