Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave (1982)

One fine ghost month night, martial arts student Chun Sing (Billy Chong Chuen-Lei) has his Hamlet moment when the oatmeal-faced ghost of his father appears and reports that he has been murdered by a certain Kam Tai Fu (Lo Lieh) in a town not far away.

Ghost dad orders Chun Sing to make his way there, retrieve his bones and take vengeance on his killer. Our hero is a filial person, and so quickly takes off to the weeping sounds of his mother to do as he is told.

Alas, taking vengeance on Kam Tai Fu is not going to be easy, for the guy is the big man in his town and commands a gang of kung fu fighting henchmen - some of whom are quite a bit better than Chun Sing is. Even worse, the villain has his own private black magician who is just in the process of making his master impervious to damage with a process that consists of spitting blood taken from fresh human hearts that have been harvested from non-evil persons during intercourse on Kam Tai Fu's chest (oh black magic, why do you have to be so icky and complicated?). Kam Tai Fu isn't impervious to damage yet, but it seems only a question of time.

After his first attempt at a direct assault goes awry, Chun Sing uses a magic manual he's found - and which the black magician really would like to own - to sic a bunch of irregularly hopping dead at his enemies. This again meets with less than satisfying success.

Fortunately for Chun Sing, he and the dead aren't the only ones out to end Kam Tai Fu's reign, and some locals and two government agents willing to help him out may be the solution to his troubles.

Lee Chiu's Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave is one of those martial arts movies that do not believe in dialogue scenes or characterization at all, and consequently try to not include a single minute where somebody isn't hitting or kicking somebody else. The thinking behind this particular brand of minimalism seems to be that the audience is there to see people fight, so everything else is superfluous, making this school of martial arts movies quite as single-minded as porn, and equally difficult to write about beyond a general: the choreography is quite satisfying and the camera focuses on the important things, which is to say, the fighting.

Still, like all purity, this purity of only fighting all the time would get monotonous fast (there is a good reason why many movies of the genre do include scenes of people not fighting). Fortunately, much of the endless fighting here is imbued with the never pure spirit of weird fu, too, spicing up the hitting and the kicking with many moments of the awesome and the bizarre.

Among my favourite moments of "what the hell am I watching right now?" in Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave is Chun Sing's first attempt to beat his enemies with his undead gang. After Chun Sing has shot two long-tongued guardians of hell (I think) with the mandatory cartoon beams from his sorcery manual, the poor evil sorcerer finds his final resort in holding hell money into the air and asking Dracula for help, who - mercenary that he is - appears at once and gives Chun Sing's ghosts trouble until he is dispatched with exploding garlic cloves. That's probably the film's most transcendentally insane moment, but there are many other flourishes of this sort, like the sorcerer being beaten with magical lampions, the power of female hygiene products and what I suspect is meant to be menstrual blood. And who wouldn't want to see Lo Lieh get beaten up by a coffin, see a son rescued from a ghost with telescope arms by his skeletal father, or learn that evil people literally have black hearts that are unusable for black magical ceremonies?

These bizarre moments taken right out of Chinese mythology and classical literature turn what would be a competent yet also exceedingly monotonous martial arts movie into a piece of riotous fun where the unexpected is generally to be expected, and make Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave a film not to be missed even though the film's only available print (as far as I know) is a panned and scanned abomination dubbed into English in the usual horrifying manner.

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