It is said that to become a true master of kung-fu, one must be as graceful as a cat, as heavy as a mountain, as hard as iron. In the case of the lunatics involved in the making of this breath-taking martial arts melee, you can add ‘as mad as a bag of tramps’ to that list, for this is one deliriously bonkers action flick.
When underprivileged Jack (Alexander Lou) inadvertently rescues the boss of a Shanghai gang, he and fellow sewage worker Charlie (Charlema Hsu) find themselves mixed up in a momentous battle between the Chinese mafia and a clan of highly-trained Japanese ninja assassins. When the boss is assassinated, the two pals swear revenge, setting the stage for one of the most thrilling, preposterously overblown fight films in existence.
Director Robert Tai has assembled one almighty cast of combatants for a film where acting prowess is very much secondary to extravagant ass-kicking capabilities. Horribly dubbed, mulleted Bruce Lee-clone Lou (Ninja: The Final Duel) impresses as hard-as-nails Jack, a man for whom no fight can ever contain too many somersaults. Though his wild-eyed, intense performance is comically overcooked, this guy turns busting heads into a crowd-pleasing psychedelic art form.
Braces are SO in right now
Hsu, as sidekick Charlie offers fantastic comic relief, showcasing eloquent, amusing physicality and timing. He’s no Jackie Chan, but delivers a lively performance, utilising an entrancing fusion of kung-fu and slapstick that recalls the merry theatrics of Gene Kelly.
This likeable duo face off against a motley rogues’ gallery of ninja villains so enchantingly baroque they could have leaped straight out of a Street Fighter-style videogame. Shade-sporting African-American man mountain Eugene Thomas (Shaolin Dolemite) is suitably badass as swaggering, super-cool killer Mr Jones, while gangly, bedraggled Silvio Azolini dazzles as back-flipping, acrobatic knife-throwing enforcer Nemo.
Aaaah! A wasp!!!
Azolini especially impresses with some William Tell apple-smiting action in an astounding dick-swinging contest initiation scene where each assassin gets to show off their skills. Chuck in an overweight Hitler-tached swordsman, a chain-swinging maniac, and a brilliantly over-the-top cackling mastermind of the ‘seize them!’ variety and you have yourself an enticing recipe for quality carnage.
And what carnage it is. The fights are furiously kinetic, with smashing choreography that sees combatants utilising anything they can get hold of, from furniture to shrubbery. The battles arrive with pleasing frequency, on an escalating scale of absurdity that relentlessly ups the insanity. Tai edits the material within an inch of its life, trying desperately to convince us that these men can somersault twenty feet high, disappear in puffs of smoke, and sprint up trees, calling to mind the comedy shenanigans of Monkey.
It’s demented and the effects are often hokey, like when lame-looking moving tufts of grass are revealed to be sneaky ninjas in disguise. Numerous gaffes abound, such as the blatant use of dummies and body doubles during the more outlandish battles, but with so much batshit crazy, often unintentionally hilarious stuff going on, it’s all rather intoxicating.
Of course, the script is hopelessly contrived codswallop. Charlie and Jack meet because the former suspects the latter is a rapist, yet after a good old-fashioned scrap, the two are suddenly best pals. This is how things work in Shanghai, a town where heroin explodes like gunpowder, and where ‘mafia’ means ‘good guys.’ Later, when Jack’s beloved is revealed to be the daughter of the Japanese crime boss, this inexplicably causes our hero far less heartache than you might expect – he hates the Japanese, so she gets the boot. Problem solved.
The plot is often deranged, showcased by the frequency with which a frenzied Jack stares directly at the camera, screaming for ‘REVENGE!!!’
However, it’s always good fun and, depending on your fondness for spectacular, roundhouse-kicking havoc, the always-entertaining fight sequences will probably make up for the script’s inept silliness.
Harder to overlook is the film’s questionable treatment of all non-Chinese characters. Anti-Japanese sentiment has often been prevalent in Chinese cinema, for a number of complex reasons, but Jack’s often blatant xenophobia can be difficult to stomach. His aforementioned fury at the revelation of his lover’s ethnicity is admittedly quite chucklesome, but when she inevitably perishes, his blithe condemnation that for the Japanese, ‘only pride is important,’ seems bitterly coldhearted.
Not cool, dude…
Elsewhere, in an outrageous restaurant battle royale sequence, Jack reveals it is not just the Japs he has it in for when, after decimating an eatery full of white Europeans, he roars ‘Foreigners…leave my country!’ It’s quite blatant, unnecessary to the plot, and slightly spoils all the inventive, fighty fun.
Tai may not care much for subtlety or intricate narrative development, but he has still crafted one almighty titan of a fight flick. It’s big, dumb, invigorating fun, a hidden gem that demands repeat viewings. So, what are you waiting for, grasshopper?
Take a Drink: whenever somebody says something a wee bit racist.
Take a Drink: every time the Japanese Leader cackles excessively.
Take a Drink: every time Jack shouts directly at the camera. REVEEENNGEEE!!!!
Take a Drink: whenever it’s obvious that you’re watching a stunt double.