Fondly “dedicated to all children”, this Shaw Bros. kung fu kids’ fantasy is 101 minutes of joyous insanity. Child acrobat Xiao Ding Dong (the amazing Kei Kong-Hung) performs a puppet show while her roguish dad Thief (Phillip Kwok Choy) picks pockets, but crowds scatter when masked monsters in crimson capes terrorize the town. They work for Demon of the Lute, a mysterious supervillain out to rule the Martial World using his “six-string demonic lute, forged from the ligaments of prehistoric monsters” - which sounds oddly like Pete Townsend’s guitar.
When the sagely Old Fairy (Kwan Fung) hears of this he summons super-duper kung fu chick Feng Ling (lovely martial arts icon Kara Hui Ying-hung) - who lives in an ipsy-dipsy fairyland full of huge magic mushrooms, fluffy bunnies and talking parrots - and sends her to retrieve legendary weapons able to destroy the lute: the Fiery Bow and Demon Arrows. Following the mystery trail, Feng befriends Thief and Xiao, who inadvertently stole a vital clue, and uses her magic powers and wild gadgets Batman would envy to battle an array of evildoers including Demon of Horn (To Wai-Wo) and the camp Hermaphrodite (Siao Yuk).
Meanwhile, disfigured swordsman Yuan Fei (Chin Siu Ho - who later found fame with Mr. Vampire (1985) and The Seventh Curse (1986)) toils away in his misty cave/workshop (where his faithful dog operates the furnace!), until a sudden noise draws him to the aftermath of a bloody massacre. Attacked by a flying horseless carriage, demonic trees straight from The Evil Dead (1983), and a giant rolling disco ball (no, really), Yuan barely escapes with his life, but discovers Demon of the Lute has secret reasons for wanting him dead. A chance encounter with Feng Ling leads him on a journey to Green Water Fortress, where he meets beautiful Mei Fa Er (Hau Bing-Bik), who can throw leaves like ninja stars, and whose foster dad (Jason Pai Piao) reveals Yuan’s true identity.
While Feng’s arduous quest uncovers her long-lost brother Old Naughty (Yuen Tak - with an enormous snowy-white hairdo and magical golden scissors), Yuan falls afoul of Red Haired Evil (Lee Hoi-Sang) - whose hair grows bigger the madder he gets and he rides a chariot drawn by Alsatian dogs - and Eagle Man (Lee Fat-Yuen), a flying loony in a giant bird costume. Knocked into a surreal parallel world (like you do), he encounters Skinny Elf (whose bizarre makeup resembles a monkey with a pulsating haemorrhoid atop its head) and Fatty Elf (Chiang Kam) whose magic beard transforms Yuan into a handsome superhero. Eventually the identity of Demon of the Lute is discovered and all the disparate characters reunite for a final showdown in a vast underground temple surrounded by huge stone beasties.
Kicking off with an insanely catchy rock theme song and dancing manga characters, this knockabout romp never takes its foot off the speed pedal. It was the first of only two movies written and directed by talented martial arts choreographer Lung Yi-sheng, the other being Long Road to Gallantry (1984) which also stars Kara Hui Ying-hung, and tells a typically complicated wu xia story where different characters serve as the focal point throughout the labyrinthine narrative. Propelled by outrageously inventive slapstick fu that showcases the acrobatic prowess of Ying-hung, Kwok Choy and little Kei Kong-Hung, the film features colourful cinematography of an exceptional standard and pantomime special effects that leap off the screen, but threaded through the mayhem is a surprisingly poignant message about children eluding the sins of their fathers.
Trying to summarise a Hong Kong kung fu fantasy is like trying to describe a crazy dream. It can only be experienced. Wait till you see Xiao Ding Dong flying around with her helicopter-like Dragonfly Blade, or Feng Ling wielding her silkworm cocoon device or the amazing Flying Rainbow Sword. How many double award-winning actresses can do this stuff with a straight face? That’s why everybody loves Hui Ying-hung. Further surreal delights include a love theme that is actually a disco version of Paper Moon, the moment masked monsters unleash a child demon to battle Xiao (who floors him with a “flying thunder kick”!), loads of animals doing bizarre tricks and a hilarious cameo from the normally stoic Lung Tien-Hsiang, as an all-powerful mystic martial arts master and coin collector who keeps a giant piggy bank. His gravity-defying duel with the Demon almost tops the one in Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983).
How can you not love a movie that ends with a rousing speech delivered by a talking parrot (“The demon’s dream will never succeed. Now the world will be at peace!”) and a blast of rock and roll as the young heroes punch the sky in triumph?