Hapless Hong Kong ad agency men Fai (Andy Lau) and Chi (Nat Chan Pak-Cheung) are sent to mainland China to buy illegal antiques for use in a campaign to sell hair tonic. Whilst escaping an ambush by trigger-happy Chinese soldiers, the boys stumble inside a vast subterranean cavern guarded by booby-traps and manage to revive Princess Yun Lo (Joey Wong), a mystical martial arts maiden imprisoned for seven hundred years since the Yuan Dynasty. The beautiful princess and her ditzy, but devoted handmaiden Hsiu Mun (Cutie Mui Siu-Wai) pass on a sacred martial arts manual from whence Fai learns the all-powerful kung fu style known as “Buddha’s Palm”, endowing him with all manner of cel-animated superpowers. Such abilities come in handy when he brings the girls back to modern Hong Kong. What Fai doesn’t know is another of the cavern’s formerly frozen occupants has followed him here. Villainous martial arts master Tien Chian (Yuen Wah) is in love with Princess Lo and wields unstoppable extendable kung fu feet.
The “Buddha’s Palm” is a mythical ultimate kung fu move that spawned a subgenre of outlandish martial arts fantasies dating all the way back to silent cinema. Stephen Chow Sing-Chi last wielded it onscreen at the climax of his Kung Fu Hustle (2004), but Taylor Wong gave Hong Kong film fans the palm’s definitive screen treatment with the bonkers Shaw Brothers classic: Buddha’s Palm (1981). Wong returned to the genre with Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic wherein he spoofed the whole phenomenon. Which is a little like George Lucas following Star Wars ten years later with Spaceballs!
Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic has all the right ingredients for a lively, engaging romp - Joey Wong playing yet another lovely lady ghost, Yuen Wah with giant supernatural cartoon feet, and (in the most infamous scene) the sudden appearance of a mystical hammer-wielding cartoon ninja turtle - but serves them up in lazy, haphazard fashion. Chief culprit is veteran schlockmeister Wong Jing whose shapeless screenplay doles out low-rent sitcom humour (a “boing!” sound effect accompanies every gag) and crass characterisations. Fai and Chi never rise above the level of self-serving dolts. While Chi uses his newfound superpowers to avoid paying his gambling debts, Fai puts his to good use by starring in a Buddha’s Palm themed hamburger commercial. Reduced to mere window dressing, Joey Wong smiles prettily whilst presumably drumming her fingers offscreen, although she re-teamed with Taylor Wong for the supernatural love story Fantasy Romance (1991).
Taylor Wong was born into a motion picture family. His father Wong Yiu had been a prominent Cantonese filmmaker in the 1960s. After getting his start in television, Wong signed with Shaw Brothers in 1980 and dabbled in a variety of genres with teen romance Behind the Yellow Line (1984) and the courtroom drama Law or Justice (1988) among his most critically-acclaimed works. Away from Shaw Brothers Wong had fruitful working relationship with Chow Yun-Fat, resulting in the ghost romance Spiritual Love (1987) and acclaimed triad thrillers Rich and Famous (1986), Tragic Hero (1986) and Triads: The Inside Story (1989). However after re-teaming with Andy Lau for another larky fantasy adventure, Three Swordsmen (1994), Wong lost the plot with his truly bizarre patchwork action/rom-com/rape-drama/superhero flick Deadly Dream Woman (1992) before ending his career with the sex comedy Girls Unbutton (1994).
Wong’s knowledge of Chinese film history is evident as he kicks off the film with vintage clips from old Buddha’s Palm movies and casts genre veterans Tso Tat-Wah and Lau Shun in in-joke minor roles. But the film is a lacklustre, oddly disheartening send-up of movies that were far wittier and imaginative. At least animation fans can enjoy some Who Framed Roger Rabbit style antics with the aforementioned cartoon ninja turtle, while Yuen Wah shows off his hitherto unheralded break-dancing skills.