Monday, September 4, 2017

Kung Fu Cult Master (1993)

(aka “Lord of the Wu Tang”, aka “Kung Fu Master”, aka “Evil Cult USA”, aka “The Evil Cult”)
Dir. Wong Jing
No title translation? That's racist.
Review by Goat Scrote

     “Kung Fu Cult Master”  has all of the essential ingredients I look for in a kung fu movie, which is actually just three things. I want lots of exciting fights, cool stunts, and badly translated subtitles. This movie totally delivers. Bonus points for wire-fu superpowers. Double bonus points for the fact that this particular film mixes vulgar dick jokes with the quest for martial arts enlightenment. 
     The movie was directed and written by Hong Kong legend Wong Jing, from the novel The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber by Louis Cha Leung-yung (pen name Jin Yong). This novel has spawned several film versions and a TV mini-series. The fabulous Sammo Hung directs the action sequences, handles the fight choreography, and also has a part in the movie. Jet Li leads the cast.
Swords are crossed but balls aren't touching.
Verdict: not gay.
     Wong Jing’s public statements seem to mirror my feeling that no matter what other virtues or faults a film possesses, it absolutely must not be boring. The only way that a film (or any artwork) can truly fail is by failing to engage the viewer. By that standard, Mr. Wong rarely fails. In this case he has made a fast-paced, funny, weird movie packed with spectacle. “Kung Fu Cult Master” is a flawed but highly entertaining fantasy wuxia action epic. It runs too long and it’s very confusing, but it’s also a lot of fun and definitely worth a look.

     If you can accept that super-awesome kung-fu magic fights are happening, and you don’t need to know too much about exactly why they are happening, this is a movie for you. Some of the flicks we review are a real chore to watch over and over again, but I didn’t mind so much with this one. The plot is one of the most convoluted I’ve ever tried to review, and I couldn’t understand it until I found three different versions - an excellent English dub and two different subtitled versions - and watched them with a lot of comparison, rewinding, and note-taking. Figuring out who was who in the sprawling cast was a minor nightmare. It is really difficult to make sense of the complex political conflict behind the action, which involves at least ten different clans plus the Yuan government, all intriguing against one another.
I will now explain why I'm divorcing you
through interpretive dance.
     The thing to focus on is the personal journey of the hapless protagonist from bullied orphan weakling to ultimate master of kung fu. The epic scale of the movie remains grounded in the human story of a kid who’s had a hard life finally growing up by collecting kung fu “Ievel ups". I'm not sure that's very practical as a life lesson, but fortunately, I also don't care.

     The film begins with a lot of exposition. There are two main groups vying against each other. The “orthodox” faction is composed of six different martial arts clans allied under the leadership of Shaolin. The other five members are Wudang, Emei, Kun Lun, Hung Tung, and Wah San.

     The second faction is the Ming Sect, aka Evil Cult, aka Fire Clan, headquartered on Bright Peak. They are outsiders from Persia who want to bring down the Yuan government. The Ming Sect is led by four elders: Queen of Purple Dragon; King of White Eagle; King of Gold Lion; And King of Green Bat.

