Kung Fu Zombie
"We're talking avant-garde film-making here".
- Joseph Kuby
Kung Fu Zombie (1981)
Director: Wa Yat Wang (Hwa I Hung)
Producer: Pal Ming
Cast: Billy Chong (Chuen Lei), Chan Lau, Kong Do (Chiang Tao), Jeng Kei Ying (Cheng Ka Ying), Kwan Yung Moon (Kwon Young Moon), Pak Sha Lik, Shum Yan Chi, Cheng Hong Yip, Wong Biu Chan
Running Time: 78 min.
Plot: How do you kill something that's already dead? That's the question Billy Chong faces when he goes up against the "Kung Fu Zombie". Billy's father crosses the wrong exorcist, and there's hell to pay. The evil priest unleashes an army of the undead against Chong's family, lead by the Mad Korean Kwan Yun Moon ("Project A", "Master With Cracked Fingers").
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: This is a good example of low budget cinema (and Hong Kong cinema) in that imagination seems to abound from the fact that the film is low budget. Take, for instance, a quote from Halliwell's Film Guide which hinted that The Big Boss was possibly Bruce Lee's best film. This is probably because the low budget nature of the film gave Lee more presence and relied more on his acting ability.
Kung Fu Zombie was a hit in the year of 1981. It made HK$ 2,237,587. It performed better at the box office than some films that were more luxurious. These films being Notorious Eight, Tower of Death, Brave Archer Part III, Sword Stained with Royal Blood and Masked Avengers. Fellow martial arts cheapie Enter the Game of Death had not done as well as its spiritual brethren.
Kung Fu Zombie was far from being a very big hit as there were other films whose box office returns had strongly overwhelmed it. The box office take of Security Unlimited (HK$ 17,769,048), My Young Auntie, Lion vs. Lion, The Club, The Story of Woo Viet, Return of the Sentimental Swordsman, Martial Club, Challenge of the Gamesters, Laughing Times, Dreadnought and All the Wrong Clues made Kung Fu Zombie seem like a minor distraction.
Even though the film may seem little more than a cash-in on Sammo Hung's Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind (it was released in cinemas one month month after Sammo's movie), the film has a very strong sense of style. The editing, in particular, is cleverly done and highly cutting-edge. We're talking avant-garde film-making here. Of particular note is a scene in which the 'zombie' of the title (really a vampire) kills off a person near the end of the film in a frenziedly shot manner which surely must have inspired Sam Raimi's editing style for Evil Dead (which was released in cinemas two years after Kung Fu Zombie).
There's a scene in this film where an invisible person laughs which looks to have influenced the laughing furniture segment of Evil Dead 2. The way his laugh affects the motion of his hat is reminiscent of the way the objects laughed in Evil Dead 2.
The fight scenes are very different from ones during the era of which this film was made in. Rather than the one-two rhythm seen so many times in classical Kung Fu movies, the fights in this are extremely fast-paced but not done to the detriment of the enjoyment factor.
The undercranking and rapid-fire camera positioning reminded me very much of Ching Siu Tung. There's a possibility that he had a hand in helming the direction of these scenes of martial combat. The visual style the film adopts makes this a part of the Hong Kong new wave and it's no less ground-breaking than Duel to the Death (although the slightly feeble narrative and flimsy production values make this inferior to Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain).
To picture the fights, imagine if Yuen Kwai took lots of speed. Charlie Chaplin on acid and Buster Keaton on steroids couldn't overwhelm the blitzkrieg style on display here.
There's a fight scene with Billy Chong in the middle of the film which seems to come from nowhere but I don't think it came from any other movie so maybe a few scenes were left on the cutting room floor which would have explained the appearance of such an encounter, but it certainly came from this movie. Unless maybe a Western distributor thought that the film lacked action and suggested they film a scene to enliven the pace.
This film is on par with Eternal Evil of Asia for being the Chinese equivalent to Evil Dead. The combination of mad-cap humor and spiritual folklore interlaced with moments of stark violence will definitely bring to mind that film. The only problem is that Kung Fu Zombie is not scary enough.
To be honest, this film (as enjoyable as it is) is far from perfect. The special effects in this film are very poor and make the Evil Dead films seem like the creation of George Lucas and Jim Henson.
Strange enough, whenever the villain shows up the James Bond theme plays!!!
Nevertheless, Kung Fu Zombie is worthy enough to be a cult classic. The black humor on display makes other Kung Fu comedies seem like kids flicks by comparison.
JOSEPH KUBY'S RATING: 6.5/10