Saturday, June 7, 2014

#1,391. Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979)

Directed By: Liu Chia-Liang

Starring: Liu Chia-Liang, Hsiao Ho, Lo Lieh

Tag line: "Acrobatic Masterpiece!"

Trivia: When released on DVD in Germany, this film's title was changed to The Killer with the Monkey's Paw

Director Liu Chia-Liang, who helmed such martial arts classics as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Jackie Chan’s The Legend of Drunken Master, also plays the lead role in his 1979 film Mad Monkey Kung Fu. Produced by the Shaw Brothers, Mad Monkey Kung Fu is a stylish action / comedy that delivers as many laughs as it does thrills.

Chen (Chia-Liang), a master of Monkey-style Kung Fu, is also a well-respected stage performer. One night, after putting on a show, Chen is invited, along with his sister (Kara Hui Ying), to dine at the house of the wealthy Tuen (Lo Lieh). What Chen doesn’t know, however, is that Tuen is jealous of his guest’s abilities, and intends to get Chen drunk and put him in bed with a concubine, thus bringing shame to his family. When Chen wakes up in the woman’s bed, he remembers nothing, and, assuming he’s guilty, is prepared to face his punishment, which in this case is death by drowning. To save her brother, Chen’s sister agrees to be Tuen’s new concubine. Still, to “teach him a lesson”, Tuen tortures Chen by having his hands beaten into bloody pulps, thus assuring he will never again practice Kung Fu.

When next we see him, Chen is working as a street vendor, using his pet monkey to help him sell candy to the local children. It’s during this time that he meets Little Monkey (Hsiao Ho), a rambunctious teenager who also happens to be a pretty good thief. The two form a quick friendship, and when a gang of street thugs, who shake down local businesses for money, rough Chen up, Little Monkey intervenes, and is himself badly beaten. Before long, Little Monkey realizes Chen is an expert of the Monkey style, and begs the reluctant Master to teach him everything he knows. After undergoing weeks of torturous training, Little Monkey believes he’s ready to face the gang and, against Chen’s wishes, heads out to find them. In a showdown, Little Monkey does, indeed, win the day, but when it comes time to face the gang’s boss, both Little Monkey and Chen realize they’ve got their work cut out for them.

Liu Chi-Liang turns in a strong performance as Chen, and his martial arts skills are certainly impressive (Chi-Liang worked as a stunt coordinator on many films, including 1984’s Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, and as such could easily handle the physical demands of this role). The real star, however, is Hsiao Ho as Little Monkey, who, early in the movie, is simply the comic relief, jumping around like a chimp and getting beaten up at least once a day. As he slowly learns the Monkey style, Little Monkey becomes a force to be reckoned with (his training scenes, in which he has rocks tied to his wrists and sleeps on a rope strung between two trees, are particularly grueling to watch), and, despite some overconfidence early on, Little Monkey manages to hold his own against his enemies. His training takes up a fair portion of Mad Monkey Kung Fu, and watching Little Monkey go from a clumsy thief into a Martial Arts expert is one of the movie’s strongest attributes.

Featuring a number of well-choreographed fight scenes (Little Monkey’s first encounter with the street gang after his training is a definite high point), Mad Monkey Kung Fu is yet another fine Shaw Brothers film, and a hell of a lot of fun to boot.

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