7 December 2002 | BrianDanaCamp
Great fights with top kung fu stars, undermined by low comedy
MASTER OF DISASTER (aka THE TREASURE HUNTERS, 1982) offers a top-ranked kung fu cast, a steady stream of superb fight sequences and some high-quality production values. Anything that stars both Alexander Fu Sheng and Gordon Liu is automatically a must-see for any kung fu fan, especially when the chief villain turns out to be Wang Lung Wei, a regular heavy who had fought both stars several times before their co-starring turn here. However, fans must be willing to put up with two major drawbacks: a very slim plot and a heavy dose of slapstick comedy on the part of two of the stars and several supporting players.
The plot has to do with a search for some kind of hidden treasure and a trail of bodies left behind by someone also on the search. Fu Sheng plays a gambler and thief who hooks up with an idle rich kid played by Chang Chan Peng (who was "introduced" in this film but seems to have had a very short career thereafter), who sells Fu Sheng on the idea of seeking out the lost treasure of the late Chang Po Chu. At one point they break into the home of an elderly antiques dealer (played by the film's director, Liu Chia Yung) who knows kung fu and fights them before they make off with a stack of letters from the deceased with which to look for clues. The two "heroes" are criminals and thieves and highly dishonorable, yet we're supposed to find their antics funny.
Gordon Liu plays a traveling Buddhist monk with a five-man entourage of kung fu-fighting student monks. Wang Lung-Wei plays the nobleman, Lord Mo, who's also seeking the treasure and kills anyone else on the search, while placing blame for the killings on the gentle monk. Lord Mo has a very pretty female sidekick (Yang Ching Ching), who wields a mean sword and delivers a high kick of her own. Why any of these characters, aside from the monks, feels entitled to the treasure or feels they have a clear lead to its whereabouts is never adequately explained.
A goofy cross-eyed police chief (To Siu Ming) is constantly interfering with the efforts of Fu Sheng and his partner and he brings into the fray a force of sword-wielding constables. There is lots of action, including several sprawling melées involving multiple kung fu fighting combatants, all staged on lavish Shaw Bros. sets by Liu Chia Yung (aka Lau Kar Wing, brother of famed Shaw Bros. director Liu Chia Liang, aka Lau Kar Leung). One sequence involves a very clever maneuver dubbed the "five-monk array." However, the film is padded with comic scenes that often go on too long, most notably a sequence in a library where the two heroes are looking for a clue while under attack by an assassin disguised as a shelf of books, all while the cross-eyed captain and his men decide to search the place.
The film was directed by Liu Chia Yung (Lau Kar Wing) and suffers from the distinct lack of a moral edge that the director's brother would have given the proceedings. Lau Kar Leung knew how to introduce comic elements into a serious plot without one undermining the other (see DIRTY HO and LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF KUNG FU, to name two). Unfortunately, the normally competent Wing (who also directed HE HAS NOTHING BUT KUNG FU and ODD COUPLE), did not have a light enough hand and he lays on the comedic bits too thickly here. The film often descends into a free-for-all, fun to watch for the performances, but not one to take seriously. The tape available for review features a letter-boxed transfer, a welcome feature that enables us to see all of the action rather than have it cut off on the sides by a full-frame transfer.