"My beard will eat your mustache."
     The minions of the different sects are conveniently color-coded, which is good because otherwise there would be absolutely no way to tell who is fighting whom. The Shaolin have saffron robes with shaved heads. The Wudang have blue robes and hair in topknots. The Emei are nuns who wear white or light brown. The Kun-lun dress all in brown. The Hung Tung wear red hooded robes. The Wah San wear black. The Ming Sect robe colors tend to match their elders’ colors, purple, silver, gold, and green, but one of the Ming armies also wears red so I don’t know what that’s about.
"Fame! I'm gonna live fore-e-ver..."
     The factions are seeking the knowledge contained in an artifact called the Lunar Scroll, which will make its possessor the greatest martial artist in the world. Two magic swords, Dragonslayer and Starcatcher, each contain half of the scroll. Dragonslayer is in the hands of the Golden Lion clan elder Tse Shun (Yan Huaili) of the Ming Sect, who slew its rightful owner. A wicked Emei sect nun called No-Mercy (Sun Meng-Quan) has the sword Starcatcher.
     One of the students of the orthodox Wudang, Chang Tsui San (Frances Ng) defies the rules and befriends Tse Chun of the Ming Sect. He also falls in love with the daughter of the King of White Eagle, Yan So So (Sharla Cheung). When Tse Chun obtains the Dragonslayer sword by killing its rightful owner, all three go into hiding on an island. There Chang Tsui San and Yan So So have a child named Mo-Kei who is the god-son of Tse Shun.
Portrait of the martial artist as a young man.
     The couple has come out of hiding to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Grandmaster of Wudang. A pair of kung-fu fighters known as the Two Jinxes show up (Leung Kar-Yan and Zhang Chun-Zhong). They ambush the family and take ten-year-old Mo-Kei hostage. The Grandmaster of Wudang, a fellow named Chang San Fung (Sammo Hung), flies onto the scene like Superman and tries to settle the situation down. When the Two Jinxes have the audacity to threaten the Master, he opens up a can of Sammo-sized whup-ass on them. The bad guys really ought to know better than to fuck with a 100-year-old guy who has white eyebrows down to his nipples. Haven’t these dumb fuckers watched Kill Bill? A serious butt-kicking ensues and I can already tell I am going to like this movie, because it is  full of wire-fu stunts and magic.
Want to see me crunch off the front of his skull
and slap his brain out through his face?
     The bad guys manage to hit Mo-Kei with a poisonous move called the Jinx’s Palm. The Grandmaster is away getting an antidote for Mo-Kei when the other five clans show up in force, each trying to leverage the situation to get their hands on Tse Shun’s magic sword.  The elders of the kung fu world and their armies of minions clearly have the advantage over Mo-Kei’s family. Mo-Kei’s father laughs at all of them and uses the power of pure spite to blow his own heart open all over his enemies rather than betray his friend.

     Mo-Kei’s mother tricks the elders into arguing amongst themselves, and lies about where to find the King of Golden Lion. She commits suicide while hugging her young son. She drenches him in her blood just moments after she tells him to avenge his father and warns him to never trust a woman. That is some fucked up parenting right there and psychiatry won’t be invented for a few centuries… so I guess you just walk off, little traumatized Mo-Kei.
This image haunts my nightmares.
     Whew. That brings us to the 15 minute mark, only 1 hour and 25 minutes to go.
     With backstory out of the way, the movie fast-forwards seven years. The grown up Mo-Kei (Jet Li) still suffers ill effects from being poisoned as a child. He lives at Wudang Mountain with Grandmaster Chang San Fung, the incredible 107 year old virgin. Sifu claims that retaining all of his sexual energy is part of his power, and he likes to talk about the outrageous throbbing potency of his morning wood.

     The students at Wudang like to bully Mo-Kei because his health prevents him from fighting back. His rotten cousin Sung Ching Su (Collin Chou) orchestrates the abuse. A visiting girl from the Emei sect, Chow Chi-Yu (Gigi Lai) joins in, playing a prank on Mo-Kei which leads to his being seriously beaten by the students. Sung Ching Su threatens to chop off Mo-Kei’s hand and murder him.
Mellow yellow.
     Without warning a mysterious woman in red shows up on the rooftops and helps Mo-Kei. She uses long chains binding her wrists together as weapons to fight with. He and his mystery ally are flung into a vine-filled ravine by Chow Chi-Yu with the power of the sword Starcatcher. Scummy cousin Sung Ching Su and sadistic nun Chow Chi-Yu cover their tracks by telling the Wudang elders that Mo-Kei was attacked and murdered by the woman in red, and they exacted justice by killing her.

