The Evil Karate (Review)
The Evil Karate
Written by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong, Tyrone Hsu Tien-Yung, Lin Yu-Yuan
Directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong
The Evil Karate (鬼門太極) is a great Taiwanese kung fu fantasy with all the common revenge and secret kung fu instruction elements you need to ensure a simple but action-filled story. Taiwan’s martial arts spectacles focused on crazy action, and they weren’t afraid to have every character have a gimmick. This film is no exception, beyond every character having their own specific weapon, we have a lady who wears a snake (and uses it as a weapon), a guy who fights with a fishing pole, and everyone teleporting and zooming around in the trees like they’re flying squirrels. The not afraid to try new and fun things is part of the joys of Taiwanese kung fu films, and makes up for the often awful condition we have to view the treasures in. Even getting this in a subtitled print is a minor miracle, usually I’d be forced to deal with a substandard dub where everyone has a random British accent.
The Evil Karate is a mix of man-on-the-run/girl-fighter/revenge films, complete with a character whose talent seems to be getting everyone who helps him horribly murdered. Luckily, the villain is even more comically evil than you would think, and his pack of goons are pretty hilarious even as they die by the score. It is set in a kung fu fantasy world where people can fly, smash boulders, train at secret techniques from childhood, and evil gangs control vast territory for decades without anyone bothering to stop them except the now-grown children of people they murdered. But the real reason to bother with The Evil Karate doesn’t show up until almost halfway through the film, and that is actress Cheung Ching-Ching.
Cheung Ching-Ching was active for about a decade as a martial arts actress, kicking butt all over Taiwan in a variety of movies, most of which are either not available anywhere or only on beat up VHS tapes, bargain DVDs, and grey market specials. Which is sort of a shame, because she’s pretty good, and has a high-energy charisma that you want to see in a goofy film like this. The actress who plays the young Chen-chen (for around half the film) is also pretty good, and is really into all the physical work required for the job. I almost though this would turn into an Annoying Flying Kid movie, but thankfully we had a montage where she turned into Cheung Ching-Ching. Director Joseph Kuo helmed the two 18 Bronzemen films among his 63 films, most of which were done in the 60s and 70s.
No one does karate, evil or otherwise.
The Seven Monsters from Devil’s Gate go to talk to their boss, a leopard skin drapped on a chair with glowing eyes, who commands them to find a jade manuscript held by Lo Tien Hung. They have ten days. Also there are nine Monsters, not seven. Eight if you count the number that survive this meeting of the group, as the boss kills one. In fact, the exact number varies depending on the scene. The only one you need to pay attention to is the crazy snake lady, because she’s the most fun.
Lo Tien Hung is a man on the run, lying bloody in a field and found by the young girl Chen-chen. Her rich family takes Lo Tien Hung in, despite his protesting, and hide him away when the Seven Monsters from Devil’s Gate slaughter the entire family except for Chen-chen for no telling where Lo Tien Hung is.
Because the Seven Monsters are such failures at finding Lo Tien Hung, their boss outsources the job to a guy named Ghost’s Shadow, who is a ninja who tracks people down for a living. There is a battle between Lo and several of the Seven Monsters, and Chen-chen is hanging on Lo’s back the entire time. Finally, things look grim, but suddenly an old fisherman intervenes using his fishing pole as a kung fu weapon. I’ve never seen a kung fu battle where a guy is using a fishing line to hook baddies and toss them away. King Hades Yen makes his first appearance in the film to kill Fisher.
After all this, Lo locates the manuscript he’s supposed to already have, and there is disaster! Lo can’t learn the special technique, because he’s too old. But, Chen-chen is not too old! They stay at a guy name Farmer Kung’s place, who also teaches Chen-chen darting. After a short montage of training, the Seven Monsters come again, Lo and Chen-chen run away, and Farmer Kung is brutally murdered by the Seven Monsters. King Hades Yen kills another of the Seven Monsters in his anger of their escape. Let’s just let Yen kill all his troops, making victory that much easier! It’s called lazy fu. Hades has killed two of the monsters while Lo and friends have killed zero
Another old guy with a beard helps the Lo and Chen-chen – Teacher – and thanks to the magic of another training montage, Chen-chen is now all grown up! She’s flying around in the air, and has super-strong hands. And also a midget named Meteor lives there. But as we all know the story by now, the Seven Monsters show up again and yet another guy who helped Lo dies. RIP Teacher.
Lo and Chen-chen run, but are tracked down and trapped. Lo manages to kill Ghost’s Shadow before he succumbs to snake poisoning, while Chen-chen spontaneously learns bare-hand technique while defending herself from pursuers, and kills three of the Monsters. Lo’s body is missing, and we don’t know if he lived or died.
Chen-chen now much find the hidden location of the Devil’s Gate base. But no one is talking. She does get into a spat with a jerk in town who turns out to be part of a group of three siblings also looking for the Devil’s Gate base. They call themselves the 3 Knights of Kiang Nan and are avenging their father. With so many people looking for the Seven Monsters (now there are like five Monsters left even though four have been killed…) they attract attention from the Seven Monsters gang and soon there is a fight at the inn. One of the Knights are injured, but Chen-chen and the other two follow the retreating villains into the lair of the Devil’s Gate.
Even though it is obviously a trap, filled to the bone with tricks and traps, they decide to follow. We got spears, gas, flying doors, flames…it’s like a video game exploded in here! The heroes then face off against the remaining Monsters, and it is time to BOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! The Evil Karate, because the Snake Lady tosses her snake, and it gets chopped in half. As in they cut a real snake in half for a 1/2 second shot. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
Besides the wanton animal cruelty, the rest of the film is pretty stellar, and the final battle as the villains retreat further and further into the depths of their hideout is great fun. One neat scene is when a bunch of guards fire arrows at Chen-chen, and she grabs all the arrows in one fistgrab and throws them back in one toss, arrowing every one of the archers. Soon Chen-chen and the lone remaining Knight face off against Hades Yen. Yen is invincible except for a small weak point, but no one knows where it is. Will they discover it in time? Will the remaining Knight realize he’s the son of Lo Tien Hung, who is among Hades Yen’s captives? Will you realize that the answers to those questions are “Duh!”? Find out by watching The Evil Karate.
Rated 8/10 (Coal Black, Funny Hat, Huck Finn, Female Knight, nose flames, Male Knight, What the heck are the Baseball Furies doing in this film?, HH in the HHiz-zouse!)
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