Saturday, January 28, 2017

141. Kung Fu Arts

141. Kung Fu Arts (1978)
Directors: Kuang Hui, Hsi-Chieh Lai, Ju-Shou Li
Writer: Hsue-chen Hsiao
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

The Emperor’s daughter is hit with a poison dart during a foiled assassination attempt on the Emperor. The Emperor offers her hand in marriage to anyone who can cure her and is shocked when a monkey arrives with the cure! The Princess’ life is saved, but she is forced to live in exile with her monkey husband while the domestic threat to the empire continues to grow.

I do not know how to describe this movie. That blurb above only covers the first half hour. We open in the midst of the assassination attempt where it seems the Emperor’s former favorite, King, has been caught by General Hu. In the ensuing fight, King tries to throw a poisoned dart at Hu, but ends up hitting the Princess, the woman King himself is betrothed to. King escapes and Hu tells the Emperor that the betrayal must be out of jealousy for the Emperor promoting Hu over King.

The Princess is in a coma and close to death. The Emperor’s doctors’ can’t cure her so he makes a proclamation that anyone who can cure the Princess may have her hand in marriage. The proclamation goes up in town where King, disguised as a wandering doctor sees it. Before he can go to the castle, his disguise is revealed and he has to fight. During the fight, a monkey steals the proclamation and then presents himself to the Emperor with the cure. The Princess wakes up and, because of honor, the Emperor is forced to make her marry the monkey. However, because she’s married the monkey, for the sake of the Emperor’s honor, she and her new husband must be exiled to the sea and wherever they may wash up.

Imagine getting 2nd billing to a monkey
Bet that monkey’s regretting his choices at this point.

This is all the first half-hour, by the way. We’re not even into the entirety of the plot.

Anyway, Princess and the monkey wash up on an island and the Princess has a baby, which raises all sorts of questions. King is in hiding and, since there’s no longer an heir in the empire, the Emperor is convinced to promote Hu to commander-in-chief. In case anything happens to the Emperor, Hu will become Emperor. Naturally, the Emperor is immediately assassinated.

Time passes, Hu is a despot, the Princess’ son is now ten being raised by her and “Uncle Monkey.” King has completed his training in the mountains and returns to the castle where a former maid stops him, tells him she saw Hu murder the Emperor, and that she has his blood note—the final words of the Emperor revealing Hu and exonerating King. She tells King the Princess is presumed dead since her boat was found, ten years earlier, washed up on the island’s shore. The maid and King put together a plan to sneak into the castle and kill Hu in a few days.

Jesus, how am I still writing plot? King goes to the island, sees Uncle Monkey, who’d actually been his monkey the whole time, but the monkey’s afraid of King and gets killed by a snake. King then finds the Princess, tells her the truth of what happened, and makes up with her. He meets his son for the first time, but has to ask if the boy is his or the monkey’s (I’d complain, but the movie keeps it a secret for a long time too), then heads back to storm the castle, leaving the blood note with the Princess.

The raid goes poorly, King and the maid are captured, the Princess is seized on the island, but the boy has the blood note. With his parents imprisoned, and the revelation of another twist, the boy gathers an army of monkeys and raids the castle. King finally faces off against Hu with the help of the boy and, after some delay, kills the usurper. The end.

How can a movie with a monkey be at once so convoluted and boring! I had to take three passes at this flick to watch all of it—I kept passing out at the thirty-minute mark when they’re just reaching the island.

At its core, this doesn’t feel like a movie. Instead, it feels like several works stitched together. There are long stretches of time that go unremarked and there’s no sense of when events are occurring. With the monkey doctor/husband thing, and then there being a child, this felt a bit like the retelling of an old fable, but there are no cues to indicate that this is based on a fable and, even if it were, the importers decided an American audience wouldn’t recognize the fable so they just cut those parts. So the first third feels like the set-up to an absurdist piece about this woman and monkey on an island, but then it switches to being about King and his quest for revenge against Hu. The second third, then, is a standard kung-fu revenge film. Then he and the Princess are captured and suddenly it’s a kids’ film with slapstick and goofiness of a kid leading an army of monkeys. It’s so strange.

I don’t know what to say about this movie. I’d say it’s not a recommend just because it’s pure gibberish—this does not make a lick of sense—but that very WTFery almost makes it worth seeing. WHM includes the “seeing is believing” tier in their recommendations, but the movie doesn’t quite hit that level of weirdness. I’m not sure I’d even recommend it for riffing. Instead, you’re probably better off muting it and creating your own dub from scratch. It couldn’t possibly make less sense.

There's no copyright marker on this print and I can't find any mention of it on copyright.gov, so I'm thinking it's in the public domain. I've added a copy to the Internet Archive here.

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