Revenge Of The Kung Fu Master


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

During the mid-Nineties Hong Kong's ATV produced two episodic TV series, starring and choreographed by the inimitable Donnie Yen, The Kung Fu Master and Fist Of Fury. These have now been edited down from their original running times of 30-plus hours for the DVD market by Tai Seng and presented with English subtitles and audio for the first time.

This two-disc set, running some 217 minutes, represents the latter two-thirds of The Kung Fu Master series, with the first instalment, running two hours, having been released by Tai Seng under its original name.

Set against the familiar backdrop of conflict between the Ming and Ching/Qing dynasties, the series re-tells the well-known story of Hung Hei Kwun, the founder of the Hung Gar style of kung fu, while also mixing in several other legendary figures and events from its broad historical period, including Fong Sai Yuk (The Legend/Fong Sai Yuk), Pa Mai (Executioners From Shaolin, Fists Of The White Lotus, Kill Bill, etc) and the destruction of the Shaolin Temple (Burning Of The Red Lotus Monastery, Shaolin Temple, Burning Paradise, etc).

The Kung Fu Master saw Hei Kwun return home after many years absence with the intention of joining the Sun Moon Sect, a patriotic group dedicated to the overthrow of the Ching and the restoration of the Ming, whose leader, the Red Dragon, turns out to be his father, Hung Tin Nam. Unfortunately the sect's attempt to assassinate the Ching emperor failed, with the Red Dragon being killed.

Revenge Of The Kung Fu Master thus picks up the action, with Hei Kwun out for revenge.

Along with his friends Ko Chun Chung and Chi Gun, Hei Kwun seeks entry to the Shaolin Temple. The head monk is reluctant to admit the trio on account of their vengeful motivations but is overruled by the abbot - a decision that will ultimately have profound ramifications by precipitating the destruction of the temple, but also the survival of its teachings through Hei Kwun and the others.

Hei Kwun and company are soon joined at the temple by another new student, the mischievous Fong Sai Yuk. After facing the legendary Wooden Men's Alley and thereby proving their mastery of Shaolin kung fu, they re-enter the outside world, ready to face the Ching foe.

While Hei Kwun has a series of adventures with Wing Chun and learns that his father Tin Nam is still alive, Chun Chung is shocked by the revelation that his mother, whom he had believed dead, is in fact a Manchu and throws in his lot with his former foes. Meanwhile, Wu Dang leader Pa Mai emerges to challenge all comers to prove the superiority of his kung fu...

While unable to completely disguise its television origins through small-screen compositions and comparatively dull and grainy shot-on-video visuals, the film benefits from quality production design and direction (Benny Chan, who has latterly helmed Jackie Chan's impressive New Police Story, occupied the director's chair for many episodes).

In terms of action and choreography, there is a slight sense of quantity over quality - Fong Sai Yuk's fight atop poles is good, but hardly breathtaking in the manner of a similar sequence Yen worked on in Iron Monkey the year before - but the overall results are more than adequate, especially given the televisual origins of the piece and that many of the performers are more actors than martial artists.

The areas where Revenge Of The Kung Fu Master is weakest are, unsurprisingly, narrative and characterisation. You get the impression that whereas the original TV series was perhaps 80 per cent story and 20 per cent action, these ratios have been reversed here. While entirely understandable as a way of making it more attractive and accessible to audiences unfamiliar with the characters and background and unwilling to invest in the original series, the resulting pace is somewhat breathless and the narrative somewhat lacking in coherence. There is little scope for reflection on the meaning of it all and the impact of the training sequences in particular is lessened, in that we get little sense of the time and dedication required to master Shaolin martial arts.

Overall, however, Revenge Of The Kung Fu Master is worth a look for those dedicated fans of the genre.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2005
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Epic tale of revenge and kung fu disciplines in ancient China.
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Director: Benny Chan, Tang Hin-shing

Writer: Yuen Kai-chi, Lau Chi-wah, Cheung Kwok-yuen

Starring: Donnie Yen, Nick Cheung, Erica Choi, Lo Lieh

Year: 1994

Runtime: 217 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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