December 616, 2021
Old School Kung Fu Fest: Joseph Kuo Online
Shaolin Kung Fu
Dir. Joseph Kuo. 1974, 93 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles. With Wen Chiang-lung, Yi Yuan, Liu Hsiu-yun. Badass brawler Jimmy Wang Yu and flying kick specialist Wen Chiang-lung made seven movies together between 1972 and 1974, including this remake of their Rikisha Kuri, shot the previous year. Here, Wen plays a rickshaw driver who has 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 hard-boiled 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.
Dir. Joseph Kuo. 1975, 88 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles. With 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 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. 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 was discovered by Taiwan’s great cinematic innovator King Hu 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. She rounds up a bunch of friends to form a ragtag band of freedom fighters and bust skulls in revenge.
The Old Master
Dir. Joseph Kuo. 1979, 90 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles. With 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, and Corey Yuen, as a fish-out-of-water martial artist in contemporary Los Angeles. The 74-year-old Master Yu is in town trying to save one of his lazy student’s kung fu schools, which 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 from which you just can’t wake up.
World of the Drunken Master
Dir. Joseph Kuo. 1979, 88 mins. In Mandarin with English subtitles. With Jack Long, Mark Long (aka Lung Kuan-wu), Li Yi-Min, Jeanie Chang, Simon Yuen. Between appearing 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. The second, World of the Drunken Master, is one of the finest-looking, best-made Kuo movies, and the entire thing is a touching tribute to the kung fu character that Simon Yuen forever made his own. Released only 10 months after his death and with action choreographed by his son, Yuen Cheung-yan, World of the Drunken Master was shot by Chris Chen, who’d go on to film a lot of Jackie Chan’s early movies (Young Master, Dragon Lord). The acrobatic action makes your joints ache, and its relentless intensity just keeps ramping up.