The previous Bastard Swordsman (1983) saw Yan Fei Yang (Norman Tsui Siu-Keung) morph from downtrodden orphan to silver-haired superhero with web-spinning powers, win the heart of lovely kung fu maiden Lun Wan Er (Leanne Lau Suet-Wa) and save the Wu Tang clan (not the gangsta rap group) from certain doom. This sequel finds the trouble-prone clan caught between scheming supervillain Dugu Wu Di (Alex Man Chi-Leung), chief of the Invincible Clan, and a band of nefarious ninja upstarts from Japan led Mochitsuki (Shaw Brothers superstar Chen Kuan-Tai, atypically cast as a villain). A young student of Wu Tang is despatched to find the elusive Yang, which he eventually does after numerous misadventures and with the aid of Li Bu Yi (Liu Yung), an affable fortune teller with amazing kung fu skills.
So the good guys find Yang and he saves the Wu Tang clan, right? Wrong. He returns too late after Iga ninjas slaughter the entire clan framing Dugu Wu Di for the dastardly deed. Seeking revenge, Yang arranges a duel with Dugu Wu Di, who sees no reason not to accept given he wants to kill him anyway. Their web-spinning, death-ray spewing showdown ends with both fighters incapacitated. Whilst wacky Ghost Doctor Lan Xin Zu (Lo Lieh) and his feisty son (the conspicuously female and fetching Liu Lai-Ling) attend to an ailing Dugu Wu Di, Li Bu Yi and Lun Wan Er rush Yang to fabled physician Lai Yao Er (Phillip Ko Fei). As Yang’s life hangs by a thread, ninja assassins pursue him relentlessly. while Mochitsuki hones his deadly “Phantom Skill.” Which basically entails expanding his chest like a balloon somehow causing opponents to expire in a geyser of blood.
Once again Lu Chin Ku, Shaw Brothers’ reigning demented genius, delivers a fever dream of psychedelic imagery and martial arts madness where characters wield surreal superpowers and zap each other with colourful laser beams. Sticklers for the sober side of martial arts cinema can content themselves with a Tony Jaa marathon but those with a taste for the weird and wonderful will find plenty to enjoy. Lu Chin Ku’s dynamic staging and editing compliment the action arranged by actor-choreographer Yuen Tak which ranks among the most frenetically inventive in any Shaw Brothers film. However, Return of the Bastard Swordsman suffers one significant problem. Its titular hero is either incapacitated or kept offscreen for much of the time, leaving an array of supporting characters to shoulder the plot, some of whom are abruptly bumped off just as we were getting to know them. Much of the action is handled by new character Li Bu Yi who not only saves Yan Fei Yang’s life, it is he who figures out how to best the villainous Mochitsuki’s seemingly unstoppable soundwave attack. Which believe it or not involves Li Bu Yi going all Keith Moon on a set of drums.
A strangely subdued Norman Tsui Siu-Keung is eclipsed by charismatic Liu Yung and a winningly emotive turn from Leanne Lau Suet-Wa. Working repeatedly with Lu Chin Ku the talented actress showcased her range, sliding effortlessly from love interest in the Bastard Swordsman films to elderly villainess in the wonderful Holy Flame of the Martial World (1983) and taking centre stage as the athletic heroine of the ambitious and visceral historical epic The Lady Assassin (1982), playing once again opposite Liu Yung. For all the film’s flaws, Lu Chin Ku spins an elaborate and remarkably coherent plot full of lively, well drawn characters and, of course, memorable set-pieces. The story leans towards the introspective with both hero and villain drawn towards pondering their inner weaknesses both physical and psychological. This leads to a memorable moment where Li Bu Yi uses his remarkable pre-cognitive abilities to inform Dugu Wu Di he will die without siring an heir because he is impotent! Now there’s a surefire way to piss off a villain.