FFWD REW

The dead kick ass in Kung Fu Zombie

There’s a kung fu ghost and a kung fu vampire in there too.

K ung Fu Zombie (1982) starts with a Chinese wizard gleefully performing a black magic rite in a graveyard. The happy bouncy music combined with the wizard’s childlike enthusiasm makes this scene considerably less dark than it normally would be. A bit of voice-over narration assures us that despite the levity of this corpse-reviving scene the dark powers of the Mao Shan are not to be messed with. Tell that to the happy-go-lucky wizard who is clapping his cymbals and chuckling as he shoulder-rolls all over the place. On cue the dead rise from their graves and comically dog pile on a dude with big muttonchop sideburns who protests in a voice muffled by a stack of mouldering corpses. Whoops! Wizard dude claps the cymbals some more and the dead guys back off allowing sideburns guy to stand up and explain the plot.

It seems that sideburns guy is a bank robber out for revenge against the cop who put him away for five years. (We see the foiled bank robbery in a hilariously sped-up flashback.) The cop is played by unstoppable martial arts dynamo Billy Chong so clearly a regular ambush isn’t going to cut it. Instead ol’ muttonchops is planning one of the most insane murder plots imaginable.

Here’s the plan: the bank robber has hired the wizard to raise the dead in the form of the usual Chinese hopping vampires. The dead guys will ambush Billy causing him to fall into a hidden pit landing in a spike-lined coffin. Hey what could possibly go wrong with a setup like that?

I realize that revenge plots in movies like these are never simple but if you just want to push somebody into a spike pit do you really have to invoke arcane forces to raise the dead in order to do it? That just seems unnecessarily complex. Anyhoo the plan goes hilariously awry. After plenty of wacky near misses with the bad guys constantly almost falling into the pit (making scared faces and pinwheeling their arms naturally) the inevitable happens and the bank robber winds up dead in the spiky coffin with a pile of vampires heaped on top of him.

Now the bank robber is an angry ghost who bullies the wizard into finding a fresh body for him to reincarnate into. They go shopping for corpses at the local morgue and accidentally wind up reviving an unstoppable vampire with a big scar on his face. Scarface vampire also has a grudge against Billy Chong and he stomps away with a haughty sneer while the theme music from James Bond plays in the background. We’ll get back to this guy later.

Meanwhile Billy Chong is practising kung fu with his shirt off because he’s Billy Chong and that’s what Billy Chong does. His abusive dad keeps yelling at him and having heart attacks. The wizard and the bank robber’s ghost try to steal the dad’s body but the old guy keeps recovering from his heart attacks foiling the resurrection attempts. Finally a botched spell turns dad into some kind of vengeful walking corpse.

Up until this point the wizard has been walking around with the ghost (portrayed by a straw hat floating along on a string) and cheerfully coming up with insane schemes. Now that there’s a vampire an angry ghost and Billy Chong’s resurrected dad wandering around the wizard and two comic relief henchmen decide to play it safe. We learn that the undead cannot enter temples or jail cells. They also can’t see you if you wear a hat made out of leaves. All three solutions are attempted; henchman No. 1 shaves his head and joins a monastery henchman No. 2 gets himself arrested and the wizard wears an embarrassingly dorky leaf hat. These methods work until they don’t and the whole thing ends with a massive showdown between Billy Chong and the scar-faced James Bond vampire guy.

Kung Fu Zombie is no masterpiece but it’s got plenty of wacky comedy supernatural weirdness and vicious kung fu battles. Check it out.

Tags: