Before Jack Black, there were real Kung Fu movies


Special attention in our media is usually given to the so-called good movies. These films are typically well-scripted, masterfully directed and feature particularly talented actors. In my mind, however, not enough attention is given to the other sorts of motion pictures, the kind with the barely-there plots, bizarre lines and questionable motivations.

A young Jackie Chan in Spiritual Kung Fu.
A young Jackie Chan in Spiritual Kung Fu.

The American industry has produced gems such as Plan 9 from Outer Space and Santa Claus Battles the Martians. India has given birth to Sooryavansham, featuring random motorcycle fights and extreme, lightning- fast close-ups that take Bollywood to a whole new level. Although these films are worth watching, a special place in my heart is set aside for the kung fu movie.

To clarify, by kung fu movie, I ignore the dreck produced by modern cinema. I scorn the artistic camerawork and moving direction of Fearless, I loathe the intentionally witty Shaolin Soccer and I sneer at the epic scope and touching drama of Seven Swords. Instead, I turn to the golden age of the Shaw Brothers and Co., where heroes are too manly to speak coherently and plots too mind-bendingly awesome to make sense.

Watching these films, where dialogues are mangled by bad voiceovers and ineffectual translations, where zombies, vampires, and ghosts have all learned kung fu, and where you really, really dont know whats going to happen next, is an experience that everyone should have at least once. In homage to the traditional medium of these films (read: pirated DVDs), herewith are three reviews of the best in the genre.

Take the masterwork known in English as Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave, for example. Never mind that it was produced after Bruce Lee died, and that it has nothing to do with either him or fighting from the grave. The films protagonist, Bruce Lea, learns of an old friends death. He comes to collect the ashes and, for some inexplicable reason, carries them in a large box strapped to his chest. The scene where Lea sips whisky in a nightclub with his friends ashes next to him is worth the one-and-a-half dollars youll have to pay to see it.

Lea later learns that his friend was murdered, and with the aid of a girl whose accent changes from American to Standard British to Cockney in the course of fifteen minutes, seeks vengeance on his friends murderers, who as it turns out comprise of a Latino man, a black man, a Japanese, and a cowboy. The proto-Village People were some rough characters.

These kung fu movies dont just feature Bruce Lee imitators; an early Jackie Chan movie, Spiritual Kung Fu (a.k.a. Karate Ghostbusters  ) will make you want to gouge your eyes with delight. When a meteor (aptly played by a sparkler held against the film) strikes the Shaolin library, it releases five ghosts, who teach Chan the secrets of Five Fist kung fu. This comes in handy as it helps Chan beat up a girl he has a crush on (courtship was different in those days). There are some other stuff like destiny and politics and remorse in the movie, but frankly, youll be too concerned with Chans urinating on ghosts to worry about it.

Original movie poster for Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave (photo/
Original movie poster for Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave (photo/

At the end of the day, both of these films pale in comparison to the greatest film of them all, a movie so magnificent that a simple description is a joke in itself. The Dragon Lives Again is yet another solid example of the Bruce Lee imitation that became popular after his death. Bruce Lee wakes up in hell, not resembling his former self at all (of course, explains one of the devils consorts, everyone changes physical appearance when they enter hell ). He teams up with Popeye, James Bond and Qui-Chang Cain to defeat the evil team of Dracula, Emanuelle, Clint Eastwood, Hannibal Lector and Zatoishi the Blind Swordsman.

Bruce Lee takes them on and promptly defeats them, leaving viewers to wonder where they go. Lee isnt finished after defeating his enemies though — he orders the king of hell to send him back to life (presumably to film Bruce Lee Fights Back from the Grave), threatening the king with death unless he complies.

This movie, along with others too numerous to give credit to (Kung Fu Zombie, Shaolin Chastity Kung Fu, Deadly Snail vs. The Kung Fu Killers), is a must for anyone remotely interested in martial arts or wuxia films.