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Monday, April 11, 2016


Making just about every other movie in the world seem slow-moving and mundane in comparison, HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD (1983) is about as close to a total cinematic freak-out as you could imagine.

Wan Ching Chung and his wife are killed by white-haired, bushy-eyebrowed Grand Master Jing Yin (Leanne Lau) and her associate Monster Yu (Jason Pai Piao) after they're forced to reveal the location of the Creed of the Holy Flame.  The Phantom (Philip Kwok) swoops in and rescues the dead couple's baby boy Wan Tien Sau, pledging that in 18 years the boy will return to get revenge.  Jing Yin takes their baby girl Dan Fung and raises her as a warrior in the all-female Er Mei clan, telling her that the Phantom killed her parents.

Eighteen years later, Wan Tien Sau (Max Mok) is sent off to seek the Holy Flame.  Along the way, he rescues the beautiful Juan Er (Mary Jean Reimer) from the evil Blood Sucking Clan and she inadvertently gains great power in her index finger after touching an enchanted snake's bladder. 

Meanwhile, Jing Yin, who possesses a Yin version of the Holy Flame, sends Dan Fung to avenge herself against the Phantom and retrieve the Holy Flame's Yang counterpart, which will give Jing Yin great power.  This sets the stage for a series of battles like you wouldn't believe between Wan Tien Sau, Dan Fung, Jing Yin and Monster Yu, Monster Yu's impetuous young apprentice Duan, Golden Snake Boy, the wacky Eight Righteous Clans, and Juan Er's Mighty Finger.

I just don't know what to think about this movie.  It's like taking an acid trip on a rollercoaster.  I'd call it cartoonish, but I doubt if even Tex Avery ever made a cartoon with such a breakneck pace and rapid-fire editing, nor such a dizzying, non-stop bombardment of bizarre images. 

Director Tony Liu Jun-guk couldn't be less concerned with how realistic the wirework is, which doesn't matter anyway because characters continuously zip around all over the place in fast-motion like a bunch of flying speed freaks.  In addition to this is the precision fight choreography that is quite impressive, and lots of colorful FX animation.

The characters also display a wonderful variety of super-powers.  The Phantom's main weapon is his "Ghostly Laugh"--he sits crosslegged and convulses with broad, forced laughter, creating a deadly cyclone all around him which terrifies Jing Yin and Monster Yu until they learn how to make their ears close up by themselves. 

In return, they attack with the horrific Bone Incineration By Fire and Merry-Go-Round techniques.  Wan Tien Sau is able to make his Devil Sword fly around as though he were operating it with an invisible remote control.

Blaring music and an endless cacophony of sound effects bombard the viewer along with the freakish visuals.  One of the best sequences is when a 1,000-year-old corpse, which Lam May Heung brought home from a trip out West, comes to life spouting English phrases such as "I KILL YOU!" and, sure enough, decides to kill him. 

Another is Wan Tien Sau's search for the Holy Flame inside the Moon Cavern, where he's attacked by cool cartoon ghosts and giant Chinese text that pops off the floor and flies around trying to do him in.

From the moment this utterly kooky film bursts out of the gate it just doesn't stop, plunging headlong through a rapid-fire succession of breathtakingly off-the-wall scenes until the hilarious conclusion.  Possibly the downright nuttiest movie I've ever seen, ever, HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD is funny, exciting, stupefying, and wonderfully endearing.



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