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  Spiritual Kung Fu High Spirits
Year: 1978
Director: Lo Wei
Stars: Jackie Chan, James Tien, Mo Man Sau, Li Rung Chuen, Dean Shek, Ching Wong, Yuen Biao
Genre: Comedy, Martial Arts, Historical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Yilang (Jackie Chan) is a student of the Shaolin Temple, but is best known there for his foolish behaviour than his martial arts skills or adherence to the religious codes. He is regularly punished, but carries on in his own way regardless, committing such acts as making soup for his comrades from a variety of animals including a chicken, a frogs, snakes and earthworms, all of which he has collected in his pants. But there will be more important matters to concern him soon as a ninja breaks into the temple one night, knocking out Yilang who is supposed to be on watch and stealing away with a precious book of martial arts techniques that have been banned due to their viciousness. But who now has the secret of these fighting styles? And when will they choose to use them?

Spiritual Kung Fu, or Quan Jing as it was originally known, is interesting as an early Chan film, one of many nineteen-seventies efforts for director Lo Wei, as it features his sense of humour strongly and points to the way that his films would travel in the future, making him a global superstar in the process. And the quality of humour may be broad, but it does tickle the funny bone, introducing a collection of unruly spirits to teach Yilang a new combat style with which to fight the villain, James Tien - yes, some things never change and new technique must be learned as is traditional. However, you may have to wait around until the film is pretty much halfway over until you get to witness Chan in full flow.

That said, his comedy skills more than carry the plot up to that point, and indeed after it. No sooner has the leader of the temple warned that life will be more dangerous for the monks and disciples now that the deadly rules have been stolen, than what looks like a sparkler flies into the temple grounds from the skies. What this leads to is some effects work that wouldn't have looked out of place in seventies Doctor Who, as the sparkler has not only brought with it some long-hidden battle tenets, but five ghosts dressed in white, including glittery tutus, and long, shocking pink wigs crowned with models of animals representing their styles: crane, tiger, etc. Much is made of the disciples being scared by these spooks, but Yilang tames them by taking a piss on their heads and uncovering the special manual in the process. After this it's Agatha Christie style that is utilised when leading martial artists are found dead, and Chan gets to flex his muscles in lengthy setpieces with eighteen monks and the bad guys too. While not exactly slick, this film is reasonably entertaining and a good starting point for those interested in Chan's work from this decade.

[Hong Kong Legends' Region 2 DVD has a trailer and a featurette showing what a nice job they've made of restoring this title as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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