At the turn of the nineteenth century ex-official Nan Kit (Gordon Liu) conspires to overthrow the government and restore the infamous Manchu dynasty by mastering the Buddhist style of kung fu. Patriotic brothers Wun and Hung (Mike Wong Lung) set out to expose Nan Kit’s treachery. Yet their efforts are curtailed by Nan Kit’s scheming, Lady Macbeth-like sister (Sarah Sit Chi-Lin) with a surprise attack that separates the brothers and renders Hung a catatonic shell. Luckily Hung's sister Mei Rang (Kwak Eun-hyung), whose affection for her brother borders on the frankly incestuous and wandering healer Master Ko (Kim Ki-Ju) manage to restore his sanity. Shortly before being arrested Ko also puts Hung in touch with a mysterious masked kung fu master who teaches him the secret kung fu techniques (between doling out the genre-requisite physical and verbal abuse) he needs to challenge the near-invincible Nan Kit.
The presence of iconic martial arts star Gordon Liu, of 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and later Kill Bill (2003) fame, whose face featured prominently on the poster despite meagre screen-time, helped make Raiders of Buddhist Kung Fu one of the more popular films released by notorious schlock mogul Godfrey Ho. The opening credits on the international video release list Ho, best known for proliferating video stores in the Eighties and Nineties with his trashy cut-and-paste ninja quickies with bewildered looking American star Richard Harrison, as sole director. Yet in fact the original film was a South Korean production called Daehyeongchuldo by director Kwak Ji-un prior to additional scenes most likely filmed by Ho or else respected action director/actor Lam Hak-Ming. The original film appears to be a throwback to the po-faced patriotic actioners popular in the Seventies chopsocky heyday, but by 1983 looking decidedly old hat. Nevertheless genre purists typically embrace Raiders of Buddhist Kung Fu as an antidote to all that "arty", "pretentious" stuff released during the Hong Kong New Wave.
Gordon Liu fans have to sate themselves with brief glimpses his formidable physical prowess throughout a wayward narrative. In the meantime Lam Hak-Ming's intricate action choreography should sate their appetite. The plot, while fragmented, obtuse and periodically nonsensical, keeps wheeling on new characters to replace those it abruptly bumps off: kindly medicine man Master Ko; a sadistic Caucasian villain (John Kelly, probably not the same John Kelly that served as President Donald Trump's chief of staff, but you never know...) in gold robes; a Japanese samurai who gifts Nan Kit with a sword to cement good relations between their countries; the facially disfigured weirdo who switches from ally to villainous rapist; and the starving urchin whose pet (puppet) falcon serves as a handy deus ex machina at the finale where Nan Kit proves such a badass even the hero has a tough time. The film is so haphazardly assembled it fumbles the revelation of the masked master and pulls a freeze-frame ending before our hero can deliver the fatal blow. Yet somehow Ho keeps things compelling enough to keep viewers from fidgeting between frenetic fight scenes. Plus the plot really puts the heroes through an emotional wringer resulting in the odd moment of brutal pathos.