Mad Monkey Kung Fu/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Some movies serve as an incredible introduction to a particular genre. They are examples used to describe it as a whole and are considered classics in the said genre. Mad Monkey Kung Fu, surprisingly, does not fall under most people's idea of a true Kung Fu classic, which is shocking as it is a tremendously entertaining Kung Fu movie worth seeking out.
Part of the reason has to be its cast. There are actors in martial arts cinema, like Lo Lieh or Jimmy Wang Yu, who might not be natural martial artists but coast along because of their tremendous screen presence. The second group has people like Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, who are supremely gifted, genuine martial artists. The one common factor is that all of them were extraordinarily charismatic and can hold the screen without you taking your eyes off them.
Sadly, although Hsiao Ho, the leading man of this movie, is an incredibly gifted martial artist, his limited screen presence is pretty evident throughout. The same can be said about Lau Kar-Leung, too, who may look like he can convincingly beat a thousand men to a pulp without making you feel the any of the awe you felt for the aforementioned martial arts screen legends. Leung is also an actor who is most effective when used in a supporting capacity. Like a man who best fits as a beautiful sideshow and not the main event. Still, he does well as a disgruntled person who has been punishing himself for a crime he has not even committed.
Besides Chang Cheh, he is also probably the one director and choreographer who has made the most contributions to the martial arts film genre. Here he is doing triple duty while also acting in the movie as Ho's mentor. The fight choreography is on par with any film he has made, showcasing both the actors' skills. Pity, they don't have the charisma to match the fighting prowess they display on-screen, although the chemistry between the two is impressive and undeniable.
Leung had taken Ho under his wing in real life and the mutual affection for each other shows during the training scenes, as they were more or less master and student in real life and that spills over on-screen.
The movie starts with a brother and sister pair (Lau Kar-Leung and Kara Wai) making a living doing Kung Fu opera shows. Soon, they catch the attention of Tuan (Lo Lieh, playing yet another sleazy villain).
Though Leung is an extremely skilled martial artist, he has a weakness for drinking. Exploiting this weakness out of jealously and having the hots for his sister, Tuan gets him drunk and tricks the siblings into believing that Leung raped his wife. In defense, the sister offers herself up as Lo Lieh's concubine. Though it comes across as a strange deal now, it is precisely the kind of agreements relating to honor that never seems out of place in a martial arts movie even though you end up widely rolling your eyes. Not wanting enough, and to beat out his ego, Lo also insists that he break Leung's hands, so he can't practice Kung Fu again.
Resorting to street hustling with a monkey for company, Leung, having lost all will to fight, wallows in sadness at his own plight and sisters' fate. Amidst all this, comes Ho, who insists on becoming Leung's student and help him take revenge on Lo Lieh and his gang of brothel henchmen. Do they succeed in their quest for vengeance or not forms the rest of the movie.
In the tradition of the drunken Kung Fu of Jackie Chan, Hsiao Ho learns a form of monkey Kung Fu here. Released on the heels of the Jackie Chan vehicle, which started a trend of comedic martial arts movies, there is no denying that the Mad Monkey Kung Fu is pretty funny despite some pretty problematic undertones. Especially those initial scenes with Lieh's manipulation of Leung.
Though it is not his most noteworthy performance, Lo Lieh is reliable as usual and suitably smarmy. His plan may seem absurd and far fetched, but he nails it as the guy who manages to trick Leung into believing the worst in himself is true. Despite his limited screen time, he is pretty good as a devious and vile villain.
One could almost wonder what would have happened if a more popular martial arts actor headlined the movie. Would it have been better known as a movie? It is moot, but Mad Monkey Kung Fu deserves its place to be counted as one of Lau Kar-Leung's best films, if not one of the best in the genre. A definite must-watch.