Review for Kung Fu Cult Master
I like superhero comic book movies, which admittedly are the staple of the multiplex these days. But I always get a sinking feeling when a wuxia movie shows up for review, which could be considered the Chinese equivalent of the Western superhero flick. So it was no surprise to hear an “Uh-oh” from my lips when the check disc for Kung Fu Cult Master arrived. To compound that exclamation of apathy, I learned that this was a Part 1 of a series that never got a sequel following a dismal box-office showing. However, Jet Li and Sammo Hung star in the film, the former also producing, the latter serving as the action director. This might be the proverbial exception to the rule.
It’s a time when the secret to ultimate power in martial arts resides in two legendary swords, and various factions arise to fight over that power. As a young boy, Chang Mo Gei was tragically caught in the middle of one such fight that claimed the lives of his parents, and left him injured to the point where he could never learn martial arts. Nevertheless, he was adopted and raised by the Grandmaster Chan San Fung, and grew up in relative happiness. But when the Grandmaster was away, his best friend betrayed him, and he was exiled from his school. A chance encounter with a warrior long thought dead broke the curse that had sealed his potential. Now he travels the land, learning forbidden kung-fu techniques on his quest to avenge his parents.
Kung Fu Cult Master gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with the choice between PCM 2.0 Mono Cantonese and English, with optional English subtitles and signs. It’s another solid restoration from Eureka, the image is clear and sharp, with consistent colours, which given the 90s film stock are a little subdued. Grain is pretty significant as well, making its presence felt in darker or smokier scenes. The audio is fine, the action represented well, the dialogue clear, with the subtitles accurately timed and free of typos. The image quality is so good that you’ll see most of the wires in the wire-fu.
The disc is presented with a static menu page from where you can access the audio options and the following extras...
Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng
Kung-Fu Master: 2004 Interview with Sammo Hung (23:49)
Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer
English Export Trailer
The first run release will get o-card packaging and a booklet with writing on the film from Simon Abrams.
When you listen to the Frank Djeng commentary, you’ll learn how this particular story, based off a collection of popular novels, is such a part of Hong Kong culture, that viewers will know the characters and the story as a kind of shorthand; the way Robin Hood and his merry men are ingrained in British society. That explains the few minutes of exposition infodump at the head of the film that is so rapid fire that the uninitiated have no chance of keeping up. Without that culture ingrained, all I got was a bunch of characters flying around pulling off insane action. So pretty much like every wuxia movie I’ve seen. Worse, it took me two days to watch a 105 minute movie. I kept nodding off last night, and today, in broad daylight, it took the slightest “squirrel” to distract me from what was happening on screen. This is not a film that held my attention in anyway.
But it should have worked. Unlike most other wuxia films I have seen, Kung Fu Cult Master is played for laughs. It’s got Richard Ng in it for one thing, playing the King of Green Bats, a kind of vampire superhero kung fu master. Sammo plays his character with a typically tongue in cheek attitude, and the film is replete with the kind of quips and wordplay that never really translate. It also pushes up the action to ridiculous, hyperbolic levels that just can’t be taken seriously. It’s a silly, daft action movie, and you don’t get too many of those from Jet Li.
Still, goofy wuxia is still wuxia to me, and all the magical high flying kung fu still leaves me cold. Worse, the film ends at a total open-ended point, midway through the story, a cliff-hanger that was never resolved thanks to this film totally bombing in the box office. The disc is up to Eureka’s usual standards, although the on-disc extra (the generic Sammo Hung career retrospective interview) feels perfunctory. I suppose this is the point in the review where I should wheel out a clichéd “if you like this sort of thing you should give it a try”, but I don’t feel as if Kung Fu Cult Master is interesting enough to warrant that.
Kung Fu Cult Master is available direct from Eureka, from Terracotta, and from mainstream retailers.