Chiu Yin Peng - the real director of this film - is one of the most eccentric directors in world cinema; usually off the wall independents like him disappear after 3 or 4 films, but Chiu made friends along the way (especially famed choreographer and director Ching Sui Tung, who seems to have gotten his start working with Chiu). Consequently, he has managed to build a real career out of insulting audience sensibilities while frequently giving them exactly what they want.
I admit that, in general, I don't care for Chiu Yin Peng's sense of humor (see the early "Fantasy Mission Force" and the later "Shaolin Popeye" for goofs that really bite the big one). But when faced with the obvious, I must pay respect where it's due. This film is one beginning-to-end hoot of a send-up of Chinese sword-fight films, enacted by a cast completely in on the joke and committed to pulling it off with real aplomb.
In the late '70s, early '80s, Chiu (who had previously worked with very small budgets) began to get real resources behind him, and developed a series of films, of which this film is one, that used the same characters; the gimmick was that the films were not sequential, and the characters actually changed positions from film to film - a character would die in one, reappear in the next; in one film Character X would play the villain, and Y would be the hero; in the next Character X would be the hero, Y the villain. The sustaining elements to these films are thematic and incidental. The plots always have to do with characters who are doomed to violent lives, and who spend most of the film trying to figure out why (the films are essentially Buddhist morality plays). The films use specialist sword-fighting techniques, and generally involve black magic and vampirism. There are also moments of broad low-brow humor, which are actually used to mask the real sophistication of these films, which is that they are intentional parodies of the genre to which they pretend to belong. They do all share one really bad weakness, which is that their plots are so convoluted as to be virtually incomprehensible.
The film released as Lone Ninja Warrior (among other titles) is by far the best of lot, the easiest to follow and the most purely entertaining. That may be due to Tien Peng, the film's star and rumored to have at least co-directed it. But in any event, any potential audience for this film has to accept one all important point - this is a campy satire of sword-fight films from China, that includes some excellent (wire-works) sword play for the sake of credibility.
This means that the exaggerated, grotesque characters, the compressed dialog delivered as a series of seeming (but actually non-sequitor) truisms, the absurd situations the characters wonder through, are all quite intentional. Chiu certainly knows that he has a Gothic hunch-back with buck-teeth stalking around; and it's beyond reason to suspect that when the hero scares the big guy wearing a diaper (and yes, that is exactly what he's wearing)and the big guy wets himself in fear, and the hero says "Big sissy - you're no good" - are we really supposed to believe that this is just all accident or stupidity? One may not like campy satire like this, but let's not fool ourselves that isn't campy satire.
At one point in the English-dub version of the film, a character muses "to all the girls I am Clark Kent." - that's right, Superman's alter-ego. I checked out a Chinese video release of the film, and guess what he's really saying - "to all the girls, I am Clark Kent" - yep, Superman's alter-ego - in Ming dynasty China? Since Clark Kent is well-known fictional character, since the name "Clark Kent" cannot be mistaken for anything Chinese, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to believe that Chiu - who wrote the script - probably knew he was using an anachronism for satiric effect.
Westerners seem unable to recognize the Chinese capacity for Modernist sophistication. Is the martial arts tradition so foreign to us that we can't recognize that it has neither less nor more claim on our credibility than the excellent marksmanship cowboys exhibit in Hollywood films about the "old West" - this despite the fact that the pistols actual cowboys used in the 19th century were notoriously inaccurate and prone to misfire? It's true that throughout the 1970s, Chinese directors were effectively stymied by the demands from their producers for "same-old same-old" formula 'fu films; but that doesn't mean that these formulae were imprinted on their genes.
In fact the sharpness of this particular satire is evidence enough that by the end of the '70s, Chinese filmmakers were preparing to overthrow their producers and take command of the medium. Within a few short years of the making of the present film, Sammo Hung produced Enter the Fat Dragon, Chan produced Police Story, Tsui Hark produced Zu: Warriors of Magic Mountain, followed swiftly by break-through films by John Woo, Ringo Lam, Corey Yuen, Ching Sui Tung - a whole generation which has since been dubbed "Hong King's New Wave".
This film is not quite part of that - but if it weren't for this film, and others like it, the "New Wave" might never have happened.
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