“The more beautiful is woman, the more capable is she to tell lies.”
Shalen’s rating: Seven out of ten crabs in sugar candy.
Shalen’s review: I’d like to note, first of all, that the above rating only holds true if you do not speak Cantonese, and consequently purchase a version which must have been subtitled into English by a person who suffers from a cognitive disorder, because there is no other explanation for the dialogue. The version which I personally own is titled Lord of the Wu Tang. I bought it sight unseen on eBay for five dollars, shipping included, but I could never have anticipated how many hours of enjoyment I was going to derive from this film. I bought it during college three years ago, and my sisters and I quote it back and forth to this day.
This film begins with young Mo Kei, played by a nameless child actor who will not be long on screen because he is not Jet Li, wandering through a marketplace with his parents. At this point they are attacked by some bearded men in robes, and Mo Kei is hit by a “Jinx’s Palm” kung fu attack,* resulting in a big black handprint on his body. (“Ma! I feel so painful!”) This is also when it is established that every single character in the film can fly through the air, starting with Mo Kei’s Mom, Dad, Dad’s Seefu, and of course all of their deadly enemies. This flight is done in a highly realistic manner, in a style I would describe as “painfully yanking people through the air using wires.”
Then everyone troops back to the Seefu’s school, where young Mo Kei gets to watch his parents commit suicide. See, a group of monks from various sects want them to give up the location of a famous sword, and rather than give up the secret by torture and betray their friend the King of Gold Lion (“Otherwise it’ll be non-righteous!”), Mr. and Mrs. Nameless Parent decide to kill themselves. Mom in particular decides to go the least traumatic way out by stabbing herself with one hand while hugging Mo Kei with the other. (“See how powerful is my cheating skill?”) Dad apparently causes his own heart to explode, spraying the supercilious monks with arterial blood.
So we can see already that Mo Kei is going to have some personal problems. He ends up being raised by his Dad’s old master, played by Sammo Hung in a really hilarious fake beard. This guy is supposed to be having his hundredth birthday at the beginning of the film, but he doesn’t seem to change much throughout the course of the movie, bar his hair going white instead of gray. In fact, kung fu apparently has more startling health benefits than anyone realizes, because all of the people whom Mo Kei blames for his parents’ death look exactly the same when he sees them eighteen years later.
I’m going to try and be brief with the rest of the plot, but it’s very complicated and you’ll need to watch the film at minimum twice to even comprehend most of it. I still don’t completely get one or two things.** Suffice to say, Mo Kei gets his lost kung fu back,*** whoops on some people who need whooping, and has a freaky quasi-sexual bantering relationship with a woman who looks just like his female parent (“She is like my Mom!”) but is actually a representative of the Government. This woman gets many of the better subtitled lines (“I will be your woman sooner or later. I don’t need to resist”), and it’s very interesting to listen to her delivery in Cantonese. Apparently women tend to speak in much higher voices in that language. To the ignorant American ear, it sounds like he’s flirting with Minnie Mouse.
I’d also like to put in a good word for the character of Siu Chiu (“I’m no friend of yours. Dress!”). It’s seldom that there are interesting female characters in a Hong Kong movie who possess kung fu skill of significance, by which I mean the ability to NOT LOSE TO EVERY SINGLE MALE THEY FIGHT WHO IS NOT A NAMELESS EXTRA. Not that that’s a pet peeve or anything. No sir. Siu Chiu doesn’t get to do this very often, but she does demonstrate some excellent skills (“I came on purpose for this sword. I wanted to break this unbreakable ‘cold chain!’”), including an ability to survive being thrown dozens of feet straight backwards into a tree trunk by No Mercy the Evil Nun. Did I mention No Mercy? She gets to tote around the Yee Tin Sword, which is not the same as the sword everyone wants and the never-on-screen King of Golden Lion has. Once upon a time, there were Buddhist nuns as well as monks, and it’s interesting to see this in a film. Anyway, No Mercy gets this sword taken away twice, both by Sammo Hung’s character (“Next time, send a better-looking student.”) and by Mo Kei later. It glows a very vivid yellow and makes a very non-light-saber shwing sound when drawn and sheathed, so no worries there.
And of course you won’t want to miss the King of Green Bat and King of White Eagle, identifiable by their color-coded capes and personal characteristics: one is a vampire and wears green and the other has long fingernails and wears white. Oh, and Green Bat refers to White Eagle as “Old Bluffer” in the subtitle translation: “I have stopped the bleeding for you, Old Bluffer!”
Did I mention the religious group to which Siu Chiu belongs is called the Evil Sect?
This is a very busy film. Events churn along very rapidly, so much so that it’s sometimes difficult to see who is fighting whom and why. Admittedly, if you’re watching a Jet Li film you are not going into it looking for much out of the plot. You are going in looking for Jet Li to open up a can of buttock chastisement all over a large assortment of people, sometimes several at once. And this film does contain lots and lots of fighting. My personal problem with it is that it’s very seldom you see anyone actually fight on the ground with just fists and feet. They spend a lot of time flying through the air. It makes me wonder why everyone thought Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was so different when this movie has Jet Li zooming over a battlefield shooting yellow laser-type beams from his fists. This film belongs to the interesting subgenre of Fantasy Kung Fu, which contains fighting but also contains fantasy elements like the ones mentioned above. (Other examples include Zu Warriors and Legend of the Swordsman.)
It would have been a great video game. As a movie it’s frenetic, semi-comprehensible, and frequently hilarious. Or maybe that was just the subtitles. Personally, I found the guy embedded in a rock and the evil chick’s Death Zither attack pretty humorous.
My biggest quarrel with the film, however, is its abrupt ending. There are one or two important plot points that are never resolved.**** See, this was originally meant to be the first in a trilogy. And when this one came out and got very low box office (I can’t imagine why), the other two were never made. I wish they had been, because I would love to be able to say I own all three films in the Kung Fu Colt Master trilogy AND Jackie Chan in To Kill With Intrigue.
Bottom line, this is a great B-movie that could do with a viewing or so at the very least. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it as much as I did. I hear it’s still selling cheap on Ebay.
*Anybody else seen “The Iron Monkey?” It’s like the Shaolin Buddha’s Palm, only the special effects are not as good.
**What was with the Five Elements Flags, anyway? Where did they come from? How did they relate to anything, other than providing a large number of extras in color-coded clothing for Jet to kill?
***The film treats kung fu not as a set of fighting styles, but as a mystical life energy akin to The Force. Mo Kei also learns new stances simply by reading them off walls or having them zapped into his body from vines by a guy embedded in a rock. Then he can shoot fireballs out his fingertips. How come nobody teaches this kind of kung fu here?
****Perhaps more than one or two. I could have lost track while King of Green Bat was fighting the Red Cross Knights for possession of the Chamber of the Evil Sect.