Buddha's Palm (Ru lai shen zhang, 1982) is one of the better & least ridiculous Kung fu costume fantasies. The heroics are legitimately heroic, the FX are sufficiently convincing to not be laughable, the jests are amusing without undermining the viewer's ability to "believe" in the fantasy tale unfolding, & the supernatural martial arts are elaborate & imaginative.
So many kung fu fantasies are ruinously cliche & tacky, but Buddha's Palm delivers exactly what such films should deliver, pure fun with enough belief in the characters to retain suspense.
Based on an "illustrated novel" or comic book, the film benefits by inheriting a comprehensible plotline. It's still a comic book plot, sure, but compared to other fantasy kung fu films. like those of the overrated Tsui Hark, this one's not so much confusing & silly as it is captivating & appealing.
And if it can be a little confusing in structure especially for a novice viewer, nevertheless, comparatively speaking, it's pretty easy to follow, & worth following, unlike messily convoluted fantasies that if you manage to put the plot together while viewing often prove so ridiculous it wasn't worth the effort.
Buddha's Palm was part of the so-called "New Wave" that many presume Tsui Hark launched into the '80s.
By the '90s these fantasy extravaganzas had for the most part deteriorated into poorly constructed nonsense. But before that decline, director Taylor Wong was one of the few who could make "New Wave" refreshing rather than foolish.
That's not to say many viewers unaccustomed to such films won't regard it as pretty silly. The "pet" kung fu dog-dragon is as silly as they come, but I nevertheless assert that even the nuttiest ingredients have been shaped into a charming & effective & thrilling fantasy adventure, instead of the usual emptyheaded noise that only kids & kitsch-afficianados could ever find acceptable as entertainment.
Additionally, post-90s, poorly orchestrated CGI FX became overused & entirely spoilt & undermined one of the greatest ingredients of kung fu costumers, vis, the physicality of the actual stars or their stunt doubles. When it's done in a computer it just isn't as amazing. And Taylor Wong uses earlier FX techniques & actual physical stuntwork to capture something on film that is in its own odd way great stuff.
When Long Jian-fei (Derek Tung-sing Yee) is tossed from a cliff by the new sweetheart (Goon-chung Goo) of his rather meanspirited ex-girlfriend (Candy Yu), the friendly Dameng dragon-dog saves the hapless naif's life, & brings him to Flame Cloud Devil (Alex Chi-leung Man), the blind master of the Buddha's Palm technique.
This fighting style permits the fighter to exude energy from the palms in a way that can cause bodily injury even from a distance. There are eight key components to the Buddha's Palm which must be individually mastered, & the last constitutes the greatest degree of power while requiring the most difficult level of mastery to achieve.
Our hero has many villains to defeat & a beautiful girl to win (not his original girlfriend but looks just like her since the new girlfriend is also played by Candy Yu). There are many comical yet successfully imaginative events. The image of a man laid out flat at the center of a gigantic handprint in the dust truly combines the whimsical with the awesome.
And while in most kung fu films I find the human ability to fly distracting rather than exciting, this film is almost reminiscent of The Matrix in how it works human flight into the mythic fabric of the text.
For those of us who like swordswoman & female kickboxer action, there are powerful women galore throughout the story, especially Yujuan played by Kara Ying-hung Hui. She encounters sexism in her desire to learn the Buddha's Palm technique from the sifu who only teaches half the form to girls, but nevertheless gets a few good licks in.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl