Lionsgate must truly believe that American audiences will blindly adore any foreign
martial arts release, just so long as the fight action never ceases until the credits
roll. Kung-Fu Master tests that theory by splicing together fight scenes from a
Chinese martial arts television series, sprinkling in a few minutes of plot, and
slapping a generic title in epic-looking font on the front of the DVD case.
Tan Zong, played by veteran martial arts actor Yuen Baio, is but a humble, kung-fu
master, Shaolin monk. His skills have unfortunately attracted the attention of the
Grand Commandant who wants Tan Zong to train his army. As a monk, he must detach
himself from worldly affairs and decline the offer. As the monk makes his way to
speak with the Grand Commandant, he is forced into a fight at every turn.
Through most of the film it seems as though every gang of weirdos within travelling
distance wants to pick a fight with the peaceful monk for no apparent reason. Poor
Tan Zong can barely take two steps without getting attacked with a coffin, musical
instruments, umbrellas, spears, benches, and swords, among other weapons
The early fight scenes are difficult to follow at times because of the frequent
camera close-ups of the action. Most of the fight scenes feature creative use of
weaponry and, if nothing else, make for amusing fights. It's an odd pleasure to
witness a Shaolin monk battle a coffin. Oh, and don't try to stab the monk. While
blunt objects exhibit at least some minor effectiveness, sharp and pointy metal
weapons bend like a flimsy piece of rubber when they strike Tan Zong's impervious
skin. Some of the fighting scenes are well choreographed, but just as many leave
you scratching your head and questioning what just happened. At some point in all
the madness you have to wonder why anyone ever bothers to attack Tan Zong with stabbing
The excellent finale features Tan Zong and his crew of twelve monks facing off against
an entire army and almost makes this movie worth checking out. However, there are
major issues with the movie itself that will turn off all but the most hardcore
fans of the genre.
Kung-Fu Master has a barely existent storyline. Admittedly, martial arts flicks
are hardly known for their Oscar-worthy, masterpiece plots. However, there should
be at least the illusion of reason for the nonstop fight sequences. I never bought
into the minimalist plot of some warlord wanting Tan Zong to either be his
drillmaster or be killed. At the end of the movie, Tan Zong is joined by his merry
band of monks--an interesting group, most of whom were conspicuously absent until
the final fight. There is a painfully obvious amount of missing characterization
and plot development. The story leaves too many questions unanswered and assumes
viewers are thrilled simply to watch pure, uninterrupted wire-fu for 95 straight
Lionsgate fails to mention that this "movie" is merely a clips show of the television series,
Legend of Shaolin Kungfu
II, the middle part of a 120-episode television series. That explains the
gaping plot holes at least. What might be an interesting story was hacked and trashed
into what American audiences really want: an orgasm of random martial arts violence.
Who cares why! That monk dude just beat up a gang of ninjas that attacked him with
Audio: The DVD includes English and Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. I listened
to the Mandarin 5.1 track for this review. The surrounds were barely used, but the
sound quality is decent for what I later discovered was originally a television
series. When the actors actually act they play their parts a bit too cartoony at times compared to the
expectations set by the DVD packaging, which seems to promise a serious, historical,
martial arts epic. "Hero. Warrior. Savior."
Video: The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The video quality
exhibits noticeable graininess and pixelization throughout, which is especially
visible in darker scenes. The video often looks cheap with the awkward camera panning--it's
like watching a soap opera on television that just happens to feature kung-fu fighting.
Overall, the video quality is shoddy at best.
Extras: There are some trailers included.
Final Thoughts: There's nothing that stands out in this abridged, 95 minute, best-fights
version of a 40-episode television series. I didn't find out the movie was a cut-up version
of a series until after I initially watched it, which made me go from mere
dislike to pure hatred for this DVD. Kung-Fu Master's story is nonexistent, the
characters are undeveloped, and the fights are lackluster until the phenomenal final
battle. Perhaps the fully fleshed out television series is much better than this
hodge-podge of kung-fu fighting. Until it's released in-full, we'll never know.
Martial arts film buffs might find some value here, but there are probably hundreds
of better kung-fu films than this one that are actually movies. Skip it.
Bobby is a programmer by trade and a wannabe writer. Check out his other reviews here. You can also check out his blog about harmless nonsense or follow him on Twitter