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Ways of Kung Fu

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Dragon Lee's Ways of Kung Fu
Release Date: 
Prism Leisure
Martial Arts
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Mark King
Philip Cheung
Elton Chong
Bottom Line: 

"Dragon Lee's Ways of Kung Fu" presents something of a challenge for the unsuspecting DVD reviewer. The normally straightforward task of providing a short plot summery for any potential viewers who may be foolhardy enough to consider either buying or renting the title becomes something of a trial here; for, although nominally, the plot-line appears to be so simplistic as to barely merit the application of such a term, total incomprehensibility still flourishes from beginning to end! Part of the reason for this may be attributable to the predictably bad English dubbing which is the only audio option provided on the UK disc (yet another lamentably shoddy release by 55th Chamber); but, though the film does sport one of the worst dubbing jobs I've heard for some time, I suspect that it would be a tall order to make much sense of this clumsily executed martial arts flick in any form; and there is -- at least -- still some entertainment to be gleaned from the dubbing team's bizarrely incongruous efforts, which often give the impression that they've been deliberately scripted for piss-taking comic effect. Nevertheless, here is a grossly idealised and simplified attempt to lend some logic to the on screen events.
The first imponderable to present itself before the viewer is provided by the very title of the film; the on-screen title is given as"Bruce Lee's Ways of Kung Fu" -- a curious thing seeing as Bruce Lee is nowhere to be seen during what feels like a very long eighty minutes! Probably so as not to incur any prosecutions under the trade descriptions act, 55th Chamber have compromised, and thoughtfully changed "Bruce Lee" to "Dragon Lee" on the disc's sleeve art (the name of the title character is Dragon, you see!) thus removing the film's only original selling-point for unsuspecting Bruce Lee aficionados.
The opening titles out of the way, we launch straight into a laboured voice-over which turns out to have been provided by an unnamed elderly martial arts master, who is coaching two of his pupils on the evil ways of Master Kung Chien, before they are sent out to kill said evil mastermind. For reasons that the script writer can't be arsed to bother elucidating, Chien lives on an island with "the Devil's Disciples": a crack group of eighteen beautiful girls who have been trained in several deadly styles of kung fu; they seduce their enemies before dispatching them for their evil master. Chien and his women live in an underground cavern that is guarded by threatening, craggy rocks and stormy seas to keep any potential assassins at bay. We see that one rather foolish soul -- the first of the old master's pupils -- who turns up alone near the beginning of the film, quickly gets kung fu kicked to oblivion by Chien's gang of scantily-clad beauties.
This and most of the other fight scenes in the film offer little of interest for fans of the genre. Matters are not helped by the cropped transfer used for the release, which leads to half the action always seeming to occur just out of the frame! To make up for the lack of exciting martial arts moves, the makers try to create interest elsewhere -- mainly by the eccentric weaponry the eighteen women use against their enemies: dart-firing fans and strips of material with lethal blades sewn into the ends. The use of these weapons is always accompanied by bonkers synthesiser sound effects -- just to make everything feel even more absurd. The cave -- lit with crazy blue and red gels like some kind of deranged epic by Mario Bava -- is also booby-trapped with knives that shoot out of the walls, just in case anyone does manage to get past those kung fu crazy girl guards. And also, to make sure nobody leaves alive, the coffins of the fallen failed assassins are personally speared by Chien's number one girl guard as they leave the island!
The second pupil of the master sets out to complete his task and avenge the death of his fallen comrade: but he proves no more able to vanquish his foe and the cave full of high-kicking lady fighters than anyone else, and soon finds himself imprisoned, tortured and gradually starving to death in a wooden cage on the sea front. But help arrives in the form of a black-clad female fighter who releases him and holds off Chien's guards long enough to escape. She though, is not so lucky; she is now captured, and when her mask is removed it turns out that Dragon's strange liberator is one of Chien's number one women guards!
Meanwhile, after being nursed back to health by the cave undertaker (?) who lives on the beach, Dragon discovers that his rescuer has now been imprisoned. Along with hatching a plot to rescue her, Dragon also helps out an old master called White Cloud after he is attacked and blinded by Kung Chien's henchmen. Another wandering kung fu expert also turns up, and it transpires that both he, Dragon and the female member of Chien's gang who helped him, all possess a piece of a pendant that unites them in mutual antipathy for the scheming, cave-dwelling master of kung fu tomfoolery (although why or how is rather hard to discern). After much pointless pottering about (including the addition to the cast of a "comedy" duo who join our merry band of would-be assassins) everything eventually builds to the one decent punch-up in the whole film: a three way face-off between Kung Chien and his three surviving foes where, for once, the film finally manages to build up a a fair bit of energy before the closing titles kick in.
If it were not for the extremely poor transfer, which looks like it was derived from a grainy, washed-out video sourced print, this would at least have been a visually extravagant kaleidoscope of garish colour; but as things stand it is, at times, hard to make out exactly what is going on. The English dub, as already mentioned, is rather jokey in tone -- with exaggerated vocal expressions and some rather incongruous English slang put into the mouths of the supposedly exotic Chinese fighting women -- terms such as "nice one", "sonny boy" and "mate"! The film does possess an unusual level of sadism and quite a lot of gore though, which might just salvage the flick for some viewers.

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