1971HKMDB Link 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.
Chou Chen-Chen (Kai Pao Yu) – Little girl whose parents are murdered and is raised by Lo Tien Hung and trained for revenge. She grows up into…
Chou Chen-Chen (Cheung Ching-Ching) – The grown up Chen-Chen is now a master flyer, fighter, dart thrower, and kung fu girl. She kicks more ass by 6am than you do all day, unless you are also a kung fu girl who seeks revenge, of which we have several dozen as well on TarsTarkas.NET.
Lo Tien Hung (Shaw Luo-Hui) – Lo Tien Hung holds the secret of a jade manuscript that reveals the location of an awesome kung fu technique, and he gets many many MANY people killed over the course of the film because of this. If you see this guy coming, run away and take your entire family with you. He’s dangerous! Eventually trains Chen-chen to seek revenge, but not before getting the entire country murdered as the Seven Monsters seek him out. Shaw Luo-Hui is also in Ape Girl
Fisher (Kang Ming) – A fisherman who uses Fishing Pole Fu. The first time I’ve seen in used in film. Probably the last time, because Fishing Pole Fu isn’t very effective. One of Lo Tien Hung’s many dead helpers, along with Farmer Kung, Master, and Chen-chen’s family.
King Hades Yen (O Yau-Man) – Hades Yen is the Devil who gave Devil’s Gate the name. Often runs around with a gold face white hair. Leads the Seven Monsters Of Poison. Can survive multiple daggers shoved into his neck. O Yau-Man is also a big villain in The Dwarf Sorcerer.
Snake Lady (Kong Ching-Ha) – I never caught her character’s name, because the Seven Monsters of Poison weren’t granted names, only vague personality stereotypes. But she’s evil, has a pet snake, and is totally into poisoning people. Kong Ching-Ha also appears in The Eighteen Jade Arhats
Ghost’s Shadow (Gam Man Hei) – When the Seven Monsters of Devil’s Gate are incompetent, King Hades Yen outsources tracking duties to Ghost’s Shadow, who despite having a cool name also has cool tracking abilities. He’s like the Boba Fett of The Evil Karate. And like Boba Fett, he dies.
The Eighteen Jade Arhats goes by many many many titles besides its original Shi ba yu luo han. You might find in on video under titles such as Eighteen Claws of Shaolin, Eighteen Deadly Arhats, or The Eighteen Jade Pearls. We’re watching a widescreen print released somewhere that speaks Spanish, where the film was titled Bruce Le y El Secreto del Saolin. Someone overlayed the widescreen print with the English dubjub by that company that dubbed hundreds of Kung Fu films (so you’d recognize many of the voices.) Why would we watch such a weird hybrid? Because, at the time, it was the best way to see it. It might still be, I haven’t kept up with the latest DVD releases of 18 Jade Arhats, but I don’t know if there is a good widescreen print in English or Chinese.
My first experience with the film was still pictures from the book Deadly China Dolls that featured Polly Shang Kuan battling some sort of multi-armed statue. That was awesome so the film jumped way ahead in my search queue. Too bad for me the actual statue fighting happens for less than a few seconds, and is just a flashback and an immobile statue.
Director Cheung Git only directed two other films, and I haven’t seen them, so I can’t tell if this is a typical Cheung Git film. Maybe one day…
“What the hell is an “arhat”?” I hear you asking. Well, guy who can’t use Google, an arhat signifies a spiritual practitioner who has realized certain high stages of attainment. The Chinese word for arhat can be written as “Lo Han” which become Lohan when subtitle people are at work. And thus, the Lindsay Lohan jokes that will be in the film, because if I don’t do it some commentor will. But now I probably will prevent all potential comments! That’s what I get for shooting myself in the foot…
Polly Shang Kuan is awesome enough we’ll give her a better biography when reviews of some of her weirder films are completed. As the time of this reviews publication, there are four other films of hers in my review pipeline, showing how I just get reviews 90% done and then wander off to watch something else. She was a queen of action cinema during her day, and some of her films are too awesome for words and are just experiences you have to have.
Sing Pei Pei (Polly Shang Kuan Lingfeng) – Sing Pei Pei is in search of the 18 jade arhats/Lohans that we stolen from her family, and the thief murdered her entire family. She gets involved in the search for a killer because it will lead her to the man who killed her family.
Kung Chin Ya (Lee Jan-wa) – Kung Chin Ya is a guy who wanders around China getting into adventures or something. He really has no real motive except he wanders around. I guess he’s out to fight for justice or something, but it’s not like he says it. It is more like he’s just running around slicing up bad guys because it is more exciting than making noodles.
Hu Ying Pao (Lo Lieh) – The accused murderer of Wong Chun Wei, who is innocent and eventually proves his innocence when people try to kill him to silence him. Lo Lieh was previously seen here in Lady Iron Monkey
Wong Chun Wei (Chang Yi) – He’s dead, so most of the film is people trying to figure out who killed them. Boy are they wasting their time! Uh.., SPOILERS! Chang Yi was one of the baddies in The Thrilling Sword.