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  Crippled Masters, The Who Are You Calling Handicapped?Buy this film here.
Year: 1979
Director: Joe Law
Stars: Frank Shum, Jack Con, Chen Mu Chuan, Li Chung Keng, Chang Po Kuei, Ma Chiang, Lu Ei, Ho Wei, Tieh Tou
Genre: Martial Arts
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Lee Ho (Frank Shum) has betrayed the laws of his master Lin Chung Kung (Chen Mu Chuan), a wicked and stern expert in martial arts who wishes to establish casinos around the region to increase his already impressive wealth and power. For Lee, things could be better because as punishment Kung's henchman Tau (Jack Con) sees to it that his arms are cut off, and he is left to fend for himself outside the gates of the fortress, his tormentors believing he will be dead soon anyway. It's true that Lee's next few hours are among the most pathetic in his life, as he tries to get food and shelter - but where there's life there's hope.

Mike Tyson's favourite, this Taiwanese martial arts movie gained infamy for the supposed tastelessness of its premise, that being that one man with no arms and another with (essentially) no legs could ever be presented as a fighting force to be reckoned with. Its detractors would tell you the makers of this were severely exploiting the unfortunates to put them on display as if this were some kind of kung fu freakshow, and everyone involved had only the worst intentions for making a profit by someone else's misfortune. It was true that the setting up of this which saw real-life thalidomide victim Frank Shum (sometimes Frankie Sum) kicked to the ground and debase himself over and over again was not exactly positive image making.

Indeed, that opening fifteen minutes or so are very uncomfortable viewing, not so much due to the fictional character of Lee Ho's degradation, but because you're not so keen to see the actor put through these kinds of paces for purposes of entertainment. As for Tau, the villainous Kung ensures he is punished too by pouring acid on his legs, which we are meant to believe causes them to wither, though the actor Jack Con was born with this condition. But the idea is that now these two characters are at a physical disadvantage they have to find a way to overcome that, and oddly for a film with the poor reputation The Crippled Masters had, that positivity did shine through after a fashion.

After all, disabled actors are a rarity in leading roles even to this day, and even then tend to be played by so-called able-bodied stars pretending to have some affliction that has landed them in a wheelchair or whatever, so for the producers of this to take a gamble on two actually handicapped performers was perhaps a lot more laudable than it might seem on first glance. Certainly they were no great thespians, but what really mattered was seeing them kick ass, and in some cases kick with their ass as what they lacked in limbs was compensated with a novel approach to self-defence. Otherwise, this took the form of countless other martial arts flicks out of the Far East around this time, which meant the template was adhered to no matter the condition of the leading men.

Therefore the plot went a familiar way, with the two heroes humiliated and injured, whereupon they met with an expert though elderly kung fu artist (Li Chung Keng) who taught them to be all they could be and overcome their setbacks, with the idea that they would finally confront Kung once again and stop his riding roughshod over the locals with his bully boy tactics. Weirdly, the baddie in this appeared to have a disability too in that he sports a hump, and as the foley artist went into overdrive adding thumps and crunches during the combat sequences whenever the hump was struck - or used as a weapon - you would hear a clanging metal sound which was either evidence Kung was some kind of metallically enhanced chap or that the sound effects were scarce and that was all they had to hand. Anyway, while you couldn't honestly say the fighting here was the best you'd ever seen, both Shum and Con were far more adept than the average person, and the sheer novelty was, dare I say it, empowering.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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