In contrast to its wonderfully
absurd English title, this lush period fantasy aims high but hits
the mark only thanks to the concerted efforts of its excellent cast,
who struggle gamely with a screenplay that redefines the term "cluttered."
Various martial arts clans are at war over possession of the magical
To Lung sword, resulting in the deaths of numerous innocent people.
During a clash with two rival clansmen, Chang Tsui-san (Francis Ng
Chun-yu) and his wife, Yan So-so (Sharla Cheung Man), are gravely
injured and commit suicide. The villains leave their young son, Mo-kei,
alive but greatly debilitated. As he grows into adulthood, Mo-kei
(Jet Li Lianjie) is kept alive only by periodic energy transference
from his 100 year old sifu (Sammo Hung Kam-po, also the action
director here). Mo-kei is finally able to regain his dignity after
he hooks up with the wily handmaiden Siu Chiu (who seeks the equally
powerful Yee Tin Sword, and is played by Chingmy Yau Suk-ching), and
tricks a clan rival into teaching him the "Great Solar Stance."
During the course of their adventures, they battle various evil sects
and must escape from a booby-trapped tomb. Mo-kei then duels with
a Shaolin monk (Cho Wing) and wins the allegiance of the bloodsucking
King of Green Bat (Richard Ng Yiu-hon), while also uniting the dissenting
clans and dealing with the sinister deeds perpetrated by mysterious
Yuen princess Chao Min (also Sharla Cheung), who is the spitting image
of his late mother.
Attempting to grasp THE KUNG FU CULT
MASTER on the basis of a one paragraph synopsis is not unlike trying
to absorb the intricacies of "War and Peace" by reading
Cliff Notes. From the opening narration to the final battle, the screen
is awash in so many characters, expository passages, magical kung
fu stances, betrayals, and stylized duels that the open ending will
leave most viewers with equal portions of relief and dread. By comparison,
director Wong Jing and star Jet Li's other collaborations, LAST HERO
IN CHINA (reviewed in issue #192a)
and THE NEW LEGEND OF SHAOLIN (reviewed
in issue #85a), were able to accomplish similar goals in far less
confounding fashion (the fractured English subtitles are only part
of the problem here). Yet, there are some very appealing performances
to be found amidst the narrative chaos, particularly Chingmy Yau's
impishly cute martial maiden (who sports a hair style that is a cross
between Princess Leia and Minnie Mouse) and Sharla Cheung's mischievous
princess. As with all of Wong's fantasies, the production values are
superior, but the action scenes suffer from some jumbled, berserk
editing which reduces Sammo Hung's action choreography to a confusing
barrage of soaring combatants and severed body parts. This adaptation
of Louis Cha's "Story of the Heavenly Sword and Slaying Dragon Sabre"
remains well worth seeing but be prepared to watch it twice if you
care at all about following the storyline. An intended sequel failed
to materialize, due to disappointing numbers at the box office. Collin
Chou/Ngai Sing, Gigi Lai Chi, and Leung Kar-yan also appear.