Director: Kao Pao Shu
Starring: Meng Yuen Man, Ching Siu Tung, Casanova Wong, Yen Shi Kwan
One of the more notable examples of the kung fu comedy genre, both in a good and bad way (mostly good).
An escort (Casanova Wong) loses his mind after losing a valuable jade horse. The owner (Yen Shi Kwan) is actually a master criminal posing as wealthy entrepreneur and through his maneuverings, caused the escort to relinquish all his belongings as payment. A pair of con men (Meng Yeun Man and Ching Siu Tung) happen upon the crazed, gibbering ex-escort and decide that it may be within their best interests to help solve the mystery of the disappearing jade statue.
First the bad; the so called "comedy" in The Master Strikes is some of the most forced and most painfully unfunny I have ever had the displeasure of sitting through. It's bad enough when a joke or situation elicits eye rolling and/or blank stares (well, from me anyway), but it's even worse when it is accompanied by forced guffaws from the other characters. This happens a few times and it is pretty intolerable. Another minus for me is Casanova Wong's antics as the crazed escort. His mugging needed to be severely toned down. Granted, he does it well, but, jeez!
Now the good; the story (something of a whodunit/murder mystery) is a strong one and the actors involved are all terrific fighters AND thesps. The two leads (Meng Yuen Man and future Chinese Ghost Story director Ching Siu Tung who also doubled here as action/fight choreographer) are a likeable pair and play off each other well despite the badly written comedy antics. The scene where they basically con an old hermit into teaching them his famed Heaven and Earth style of kung fu is great and shows that the film's humor can be clever when it wants to be. Casanova Wong (real name Ca Sa Fa) is one of the great Korean kickers and this film perhaps better than any other shows off his amazing fighting skill. His kicks here are amazingly fast, powerful and efficient. And despite my complaining in the previous paragraph about his way over the top mugging, at least he was brave enough to go the distance with the part. Yuen Shi Kwan solidifies his reputation (as he previously had in Fearless Hyenna) as one of the baddest assed bad guys in kung fu cinema. He doesn't necessarily look the part but when he fights, he has few peers. His villainous turn is given a tremendous amount of respect here as he proves in the finale to be too much not only for Meng and Ching's characters, but (gasp!) even Casanova can't lay a mit on him! His ultimate defeat at their combined hands (and feet) therefor is made all the more rewarding. This climatic battle incidentally is one of the best you will ever see from this period. In fact, all of the fights in the film are really eye popping By this point (1980), the styles (or Shapes) have been mostly done away with. In their place in this instance are some of the fastest and most frentic screen fighting this side of a Sammo Hung film.
The Master Strikes is all in all, a nice little fu/action movie. If you can tolerate the (cough!) humor, you will find yourself rewarded with a fun plot, engaging characters and some truly breathtaking battles. Recommended.
*** / ****