Monkey Kung Fu feels like a Jackie Chan
film in the way the fight scenes were choreographed. Not only are everyday
items integrated into the fight scenes, but there is also a comedic tone to the
entire endeavor. It makes for a highly enjoyable and entertaining experience
all the way through, while also being one of the more impressive of the Shaw
Brothers kung fu films. Released as Stroke of Death in North America, Monkey
Kung Fu is hardly the most famous Hong Kong martial arts movie, but it
deserves to be better known. Hopefully the new 88 Films Blu-ray release will
introduce the 1979 film to new audiences.
Directed by Mar
Lo, Monkey Kung Fu follows the misadventures of Wei Chung (Ching Siu-Tung),
a rambunctious prisoner who comes into possession of one half of a wooden coin
after choosing the same cell as a one-eyed master who is about to be executed.
Rather than the traditional mentor relationship seen in kung fu films, Wei
Chung basically just picks enough fights with the master to pick up a few tricks
and impresses him enough to be the recipient of the half coin.
When the coin is
nearly taken from him, Wei Chung escapes the prison with the help of accomplice
and fellow prisoner Zhou (Hau Chiu-Sing), who is revealed to possess the other
half of the coin. This pair form an unlikely partnership, and the movie delves
into buddy action comedy for much of the remaining runtime. Together the pair
discover that the coin reveals the location of a book containing the secrets to
a legendary kung fu technique. This leads to the film’s training montages,
which are among the most creative in any kung fu film.
What makes Monkey
Kung Fu so enjoyable is an element of fun. There is little about the movie
that takes itself seriously, even to the open-ended final frame. Nearly everything
leads to a battle, but they are creative and comedic enough to keep even the
violence lighthearted. There are plenty of scenes that sidetrack the story for
a bit more extraneous fun, including a battle Wei Chung has with a prostitute
in her bed. The fights become slightly more serious when a gang of martial
artists hunt down Wei Chung and Zhou in search of the coin, and then the book,
but not by much. Tonal consistency is one thing this film has going for it. One
release by 88 Films includes a high definition presentation remastered from the
original 35mm negatives. Along with the original Cantonese language audio and
newly translated subtitles, the dubbed North American soundtrack is also
included. The additional special features include:
- Audio commentary by Kenneth Brorsson and Phil Gillon of the
Podcast On Fire Network
-Stunting Around - An Interview with Choreographer Tony Leung
-Slipcase and reversible sleeve with new artwork by R.P. “Kung
Fu Bob” O’Brien, with the original artwork on the opposite side of the sleeve.
-A booklet insert with artwork and an essay by Andrew Graves.
-A double-sided foldout poster
Special Features: 7/10