Golden City, capital of wondrous Phoenix Island, is attacked by cackling despot General Black (Tung Li) and his sorcerer ally (Tsai Hung) who travels with a young woman (Yeung Fong) to help carry his enormous white beard. These goons overthrow the rightful ruler and his three mighty generals, the last of whom dies saving the little princess but is forced to abandon his own daughter. He passes the princess onto a wise old Taoist who conjures a mystic mist around his mountain lair that keeps her safe for nineteen years. In time the Princess (Sze-Ma Yu-Chiao) grows up studying mystical kung fu alongside comedy sidekick Ah Ping (Hsiao Wang), whom everyone persists in calling a boy even though she is clearly a dumpy middle-aged woman in pigtails. Go figure. Now the mystic mists have cleared, the Princess returns to Golden City with the aim of finding some way to destroy the sorcerer’s jade dragon staff, which will foil his magic and set her people free.
Hang on a minute, isn’t this a Polly Shang Kwan film? Why yes, that’s right, for although the elaborate build-up leads us to believe the Princess is the primary protagonist of this mad martial arts fantasy, our main heroine is indeed the much-loved Seventies kung fu queen. Pretty Polly cuts a fetching figure, high kicking in a spangly gold mini-dress and white go-go boots, as Ma Chen Chen, a rather rowdy young woman with (what else?) awesome kung fu skills. Mighty Ma is the apple of her daddy General Black’s eye, until his kindly wife (Lam Chi) reveals her real father was the heroic general slain in act one. Suitably traumatised but driven to do right, Ma hooks up with an undercover agent (Nick Cheung Lik) and the son of another good general (Li Chung-Chien), rescues the captive princess then visits the Taoist master to study supernatural kung fu so she can take down her stepdad and the white-bearded sorcerer.
Once again, the appealing Shang Kwan delivers a lively performance that defies the stereotype of the grim woman avenger. Unlike those stern, no-nonsense gals essayed by her contemporaries Angela Mao and Judy Lee, Polly specialised in heroines that were funny and playful but who could swagger and roughhouse along with the boys. As an independent production, Return of the Kung Fu Dragon has a rough and ready quality compared to the more polished martial arts pictures from Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest, but some low-budget ingenuity shines through in its frenetic fight choreography and rapidfire editing. While the plot itself is offbeat and intriguing, especially Polly’s conflicted feelings towards the villains who raised her as their own, the storytelling by co-directors Yuk Chik-Lim and Yu Kong borders on the incoherent. Kong directed only one other movie, The Monk’s Fight (1979) on which he also served as editor, composer actor and writer. Chuk-Lim, a prolific cinematographer on several major movies, directed thirteen films in total, notably the kung fu horror Devil Woman (1974).
There are some interesting elements, notably the unexpectedly tragic dimension to the stock comedy sidekick role and Tung Li’s oddly affable villain, plus one jaw-dropping scene where the fighters form a living chess game complete with martial arts masters calling out moves (“Knight takes rook!”), but lacking a steady directorial hand the film laps into a mishmash of fantasy and farce. Especially amusing is the moment stoic hero Li Chung-Chien mistakenly believes Nick Cheung Lik’s character is staring at his bum rather than the distinctive tattoo on his back, and the climax that unexpectedly hinges on the beard-lifting lady choosing right from wrong. See? She was important to the story.