Kung Fu Concussion Discussion - The Master
Updated: Mar 12
Welcome to a new feature here at The Cat…the Kung Fu Concussion Discussion! [Because we’re not unfocused enough. – Ed.] I have to admit, I’ve been sitting on this for a while…really ever since the website started…mainly because I couldn’t think up a good name. Let’s do a short explanation [Never the case with you. – Ed.] and then we’ll get into our first review…naturally from the Shaw Brothers…The Master.
I honestly can’t pinpoint where my love of kung fu movies started…but somewhere between the bad dubbing, the sound effects…you know the ones I mean, the whooshes and the ‘wh-chish’-es that came with every punch, chop or kick…the ‘not exactly really trying to hide the fact that these aren’t real weapons’ weapons and so forth. If I did the pathology, I imagine it was probably when I was young and poor, my viewing selections limited by what local channels my rabbit ears could pick up…and given where we were located, in the black hole of ruralness that resides in the middle of a triangle made from Akron, Cleveland and Youngstown, you can pretty much bet that limited my reception to UHF channels. If you’re a child of the 80’s then you know what that means…cartoons during the day, syndicated re-runs in the afternoon and evening and, you better believe it, old horror and kung fu movies at night…hosts optional. [And before you get all nostalgic and rant-y, yes, we’ll take a look at hosted TV in a later article. – Ed.] One grows up and once you hit the teenage years, well, you do your best to distance yourself from the things of your childhood so that you can enter the mature dating scene. [And we know how well that worked out, don’t we? – Ed.] Quiet you. Anyway, so yeah, I wandered away from the glorious ‘chop-socky’ of my youth and tried to become a cinema snob…but the shoe just didn’t fit. As I started to wade back into my childhood obsessions once I’d reached college and figured the hell with it, pretending to be more adult didn’t help me a single bit in high school, let’s try steering into the skid. That also didn’t work, but hey, at least I was enjoying myself. Strangely, though, again…kung fu was forgotten.
Enter the El Rey Network. Yes, we’ve talked about them before. And all I need to say is Flying Five Finger One-Armed Eight Pole Shaolin Exploding Death Touch Thursdays…and I was back. I’d found my master and now was the time to resume my training. A couple of years after moving up here, I opted to cut the cable (because Comcast sucks immensely) and now…now I wander the DVD racks…ever searching.
[Yeah. That was ‘short’. – Ed.]
So! Today! We have The Master from probably the most recognizable name from that period of the late 60’s and pretty much the entirety of the 70’s when kung fu movies were all the rage: The Shaw Brothers.
The story starts off with a kung fu master facing off against three evil masters in a tavern, later referred to as the Three Evils in a bold stroke of obviousness. The first utilizes a tonfa and what looks to be an oversized knife you’d see with a GI Joe figure or something…and yeah, it looks as fake as you’d expect, but at least it’s foiled for that metallic sheen. The second uses throwing knives and is a womanizer. Hey, that’s what we’re told. He kinda looks like Wind of the Three Storms in Big Trouble in Little China…except all in black and, for lack of a better term, a bit more fat Elvis-ier. The third is their boss who, obviously, has the best kung fu of the three and uses his pig-tail as a weapon. Apparently it cuts through things. No, no, I’ve seen it, that is indeed what it does. So…does Head and Shoulders make a shampoo to nurture that kind of thing or is it more like what it appears white people who grow dreadlocks are trying to accomplish? [No, hippies with dreads are trying to kill you in more odoriferous ways. In a word: Patchouli. – Ed.] Or maybe it’s a lost martial art…knife hair? [You need to put that in a more kung fu parlence like…the art of the feathered dragon’s tail. – Ed.] Moving on, yeah, these are our three bad guys. Due to a betrayal by the tavern keeper, dude outright pulls a large dagger and stabs our white-clad master (so he’s clearly the good guy). But fortunately he escapes.
Next up, we’re introduced to our main protagonist and his school. Ugh. It’s very quick to illustrate that we’re definitely in for a more comedic tone in the film as well as that we’re falling into the story trope that is the buffoon as the hero. For a set-up, well, to be quite honest, it’s rather all very Cinderella-like. Oh, I guess I should mention, forgive me for not addressing any character names…that may or may not happen in these reviews. It really depends if I remember them…and in this case, not so much. Anyway, our protagonist isn’t terribly well-liked at the school. Naturally, he’s got a pair of bullies that make life difficult for him but also, he’s got no love from the school’s master either. The master’s son and daughter are sympathetic…but that doesn’t really do our Cinderfella-san any good. So, as plot convenience would have it, it is this student that finds the wounded master and tends to his wounds. While doing this tends to get our protagonist into more trouble, including a scene where he cross-dresses to infiltrate a brothel to take some gold from the aforementioned Second Evil, it also meets with the reward of being taken seriously and trained by the wounded master who, as we find out, has in the past kicked the ass of the protagonist’s current master.
Quick tangent, going back to the brothel scene…I was kinda surprised that we got some breasts in this film. Okay, initially I was surprised. Recalling some of the ‘older’ films of the genre that I’ve seen (in quotes because the film I’m referring to, 5 Element Ninjas was released in 1980) some had them and some didn’t…whereas current kung fu films…nary a boob to be seen. My first thought being that way back when, Hong Kong, where these films were made, remained a under British control as opposed to now, where they fall under the standards of commie China…who consider it ‘wild and crazy’ to show cleavage. Anyway, yeah, a paragraph about boobs in Asian cinema…that’s the kind of content you’ve come to expect here, right? [So, this is it, huh? The gutter of the internet. Would explain the smell of this place lately. – Ed.]
Our buffoon is soon informed that there is no more the wounded master can teach him, all that remains is to practice what he’s learned. You know what this means, don’t you? Sure you do. The movie doesn’t give it to you right away…but sure enough, the wounded master’s presence is discovered and, after taking on much of the school as well as the master who he’d broken three ribs of way back in the day, the wounded one makes his exit. While it should go without saying, this hasn’t helped the wound any. And, just as you’d expect, who does our wounded master encounter upon his exit? Why, the Three Evils, of course. A fight ensues and, surprise surprise, he’s overwhelmed. The killing strike is…well…sigh, there’s no gentle way to put this…a kick in the balls.
I’m going to repeat that. After a long, protracted fight…you know, just like in all kung fu movies…the killing blow is a kick in the nuts.
Not just any old kick in the cojones though. Nope. As the wounded master falls to the ground, he falls on a well-placed upright foot…and a blood-curdling yell ensues as gravity does the rest…because, hey, who wouldn’t?
Back at the school…ah, shit. I just realized, I’m doing it again…the old Interstellar play-by-play. Let’s stop there, since I’ve covered the major things…boobs and the art of the fatal groin smashing. How about my thoughts on the film. Well, the fight choreography and wire work are all pretty well done, as you’d expect. The voice dubbing is okay…but the acting of those voices is over the top…also as you’d expect. I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the ‘buffoon as the hero’ story type in general…and this film didn’t do anything to sway my opinion otherwise. To its credit, the film does really try to be equal in both action and comedy and calls to mind other older Hong Kong films wherein they’re very much like American films in the 40s…where they really try to squeeze in as much as they can…comedy, action, drama, songs, dance numbers, practically anything and everything. My Young Auntie is the one that comes quickest to mind. [Also from 1980 in a strange coincidence! – Ed.]
Overall, the film is enjoyable for its fights but can grate with its attempts at outright slapstick comedy. The boobs and the fatal nutshot help to grease the wheels, but I can’t say I’ll be revisiting this one