Literally: Acrobatic Masterpiece
Director: Liu Chia Liang
Writer: I Kuang
Producer: Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong
Cast: Hsiao Ho, Lau Kar Leung, Lo Lieh, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Ching Chu, San Sin, Lam Fai Wong, Lin Ke Ming, Chan Ling Wai, Wong Ching Ho, Wong Man, Cham Siu Hung, Cheung Hei, Fung Ming, Lee Fat Yuen, Pang Yun Cheung, Sai Gwa Paau, Wang Han Chen, Yeung Wah
Running Time: 116 min.
This 1979 kung fu film starring Hsiao Ho and Lau Kar-leung is another minor masterpiece from the Shaw Brothers. At nearly two hours long, this movie stuffs in as much Monkey Fist-style martial arts as the audience can handle. Interestingly enough, this film was released the same year as Golden Harvest’s Yuen Biao vehicle “Knockabout,” which also prominently featured the Monkey form of kung fu. Both films exemplify their studios’ very different approach to making a martial arts picture. Now if you held me at swordpoint I’d have to confess that I prefer “Knockabout” but, hey, there’s no reason that fighting fans shouldn’t go out of their way to see both flicks.
Hsiao Ho was only 21 years-old when he took the starring role in “Mad Monkey Kung Fu.” He would later go on to become a contract player for the Shaw Brothers and star in numerous films such as “Legendary Weapons of China” and “My Young Auntie.” A talented performer, in “Mad Monkey Kung Fu” Hsiao displays his gift for both acting and martial arts. Beyond his skills as a fighter, his sheer athleticism is jaw-dropping: the guy does more somersaults in this flick than I’ve seen anyone do in my life.
Lau Kar-leung is arguably more well known as a director than an actor but here he takes a turn in front of the camera too. One thing I really like about “Mad Monkey Kung Fu” is that it’s one of the rare films where you get to see the master fight alongside the student. And since Kar-leung was still fairly young when he made this movie, he and Hsiao seem more like partners than teacher and student at the end. They make for one dynamic fighting duo.
The plot, like many Shaw Brothers movies, is concerned with revenge but also tosses in several unpredictable twists and turns. Animal lovers be warned that there’s one scene of violence against an animal that comes out of nowhere, and is quite realistic and difficult to stomach. Shaw Brothers movies are famous for their intense training sequences and “Mad Monkey Kung Fu” is no exception. There’s got to be a solid 30 minutes of martial arts training interspersed throughout this film. At the very least, these sequences are certainly unconventional, with Hsiao Ho forced to tie rocks to his wrists and sleep in the trees like a monkey.
It’s also a treat when Hsiao Ho and Lau Kar-leung spar against each other. You can tell that Kar-leung has years of experience on Hsiao but the young pupil still manages to keep up. The gorgeous-beyond-belief Kara Hui is on hand in a supporting role but she doesn’t get to do much except say “Brother!” in Cantonese about thirty times.
What I like about Monkey-style kung fu is that it tends to combine humor with martial arts without being obnoxious about it. The comedy always flows out of the fighting style itself, which is admittedly over the top. I enjoyed all the references to the Monkey King too. And while “Mad Monkey Kung Fu” explores the light-hearted element that comes with the monkey territory, the plot features plenty of tragedy too – more so than your usual Shaw Brothers film. In fact, the story can be downright depressing at times. But at least the finale is a rousing showstopper where the villains get what they deserve. Would you expect anything less from the Shaw Brothers? I don’t know if I’d put this film up there with “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” but if you like Lau Kar-leung or the other actors involved, it’s definitely a must see.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7.5/10
No question, Liu Chia Liang is one of the greatest kung fu directors of all time. His work had had an influence on the genre that only a selected few can equal. All-time classics such as “Executioners from Shaolin”, “Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu” and most importantly “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” are definite milestones in HK cinema. So “Mad Monkey Kung Fu” can’t be a bad either, and it really is not.
It’s an epic showcase for Liu Chia Liang and, even more, for his protégé Siu Hou. The story is interesting, martial artistry pure excellence and it has the best training sequences ever captured on film! Liu himself is nothing but great as the crippled Monkey Fist master, but lets the awesome acrobatic Siu Hou steal almost the whole movie with his prefect monkey impression. Hell, these guys can move more like a monkey than a monkey itself! Acrobatics even overshadow the actual kung fu in a few scenes, making it look like some circus show (not so often thought that it could be consider as a bad thing). BUT (and that’s a major BUT) the fucking comedy sucks! Almost 80 % of the film’s fights have Siu Hou ‘fooling around’.
You know, after every fancy, perfectly executed kung fu move the action suddenly stops, bad guys pretend to be locked in ailing positions (while they easily could get loose or at least do something else than just make agony-filled faces), and then Siu Ho says (with an annoying dubbed voice) something like “Hey you guys are really stupid! And dumb too!” after which he hits them with an umbrella and the baddies back up to rub their wounds whining “We’ll fix you, you prick!” or something like that, you got the idea.
These irritating and idiotic ‘comedic touches’ nearly ruined the film for me so I was relieved when the final beating of Lo Lieh was almost dead serious. Lo Lieh? Well he’s that evil dude who was beaten by drunken Liu in the opening sequence, so Lo Lieh forced Liu’s sister (the ever-lovely Hui Ying-Hung) into prostitution and crippled his hands (which was in my opinion just a random revenge for the exact same kind of treatment HE received in the 1972′s classic “Five Fingers of Death”). After Liu’s misfortune continues and his pet monkey gets killed, he adopts a cheap substitute monkey imitator dude, Siu Hou, to whom he teaches kung fu. Revenge? You guessed it.
Perkele’s Rating: 7/10