Fight for Survival
aka 十大掌門闖少林 aka The Fight for Shaolin Tamo Mystique aka Shi da zhang men chuang Shao Lin aka Lady Wu Tang
Written and directed by Hou Cheng
Hold on to your hats with shock, as here is a Polly Shang Kuan film where things are weird! I know, right? Who would have thought! As usual, it’s a good weird, part of the kung fu comedy atmosphere of the late 1970s. Fight for Survival/Fight for Shaolin Tamo Mystique (the much cooler name I first learned of the film as!) is packed with a bunch of big named cameos, characters who developed odd body modifications thanks to whatever kung fu specialty they have, gender bending, cornball comedy, and terrible dubbing. If you enjoy characters with extending arms and legs, who employ weird headbutts and walk on their hands, or who are randomly painted up as animals and waiting in rooms at the Shaolin Temple, then you are in for a treat.
The version I have is fullscreen and dubbed, which is a shame, as this film has a lot of neat choreography and costumes that requires a widescreen high-definition transfer to get the best effects. I guess I can expect that the same day the widescreen Monkey War shows up on remastered Blu-ray, aka NEVER! What a shame the wildest and craziest movies are also the most ignored when it comes to high quality.
In this film, Polly’s character Shih Pu Chuan sets out to recover 10 books stolen from the Shaolin Temple, each volume teaching one kung fu technique, and each technique has been mastered by the respective theif of that volume. But, if you only learn one of the kung fu skills, your body soon begins to modify itself based on that kung fu skill. Thus, the guy who learns to extend his arms has permanent long arms. The guy who stretched his legs looks like he’s walking around on stilts. The woman who stole the Positive Kung Fu book turns into a man, and the guy who stole the Negative Kung Fu book turns into a woman. The only way to not get physically screwed up is to learn all the skills so there is a balance. Even Shih Pu Chuan isn’t immune, her female character begins to turn into a man, and her sifu can’t remember how to do Negative Kung Fu. That leads him into discovering the Temple let the books get stolen and her subsequent quest. At one point it is declared that the villains can’t turn back to normal because they are evil, which might be saying that without balance, you are evil. Just remember, folks, every thing in moderation.
Of course, that also leads to yet another film where Polly Shang Kuan plays a gender bending character. This time she’s officially playing someone who is both sexes, though her long term goal is to stay a female. The only real disadvantage of turning male is gaining a faint mustache and having lots of ladies falling in love with you. As the main lady is the woman who used to be the man who stole the Negative Kung Fu book, things become tragic irony.
The main tale of the training and quest only eats up about an hour of the running time, we then have extended scenes where the many cameos attack Shaolin Temple because their followers (some of the followers were involved in the theft and some weren’t) are arrested in public. Now Shih has to defend her home from all these new people, but thankfully she now has lots of skills with which to do so.
The crazy specialties of the thieves gives us some awesome goofy kung fu, along with a whole host of guest stars who pop up when the thieves impersonate them in the beginning, and then return in the end when the real versions of the masters attack the temple. The cast is one of those ridiculously huge casts that makes me want to do a Roll Call 30 people long, and is filled with actors who aren’t identified very well. Luckily, I came to my senses, and it’s only 4 people long! We’re aren’t obsessively stupid at TarsTarkas.NET for nothing!
Like most of the Taiwanese kung fu comedies, the humor is a mix of slapstick and reaction shots. These aren’t films that are taken seriously by hardcore martial arts fans. Add to that the ridiculous dubbing and often awful fullscreen vhs presentation, and you can see why these flicks don’t get any respect. Which is a shame, because the ri-donk-ulousness is awesome! I’ll take a film that knows how to have fun over a dramafest that takes itself far too seriously any day!