Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fist of Unicorn (Qi Lin Zhang, 1973)

Hello Hai! Karate fans! We give you the good, the bad and the ugly here and next up for your viewing experience is a film that might fall into a wasteland between the two categories. Why? Well that will be detailed in full as we take a look at Fist Of Unicorn!! This flick stars Siu Kei-Lung, who was commonly referred to as Unicorn Chan or Little Unicorn. You'll recognize him right off the bat from his role as the skeptical Jimmy from Bruce Lee's Return Of The Dragon. This film does have an appearance by Bruce, who was also the action director.(More on that later. Trust.)The film also boasts a rather noticeable ensemble of actors, mainly Yasuaki Kurata, Whang In Sik, Kitty Meng Chui, Tang Ti as well as a couple of interesting cameos. So, let's examine this kung-fu exploitation rarity...

Fist Of Unicorn starts out with Cripple Wu (Tang Ti) and another two villains basically keen to split some loot. Cripple Wu winds up killing off his boys thanks to his special cane chock full of blades. He then stumbles upon a family by the river who overheard his foul actions. He kills the father without any delay, and winds up trying to rape the mother. When she resists, he stabs her to death. The boy tries to fight, even when getting a slash on his hand. What does he get for his troubles? KICKED BODILY INTO THE RIVER.(Side note: I laughed uncontrollably at that. I realize it's foul but when you see it...yeah.) We then jump forward to see Lung(Unicorn) all grown up getting some sort of tattoo on his palm that's not exactly henna from a priest along with some Buddhist teachings. He then goes for his 'final lesson' from his martial arts teacher. And here is where it gets weird.

We wind up finding out that his unnamed 'teacher' who demonstrates the 'Heaven and Earth' fist technique is in fact, Bruce Lee. Or rather, a STAND IN. This is where the film just crashes and burns worse than Evel Knievel ever did. How? Well you never see his teacher's FACE. At this point in the film, at least the international print, we get an odd montage of jump cuts and a flash of Bruce Lee's face in the midst of it as 'the sell'. Then we go to MORE CREDITS that include an artistic effect meant to show the power of the 'Unicorn Palm' but just looks like the throbbing you get after a headache or someone slammed a car door on his hand. We then get into another series of outtakes that show Bruce more prominently behind the scenes. Can you say "WTF?!!"

We find Lung roaming the countryside, sleeping under bridges and such. He befriends Siu Fu (Meng Hoi)who gets his mom to hire him for their shop. As a bonus, he gets Lung to teach him some kung fu. At this moment, we find ourselves introduced to the Wong family. They are the local baddies for this picture. Ah Lung winds up crossing them, particularly Stuttering Wong(Gam Dai). This is no good, especially for business the Wongs have with the Japanese villains San Tin(Wei Pin-Ao) and Sun(Kurata). Ah Lung winds up teaming with an acrobat(Kitty Meng Chui) And of course, Cripple Wu lurks somewhere in the offing. Ah Lung has sworn to maintain his temper and not fight, but now he's pressed into having to protect the ones he cares for.

Let's face facts - this movie is probably one of the worst examples of exploitation you can find in the genre. The acting is barely okay at best, with a run-of-the-mill plot. Unicorn by this time was a veteran actor in Hong Kong, having started around the same time as Bruce Lee did. This was the source of their strong friendship, even as Lee went to the States. Outside of this role, he had some parts in Shaw Studios films and indie pictures. No doubt he was able to call in some favors, Lee being the absolute biggest as he was fresh off the success of The Big Boss. Other actors here of note are the always sniveling Wei Pin-Ao with a fascist moustache, Gam Dei who it seems mostly was the comic relief and the taekwondo 'leg fighter' extraordinaire Whang In Sik himself as a thug. Two other roles should stand out here: Ji Han Jae makes an appearance. He's best known for his role in Hapkido starring Angela Mao, which we covered here. Jackie Chan is here as well, in an extra role. You'll have to be quick to spot him. Outside of that though, the film is blah. You get a lot of stop-start action in the fight scenes. It's almost as if they had a set budget(not surprising since it was one of only three films by the Star Sea Production Company) and they weren't trying to surpass it. Exhibit A? Tang Ti not only directed but he wrote the cornball script. Exhibit B? The fake blood doesn't even look like blood, it looked like some old gravy. And Exhibit C? MORE GODAWFUL GRAPHICS. To that end, the graphics making up the 'Unicorn Palm'. Observe below:

Yeah. That's the extent of it. Now of course, this brings us back to the selling point of the film, Bruce Lee. His appearances, which last no more than a minute combined. The word is, the producers made the move to secretly film Bruce as he was helping to craft the fight choreography. Who was one of the producers? Unicorn Chan. Yep, he wasn't above using his buddy's stature to help sell films. Which is why when it went overseas, the film was entitled 'Bruce Lee and I'.(Not to be confused with Shaw's own version in 1976.)When Bruce got wise to what happened, word was he was outraged. Unicorn, to be honest, was trying his damnedest to be a bigger name. Never happened, as he would wind up in supporting roles until his untimely demise in a car accident in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1987. So what's the overall verdict on Fist Of Unicorn? If you are a person curious about such bad projects like these or that rabid of a fan, understand you can only really get through this once and Be GOOD. It's available on DVD, most likely in a discount bin near you.


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