     It turns out the woman in red, Siu Chu (Chingmy Yau), is sworn to serve the family of the King of White Eagle, Mo-Kei’s grandfather. Her hands are chained together because she offended White Eagle. Sleeping next to Siu Chu in the ravine, Mo-Kei wakes up with his very first boner and worries that he might have made her pregnant simply by getting morning wood in her vicinity.
You have successfully transmitted a baby into my body!
     A cannibalistic paraplegic with telekinetic kung-fu powers has lived in the ravine for decades. I couldn’t verify who played this part, but he is awesome. He flies around strapped to a giant boulder and makes all kinds of creepy threats. This section is surreal, funny, and just a little scary too. After Mo-Kei says he will never pollute his mind with the hermit’s kung fu, the magic hermit mind-rapes his own knowledge into Mo-Kei by clubbing him with vines and contorting his "student's" body. I don’t know how that works, but whatever. It turns out that this was the young man’s plan all along, since he knew about the hermit and what his powers could do. They fight and Mo-Kei is victorious.
Somebody hose off the 30 years of accumulated stink.
     Mo-Kei gets super glowy kung fu powers from the Great Solar School, the secret knowledge of the cannibal hermit. He becomes hard to hurt or kill, and he can shoot energy blasts out of his hands. This is also the key to completely curing him of the effects of the Jinx’s Palm. Now he can avenge his parents at last.

     At an inn, the pair encounters yet another mysterious woman, this one wearing a gold crown and leading elite Yuan government troops. Among her minions are the Two Jinxes, but there are far too many troops for Mo-Kei to start trouble even with his Solar Stance.
Harry Potter is so fucking jealous right now.
     Elsewhere, the elders of the six clans make plans to attack the Ming Sect at their headquarters on Bright Peak. The elders of the Wah Sah Clan (one played by Tenky Tin Kai-Man) are hilariously sleazy, letting slip their desire to steal both of the swords and molest the Emei nuns. The meeting is interrupted by one of the Ming Sect elders, the King of Green Bat, Wai Yat Siu (Richard Ng). He is some kind of living vampire. He can fly, drinks blood, and can turn into an actual bat. He is probably my favorite character in this movie, even though has a secondary part. He escapes and warns the Ming Sect of the coming attack by the six clans.
     There is a massive battle between the followers of the two factions. They use crazy cool battle tactics, nifty martial arts superpowers, magic, weird mechanical weapons, and more. The nun No-Mercy shows just how powerful a mistress of kung fu can be when armed with a magical sword.
     The Ming Sect has been warned to expect an assassin pretending to be the “dead” Mo-Kei, so when he shows up for real he ends up having to fight them with his brand new kung fu. Then No-Mercy recognizes him, and both sides of the battle are after him!

     Mo-Kei and Siu Chu are forced to flee to the tomb of the two masters who originally created the magic swords, a taboo place where the clans dare not follow. They find a monk there who reveals that he infiltrated the Shaolin 20 years ago, he’s working for the government, and he is using the Six Clans to destroy the Ming Clan. They fight and Mo-Kei punches the false monk so hard it snaps his fingers off. The injured villain uses trickery to make his escape.
"By the power of Grayskull!"
     Siu Chu helps Mo-Kei discover the secret of “Magic Stance” which is hidden in the tomb, written in Persian so that only Sui Chu is able to read it. The magic stance makes Mo-Kei even more powerful, since he is immediately able to absorb kung fu knowledge thanks to his Solar School upgrade. According to Siu Chu, the instructions direct the reader to deliver the secrets of the stance to Tse Shun. This raises the question of her motives. Is she also trying to find the sword Dragonslayer?
Meh, I've been on worse blind dates.
     Meanwhile the tide of battle turns agains the Ming Clan. Green Bat is injured, and White Eagle is impaled by at least half a dozen swords. He handles it like a boss, though, snapping the blades with his body and then pulling them out.

