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Saturday, 6 June 2009

Kung Fu vs Yoga (1979)

Director: Chuan Chen
Stars: Yuet Sang Chin, Alan Hsu, Mi Suet and Dupar Singh

What an awesome title for a movie. How can you go wrong with a 1979 martial arts flick called Kung Fu vs Yoga? Well, it turned out to be a pretty standard kung fu comedy storyline enhanced by a huge amount of innovation, mostly but not entirely during the fight scenes. This innovation makes it a must see for kung fu fans and even as a curiosity for others. What really doesn't work is the dubbing, which is utterly English, to the degree that I'm sure I recognise the voice actor from British TV but can't place him. It's like watching a martial arts film voiced by the Geico gecko, meaning very surreal.

Of course we start off with a traditional battle between a couple of martial arts fighters, one dressed in black and one dressed in red. The older one is Tiger and the younger is his friend and student whose name sounds like Mun Ching but apparently is really Wu Shing. The actors are respectively Yuet Sang Chin and Alan Hsu, who I've both seen in smallers parts in other movies, such as John Woo's Last Hurrah for Chivalry. They're very much from the early Jackie Chan slapstick school of martial arts comedy, the sort of characters you're never quite sure are supposed to be gay or not.

Tiger is beating Wu Shing but eventually loses out to his Hen's Claws technique and then wakes up. Yes, this is all a dream, because Tiger is such a martial arts afficionado that he even dreams about kung fu techniques. Unfortunately in waking up he ends up knocking out his father and because there's no water around, he saves him up by throwing urine all over him. And somehow his father has the temerity to kick him out of the house for such a transgression!

Incidentally, for the uninitiated it's utterly unsurprising to find urine in eastern movies; it's omnipresent in comedies and horror movies, hopefully for opposite reasons: toilet humour in comedies and a representation of the water of life in horror films. The continual potty jokes here mean that it isn't difficult to gauge the level of humour in play and we even get a point where we see Chinese actors in blackface just like an old Boston Blackie movie. And that doesn't even come close to the Muslim joke which in another time and place could have warranted a fatwa!

Anyway, Tiger's father is surprisingly really upset to wake up covered in piss so he kicks him out to go live with his uncle in the city. Uncle Pang runs a pottery shop and isn't really important in the slightest but his pots are because they provide great material to practice kung fu with. Kung fu films can be rated entirely on how well the martial arts interact with whatever props happen to be sitting around, and on that front this one rates very highly indeed. In Uncle Pang's pottery shop, Tiger throws the pots around so Wu Shing can practice balance and this impresses the customers. Tiger is very popular, it seems, however poor he remains.

Now before we get to the real story, we have a quick side story to work through, and that's for Tiger and Wu Shing to expose a band of unscrupulous monks who are ripping off the locals by selling them medicine to supposedly save them from danger from passing coffins. Nobody ever accused locals in kung fu movies to have brains. This scam is being run by a kung fu master called Blind Snake who lives in an underground lair in the forest, or something like that. And when our heroes investigate they find hopping vampires! This is definitely my sort of movie!

However I then missed a few minutes to get drink and popcorn because the lines were crazy before the movie started, and so missed out on the discovery that these hopping vampires disappear without a by your leave. No fair. At least Tiger is kicking everyone's ass on stage in some sort of martial arts competition, which makes up for it at least a little, especially as his last opponent is a good looking young lady hiding behind a veil. It turns out, as he beats her too, that she's not really a contestant, she's a prize: she'll marry the winner of the contest and she's more than a little upset that someone as poor, albeit popular, as Tiger.

So here's where our real story kicks in. While her father insists that the marriage has to go ahead, young Lady Ting won't sleep with her new husband until he's completed three tasks for her to prove his worth. Naturally all of them are designed to be impossible but just as naturally Tiger takes her at her word and works his way through the bunch. And this is where the fun lies: the inventiveness of the scriptwriters and choreographers in working through these three tasks.

The first involves stealing a kung fu manual from a monk who sleeps on a bed made of pots, leading our heroes to attempt ways to move him off them without waking him up. The second is to steal some jade from the dress of a prostitute, who turns out to be a martial arts master transvestite. Finally and inevitably, given the title of the film, the third has to do with stealing a ruby from a yoga master who sells sex oil. And yes, they're still our heroes and we root for Tiger even though these tasks all involve stealing things from their rightful owners.

The fights are the fun and each of these three extended battles involves one enemy against two heroes, giving the choreographers plenty to work with. Yuet Sang Chin and Alan Hsu are acrobats, comedians and flexible fighters and they spend most of this film, when not practicing against each other, teaming up to be effectively two halves of the same whole. If you've ever been privileged enough to see The Crippled Masters, you'll know what sort of thing I mean, but here both halves are able bodied. The first monk and the transvestite are fun to watch but the real joy comes in watching Dupar Singh portray the Yoga Master, because he is unbelievably flexible.

He's a contortionist, able to wrap his legs round his head and his arms round anything and this makes the fights as bizarre and joyously unpredictable as any I've seen in kung fu cinema. Sure, he's a gimmick opponent just as much as say, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was to Bruce Lee, but he's another really interesting one to watch. The fact that his hands and feet can go places that you simply don't expect means that his punches and kicks come from places that you simply don't expect either. Unfortunately the unpredictability of this wonderful fight sequence doesn't extend to the ending of the film, which is utterly telegraphed. However it's easy to ignore the last minute and revel in the previous thirty to forty five.

2 comments:

Kung Fu Manchu said...

Nice review! I would have loved to see this on the big screen (or any old school kung fu for that matter!) but no such luck in my area. I will be following you blog, and thanks for commenting on mine!

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