Dirty Kung Fu (1978) Review

"Dirty Kung Fu" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Dirty Kung Fu" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Lau Kar Wing
Writer: Ni Kuang
Cast: Wong Yu, Cecilia Wong Hang Sau, Wilson Tong, Lau Kar Wing, Thompson Kao Kang, Karl Maka, Norman Chu, Fung Hak On, Cheng Hong Yip, Wong Shu Tong, Dean Shek, Billy Chan, Chan Dik Hak, Peter Chan, Cheung Chok Chow
Running Time: 90 min.

By Matthew Le-feuvre

Deftly defiant, and roguishly engaging with a persona that marginally capitalized on the edge of sardonic repose: a contradiction indeed! The late Wong Yue, who in many ways unintentionally mirrored (his) contemporary, Alexander Fu Sheng, as well as heralding the prospective box office clout of Jackie Chan by at least three years has, to varying degrees, never been properly commended or even designated into somekind of “Hall of Fame” accolade. The question is why?

Despite once being a crucial, though critically underrated, Shaw Brothers asset, much of Wong Yue’s pictures (bar exception his supporting roles in timely classics such as 1976’s Challenge of the Masters and 1975’s The Flying Guillotine) tended to be essentially “variations on a theme” that observedly stretches back to 1975 with his highly-animated lead debut in Lau Kar Leung’s crowd pleasing supernatural comedy The Spiritual Boxer (1975). By the mid eighties, in furtherance of the Shaws’ inevitable transition to Television production, Wong’s commercial attraction sadly began to spiral into igmony. A crime in itself! However, mercurial bankability and personal challenges with alcohol and drug dependancy (which thankfully he overcame!) saw Wong’s output diminished to less-than-princely cameos – or employment as a technical advisor/stunt arranger – before venturing into the casino business.

Ultimately whatever his human shortcomings in the day – regardless of a very stressful, physically demanding lifestyle – Wong Yue’s easygoing, cocksure deportment married with a fluid, almost spontaneous, kung fu style – courtesy of Lau Kar Leung/Lau Kar Wing’s innovative and expressive choreography – tickled audiences throughout what is believed to be the better part of an erratic decade marred by a split (cine-passionate) demograph.

Although plucked from the bowels of obscurity – apparently on a casting whim of Sir Run Run Shaw? – Wong Yue’s restrictive working misadventures as a hotel baggage clerk undoubtedly paled in comparison to his inaugural forays into stuntmanship. Still, this preparation for a solid, albeit conservative and labourous career, at the Shaws’ movietown enclosure was, it seems, designedly manufactured and attentively monitored ensuring maximum commerce potential. Yet beyond the unpredictability of the HK box office, Wong ably circumvented the legalities of his long-term contract by starring in several independent pictures financed/directed by the aforementioned Lau brothers. Of these, Dirty Kung Fu tipped the comedic scales towards the inane, relying sporadically on appropriated plot elements from The Spiritual Boxer, and the Lau’s antecedent He Has Nothing But Kung Fu (1977), to insure another goofy addition to Wong’s actively diverse filmography.

Indeed, characteristically dependent on Wong’s ability to charm, invoke or otherwise: Dirty Kung Fu ventures into avenues of humourous absurdity, thrilling us devoted patrons with an undemanding script that is, in part, fondly reminiscent of Jackie Chan’s critically divided Half A Loaf of Kung Fu (1978/80). And despite patently blemished by incoherent cinematography, twitchy editing, and suffice to say – throw away dialogue of an impromptu nature; well at least in its dubbed format – one cannot disregard or overlook the exciting balletic opening or subsequent fight arrangements plentifully centred (for budgetary reasons, no less) in a ‘new territories’ type village location: home to extortions, corruption and everything else in between.

Ironically enfolded in a market ‘then’ deliberately suffused with a torrid plethora of Bruce Lee clones and (now) counterpoised by Jackie Chan wannabes, Wong Yue refreshingly eclipsed these unwelcomed charlatans for another unforgettable screen incarnation as Pei Chou-Chai aka “The Rubberball Kid,” an incompetent opportunist impassioned to make his mark as a bountyhunter. Unfortunately, he is outclassed, and equally, out manoeuvred by more experienced resident hunters: “Flashing Blade,” Mr Yip (Tsui Siu Keung) and “The Snake King,” Pei Yuen Tin (Lau Kar Wing – who speaking of, directs with the right measure of dynamic jollity!).

After misidentifying a corpse as an outlaw at a funeral service, Pei finds himself wanted by the local police chief (Karl Maka) on a charge of fraudulent behaviour. In order to expunge this mistake, Pei hopelessly exhausts his improvisational deceptions by either losing his captives to the lure of gambling or simply because of a lack of martial skill. Determined to bring down an untouchable miscreant (Wilson Tong in super sinister mode) versed in the mysterious art of “Heaven’s Door Kung Fu” – a debased version of “Spiritual Boxing,” Pei devises an eel/snake combo-system whilst employing the use of his girlfriend’s underwear – an unusual, yet, in Chinese mythology, an exceptable accoutrement for battling spiritually possessed fighters. For Pei, though, will these intergrated deterrents insure victory?!

Verdict: On the further inspection beneath a ‘now’ commonplace exterior, interfacing concepts do not always harmonize, but somehow (the) Lau’s kinetic formula, which wasn’t consistently subtle, or for that matter, original, repeatedly worked! It wasn’t so much the pioneering, new, fangled ideas in preference of old school values in the way the late Bruce Lee had accomplished! The Lau’s “originality” nonetheless was in applying re-imagined methodologies from an alternative perspective. Fortuitously, Dirty Kung Fu slots firmly into this catagory!

Matthew Le-feuvre’s Rating: 7/10

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