Master Chan (Lau Kar-Leung) is an actor and martial artist who is well respected in this region of China for the shows he puts on with his troupe, which includes his sister (Kara Hui). However, this also attracts the wrong sort of attention when local businessman and general big cheese around here Master Duan (Lo Lieh) is so keen on watching their performance that he begins to covet Miss Chan, and although he is married he schemes to get her into his clutches. So it is that after tonight's show he invites them both for a drink - but Chan would have been better to refuse...
Pride before a fall, and all that, and what a fall it is for Chan in this, one of the cultier items in filmmaker-star Lau Kar-Leung's filmography, which was not so much down to him, but due to the presence of his main co-star, Hsaio Ho. Before he appears we have to watch Chan boastfully take on as many of Duan's men as he can in combat, but he is playing straight into the schemer's hands as the drunker he gets, the more he begins to mess up, eventually lapsing into unconsciousness. When he wakes up, he is in bed with Chan's wife, and he punishes him by breaking his hands, thus ruining a promising career.
Of course, this was Duan's plan all along and now he gets to keep the sister in his brothel (though oddly he doesn't put her to work there - be thankful for small mercies, Miss Chan) while her sibling languishes in obscurity as the owner of a performing monkey which also represents the humiliating come down his life has taken, the monkey style of kung fu being what the injured party was expert in. It's not all bad, as he has made a loyal friend in an excitable chap called Little Monkey, played by Hsaio Ho in what he said was his favourite role, and for those who know of him it's possibly his best liked - he never became a big star, in spite of the incredible athletic ability he displays here.
Watching this chap fling himself around the screen is both exhilarating and exhausting: he can jump straight over the heads of his adversaries from a standing start, just one of the amazing exertions he puts himself through, overshadowing even his co-star and director, and Lo Lieh in his accustomed near-invincible baddie role. His Duan, as if what he did to the Chans wasn't bad enough, is also collecting unfair taxes from the locals, and he sends his henchmen out to gather the cash from everyone on pain of violence, so naturally Chan and Little Monkey get mixed up with them which results in - look away animal lovers - the pet simian swung around one of the heavies' heads and smashed against a tree.
Chan is so upset he holds a small funeral for his furry friend, but the monkey's sacrifice does not go unrewarded, for this is what compels the former martial arts master to teach his associate in the ways of the kung fu of the title. A sense of deep injustice fuels the story in spite of its lighter moments (which in truth are more silly than funny), infusing the battle scenes with an imperative that we should see Chan's moral high ground also give him the upper hand, and that hand is actually a fist wielded by Little Monkey who turns into his most accomplished weapon, even eclipsing his tutor. He also dresses up as an actual monkey, but alas only in one scene, as it would have been pretty novel to see him beat up the bad guys in that costume, but the style of fighting would have to do. Three of the stars here, minus Lo Lieh, reunited for the better known My Young Auntie a couple of years later, but Mad Monkey Kung Fu was worth seeking out, not maybe for its plot, but simply for the artistry. Music by Eddie Wang.
Chinese director and actor and one of the most influential martial arts film-makers of the 1970s. Kar-Leung joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1965 where he worked as an actor and fight choreographer, before making his directing debut in 1975 with the kung fu comedy The Spiritual Boxer. A series of martial arts classics followed, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Shaolin Mantis, Dirty Ho, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and My Young Auntie. Kar-Leung was a strong believer that fight sequences should be shot in single, wide shots to showcase the natural skill of the martial artists, which was at odds with those directors who prefered wirework and fast editing.
Kar-Leung continued to direct throughout the eighties, with period films like Shaolin Temple, starring a young Jet Li, and modern-day action flicks Tiger on the Beat and its sequel. In 1994, worked as fight arranger on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II, but was controversially sacked from the production when his methods clashed with Chan's. In retaliation, he directed his own Drunken Master 3 later the same year. Kar-Leung's last film was 2002's old-fashioned Drunken Monkey, once more for Shaw Brothers.