     Mo-Kei bursts through the wall like Kool-Aid Man and explains the conspiracy by the Yuan to make the clans fight each other. The Shaolin refuse to believe one of their masters was a traitor, and they send a champion to fights Mo-Kei. The good-hearted hero shows mercy after he beats the monk… so of course No Mercy steps up to the plate, because she fuckin’ hates mercy. Mo-Kei reveals his new Magic Stance by casually taking her sword, slapping her repeatedly, and cutting the chains the bind his friend Shiu Chu. The Emei continue to fight, and Mo-Kei is run through with a sword. This annoys him, and he blasts the offender away with chi power. The Wudang, out of respect for the honor and skill of their opponents, unite with the Ming to defend the injured hero. Mo-Kei entrusts the Wudang clan with Starchaser.
My eyebrows are invincible against your kung fu.
     The Ming Sect has a law that they must obey the master of Magic Stance, and they unite behind Mo-Kei as the new Clan Master. One oily advisor immediately appears from under a rock and tempts Mo-Kei with power... he could replace the Emperor! 

     The Wudang, while traveling home, are ambushed with a poison which steals their kung fu. All of the antidote in the town has been bought by one person, so Mo-Kei goes to Green Willow Villa where his true enemy is revealed. The leader of the Yuan government conspiracy is Princess Chao Min (Sharla Cheung, who also plays Mo-Kei’s mother!). She is  the woman he briefly saw at the inn earlier, commanding the Two Jinxes. She has been manipulating the clan infighting from the start. It appears that Chao Min has stolen the Starcatcher from the Wudang, but when the Ming elders try to recover the blade, it turns out to be a trick. The elders are exposed to poison which renders them helpless after they have traveled a short distance from the Villa.
Don't squeeze the Chao Min!
     Mo-Kei returns to confront the villainess. Chao Min gloats about the poison and performs a sneak attack with darts. Next she shoots spear-tipped strings from the musical instrument she is playing. The two go hand to hand and she proves to be a very formidable opponent. Mo-Kei throws people around Jedi-style, causes an earthquake, and strips off half of Chao Min’s clothes. She remains calm and composed the whole time, and demands that in return for the antidote he perform three favors for her, as long as they don’t violate his code of honor. Chao Min’s first spiteful demand is that Mo-Kei can never marry Siu Chu.

     The Emei nuns come across the helpless Ming elders. Siu Chu makes an agreement with No-Mercy. If Siu Chu can survive three strikes from the cruel nun, the Emei will spare the elders. Just as the lethal third blow lands, Mo-Kei leaps in to the rescue. Shortly afterward, the injured No-Mercy and the other nuns are captured by government troops.
No-Mercy and her Total-Lack-of-Humanity Dancers.
     The Shaolin turn out to have been slaughtered, and whoever did it left behind graffiti blaming the Ming. A fake Shaolin monk shows up at Wudang and attempts to assassinate Grandmaster Chang San-Fung. In the confusion, the scumbag cousin Sung Ching Su stabs his Grandmaster. Ching Su reveals he is working for the government. Government agents attempt to bribe the Wudang, but the injured Grandmaster fights them.

     Mo-Kei arrives and uses Magic Stance to go all Keanu Reeves on the government bad guys. He grabs their swords out of their hands with his mind and crushes them into a ball. Princess Chao Min shows up again and for her second favor, she demands that Mo-Kei refrain from using the Solar Stance or the Magic Stance while fighting the Two Jinxes. The Grandmaster gives him an instant Tai Chi lesson so he has a fighting chance. Eventually he prevails over the Jinxes in suitably melodramatic fashion.
Chime for me to send you to bell!
     Mo-Kei owes the princess one more favor. She wants him to come see her in the capital where she will allow him to fulfill his debt to her. It ends with this cliffhanger, and a whole lot of loose story threads dangling. Who is Siu Chu really working for? What happened to No-Mercy, Chow Chi-Yu, and the other Emei, Shaolin, and Wudang hostages? Will the swords be reunited and the secret of the Lunar Scroll revealed? Did they ever go back to help the crazy hermit like they promised? This movie was supposed to be the start of a trilogy but it wasn’t financially successful enough to earn a sequel and so we will never know what was in store for Mo-Kei.
Bonus nightmare fuel. Come sit on Santa's face!
Noooo-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
Jet Li casts Cone of Cold on the Demogorgon.

Retroactive abortion is an actual thing, right?

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