Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (1976)

If you were to judge Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (Ju ma pao) by boring irrelevant standards like technical competence and plot coherence you’d probably have to conclude that it’s a fairly bad film. And kung fu movies aren’t usually my thing anyway. But this 1976 Taiwanese production is public domain so it cost me nothing, and I wanted mindless entertainment. And who wants to judge movies by technical competence and plot coherence anyway?

In fact, it’s enormous fun. The Golden City on Phoenix Island has been protected by the wisdom of its rulers and the kung fu skills of its three great generals. Then along comes an evil wizard, whose magic is able to overcome their king fu, and the city is conquered and comes under the rule of a wicked (and clearly fairly insane) general. In the confusion of the sack of the city one of the three good generals was able to rescue the city’s infant princess, but only at the cost of having to abandon his own wife and child. The child princess is hidden on a mountain under the protection of a good wizard, who creates an impenetrable fog that hides both the mountain and the princess in safety for nineteen years.

The nineteen years has now now passed, and the good wizard decides it’s time the Golden City was freed from tyranny. This can only be done by the descendants of the three good generals, whose identities have also been shrouded in mystery (and the identity of one of them is certainly a surprise for the evil ruler of the Golden City). It turns out that most of the descendants are teenage girls, but fortunately they all possess exceptionally advanced kung fu skills. The wicked general has a huge army at his disposal, but they’re clearly going to be no match for a handful of teenagers.

The action is non-stop. It’s not as spectacular as modern kung fu epics but the pace certainly never flags. The costumes are delightfully bizarre, especially the white go-go boots sported by one of the young female kung fu experts. There’s a great deal of engaging silliness - the evil wizard is constantly being hampered by his incredibly long white beard, which his enemies have a habit of tying to things thus rendering him temporarily immobile, even though he has a female assistant whose sole duty is to hold his beard for him. There’s also the good wizard’s very strange assistant, whose belief in his power of invisibility seems sadly misplaced.

It’s mostly a blend of action and comedy, with just the faintest hint of romance. It’s the inspired silliness and the insane manic energy that makes this one worth watching. Even if you’re not a kung fu cognoscenti it’s an enjoyably zany romp.

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