30 May 2004 | BrianDanaCamp
HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD - Wild Hong Kong fantasy spectacle
HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983) is a Shaw Bros. martial arts fantasy spectacular in the vein of ZU WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN (1983) and BUDDHA'S PALM (1982, also reviewed on this site). Characters don't so much walk as fly and don't so much deliver punches or kicks as shoot powerful supernatural rays from their swords, fingers or palms (depending on how well cultivated their "inner powers" are). There are probably more special effects per foot of film than in the two earlier films I cited. The action introduces eight major characters and at least that many minor ones and throws the fantasy martial arts action at us at such a furious pace that by the time it all ends at 85 minutes, we're immensely satisfied but still a bit greedy for more.
The plot has to do with two siblings, a boy and a girl separated as babies when their parents were killed by two villains and then raised by two rival martial arts masters (including one of the killers) and trained for a duel--to be conducted when the children reach the age of 18--to see who gets control of both the Yin and Yang Holy Flame Swords. The boy sibling, played by young Max Mok (of ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2 & 3 fame), is raised by Phantom (Philip Kwok/Kuo Chui from the Five Venoms), whose chief weapon is his "ghostly laugh," while the sister (played by fighting actress Yang Ching Ching from EIGHT-DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER) is raised by Jin Yin of the Erh Mei clan (played by Liu Hsueh-hua). Interestingly, the Erh Mei sect is all female and is stocked with some of the most beautiful starlets seen in HK film. Actress Liu Hsueh-hua, who plays the aged, white-haired, but still-powerful Grand Master of the Erh Mei Sect, was all of 23 at the time of filming.
Max Mok's love interest is a young woman he saves from an attack and who practices a form of "snake bladder" kung fu. She is played by Mary Jean Reimer, aka Weng Ching Ching, a cute and perky actress (who was 18 at the time) who provides some of the film's best comic scenes. Another great HK actress of the time, Candy Wen Hsueh-erh (so impressive in SWORDSMAN AND ENCHANTRESS) appears as the mysterious black-clad Golden Snake Boy who pops up to help the good guys from time to time. Also on hand are kung fu vets Jason Pai Piao (as Monster Yu) and Chan Shen (as the head of Shaolin Temple), in addition to Philip Kwok.
The film was directed by Lu Chun Ku, who also directed SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT (1984, also reviewed on this site). It's a little lower-budgeted than usual for Shaw Bros. costume spectacles but more than makes up for it with an abundance of sheer imagination. Based on a Hong Kong comic book, it has all the color, flash, action, and fantasy-style violence of the best comic books. If you've seen and liked BUDDHA'S PALM and ZU WARRIORS, or Chor Yuen's lavish swordplay adventures (THE MAGIC BLADE, CLANS OF INTRIGUE, WEB OF DEATH, et al), then you're ready for HOLY FLAME. Just don't forget to practice your "ghostly laugh."