18 August 2006 | winner55
remarkable - if sometimes bewildering
there's two things one has to get past to like this film - first, there's no 'drunken boxing' style here; second, the first half-hour of the film is so loopy, you may want to know what planet you just stepped onto.
this film is actually part of a tradition that has no comparison outside china - part magic show, part low-brow comedy, part juggling and acrobatics, part martial arts, part folk-lore - basically a kind of circus-entertainment that was lost to the west long ago.
part of what makes this hard to follow is that the traditions of magic in china, besides being simply different than those in the west, are also far more complex, since china has been civilized longer, and to a greater extent, than the west has yet achieved. all magic derives from formula; but china's traditional formulas are a little difficult to grasp - there are four magicians in this film, but it is unclear to this westerner why they can each perform certain magic and not others, and why they need to perform straight-out martial arts on occasion, despite their magic.
in any event, after a while, the characters grew on me and i came to like the show - and as the film progresses, there's more and more action, more rapidly paced; so after a while, the cultural differences ceased to matter.
one historic note; beginning with snake in eagle's shadow, yuen woo ping made a number of classic, realistically staged kung-fu comedies and tragedies, culminating in the thinly veiled family memoir, 'secret master' - less than a year after that film was made, this one appeared, and began a set of films spinning 180 degrees in another direction entirely, before yuen regrouped with the classic 'hero among heroes', or 'legend of the red dragon' as it has been retitled for recent u.s. re-release. most of the films of this mid-period are, to put it mildly, a bit off-the-wall, at least according to western standards, and it's not sure why yuen went down this route. most of them - including this one - are not to everyone's taste, even among martial-arts fans; but they're all worth seeing, at least once. they certainly show a different and remarkable - if sometimes bewildering - side to a many-faceted talent of martial arts film-making.