Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kung Fu Zombie – review


Director: I-Jung Hua

Release date: 1982

Contains spoilers

Despite the title, this is a Chinese vampire flick rather than a zombie flick. However, I have noticed that there is some cross over between kyonsi (traditional hopping vampires) and zombies and the summoning thereof as well as the control is similar in the main. However, with ghosts, possessions and a more traditional (almost Western style) vampire this really covers all the bases.

ritual summoningAs a voice tells us about the evil priests who summon the dead we see a priest/wizard in traditional Taoist robes performing a ritual. He does this to raise four zombies, although in their behaviour they are more like controlled kyonsi. The entire scene has an undercurrent of comedy and this film is played more for laughs than anything else. The reason he has summoned them; a criminal, Lu Dai, wishes to gain revenge on Pang (Billy Chong) but he is a great martial artist. In a rather convoluted plan he and his henchmen fill a coffin with knives, put it in a shallow grave and cover it with branches and leaves. They will challenge Pang, the zombies will be summoned and they will push him into the deadly coffin.

Pang the heroPang himself is a young man and we first see him (with ripped off Bond music) fighting several men. He is really shot in hero mode but, as the film progresses, not a single one of the characters seems that redeemable. Pang, we later discover, is arrogant and has no respect for his father – who in turn has no real love for his son. Having defeated the men he decides to rest and is bashed by his father who hired the men to help him train.

Pang's fatherThat evening Pang suggests that he needs to go out and relax but his father refuses, telling him he must meditate. There is some argument and he and his father fight. His father ends up clutching his chest and falling to the floor – for all the world looking like he has had a heart attack. So Pang goes out - at this point Pang has not noticed the collapse but we see later he tends to ignore such incidents anyway.

lightening effect was badThe criminals see Pang approach and we get a flashback indicating that they want revenge because Pang walked into a bank they were robbing and foiled their plans – landing them in jail. Things seem to be working until Lu Dai becomes the one pushed into the coffin. His body is struck by lightening (a rather poor effect), after the others have left, and his ghost becomes free. He orders the priest to find him a new body. At first this might be the father but he isn’t really dead.

Lung seeks revengeThe reason the father has trained Pang so hard is because a criminal named Lung has vowed to kill them both due to the fact that Pang’s grandfather and great grandfather were policemen who arrested (presumably) Lung's family. This is not done to defend his son but to defend himself. Lung, for some reason, is in a coffin and the priest tries to get Lu Dai into his body and fails as he still alive.

notice the displaced fangsPang defeats Lung and the priest then tries again (seemingly there are only three attempts allowed). This unleashes the undead force in Lung and he becomes a vampire. I mentioned he is in more of a Western mode and this seems to be the case, though his fangs are oddly displaced. The father, however, has had a heart attack and Lu Dai gets that body (this is all rather convoluted) but the ritual is interrupted by the henchmen leaving him half human and half ghost. Pang has the vampire and the possessed corpse of his father to deal with. However Lu Dai wants revenge on his henchmen and the priest also (for fouling up the ritual) and they work together with Pang to defeat the enemies.

Lung as a vampirePhew… for such a convoluted plot, however, it is really a rather simple film, relying on vast martial arts scenes and comedy scenes – many around the fact that only the priest, at one point, can see the ghost. One nice moment was during a resurrection ritual where flashing lights appeared on the face of Lung and the Close Encounters tones were played – odd but amusingly referential.

Lu Dai as a ghostVery standard Chinese lore was used in the main, and it was sparse at that. We do hear that ghosts cannot see someone in a leaf hat (so you can look silly but evade the ghost) and cannot enter either temples or jails. The comedy was lightly amusing, from my point of view, though my son sneaked in and started watching this behind me. Content wise it wasn’t bad (no nudity, no profanity, no real gore, no real horror) so I let him stay and he thought it was hilarious – which shows the pitch of the comedy level.

It is far from being the finest Hong Kong vampire movie. I’m no real expert but I guess it is far from being the finest martial arts movie released from there either. This strikes me very much as a few drinks with your mates and have a laugh film. 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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