doubt I'm revealing any sort of trade secret if I tell you
that the marketing campaign for the latest round of releases
from budget martial arts DVD label 55th Chamber was built around the suggestion that the discs would be best enjoyed
for their nostalgia value on an old TV with a few beers.
I've resisted the temptation to ponder how drunk you'd have
to be to find the print quality on a couple of them acceptable,
but with Kung Fu Wonder Child I believe
I've discovered the inspiration for that particular sell.
If ever there was a martial arts drinking movie, then this
time is wasted setting up the characters and story,
and the plot kicks off about ten seconds after the cheesy opening
credits have concluded. An ageing martial arts master and his
granddaughter are attacked by an evil sorcerer, who captures
their souls to use for who knows what. Meanwhile, the masters
of a local monastery of magic are having problems with their
two dumbest pupils, Mifu and Tudo, who are friends with
the cook Wa Wan and his grandson Shu-Chen. Unbeknown to
the Masters, both Wan and Shu-Chen have developed considerable
skills of their own, which they use to make trouble for
the bullying Chen Kan and to help Chu-Shi, the granddaughter
of the old guy who was offed at the start in her quest
to uncover what has happened to her relatives.
you come to the film with no foreknowledge of its content
or style, as I did, then the first five minutes or so will leave
you wondering just what the hell you are watching.
The initial mix of kung-fu, fantasy and acrobatics will
be familiar to any genre fan, but having resurrected a corpse
and regenerated it as a warrior guardian for his graveyard
experiment centre, the sorcerer would no doubt be surprised
to see his undead recruit hopping home like a zombie rabbit
to check on his children, then getting knocked down and
walked over by a woman he fails to attack. Saddled as this
print is with a particularly silly English dub, you can't
help wondering if the humour is actually intentional or
a by-product of misjudged sincerity. When a brisk
battle lands the zombie face-down in a pile of the world's
stickiest manure, you probably have your answer.
Even back in 1989, fantasy kung-fu was far from new (6 years
had passed since Tsui Hark's Zu Warriors of the
Magic Mountain), nor was the martial arts horror
comedy (Sammo Hung remains king of the hill here for his
1980 Encounters of the Spooky Kind), and
Kung Fu Wonderchild is not in the class
of either of these two rightly revered movies. Wildly uneven
in style and quality, at its worst it's a downright
puerile stuff, all bare-arse and urination gags, wide-eyed
mugging and 'wa-wa-wa-waaaah' soundtrack mockery.
when it clicks it does so with engaging and energetic gusto.
The fights are furiously choreographed, with kinetic wire
work hurling the victims of kicks a good twenty feet through the air and
bouncing them violently off trees, walls and carts. Footage
is slowed down to accentuate fancy moves and the next second
speeded up as if the Keystone Cops were having a kung-fu
bundle. Cheap and cheerful optical effects and daft noises
abound, as magic is hurled about with a furious waggling
of hands and spells are cast by pouring wine for the Gods
and doing a back flip. At the climax director Lee throws
all caution to the wind and turns his villain into a cel-drawn
animated dragon and arms his good guys with antique rocket
launchers that appear from nowhere, including a multi-barrel
affair that bears a striking resemblance to Reggie's gun
in Phantasm II.
By this point it's hard not to have warmed to the film's
exuberant charm and its brazen disregard for any real continuity
of style, cheerfully hopping from horror to action to martial
arts to fantasy to slapstick to Carry-On smuttiness, at
times even stitching them merrily all together into a single lunatic sequence.
When it doesn't work you really do groan, but for the most
part it's great fun, executed with a deft mixture of energy,
imagination and outright silliness.
Non-anamorphic 16:9, a fair few dust spots and some sudden,
mid-scene changes of colour saturation and contrast levels
– yep, this is a 55th Chamber disc all right. But
hang on a minute, in other respects this is not that bad
a transfer at all, with a decent level of detail, and contrast
levels and colour, though inconsistent, often very good.
All in all, this is 55th Chamber's best transfer yet.
is mono 2.0 and a little fluffy, with minor distortion on
ever only an English dub is available, and it does tend
to add to the comedy value, not least in the choice of voices,
with old Wa Wan sounding like a fresh-faced 18-year-old
and the androgynous Shu-Chen voiced by what sounds like
a camp female impersonator.
usual stuff here, with the home-made Kung Fu
Wonder Child promotional Trailer (1:20), the
Image Gallery (0:57) and promos
for other 55th Chamber releases.
it's silly, yes it's painfully unfunny in places, and yes
characters drop out of the story with no explanation, but
in all other respects this is damned good fun, an unashamedly
daft genre jape with fine fights and a bucketful of cheek.
For once I'm prepared to recommend the DVD – the transfer
is pretty good, and at £6 you can't really go wrong.