158. Return of the Kung Fu Dragon aka Ju ma pao (1976)
Directors: Chi-Lien Yu and Kang Yu
Writers: Ge-Sun Lee from a story by Yu-Yen Lin
From: Cult Cinema
Golden City, the capital of Phoenix Island, is overtaken in a coup led by an evil despot and his wizard assistant. 19 years later, the children of the rightful Emperor’s 3 great generals must find each other and help the Princess defeat the man who killed her father.
Happy April Fools’ weekend. To celebrate, I give you a film that I cannot understand. I did not know what was going on from moment-to-moment, who was who, or what anyone was trying to achieve. This is the most brain-meltingly confusing film I’ve seen since starting this project and the movie doesn’t even feature a monkey.
And Hell yes, that’s a recommendation!
The movie is 84 minutes long which I think is why I found it so confusing. It’s clearly cut from source material that is not 84 minutes long. We start with a voiceover telling us the tale of the three great generals of Golden City who have each developed and mastered a new form of Kung Fu. They serve the just and kind Emperor.
However, treachery! An evil and ambitious man wants the throne for himself and has a wizard working for him who has now recovered the Dragon Staff, which is a thing that does something, I guess. The voiceover doesn’t go into much detail. They trick the Emperor into going on a hunt where they kill him and then lay siege to the castle. The generals do their best to protect the castle and the Princess, but each is ultimately killed.
One, before dying, does manage to get hold of the Princess and is about to escape with her when his wife runs out begging him to save their daughter. He looks back and forth between his kid and the Princess, says something about honor, then literally flies away leaving his wife and child to die. I wish I had a clip of Black Dynamite’s dad that I could link here, but those seem to have been scrubbed from the Internet.
The general, just before dying, gets the Princess to a mystic who lives in the mountain so she’ll be protected. The mystic calls up a wall of fog that’ll block access to the mountain for a curiously specific 19 years, and raises the Princess with the help of his weird imp/goblin/fairy assistant who’s played by a little person.
19 years later, the despot is in power, has a daughter who’s a Kung Fu master, and has taken the former Empress as his bride. Yadda yadda. Princess comes down from the mountain, despot’s daughter is actually the daughter of one of the generals, and the sons of the other two generals are a local rogue and a member of the palace guard. They all find each other, recognize their roles due to tattoos they all share, and try their best to defeat the despot and his wizard. Strange elements come up like what the wizard’s magic is and when it actually works, a nearby demi-plane where the wizard can banish people but that the daughter can enter and leave at will, and a fight sequence that suddenly is occurring on a giant chess board.
The movie is bonkers and an absolute delight. I mean, I’ve barely mentioned a fraction of what goes on this movie. For instance, the wizard has an incredibly long beard that’s held off the ground by an assistant. Later, the wizard uses the beard to fight people. Let’s be honest: that’s all you’ve ever wanted from a movie.
This has all the absurd tropes of Kung Fu films including poor dubbing, over-the-top sound effects, and the merest pretense of a plot to justify balletic fight sequences. I did find the movie relentlessly confusing, mostly due to the editing and the way it seemed to be using cultural references that I am completely ignorant of. I’m not sure if this is a sequel and the opening was just reminding audiences of what went before, if this was cut down from a three-hour epic, or if this is a serial or TV show forged into a feature-length piece, but I guarantee you something got cut.
It’s such a hoot, though, and composed of all the things that make bad-movie watching so fun. I highly recommend it, riffed, straight, or half-asleep. The movie appears to be in the public domain so I've added an MPEG-2 copy to archive.org here.