Four Virtual Screenings!
Shaolin Kung Fu (1974)
Starring: Wen Chiang-lung, Yi Yuan, Liu Hsiu-yun
After the wu xia (heroic swordsman) resurgence of the late Sixties, Jimmy Wong-yu changed everything with his Shaw Brothers hit, The Chinese Boxer (1970), playing an angry young man fighting his oppressors with kung fu, and that came right before Bruce Lee’s box office-shattering kung fu flicks of ’72 and ’73. Suddenly, everyone wanted pissed-off poor dudes with badass brawler skills bashing open the skulls of The Man and Joseph Kuo delivered. He and flying kick specialist, Wen Chiang-lung, made seven movies together between 1972 and 1974, including this one, which is a remake of their Rikisha Kuri shot the previous year.
Here, Wen plays a rickshaw driver who’s promised his blind wife he won’t fight. Turns out that’s a hard promise to keep when a rival rickshaw company keeps stealing his fares, bullying a kid selling hardboiled eggs, and kidnapping his wife. A series of escalating brawls break out, building to a torture-filled climax and, don’t worry — there’s a (very) brief flashback to Shaolin Temple to justify the title of the film. Turns out there’s no film genre that doesn’t get better when you add a little Kuo.
Shaolin Kids (1975)
Starring: Polly Shang-kuan, Tien Peng, Carter Huang (aka Carter Wong)
In the early Ming Dynasty, the first Emperor Zhu believed his Chancellor, Wu Wei-yung, wanted to take over the throne. In retaliation, he had Wu, his family, and 30,000 of his nearest and dearest murdered. Despite this, history generally remembers Emperor Zhu fondly as a kind and effective leader. Wu, on the other hand, is remembered as a dirty traitor and Shaolin Kids is the largely fictitious tale of the brave heroes and tragic martyrs who worked to bring his treachery to the attention of kindly old Emperor Zhu.
Only World of the Drunken Master boasts the kind of budget Kuo has in Shaolin Kung Fu, and this posh period exercise allows him to return to the world of wu xia swordplay, this time putting a woman in the driver’s seat. Polly Shang-kuan ( 18 Bronzemen, Return of 18 Bronzemen), was discovered by Taiwan’s great cinematic innovator, King Hu, when he cast her in his groundbreaking Dragon Inn, and here she plays the daughter of a court official murdered by Chancellor Wu as the first step in his attempted coup. Shang takes it on herself to round up a bunch of friends to form a ragtag band of freedom fighters and bust skulls in revenge.
The Old Master (1979)
Starring: Master Yu Jim-yuen, Bill Louie
One of the strangest movies ever made, this cult-classic-in-the-making stars Master Yu Jim-yuen, the teacher of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, and a host of others, as a fish-out-of-water martial artist in contemporary Los Angeles. The 74 year old Master Yu finds himself in LA trying to save one of his lazy student’s kung fu schools that the kid has almost lost through his gambling debts, but then he discovers that his student is paying off what he owes by setting Master Yu up in fights and betting on the outcome. Fortunately, he meets American karate champion, Bill Louie, and agrees to teach him kung fu (Louie’s other teacher is a toy robot — yes, you heard that right).
Armed with an earworm synth soundtrack and a complete and total commitment to disco, this flick feels like a bad dream where you just can’t wake up. Along the way, Louie more than demonstrates why he’s a superstar in the ring, we get to witness the birth of chainsaw-fu, there’s a face-melting dance number scored to the disco version of “Popeye the Sailor Man”, and every time a fight breaks out Master Yu turns his back to the camera so he can be doubled by one of his students (rumor has it that his double is the world famous Yuen Biao). You won’t believe the lunacy that’s unfolding before your eyes.
World of the Drunken Master (1979)
Starring: Jack Long, Mark Long (aka Lung Kuan-wu), Li Yi-Min, Jeanie Chang, Simon Yuen (kind of)
Between appearing as Beggar So in Jackie Chan’s 1978 Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, and dying in January, 1979, Simon Yuen (Yuen Wo-ping’s 66 year old father) played his Beggar So character in no less than 15 movies, and Joseph Kuo made two of them. He first appeared in Kuo’s Mystery of Chess Boxing, although his character disappears halfway through the movie leading some to speculate that he died during its production. Then he appears in some footage shot on a beach at the beginning of this film, which is probably some of the last footage ever filmed of Yuen. And you know what? That’s okay. Because World of the Drunken Master is one of the finest-looking, best-made Kuo movies around, and the entire thing is a touching tribute to Beggar So, the kung fu character that Simon Yuen forever made his own.
In the framing story, an elderly Beggar So meets his frenemy, Northern Jug (Jack Long), at a roadside bar and the two of them flash back to their glory days as kids before they ever learned Drunken Boxing and from there it’s a high velocity hayride of comedy, kung fu, and crazy battles in the middle of fields. Released only 10 months after Simon Yuen’s death and with action choreographed by his son, Yuen Cheung-yan, World of the Drunken Master looks fantastic, probably because it’s shot by Chris Chen, who’d go on to film a lot of Jackie Chan’s early movies ( Young Master, Dragon Lord), but it’s also a highlight in Yuen Cheung-yan’s filmography. The acrobatic action makes your joints ache and its relentless intensity just keep ramping up as the combat gets more and more gravity-defying. A fitting tribute to the master himself, Simon Yuen.
We’re deeply grateful for the support of Taipei Cultural Center in New York, Ministry of Culture, Republic of China (Taiwan).
We would also like to thank Winnie Chan / Mei Ah Entertainment, Professor Edwin Chen, Frank Djeng, Po Fung, Dan Halsted / 36 Cinema, Jacob Milligan / Eureka! Entertainment, and Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute.