Wong Jing (director)
Eureka Entertainment (studio)
29 January 2024 (released)
02 February 2024
This ‘wuxia’ fantasy from 1993 is so over the top and downright bonkers, you will either love it or hate it! Its premise revolves around the fight for two magical swords whose blades bestow the rightful owner with the power to control pretty much everything, or so the saga goes. At the helm of the confusing action is Jet Li as the (initially) unlikely candidate to become the owner of the magical sword.
There can’t be many ‘wuxia’ films sporting flying vampire bats in human disguise, an all-powerful monk embedded in a gigantic rock, plus wire work and high kicks until ones head spins! Yet, ‘Kung Fu Cult Master’ has it all and so much more!
In a prelude, we learn about various martial arts groups, each and every one of them devoted to their own unique fighting style, and their pursuit of gaining control over two magical swords. Fast forward, and a young boy named Zhang Wuji and his parents travel to Mount Wudan to help celebrate the 100th birthday of Zhang Sanfeng (Sammo Hung), the boy’s grand teacher. Zhang’s father happens to be the blood brother of Sanfeng on grounds of his marriage to Sanfeng’s granddaughter. Seemingly out of the sky, various martial arts fighters from splinter groups appear out of nowhere and demand that Zhang’s parents - the only people who know the residence of the boy’s godfather Xie Xun (Yan Huaili) – reveal their secret. Among those who pressure Zhang’s parents is a nasty abbess (Sun Mengquan) but to no avail… Zhang’s parents choose rather to commit suicide than betray Xie Xun, which they perform after a brief resistance and with a traumatised Zhang looking on.
Fast forward again, and the little boy is now grown up and morphed into Jet Li, looked after by Zhang Sanfeng. This doesn’t make an individual named Sung Ching Su (Collin Chou) very happy, and together with Zhou Zhirio (Gigi Lai) – a female disciple at the Emai School – he tries to sabotage Zhang’s attempts of learning martial arts, which up until now he’s been pretty useless at due to him being an orphan. Alas, Zhang finds one friend in the feisty Xiaozhao (Chingmy Yau) who recognises his potential, although she also fancies him a bit. When Sung Ching humiliates Zhang again, he flees together with Xiaozhao after an almighty kerfuffle but it followed by Sung and his ilk, resulting in Zhang and Xiaozhao falling off a cliff and literally plunging into a strange landscape where they encounter a Kung Fu master embedded in a rock (!) who teaches Zhang some vital fighting skills and sure enough, those teachings couldn’t have come sooner as trouble unfolds at breakneck speed: rivalling martial arts schools, various cults, a Mongol princess called Zhao Min (Sharla Cheung, who also portrayed Zhang’s mother in the prelude sequence) and the King of the Green Bat (a hilarious Richard Ng) are just some of the obstacles that Zhang needs to overcome in his quest to get to the legendary sword…
Visually stunning and with great choreography, there’s simply too much going on with regards to the plot, which at times is muddled and overly confusing. A fair amount of the subplots involve special fighting techniques, which each sporting unique names… to make things even more confusing for Western audiences. Less would have been considerably more here and the English subtitles, spiked with American slang terms, don’t give any realistic impression of the presumably more flowery original Mandarin/Cantonese language.
Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Chingmy Yau and all the rest deliver the goods flawlessly, which is more than can be said for the overall storyline.
KUNG FU CULT MASTER has just been released on Blu-ray. The first print run (2000 copies) will feature a Limited Edition O-card slipcase and Collector’s booklet. Other bonus material includes audio commentary, archival interview with Sammo Hung, plus trailer.