I love Kung Fu films and have been collecting them for a long time and while there are many great ones out there, this thread isn’t about your 36th Chambers, Big Bosses or Drunken Masters. This is about the weird, wonderful and not so wonderful examples because some chop-socky flicks are really out there. The Brucesploitation sub-genre on it’s own is probably a thread in itself. I was originally just going to briefly go through some examples but instead I’ll highlight some of the more bizarre and/or terrible ones I’ve seen one at a time.
And there’s no better place to start than my favourite terrible film, Firefist of Incredible Dragon aka Revenge of the Shaolin Temple. It should be noted that this film does not include any incredible dragons. It doesn’t even have any mediocre ones or firefists either so already we have a title writing a cheque that the film can’t cash. What we do have though is an utterly confusing mess that is truly fascinating as it is just so terribly made. To be fair there are clearly huge chunks of this film missing, especially near the beginning as I swear the first act is only about 12 minutes long. My DVD version is only 77 minutes but that is still 7 minutes longer than the version uploaded to the Wu Tang Collection’s YouTube channel. Even IMDB lists it as just 82 minutes but there surely must be a lot more than that absent. The broad strokes of the plot are fairly straightforward though. Mr Liao is a Very Bad Man™, terrorising the local town and imprisoning the women. A woman who was passing though went missing and her sister is now looking for her.
The film opens with Liao’s goons disposing of some of his victims in the snowy woods. The angry spirit of one of these women manifests itself as a disembodied, beating heart which then flies around and kills these men sending them flying into the trees. We’re then in the town with more of his goons harassing an old man and his daughter when the heroine of the film (whom I don’t actually know the name of) interjects, drawing their ire. Before things escalate though their boss stops them and pulls them out. He then reports to Liao that the woman looks like one of the women they were burying in the snow so Liao instructs them to go and check. Upon doing so they find her grave empty and the dead bodies of the men fall out of the trees. They report back and mention a suspicious man they were watching. The film then jumps to their compund in the middle of the night where a man and a woman in black are fighting off the guards and trying to escape. There’s also 2 men in a cave being killed by the killer heart and possibly the worst s** scene ever committed to film shoved in here (I don’t think this is in the Wu Tang upload though) and we’re still only about 10 minutes in. If you’re trying to follow the plot your head is probably starting to hurt by now.
Then the heroine is talking to the lead male hero in the film who has had no other introduction prior to this so who he is or what their relationship is I have absolutely no idea. Given the original title it’s possible he’s from the Shaolin Temple and tasked with apprehending Liao. It’s such a commonly applied word to Kung Fu films that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything though. The old man from the beginning then realizes his daughter is missing so the hero goes off to give Liao a stern talking to. He fails though and is captured instead. The heroine is then captured and is being carried in a sack through the haunted woods when the spirit of her sister and a man in black with white hair and profound scarring across half of his face save her. We then get some exposition over a campfire where he explains that her sister and her husband fell prey to Liao. She escaped and died in the snow along with her unborn child. There’s a shot that I think might be suggesting that the killer heart is supposed to be that of the baby. Later on Liao’s wife seems to be possessed by the heart and there’s a suggestion she might be pregnant but they never go anywhere with that so it really isn’t clear. The man in black also takes her to a cave where heroine’s sister is buried so she can mourn her.
There’s some supernatural shenanigans as Liao is tormented by spirits so he instructs his goons to get a Taoist priest. A priest and his student are found but you get the impression they’re probably scam artsists. There’s some more killer heart action and someone loses their face, another their hand while another is blown up by the heart! The priest and his student perform a ritual but they’re clearly at it. The student is then caught spying on Liao’s underboss getting frisky with Liao’s wife and is then beaten to death. The killer heart possesses the dead student who then beats up the boss and his thugs. The old man is also sneaking around the compound in some sort of gorilla mask or something for whatever reason and is saved by the heroine when he’s rumbled. She saves the remaining imprisoned women including the old man’s daughter and then the hero whom you might have completely forgotten was even in the film at this point. They then confront Liao just as he’s torturing his wife for her adultery.
The last 10 minutes are incredible and are so badly put together it’s almost like a parody of Kung Fu finales. The fight starts in the house and after a brief exchange of blows cuts to the garden. They fight a bit more and then they’re running out the gate and fighting outside the compound. A bit more fighting and they run to the top of some stairs and jump straight up… and land smack dab in the middle of a field that is clearly nowhere near any houses. Again there’s a bit more fighting when Liao walks straight into the camera and the film then cuts to them fighting surrounded by trees. This woodland section lasts a bit longer but I swear that the background changes around so much that it takes place in at least 3 different woodland areas. Liao emits a deranged laugh and witnesses the spirit of the dead sister and is then walking into the dark cave where she’s buried. Hero and heroine are then running through a quarry trying to catch up with Liao even though he’s clearly just walking. He’s confronted by the many spirits of women he’s killed and the man in black who stops Liao from escaping as the cave collapses on them. It turns out his white hair and scarred face were just a mask for no clear reason and heroine realizes that he was her brother in law. The film ends with hero and heroine walking away before she turns around and reaches out in distress for the ending freeze frame which is an extremely common way for kung fu films to end. Except the snow is still falling. It does eventually actually freeze but there’s a brief surreal moment that’s reminiscent of the ending to an episode of Police Squad! (in color) where she’s trying to stand as still as possible while the world around her is still in motion. The beating heart then fades in and EXPLODES and there’s a freeze on this explosion that is held for almost a minute while the music continues on. No text on screen just an exploding heart. These films don’t have credit rolls so what the purpose of this is I have no idea. Then it cuts to a red screen with “The End”.
This film is just so spectacularly bad in every way possible. The acting is terrible and the terrible dubbing often just repeats the same word or phrase over and over. The story is incoherent -certainly on your first watch at least - but even with additional footage it would probably still be confusing as the editing is really bad. Have you ever checked your phone while watching a film and then realized you’re totally lost because you missed a vital plot point? You constantly have that sensation in this film even if you never take your eyes off the screen. Firefist of Incredible Dragon is truly, truly awful and I love it for it.
The Killer Meteors. The main character has a secret weapon he won’t take out of the case until the very end of the movie (mostly he fights with people with the case). I won’t spoil what the weapon is, but it’s hilarious.
It takes place in Medieval China but there’s a modern restaurant. Also, the villain is named The Immortal Wa. He dies.
No, not Kung Fu Hustle. Most everyone has seen it and it isn’t weird enough. But the stuff he was doing just before it scratches the itch. There’s God of Cookery which is less Kung Fu and more Iron Chef and then…
But if we’re keeping things strictly to golden era martial arts action,…
I’m not really a connoisseur of those films but I had a friend who was very much into them. Two very strange (and terrible) ones he showed me were “The Crippled Masters”, where a man with no arms and another man with no legs team up to beat everyone in sight, and “Clones of Bruce Lee”, with a ridiculous plot where three actors who look nothing like Bruce Lee (or each other) are supposed to be clones of him.
Child of Peach is very entertaining and utterly bonkers. Not really a martial arts film per se, more of a fantasy action film but there is some fighting in it so it qualifies for here. There are 2 sequels but I don’t remember them as well.
Shaolin Soccer is also really good and highly recommended. One of Steven Chow’s older films Legend of the Dragon is a similar concept but features snooker as the sport. The finale has him squaring off against Jimmy White who was a very famous and popular British snooker player. He might actually still be playing, I’m not sure. He looks totally confused by the whole experience.
Mantis Fists and Tiger Claws of Shaolin seems like a fairly typical kung fu film at first. Many of these films have titles that reference the martial arts styles contained within but this film has a more literal interpretation which results in one of the most deranged ending sequences you’ll ever see.
It starts off with a strange little cartoon discussing the praying mantis and how it’s disproportionately strong and that the female devours the male after mating. We then cut to a restaurant where some local thugs led by the son of local Very Bad Man™ Mr Hung are throwing their weight around. The owner’s daughter Shuang Shuang tries to get them to stop bullying their patrons but they then turn their attentions to her. Pai, a passing traveler fights them off though. Later while Shuang is out picking flowers she is assaulted by the thugs from the restaurant. Afterwards they are walking through a bamboo forest before being attacked and killed by an unseen foe.
When word gets back to Mr Hung that his son has been killed he seeks revenge believing Pai to be the killer. He confronts Pai in the local brothel where he is buying the freedom of his sister who is working there. They share a drink before Pai fights Hung and his two remaining sons, one of whom has a spiky back like a kung fu hedgehog. Pai escapes when he realises his drink was poisoned.
Hung decides to use the sister as bait while Pai recuperates with the help of Shuang Shuang. Shuang Shuang visits the brothel in disguise and helps Pai’s sister escape. When they try to flee though they’re ambushed and Pai’s sister sacrifices herself to save him. Pai and Shuang Shuang are separated but both escape. She returns to her restaurant to find her family murdered and one of Hung’s sons waiting for her.
Afterwards the son and his goons are walking through the woods and are also mysteriously attacked and killed by someone - or something - we only briefly see. Shuang Shuang is then assaulted by the remaining son. Strange cries are then heard and he is killed by some sort of green monster with long thin arms like… a praying mantis? Pai then confronts Hung and avenges his sister by impaling Hung on his own spear. Pai and Shuang Shuang get married but the film isn’t quite over yet.
We see through a flashback that Shuang Shuang’s mother was sleeping under a tree when a praying mantis climbed up her leg and, uh made her pregnant. So it turns out Shuang Shuang is actually half mantis. Her new husband finds this out the hard way as, having consummated the marriage his new wife then turns into her mantis form and attacks her husband who has to fend her off and ultimately kill poor Shuang Shuang. This fight sequence is jaw-droppingly insane and words really can’t do it justice. The cheapo costume is one thing but it’s the blue pyjamas that really completes the look.