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Legendary Weapons of China
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |
AKA: Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu
AKA: 18 Legendary Weapons of China
Year: 1982
Director: Lau Kar-Leung
Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong Yat-Wah
Writer: Li Tut-Hang, Lau Kar-Leung
Action: Lau Kar-Leung, Lee King-Chu, Hsiao Hou
Cast: Lau Kar-Leung, Hsiao Ho, Alexander Fu Sheng, Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Lau Kar-Wing, Jue Tit-Woh, Wong Ching-Ho, Lee King-Chue, Lin Ke-Ming, Cheung Chok-Chow, Wang Han-Chen, Mak Wai-Cheung, Ng Yuk-Sue, Cheung Gwok-Wa
The Skinny: An evil cult seeks to eliminate a former member of their sect in this competent, often entertaining kung fu flick from famed actor/director Lau Kar-Leung. A decent cast and an intriguing plotline—not to mention a few nutty developments along the way—make this flick worth checking out.
Review by

     Deciding to join a religious cult probably isn't the wisest of choices, and that's especially true if it's the kind of cult featured in Lau Kar-Leung's Legendary Weapons of China. Set around the time of the Boxer Rebellion, the film centers on the xenophobic Yi Ho Society, a quasi-religious group that would like nothing better than to drive out all the "evil" foreigners invading their beloved China. Dressed in bizarre caped costumes, the devout members rigorously train in the hopes of one day becoming immune to the fatal power of Western firearms. And in ritualistic fashion, many young recruits—relying solely on the faith in their kung fu—eagerly stand unafraid before an in-house firing squad.
     Since the film has some consideration for reality, each and every volunteer ends up dying in a hail of bullets. Their instructor, Ti Tan (Gordon Liu Chia-Hui) isn't pleased with the results, but instead of scrapping the project, he decides that the only solution is to train harder! Of course, the members have no problem at all with this logic—this is, after all, a group so loyal to their masters that any one of them would pluck out his eyes or even tear off his testicles if commanded! And a few do! Ah, such are the perils of conformity.
     Of course, amidst all this groupthink idiocy there's at least one smart cookie in the cult, the enigmatic Lei Gung (Lau Kar-Leung). Unwilling to watch his beloved pupils throw their lives away so recklessly, Gung dissolves the Yunnan branch of the cult and goes into hiding. Viewing him as a traitor to their cause, the Yi Ho Society sends out a group of assassins (all working separately) to liquidate their former brother.
     Hiding in Guandong as a simple woodcutter, Lee Gung starts a new life as the folksy and generally well-liked Mr. Yu. His bucolic new world soon becomes complicated when several drifters show up in town. There are the baddies: the unremitting taskmaster Ti (now disguised as a monk) and Lei Yung, a hypnotist/voodoo practitioner who just so happens to be Lei Gung's brother (and played by Lau Kar-Leung's real life sibling, Lau Kar-Wing). Then there's the good guy—or girl to be more precise—the cross-dressing Siao Ching (Kara Hui Ying-Hung), who recognizes the folly of her clan's beliefs and wishes to help Lei Gung. There's also an X-factor that comes in the form of a young, impressionable Yi Ho society member named Ti Hao (Hsiao Hou), who despite his orders to kill Lei Gung will find his once-solid faith to the cause challenged before the end of the picture.
     After a series of fights and subterfuges, Lei Gung tends to an injured Ti Hao and nurses him back to health with Siao Ching's assistance. Knowing full well that he can no longer run from the fight, Lei Gung trains with all the legendary weapons of China (hence the title) to polish his skills, now rusty from lack of use. But while he trains, there's still the question of where Ti Hao's loyalties lie: will he bow to his cult programming and help the assassins kill Lei Gung or fight against it to help his savior?
     Overall, Legendary Weapons of China is more than just a typical kung fu potboiler. Sure, the mystery of Lei Gung's true identity isn't given much play in the narrative, but the assassination plotline is different enough from most to make it stand out from the traditional "You killed my master!" storylines that seem to be the bread and butter of b-grade chopsockies.
     Although in no way a traditionally handsome leading man, Lau Kar-Leung carries the film pretty well, with good support from Hsiao Hou and Kara Hui Ying-Hung, who lends her normal luminous self to the proceedings. Although Gordon Liu plays against type as a villain, he's so good in the role that he pretty much overshadows the film's true antagonist, one secret that I will not spoil here.
     True to his well-respected reputation for fight choreography, Lau Kar-Leung stages some pretty impressive action sequences. One standout scene involves two actors sparring in the crawlspace of an attic while Gordon Liu's character stabs at the ceiling with his spear. Perhaps the best surprise is Fu Sheng's short, but substantial appearance in the early reels of the film. Although his character isn't that important to the overall thrust of the plot, Fu Sheng's comic turn as a conman named Wu results in some hilarious sight gags. To wit: at the request of his buddies, Wu pretends to be Lei Gung in the hopes of luring out the real McCoy. To stall for time, he "fights" his accomplices, who overreact to his phantom punches and kicks, instantly falling at the power of his "spiritual" kung fu. The sequence concludes with a spot-on parody of some of the bloodier films that director Chang Cheh turned out for Shaw Brothers: Wu, through some low-tech trickery, finds his stomach cut open and his guts slowly seeping out, but staying true to the heroic image he's trying to present, Wu nonchalantly stuffs his guts back into his stomach and continues fighting his attackers! Just as funny is the sequence that follows in which Lau Kar-Wing's voodoo master takes possession of Fu Sheng's movements, manipulating the conman's body to the point of apparent martial arts mastery! Thanks to Fu Sheng's knack for comedy (not to mention some nifty wire work), the ventriloquist act elicits some well-deserved laughs.
     As is typical of Lau Kar-Leung films, there are too many fights to mention, although I can't help but single out the fight between Lau Kar-Leung and Gordon Liu towards the end of the film that makes the actual final duel seem less than spectacular. But upon final appraisal, it's a small quibble. With an intriguing storyline, inventive choreography, strong performances, and some genuinely funny moments, one can't help but be charmed. Some hail Legendary Weapons of China as a martial arts masterpiece, and although I wouldn't go that far in my praise, I would readily admit it's high entertainment value, and yet another stellar example of why Lau Kar-Leung is known as "The Pops."* (Calvin McMillin 2004)
*Coined by Bey Logan in "Hong Kong Action Cinema".


• This review is based on the only edition of the film currently available in the United States: a severely cropped, English dubbed version. The VHS edition has a glitch where the DVD menu suddenly appears!
• Intercontinental Video Limited finally released Legendary Weapons of China on DVD with its original language track on October 19, 2004.

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Trailers, Various extras
    DVD (USA)
Region 0 NTSC
Ground Zero
Pan and Scan Format (Cropped from 2.35:1)
English Dubbed
Dolby Digital 2.0

image courtesy of Celestial Pictures

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen