BUDDHA ASSASSINATOR - 3 top performers in compelling kung fu tale
THE BUDDHA ASSASSINATOR is a small-scale, made-in-Taiwan kung fu film with a fairly intriguing plot, some top-drawer fight scenes, and engaging performances by a trio of great, if underrated performers. It may not have as many fights as we would like and the training scenes are a bit rushed but the action is always extremely well-staged and builds up to an extended final battle between two of the stars.
Mang Hoi plays a lowly student at a Buddhist temple who saves the life of a visiting prince when he spots an assassin disguised as a monk. The prince (Hwang Jang Lee) takes Mang under his wing and teaches him "Lo Han"-style kung fu (which includes some "sleeping fist" positions). However, the prince's motives soon take a darker turn. It turns out that Mang's only close relatives are part of the plot to kill the prince and Mang is eventually forced to hide out with his uncle, a "crazy monk" who teaches him Buddhist Fist. Only then can he take on the prince in a furious, extended 10-minute match at the end.
Mang Hoi was short and wiry and acrobatic, but had a round, cherubic baby face which lent itself to comic moments. (He later served as one of Sammo Hung's repertory company in the star-director's 1980s action comedies.) Mang effectively conveyed the plight of a young, hapless novice who gets thrust into good fortune by chance and then has to learn enough kung fu to fight for his life against the long-limbed, high-kicking Hwang Jang Lee. The actor also fought Hwang in HELL'S WINDSTAFF (1979).
Hwang Jang Lee (DRAGON'S CLAWS) was always a great villain in Taiwan-based kung fu films and is quite formidable here, looking regal in his princely garb and bestowing a knowing, imperious smile on all around him yet capable of turning on his young charge with sudden fury. Lung Fei, always a reliable kung fu villain (RETURN OF THE CHINESE BOXER), plays Hwang's chief lieutenant.
The often under-used Chien Yuet San specialized in eccentric characters (such as "Granddad" in THUNDERING MANTIS) and here he's the shabby vagabond "crazy monk" who finds himself the target of the prince's wrath when it's learned the monk is a master of Buddhist Fist, a rival style.
Basically, the small but accomplished cast and assured direction (by Tung Kan Wu) make an otherwise average kung fu tale sparkle just a little brighter.
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