Friday, May 15, 2015

The Weird Man (Shen tong shu yu bao xiao wang, 1983)

Howdy Hai!Karate faithful!!! As you well know, we strive to cover martial arts films in their glory - and also in their shame and schlock. The next film we're going to chop it up about falls more towards the latter than the former in this regard. And that film is The Weird Man, straight from the latter days of the Shaw Brothers Studio motion picture era!! The film stars Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, Jason Pai Piao. Chu Ko and Wong Lik at the forefront of the cast. The director is none other than the renowned Chang Cheh. The film is apparently based on the ancient Chinese historical novel, Romance of The Three Kingdoms. The novel itself is a chronicle of events surrounding the fall of the Han Dynasty and the three super-states Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu that rose to power afterwards starting in 169 A.D. to 280 A.D. The film is supposed to be Cheh's own vision of those events. But after seeing the film, I wondered about his sight for real. Before I get into that, let's dive into the plot shall we?

The Weird Man begins with court intrigue as Prime Minister Cao Cao (Pai Piao) plots to assassinate General Sun Ce(Chiu Gwok). But his plans are discovered by Taoist priest Zuo Ci(Kwan Feng). It would seem that it is too late, as Sun is ambushed in the forest but SOMEHOW survives a mess of arrows to the chest. As he is brought home to recuperate, Zuo Ci goes to Master Yu Ji(Tien-Chi) who is in seclusion with his six students. At Zuo Ci's request, Yu Ji goes out among the people of the countryside. Yu Ji knows that doing so will bring about his death, but it is ordained. He enters the city and performs miracles, extracting poison and illness from people by touch alone.(Apparently both are Nickelodeon styled green slime.) General Sun hears that the people have proclaimed him to be God, and so orders his beheading. Magistrate Xu Gong(Lik) implores him to hold off, and Sun does - only if he can bring the rain. Yu Ji is imprisoned on a bale of hay in the square. He brings the rain down, but Sun orders him beheaded anyway. Magistrate Xu goes to the 6 disciples and tells them where his body is. They retrieve it, and let it float inside of a milky pool within the temple where it JOINS with his decapitated head. Yu Ji then tells the disciples that his spirit is still in limbo, and that they've been betrayed by Xu Gong. And so, he sets forth as a spirit warrior with an impish side to set things straight...

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd that's about the time that things go off the road, Sega Outrun style. Master Yu Ji becoming this hyper-athletic fighter using the general's wife to seduce the general, complete with baby oil. BABY OIL. The film basically becomes a mish-mash of comedy, intrigue with action that has a tinge of slapstick. Add some wild special effects like heavy mood lighting, and radio serial music cues and The Weird Man...just gets weird. Now if you get a chance to watch the dubbed version, the dialogue essentially makes Yu Ji out to be like Jesus Christ. I don't know if that was the aim of Cheh and the team behind this flick had that intention, but for a good part of the film Yu Ji does look like an Taoist Jesus complete with the hair. Or like one of The Wild Samoans from the WWE days with lap band surgery. But that's not even most of the confusion. The film seems to focus on the mischief Yu Ji's soul gets into, especially with the general's wife and her sister, even to the point of having Tien-Chi dress as them both. And General Sun, who's supposed to be heroic, becomes a villain and yet is still a heroic figure to be pitied? Huh? Cheh was truly all over the place with this picture. Tien-Chi at this point was essentially in the mode where he was the star, but wasn't really considered leading man material all the way, save for his sharp turn in Five Element Ninjas. Here, he gets to show off his comedic skills and some solid fighting chops that kept him working for years. One smart move was making him the action choreographer; he emphasizes a lot of his acrobatics, and makes those scenes engaging. Chiu Gwok as a lead...nah. He was more of a role player and it showed here.

All in all, The Weird Man is one of those latter Shaw-era films that was all about special effects and the idea of throwing actors and a script together and making it stick. Or trying to. And it didn't help that Cheh's style of directing and making films showed its age in a bad way. This is one of those films that you can watch once and(if you get through it)never need to see again. It's available on DVD and online.


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