Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Holy Flame of the Martial World" (1983) d/ Chin Lu Ku

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By 1983, the legendary Shaw Brothers had pretty much exhausted every traditional gung fu interpretation of historical Chinese legend, every high-kicking superstar pair up a fan of cinematic pugilism could dream of, so it's no wonder when translating a popular Hong Kong comic book to the silver screen, director Chin Lu Ku pulled out every imaginable stop in delivering a deliriously crazy, special effects-heavy wushu fantasy, packed with laser beams, flying personified Chinese characters, pugilist magic, 32 year old Kuo "The Lizard" Chui and 23 year old Liu Hsueh-hua playing grey-haired clan elders(!), and I'm pretty sure I saw the martial sink hurl past the lens on a wire on more than one occasion, too. Also aboard for the visually dazzling ride are the likes of Pai Piao, Chiang Tao, Mary Jean Reimer (former wife of eldest Liu, Liu Chia-Liang himself!), and Chan Shen.

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You-ming Elder's (Kuo Chui) "Deadly Echoes" technique will make your whole brain bubble and your body disintegrate. His words, not mine.
After their parents are martially snuffed by a pair of scheming power-hungry baddies (ain't that always the case?), Monster Yu (Pai Piao) and Tsing Yin (Liu Hsueh-hua), a pair of babies' lives are saved by the intervention of the Elder of the You-ming (Kuo Chui),  who takes the male child under his wing for eighteen years, while Tsing Yin mothers the female under the pretense that You-ming Elder is responsible for her parents' deaths. After the allotted time passes, a fully grown Yin Tien-chou (Mok Siu Chung) is sent on a perilous quest for the fabled Holy Flame sword, battling murderous ghosts and rescuing a snake bladder merchant's daughter named Chuan (Mary Jean Reimer) from the Bloodsucking Clan along the way. After he solves a dangerous yin-yang platform inside Moon Cave, where Chinese characters spin through the air like bladed self-aware weapons, he retrieves the plastic-looking Yang half of the Holy Flame, then again rescues Chuan from the Bloodsucking HQ, where their elder (Chiang Tao) uses the blood of young girls to resurrect a blue English-speaking mummy(!). When Tsing Yin shows up, she nearly defeats Yin, except that Chuan has developed a super laser-shooting finger, from a snake bladder venom infection (of course) that allows the young couple to escape. You with me, so far?

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It's gotten so that a girl can't even gather snakes with her father without getting harassed by the Bloodsucking Clan.
It turns out that the evil Tsing has the equally plastic Yin half of the Holy Flame, but it can only be wielded by an eighteen year old female virgin(!!) like Yin's sister Tan (Yeung Jing-Jing), who eventually learns the truth about her family from "Snake Boy" (Wen Hsueh-Er, a girl) and reunites with her brother, who's been learning how to fly his sword around like a radio-controlled helicopter from You-ming Elder. Except Monster Yu and Tsing have developed a counter to his hilarious-looking Ghostly Laugh/Deadly Echoes technique, where they can close their ears up like shuttered windows (I'm not making this up). If that isn't enough, their magic pugilism has become so powerful they can explode their foes into meaty skeletons without so much as a touch. In the end, it's gonna take both orphans and both halves of the Holy Flame, not to mention many brightly colored light effects, explosions, and much wire work to bring this one to a close, that's for sure...

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Yin Tien-Chou (Mok Siu Chung) practices his "Flashy Visual Effects" style.
This film would be another feather in Kuo Chui's storied cap, enjoying a career as a fight choreographer, having ably handled that task as far back as Chang Cheh's Ten Tigers of Kwangtung in 1979 and staging the fights for over sixty films in all, with titles like The Story of Ricky (1992), Erotic Ghost Story (1990), The Peacock King (1989), and John Woo's Hard Boiled (1992) to follow, and even appearing in James Bond vehicle Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) along the way. His reputation for excellence in Asian action films is well-deserved and uncontested. Mok Siu-Chung, appearing in only his second feature here, will have acted in well over eighty by the time of this writing, including titles like Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) and Sammo Hung's Pedicab Driver (1989). Four Wops here, you gotta see this one to believe it, and afterwards, you still might not.

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Rock-paper-smoke-electricity is the game you play once your gung fu's good enough.
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