Today I watched Chin-Ku Lu’s Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983)
As old school wuxia films go, the story here is pretty standard. Two evil martial arts masters chase down two good martial artists who hide the secret to the titular holy flame but the bad guys kill them before the information can be revealed. The good guys had two children though, a baby boy and girl, the boy is taken in by a crazy old hermit and the girl is raised by one of the villains. They grow up and the son, knowing the true fate of his parents, has plans to take revenge with the old hermit, but first he must master the holy flame style and his sister’s presence in the enemy camp will complicate matters significantly. What sets this film apart from it’s standard plot, is the madcap energy, wild special effects, and off kilter sense of humour.
Holy Flame of the Martial World is mile a minute carnival sideshow of wuxia action and absurdity. This film is a mountain of genre cheese presented in a manner that verges on parody. This is the world of internal energy attacks and magical martial arts of the laser blasting and undead animating variety. While the effects used to bring much of this magic to life are quite cheap, there is totally a charm to them that is amplified by this film’s over the top deliver. The effects are really what give it that carnival appeal and they hearken back to the origins of kung-fu cinema in the festival stage plays and travelling performance troupes of pre-modern China. It’s also just a wonderfully creative presentation, all the fireworks and pre-digital animated monsters just appeal to me.
I am a big fan of these kinds of movies, the most magical of the wuxia fantasies tend to also be the most over the top and wild. I find films with this much energy and weirdness to be quite infectious and inspiring, it is a very different view of the magical from the often stodgy halls of western high fantasy. These are the worlds of karmic justice and the highest of high flying action, where villains are not some external threat but those of us who have failed to live morally. I wonder if there are any Chinese movie critics who find similar interest in the comparatively strange worlds of western fantasy. 5/5