Writing Kung Fu (1979)

Posted in Reviews by - May 27, 2014
Writing Kung Fu (1979)

Bolo Yeung‘s first and only film as director is a messianic allegory, a deep, unsettling study on the rich-poor divide, and a testament to faith in a world corrupted by wealth and power. There is a poignancy and anger to the narrative which makes it more than just routine chopsocky, with Bolo casting himself as the embodiment of pure evil. Dressed in white (the colour of death in China), he poses as a Grim Reaper-esque salt trader to infiltrate a small ragtag community of orphans, alcoholics and unscrupulous profiteers, before bumping them off with the hope of stealing their treasure. A child killer, rapist, and the sadistic assassin at the helm of a mining attack some 10 years ago, Bolo is a flute playing harbinger of doom in a bleak backwater whose only hope is John Cheung’s troubled scholar. His attempts to offer the community’s orphaned children an education sees him run out of town as a useless do-gooder. He is told books are no use in the modern world, and the kids are next seen learning how to fight at a kung fu school. Cheung hits the bottle but is saved by the lowly exploits of a homeless man who teaches him kung fu through a wonderful sequence of poetry and movement. By developing his own style of ‘calligraphy kung fu’, Bolo takes a very literal stance on the meaning of the age-old proverb ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Brain meets brawn in the film’s final physical showdown with Bolo asking of Cheung, “where is your god now?” The film’s downbeat ending is symbolic and poses a moral conundrum: who are the heroes in a world where greed is rewarded and the plight of the honest man is ignored? And all this from the guy who crushes skulls in Enter the Dragon. Very impressive.

AKA: Chinese Samson; Hot Dog Kung Fu

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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