3 September 2004 | BrianDanaCamp
Four good performers in lightweight kung fu tale
OL' DIRTY KUNG FU is the new name given to MAD MAD KUNG FU (1979), available in the U.S. as part of the Wu Tang Collection line of retitled "old-school" kung fu releases. Not to be confused with Lau Kar Wing's DIRTY KUNG FU (1978), this one was directed by Chien Yuet San and stars Cliff Lok, Simon Yuen, Lee Hoi San and Chan Lung. The plot involves the search for the elusive "Bamboo Stick," an aged kung fu master played by Simon Yuen, who kills a local crime boss's son after taking the place of the son's forced bride on the wedding night. Lee Hoi San plays the crime boss who will stop at nothing to get Bamboo Stick. Chan Lung plays a respected courier, one of Bamboo Stick's former students, who is framed for theft and pursued by the gang, in the hopes that Bamboo Stick will come to help him. Cliff Lok plays a wandering aspiring kung fu student and noodle maker who is mistaken for Bamboo Stick after fighting off some thugs who attack a woman.
Chan Lung travels with Cliff and encourages the deception in the hopes that widespread admiration of Bamboo Stick will get them free lodgings and meals. (But wouldn't this deception attract Lee Hoi San and his men and thus put Chan Lung in danger? Don't ask, logic has never been a strong suit of these films.) Eventually Bamboo Stick re-emerges and helps Cliff develop his skills and come up with a strategy for defeating Lee Hoi San's "Iron Head" technique.
The big surprise here is seeing Chan Lung in a heroic fighting role. This mustachio'd, wide-faced actor usually played annoying bad guys quickly dispatched or, more often, comic relief. He's actually quite good here and, in a couple of clever scenes, uses "stealth" kung fu to help Cliff fight off better-skilled opponents and convince townsfolk that he's Bamboo Stick. It's also a pleasure to watch Simon Yuen in a major role. Yuen, the original "Drunken Master" himself, was the patriarch of the Yuen Clan (one of them being the famed Yuen Wo Ping) and he had a short burst of late popularity following his appearance in his son's DRUNKEN MASTER (1978), starring Jackie Chan, and crammed a lot of films, including this one, in the two years before he died (in 1980). Even though he's extensively doubled (by one of his sons) for the strenuous parts, his good humor and dexterity are much in evidence and a delight to watch. Lee Hoi San (sometimes spelled Li Hai Sheng), always a great villain, is particularly mean here and puts the three good guys through their grueling paces.
However, there's not a lot of great kung fu in this one. The problem is that Cliff Lok, an accomplished kung fu star in such films as RING OF DEATH, DUEL OF THE SEVEN TIGERS and KUNG FU GENIUS, is an amateur for much of this film's running time, so we never really see him strut his stuff like he's supposed to. The training scenes in the final section are kind of an afterthought. Some of his best scenes involve his noodle-making. (It's actually refreshing to see a kung fu hero working and making a living for a change--and to see people enjoying his noodles!) The final fight with Lee Hoi San is a good one, but it pales next to those in Cliff's other films, including his fight with Lee at the end of KUNG FU GENIUS. Still, it's always fun to watch these guys in action, especially when one of them, Chan Lung, is in such a change-of-pace role.