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Buddha's Palm
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by Jay Seaver

"Silly but fun Shaw Brothers mayhem."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Even by Shaw Brothers standards, "Buddha's Palm" is kind of nuts, piling new crazy action and more martial arts masters on whenever things start to slow down the slightest bit. That's not necessarily an unusual way to build these movies, although the frantic redirection and one-more-thing here is enhanced with superpowers and friendly monsters.

The first creator of the Buddha's Palm technique, we're told, "over-practiced with fatal results", but passed the knowledge on to his disciple Ku Han-hun (Alex Man Chi-leung), who fought many devils, made many enemies, and disappeared years ago. Lung Chien-fei (Derek Yee Tung-shing) is not much like him, a scarred nobody pining after his master's daughter Liu Ming-ying (Candice Yu On-on) and getting his ass handed to him so thoroughly when attacking her betrothed (Ku Kuan-Chang) that he goes over a cliff. But, as the narrator notes, "a monster saves him" and he winds up studying at the feet of the blinded Ku. He sets off to find a magical pearl that will cure Ku's blindness, meeting sisters Chu Yu-chan (Kara Hui Ying-hung) and Yu-hua (also Candice Yu), who seek the same pearl for their master Sun Pi-ling (Susan Shaw Yin-yin)...

...Look, that's something like the first half hour of this ninety-minute movie, and by the time Ming-ying and her now-husband pops up again, the viewer will likely react along the lines of "oh, yeah, them!"; over-stuffing doesn't begin to describe what's going on here. The screenwriters (including On Szeto, Manfred Wong, and director Taylor Wong Tai-loi) in some ways don't seem terribly worried about things making what you'd call any sort of sense, especially when an angry mob more or less agrees to put off getting retribution for a slaughter to have a reunion party despite all the bodies being right there in front of them. It's at the suggestion of Pi Ku (Lo Lieh), a martial arts master who just pops up every time the plot could use him despite him always talking about arriving too late. It's a ridiculously random story.

And yet, it's not, necessarily. The movie makes its intention to go big clear from the start, and while a whole bunch of new characters show up fairly late in the action, very few of them aren't mentioned in the comics-style prologue that quickly described Ku's adventures, with it not necessarily being surprising that Lung would find himself landing smack in the middle of Ku's old underworld entanglements. And if you're going to have characters projecting raw power from their palms, why the heck not give Ku a pet that looks like a miniature dragon, arm the villains with magical weapons and mind-controlling centipedes, or have one guarded by a midget whose massive pimple squirts a highly-corrosive acid? You may as well not leave anything out if a big, absurd backstory is implied.

You might as well not let an opportunity for a fight go by, either. Buddha's Palm is as much a fantasy offering from the Shaw Brothers as a kung fu picture, so it doesn't really offer much in the way of marathon well-choreographed bouts, but the action is still exciting even when the actors are sort of pushing at each other with ray-of-light special effects added on. They certainly can move when that's what the action calls for - that initial beating that Lung receives is a pretty fair example of that, and even when the action is more effects-driven, the cast certainly knows how to sell it as threatening or powerful.

Those effects probably couldn't be called cutting-edge for their time, although the thing about green light that projects from the palms is that it is simple enough not to age too badly of the artists get it lined up right, and the Shaw Brothers crew is generally pretty good at that sort of detail work (the animated bursts of energy emblazoned with swastikas, not so great, even after one remembers that this version of the symbol shows up in these movies fairly often, if usually more in the background). The sets, costumes, and such are up to the usual Shaw Brothers standards,a nice mix between detailed and atmospheric, although the puppetry used to create "monster" De Lang was probably snickered at even at the time of release.

It holds together better than one might expect on first glance, though; there's some amount of method to the madness. As a Shaw Brothers film, you know a bit of what to expect, but that never stops it from throwing something new at you.

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originally posted: 07/22/15 14:08:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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