Seeing a movie with a large, devoted audience can enhance the experience. But watching it with a dissinterested audience can actually destroy the possibility of complete enjoyment.
An independent production initially distributed through Golden Harvest, I watched Killer from Above (Dao jian ba wang quan, 1977) at a Golden Harvest theater with a predominantly Chinese-speaking audience who were sniggering, yawning, or smoking illegally in the lobby. Many private conversations were struck in the audience -- laundry, weather, any topic at all -- so that I experienced this film with constant background noise.
Rest assured the same audience has usually been quite attentive. They laugh at the corniest humor & gasp at improbable stunts. But every audience has its limitations.
Killer from Above has every element of the film-type: strong villains, weak villains, & a gorgeous lady villain (Ping Wong) with poison darts & a mean chop; the beautiful, powerful, avenging hero Hu Ying-pao (Lo Lieh); a woman monk (Fang Fan); the swordswoman Sing Pei-pei (Polly Shang Kuan); colorful period costuming; & a set of little statues that reveal martial stances of the Lohan School.
There's even a pot, a bit too convoluted to follow, but at least there's something in there besides the nearly nonstop block & punch action.
There are neato weapons, though mostly empty hand styles, & a "secret" fist in the bargain.
And there's comedy relief in the form of a big oaf imitating a Downs Syndrome adult who has somehow learned kung fu.
Plus a tough midget who is about as effective as Mickey Mouse in a jam. How can a film not be great if it has a kung fu midget?
Very little of it works. What is forgiveably bad in another film is boring in this one. It's difficult to pinpoint why. Oh, it's easy to point out that the nonstop kung-fu is tiresome after a while, but those are generic faults.
Why was this one especially a stinker? If not for a whole audiance unanimously waiting the second feature & not caring one bit about this one, a viewer home alone with a dvd might not know for sure if he or she had been in a bad mood personally or if this film really is that terrible.
Many martial arts film fans have so lowered their expectations that it is possible to marginally appreciate a mediocre film, or to mistake a complete dud for something at least passable. Being too picky where kung fu films are concerned would mean hardly ever liking any of them.
But in Killer from Above, only when the final fight scene moves from a cluttered, walled set to a vast forest (for no apprent reason & by no logical method) do we know for sure that our intelligence is indeed being much more insulted than usual.
If not for the wide screen, original Chinese language with English subtitles, I probably would've given up on it like most of the audience, & gone off to the lobby. Killer from Above is hackwork from word go & a disservice to the talents of its stars.
I can only imagine how much worse it must be on the 1984 English dubbed version out on dvd, but it was initially edited for American television as Eighteen Jade Pearls then turned up on dvd with the new title & elsewhere with the original international title restored.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl