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THE SPIRITUAL BOXER is as handsomely mounted as many a Shaw Brothers production, but the plot lacks a certain something. The hero of the piece is Wong Yue, playing a confidence trickster who employs various methods to convince audiences that he's possessed by the spirits of various gods, thus making a living from people's gullibility. After a while, he makes enemies of a gang of thugs while at the same time being asked to investigate a haunted temple.
The film is notable for being one of the first examples of the knockabout comedy genre later popularised by Jackie Chan. Wong Yue gets up to all manner of mischief with his tricks, but he lacks the genuine charisma of many of his peers. Still, there's much fun to be had with burning coals, red hot pokers and the like, although my favourite segment is the pure horror scene in a haunted building which is up there with the best of Hong Kong's black magic movies.
THE SPIRITUAL BOXER lacks the kind of well-choreographed action that we know so well from the studio's classics, but that's not to say that it's without incident. Scenes of Wong Yue getting possessed by the monkey god and the like are a lot of fun and neatly prefigure later movies like KNOCKABOUT or ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND. Fung Hark-On has a meaty role as an antagonist and there's an odd opening sequence featuring Ti Lung and Chen Kuan Tai which has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. In the end, this is a watchable movie but it's not as funny as others and doesn't have the great action of others, so it's rather an odd, middling combo.
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