Unstoppable Imperial guardsman Chik Lian Jia (Lo Lieh) wipes out rebellious good guys the Hong group who were fighting for equal rights against the oppressive Qin Dynasty. Sole survivor Hong Si Guan (Lo Meng, one of the Five Deadly Venoms (1978)) is hidden by the famous family of cocky kung fu hero Fong Sai Yuk (Wong Yu). The two heroes and hapless manservant Huei Chan (Chin Siu Ho, future star of Mr. Vampire (1985)) join a Shaolin Temple ostensibly to study kung fu though also to safeguard the Hong clan's sacred gold medallion. However, Fong Sai Yuk's mischievous antics and Huei Chan's accident-prone nature stir chaos among the hitherto peaceful Shaolin monks. Food fights, tit-for-tat pranks, endless brawls and some most unholy lusting after pretty local lass Ju Ju (Cheung Choi-Mei) enrage the elder monks. Things only get worse when the boys accidentally unleash the Great Master (Chun Wong), a portly, shaggy-haired monk imprisoned for bad behaviour who stirs up even more trouble.
The Shaw Brothers style of stoic martial superheroism never really recovered from the genre-redefining arrival of clown prince of kung fu Jackie Chan at rival studio Seasonal Films then later Golden Harvest. Shaws made several attempts to compete with their own brand of slapstick kung foolery, most successfully with a run of lighthearted vehicles for top box office draw Alexander Fu Sheng and less so with Crazy Shaolin Disciples, one of their very last productions released the same year they finally shut down. As unlikely as it sounds the high concept here is National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) with kung fu. Hence director Yau Ga-Hung, more prolific as a producer of television dramas, envisions life at Shaolin temple as something like a fraternity. Moments after arriving Fong Sai Yuk, Huei Chan and Hong Si Guan are subjected to a hazing as senior monks make them strip naked and practice kung fu in the open air. Being a rebellious sort, Fong Sai Yuk does not take to the strict discipline of temple life as he starts a food fight, gambles while the elders are asleep and sparks a rivalry with a goody two-shoes senior monk played by Gordon Liu in a comedic riff on his iconic role in the seminal 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978). In fact Gordon's presence led to the film billed in some territories as the bogus sequel: Enter the 36th Chamber of Shaolin.
Fast-paced action choreography and breakneck editing prove the Shaw studio could compete with New Wave filmmakers like Ching Siu-Tung. Yet despite customary top-notch cinematography and production values Crazy Shaolin Disciples was an anachronism in 1985 and has not weathered as well as earlier films. The slapstick situations are certainly crazy though not especially funny. The rowdy humour is of the fart-in-the-face variety, reaching a low-point when Gordon Liu and fellow monks stage a fake fire simply so the secular students will fall in a pile of dog shit. Even more problematic is the strange mix of sexual frustration and misogyny that makes Ju Ju the butt of numerous mean-spirited pranks and a most unconventional romance that goes unresolved. Fong Sai Yuk overhears Ju Ju's brother scolding his dog for getting pregnant again and thinks he is talking about the girl. So for a laugh he encourages Huei Chan to court Ju Ju presumably so his friend will be mortified to find the innocent maiden is really a 'slut' with two kids. Hilarious. As offensive as this sounds even this stupid sub-plot does not pay off.
Presumably Shaws mounted this comic take on Chinese folk hero Fong Sai Yuk in response to Jackie Chan's humorous reinterpretation of another legendary figure: Wong Fei Hung in Drunken Master (1978). If Shaw veteran Wong Yu's belligerent interpretation proves entirely charmless, especially compared to Jet Li's take on the role in the excellent Fong Sai Yuk (1993), it should be noted the moralistic monks don't come out too favourably either, emerging heartless, judgemental hypocrites. Crazy Shaolin Disciples is really just a retread of an old Shaw Brothers favourite Shaolin Temple (1976) only with comedy awkwardly inserted between fights, miles away from the kind of witty genre subversions the studio had made before with My Young Auntie (1981) and Ambitious Kung Fu Girl (1981). What is more the finale where the outmatched heroes band against the villain who gets a hand chopped off before Fong chews on the bloody stump (!) is surprisingly intense and grim for a comedy.