In this madcap Shaw Bros. martial arts fantasy, Sung Dynasty monk Rulai Tianzun (Cho Tat-wah) spends seven years in meditation in the Cave of Ten-thousand Buddhas and creates the most powerful kung fu technique of all: Buddha’s Palm. Unfortunately, this tremendous effort drains his life, but student Gu Hanhun (Alex Man Chi-leung) mistakenly believes the old monk was killed by intruders. Taking the name, Flaming Cloud Devil, he goes on a revenge rampage across the Martial World until subdued by five mystical kung fu masters, Heavenly Foot (Shih Kien - Mr. Han from Enter the Dragon (1973)), Flying Bells (Chen Szu-chia), the Thunderbolt Devil, and Flying Loops (sexploitation starlet Yum Yum Shaw). Whereupon he vanishes into the magic mountains. Cue zany credits with cut-out comic book characters leaping about the blazing screen, while the soundtrack mimics an oriental arcade game.
Twenty years later, young swordsman Long Jianfei (Derek Yee - today a respected art film auteur, once a regular in crazy kung fu fantasies like this) tries to stop his childhood sweetheart, Ming-ying (Candice Yu) from marrying the sleazy, yet powerful leader of a rival martial clan. Even though kindly Jianfei was hideously scarred saving Ming-ying’s life, his clan care nothing for his feelings, since this marriage will ensure their prosperity. Poor Jianfei is easily bested in battle and seemingly falls to his death, but is rescued by a part flying lion/part dragon hybrid called Dameng. The monster works for the now-blind, cave-dwelling hermit, Flaming Cloud Devil who teaches Jianfei the invincible Buddha’s Palm.
Jianfei isn’t keen on becoming his new sifu’s instrument of revenge. Instead he quests for a magic pearl, spewed by a fire-breathing dragon, able to cure all illnesses. With this Jianfei restores Flaming Cloud Devil’s eyesight and heals his own facial scars. The magic pearl turns out to be one of several kung fu super-weapons sought by lovely sword maidens, Yu Hua (Candice Yu in a second role) and Yu Juan (beloved kung fu icon, Kara Hui Ying-hung), whom Jianfei helps retrieve the Orchid With A Thousand Diamonds from a psychedelic cave full of musical monsters and a flying, two-dimensional, golden Buddha that folds itself into various deadly shapes. The girls deliver the magic orchid to their chief, Flying Loops, who restores her disfigured beauty. Unfortunately, it was Flaming Cloud Devil who fried her face, so Flying Loops tries to take revenge on his student.
Our heroes find a friend in wacky, martial arts master Bi Gu of East Island (a scene-stealing Lo Lieh). In a reoccurring gag (with a poignant payoff), Bi Gu announces his name every time he enters a scene, but his buffoonery masks how skilful and wise he really is. Bi Gu, Jianfei and a reformed Flaming Cloud Devil negotiate a truce between all the warring clans, which proves short-lived when someone commits a string of murders. Prime suspect is Heavenly Foot, who tortures opponents with his spinning drums, and can stretch his leg into a giant-sized super-weapon. Using adorable, kung fu prodigy Little Dragon Girl (Mary Jean Reimer, later the star of Shaws’ Little Dragon Maiden (1983) - no relation) to steal all the treasures, he is out to rule the Martial World. Head-spinning plot twists spring from the final reel: Jianfei and Yu Hua turn detective; Ming-ying spurns her no-good hubby but births his baby; Yu Juan falls into a mystic cave and learns her own super-powerful form of Buddha’s Palm; and a mysterious masked superheroine reveals Little Dragon Girl is her long-lost daughter. Got all that?!
In actual fact, Buddha’s Palm movies with their strange beings, cartoon energy beams and flights of fancy ran from the silent era to the early sixties. Wong’s outlandish opus revisits the milieu for a modern audience, albeit one accustomed to its charming, pantomime-style special effects. Eye candy doesn’t adequately describe the gorgeous sets bathed in shimmering golds and rainbow colours, or the non-stop parade of Chinese mythological wonders whose only aesthetic match is the aforementioned Zu.
Fans of Far East fantasy will relish wild monsters; vast, mystical landscapes; clockwork traps; the Golden Dragon Dagger which looks and sounds suspiciously like a lightsaber (listen out for a split-second snippet of Darth Vader wheezing!); the Dragon Tumour Duo made up of a lanky zombie and little boy who spews acid from his giant zit; plus cameos from a plethora of veteran comedy actors. Exploding bodies and gory deaths galore, but also a clear message of camaraderie as enemies set differences aside and band together. It ends as only these things can, with five kung fu superheroes blasting cartoon energy beams at a giant foot. Great stuff.