June 30, 2014

Movie Review: Ru lai shen zhang (1982)

As I stumbled from the theater into the early hours of the night, I was stunned, dumbfounded, confused, and delighted. Reeling from the events that had just been witnessed by mine own eyes. Not in recent memory do I recall being privy to such an excursion into fantasy-fu as this. Swirling colors, blinding lights, costumed dragon things, acid spitting tumors, spinning knives and more intricate familial relations than you can shake a sword at. This movie is like nothing I have been ever asked to comprehend before. I am sure I will cross paths with it or its kind again, I can only hope that I am a little more prepared for it then. Of course, there is no way I could have been prepared for this.

What movie am I talking about? Well, before I get to that (and hopefully before you tried looking up the title at the top), there is a little story to this. There is a group called AGFA, the American Genre Film Archive, that is dedicated to finding and preserving oddball genre films that are not deemed worthy of artistic merit (whatever that means). Basically, they want to make sure we can save bizarre cinema, and this is something worthy of supporting. They do not only find the films, they want to try and make it possible for them to be seen. To that end, they do screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse of films in their archive. This was one of those films. It was advertised as a mystery movie. All we knew was that it was a crazy kung-fu movie. They did not disappoint.

The film, projected from a 35mm print, was clearly from China, evidenced by its dual subtitles of English and, I believe, Cantonese (I suspect the spoken language is Mandarin). However, the one thing they did not subtitle was the title! None of us knew what the movie was actually called, it took a little searching to find it, but I did. The movie is called Buddha's Palm. The movie starred those who were mostly unfamiliar to me, save for Kara Hui (who also starred in My Young Auntie, Legendary Weapons of China, and Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, plus more recent fare like Infernal Affairs 2) and Lo Lieh (Five Fingers of Death, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Dirty Ho, and Supercop).

I am at a loss to really explain what happens in Buddha's Palm. I have been assured by some places online that it is fairly straightforward. Interesting, perhaps it becomes clearer with multiple viewings. I was fairly lost by ten minutes in. I guess it doesn't help that the movie feels like it is fast forward and it seems that there is a new character introduced every five minutes. I will say, to the movie's credit, it's mix of cheesy effects, wire-fu, fantasy, and relentless forward movement is seriously entertaining. If nothing else, the movie will leave a mark and you will have a smile on your face.

It seems that a swordsman, Lung (Tung-Shing Yee), is upset that the girl he loves is marrying someone from another clan. He is defeated in battle and presumed dead. He is saved by this dog/dragon thing and is brought to a blinded master who teaches him Buddha's Palm technique. The goal, I think, is for the master to use Lung to defeat his enemies for him. Well, more enemies show up, people stab each other in the back, battles turn into flying animated laser beams. Loyalties change, the innocent get blamed, the guilty go free, I don't know, but in the end everyone is laughing.

Buddha's Palm is a unique brand of crazy. I have a hard time imagine anyone keeping up with it. Perhaps director Taylor Wong recognized that the script was either incomplete or incomprehensible and chose to try to disguise the fact by flying through everything and make the visuals look like an acid trip. Or, maybe this is exactly the way it was conceived, in which case the creative team must have been the ones on acid. Either way, this movie is a slice of inspired insanity. The crazy fights, goofy dialogue (at least judging by the subtitles), the ever present Pi Gu (Lo Lieh), the lightsaber, the giant extending boot, the dragon/dog thing, the identity confusion, and whatever else you can think of, makes this one an unforgettable experience.

Highly Recommended (seriously).

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