18 December 2004 | BrianDanaCamp
SHADOW BOXING / SPIRITUAL BOXER 2 supernatural kung fu comedy
THE SHADOW BOXING (1979) is also known as SPIRITUAL BOXER 2 but is not exactly a sequel to THE SPIRITUAL BOXER (1975). It's by the same director, Lau Kar Leung, and features some of the same actors, including the star, Wang Yu (sometimes spelled Wong Yu and not to be confused with One-Armed Swordsman Jimmy Wang Yu), but has little in common with the earlier film, which was a wry treatment of Chinese folk superstitions and told the story of a conman who used villagers' beliefs in traditional gods to run various scams. There were no supernatural elements in that film. In this one, however, the main characters are a pair of "corpse herders," played by Wang Yu and Lau Kar Wingthe director's brotherwhose job is to deliver corpses for burial in their home villages. They do this by putting hand-inked paper spells on the corpses (called "vampires" in the subtitles here) and making them hop from town to town on their journey at night. It's a far-fetched supernatural premise based on Chinese folklore that's treated in a matter-of-fact fashion that is completely at odds with the director's treatment of folk gods in the earlier film. Such treatment also means that the supernatural elements are never given the kind of free rein we would later see in such over-the-top horror/martial arts/action comedies as Sammo Hung's SPOOKY ENCOUNTERS (aka ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND, 1980) and Ricky Lau's MR. VAMPIRE (1985). As a result, things get pretty tedious by the time the already slim plot kicks into gear late in the film. This plot involves the use of the "corpse herd" by a fugitive seeking to pass through checkpoints and avoid capture by pursuing soldiers. A lot of comic possibilities are offered up by this plot twist, few of which are adequately exploited.
The cast includes Gordon Liu (as the fugitive), Wilson Tong as an army officer, and Lee Hoi San as a crime boss working in collusion with corrupt army officers. Wang Yu's female sidekick is played by Huang Hsin-Hsiu, who's cute and spunky and may be familiar to fans from her earlier starring role for the director in SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978), also reviewed on this site.
There are few fights in the film. There is one spectacular brawl in a gambling house about halfway through and then a big fight at the end. The unconvincing gimmick here is that Wang Yu can only fight to win when "vampire chants" are called out to him (e.g. "Vampire rises from the dead"), similar to THE SPIRITUAL BOXER in which Wang Yu could only win by having someone invoke various gods to inspire the necessary maneuvers. This is easily one of Lau Kar Leung's weakest films (along with LADY IS THE BOSS) and I'd recommend this only to the director's most ardent fans. The rest of you should simply seek out the Celestial Pictures' remastered Shaw Bros. DVDs of Lau's masterpieces, CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS, EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN, THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, SHAOLIN MANTIS, LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF KUNG FU and 8-DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER.