The Buddhist Fist (1980)

The Buddhist Fist PosterSay hello to the first and certainly not the last martial arts film on the chopping block this summer, in my relentless search for obscure movies of all shapes and sizes. The 70’s and 80’s were filled with kung fu movies, and there were certainly a lot of cheaply made ones, and The Buddist Fist is one of them, and very often it’s more like a slapstick comedy than an action film.

The story involves two childhood friends – one an aspiring barber and experienced kung fu fighter named Shang, and the other a monk named Sui Ling – who search their godfather, who has been missing for two months, and find themselves entangled in a conspiracy involving a jade Buddha statue. After a series fights, Shang and another friend eventually find the people are trying to kill them, along with the secret of who kidnapped their godfather.

The story moves on at very fast pace, and that’s pretty much inevitable in martial arts films, because the plot always takes a backseat to incredible action scenes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking nothing else happens. A lot of crazy things happen in this film, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t fill you in on some of it. The film opens with children fighting each other with kung fu, and not long afterwards we’re treated to an attempted theft of a jade Buddha that’s thwarted by a lazy minder who is somehow a demonstrably awesome fighter, and we also see Shang accidentally shave off a man’s moustache and frantically attempt to restore it. Of course, that’s as much as I can tell you without spoiling it for you.

The plot is rather silly, but it’s not bad. What’s even sillier is the acting. Of course I’m watching the English dub (the original title of this film was Fo zhang luo han quan), and it sounds as if they got British and American actors doing either comically bad American accents or silly Asian-sounding accents. Either way, whatever the film-makers were originally intending probably isn’t best represented with this dub, unless the film was supposed to be a campy action-comedy, in which case I’d think they’ve outdone themselves.

It’s definitely easy to spot a low-budget film, and this film is a pretty obvious example. Some parts of the film look fairly cheap, almost as though it was made in the early 1970’s, but it’s not completely bad. If anything, the action scenes make up for this in spades. The film displays a really energetic style of fight choreography that lends itself to some very over the top fight scenes that are amazing to watch, and sometimes and come across as unintentional comedy, especially because there’s so many of them spread across the film and each one displays varying degrees of silliness.

For some of the more avid martial arts film fans, this is apparently considered a classic, and I can see why they’d like it. The film is a carnival of high-octane action, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. It is incredibly silly and it does have kind of a wafer-thin plot, but that silliness is part of the fun, and often it’s better when films don’t take on an overly serious approach.

  • Score: 68%
  • Grade: C

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