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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

RETURN OF BASTARD SWORDSMAN -- DVD review by porfle


Picking up where the previous film left off, director Chin-Ku Lu serves up another blazing batch of kung fu and swordplay with RETURN OF BASTARD SWORDSMAN (1984).  As a sequel, it doesn't quite scale the dizzying heights of its predecessor, but on its own terms it's still a pretty wild tale.

Having defeated the villain Fu Yu Xue with his Silkworm Skill, Yun Fei Yang has taken a leave of absence from the Wudang clan and retired to the seaside with his sweetheart Lun Wan Er.  But two things will force him to return.  One is the slaughter of the Wudangs by old nemesis Dugu Wu Di, whose Fatal Skill has progressed to such a level that he now challenges Yun Fei Yang and his Silkworm Skill to a death duel.  The other is a new enemy, the Japanese Ega clan, who have declared war on the Wudangs, the Wu Di, and everyone else in China. 

Mochitsuki Soryu Han, leader of the Ega, wields something known as Phantom Skill, which might be more accurately dubbed "Heart Throw-Up Skill."  Whatever the name, it has to be seen to be believed.  A scalding blast of colored steam shoots out of his chest, which then begins to expand and contract like a bellows.  Grabbing his opponent from behind in a sort of sinister spoon position as his chest continues to pump, he controls the victim's heartbeat in a way that forces the heart itself to eject from the poor slob's mouth.  It's not something you see every day, and it's just one of the typically weird visuals to be found in a Chin-Ku Lu film.


A fortune teller named Li Bu Yi throws in with Yang and Wan Er as they travel to confront Wu Di (whom Ega has framed for the Wudang slaughter) and his fighting skills come in handy as there are bushels of Ega assassins bursting out of the foliage wherever they go.  Several of these fight scenes, while well-staged and full of action, are of the meat-and-potatoes variety.  It isn't until Yang and Wu Di first go at it that we see some of the previous film's magical weirdness come into play, with plenty of good wirework, unique fight choreography, and eye-candy cartoon animation effects.  The editing here seems even more rapid-fire than before.   

After Yang is defeated by Wu Di's new-and-improved Fatal Skill and the good guys are forced to flee, there's an extended subplot with Wan Er and Li Bu Yi seeking the help of a legendary doctor named "Papa."  The dying Yang is taken to the cave of the Frigid Pool to be treated, where they discover something called the Reincarnation Rock.  With various plot threads weaving their way in different directions, the story tends to meander almost to the point of boredom at times, although there's always something strange and intriguing popping up to keep us involved.

Somewhat more somber than the earlier BASTARD SWORDSMAN (and nowhere near as hysterically freaky as this director's borderline-insane HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD), the film shoehorns in several overtly "funny" characters whose antics range from entertaining to irritating.  There's an amusing scuffle between two fake fortune tellers early on ("Get out of here!  You're interfering with my feng shui!" one of them barks), and the elder masters of the Wudang clan are bundles of comically frayed nerves as they quake, cower, and fret over their impending doom. 

Worst of all is when Papa's medical rival, the Ghost Doctor, sends three inept assassins whose blatant mugging makes the Three Stooges look like Sir Cedric Hardwicke.  As usual, the main bad guys revel in their evilness by frequently bursting into strident gales of forced laughter, which is always a delight.  But the most genuinely funny thing about the film is how the utterly insane fight sequences are served up in such a straightfaced manner.
 

What really kicks the film into gear as we near the climax are the two main match-ups we've been waiting for--Ega versus Wu Di, and Yang versus whoever wins.  Here's where all the fanciful supernatural surrealism returns in full force, with the opponents flying all over the place, launching objects by force of will, and whipping up colorful animated force beams to shoot at each other.  It's a lot like those "Star Wars" scenes with Jedis using the Force against each other, only a lot more gleefully bizarre and frenetic.  The inevitable clash between Phantom "Heart Throw-Up" Skill and Silkworm Skill is about as nutty as you'd imagine.  (My favorite line: "How dare you try to humiliate me with that drumstick!")

The DVD from Funimation is in 16:9 with Mandarin mono and English stereo soundtracks.  Subtitles are in English.  No extras save for some trailers for other Funimation releases.

I didn't enjoy this sequel as much as the first film (although some express a preference for it) and found some passages a little ponderous and uninvolving.  Still, there's more than enough furious action and mindboggling magic in RETURN OF BASTARD SWORDSMAN to make it a must for Shaw Brothers fans. 


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