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  Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave Based on Shakespeare's Hamlet!
Year: 1982
Director: Lee Chiu
Stars: Billy Chong, Lo Lieh, Addy Sung Gam-Loi, Hui Pooi-Yung, Alan Chui, Lai Kim-Hung, Fang Mian, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Ku Kwan, Liu Shan, Cheung Chung-Kwai, So Kwok-Leung, Choi Chung-Chau, Ma Yan-Sang
Genre: Horror, Martial Arts, Weirdo, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: On a certain night the spirits of the dead are able to visit the living. Hence kung fu hero Chun Sing (Billy Chong) is startled by the ghost of his late father, urging him to avenge his murder. Bidding his mother goodbye, Chun Sing heads for the bustling city only to stumble onto a wizard duel where an evil Wizard (Addy Sung Gam-Loi) wins possession of a powerful magic book. Luckily Chung Sing sneaks away with the book before the Wizard gets his grubby mitts on it. Which is just as well because, wouldn't you know it, the Wizard works for Kam Tai Fu (Lo Lieh, by now a staple of Hong Kong horror films), the dastardly villain that murdered Chung Sing's father. Stumbling onto a string of murders Chung Sing discovers the Wizard is employing a husband and wife team of assassins to rip out the hearts from assorted courting couples, post-coitus! It seems these hearts are the vital ingredient in a black magic ritual intended to endow Kam Tai Fu with invincible martial arts superpowers. Using the magic book Chung Sing tries to summon ancient Chinese gods to aid his cause but ends up with a gang of shaggy-haired ghosts. Together with his undead allies Chung takes the fight to Kam Tai Fu but the wily Wizard strikes back with an arsenal of black magic tricks.

A cult figure among kung fu film fans, the Indonesian born Willy Dozhan, who adopted the screen name Billy Chong, was unjustly dismissed as a Jackie Chan imitator when he first appeared in the early Eighties. Over time however a small but devoted fan-base amassed around his meagre output of eleven films, particularly his two martial arts horror films: Kung Fu Zombie (1981) and Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave. Chong may have lacked the distinctive personality necessary to catapult him to the big leagues of Hong Kong super-stardom but had a certain charisma. Plus his martial arts skills were nothing short of phenomenal. Much as Chong's first films drew inspiration from Jackie Chan's breakthrough kung fu comedies, Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave took its cue from the then-recent smash hit Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) wherein actor-director Sammo Hung finally gave HK horror its distinctive face.

Shakily directed by the remarkably prolific Lee Chiu – a chop-socky veteran (e.g. Ways of Kung Fu (1978), Crippled Kung Fu Boxer (1981)) whose diverse output includes comedy (Oh, My God (1985)), crime thrillers (The Murder (1983), Bloody Money (2000)), porn (Wonton Love (1999), Temptation (1999)), children's films (Little Hero on the Run (1995), 3 Kung Fu Kids (1996)), American straight-to-video schlock (Euro Crossing (1988), American Force 5: Mission Dynamo (1989)) and most recently a musical (Dance a Wonderful Life (2011)) – the film is far less polished than Encounters of the Spooky Kind or indeed the later Mr. Vampire (1985). Much of the plot grafts supernatural elements onto a standard revenge-based kung fu yarn very loosely inspired by William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Alas, unlike say Kadin Hamlet (1976) the genuinely inspired Turkish female led horror fantasy, the film merely co-opts the most superficial aspects of the Shakespeare play. So fans itching to see whether Billy Chong stacks up to the likes of Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh or Mel Gibson in the 'to-be-or-not-to-be' stakes will be disappointed. Ah, but how good was Olivier's roundhouse kick?

Within the parameters of its genre, Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave remains an evocative effort rife with breakneck martial arts and action and crazy supernatural hi-jinks. One of the chief pleasures of this unique sub-genre is the discovery of choice tidbits of occult lore either drawn from traditional Chinese folk tales or else concocted by demented screenwriters happy to try anything once. Here we learn that priests scalp the dead so their spirits won't return to haunt the living and that a beating heart snatched post-orgasm is an especially potent black magic ingredient. This film's chief claim to infamy is a rare Hong Kong film cameo from an icon of western horror: Count Dracula! Portrayed by an uncredited Caucasian actor, a pasty-faced Dracula answers a summons from the evil wizard to further hinder our hero, shrugging off a crucifix thrust in his face because the wielders clearly don't believe in Christianity. Despite menacing makeup and a fair few unsettling scenes, the shaggy-haired Chinese ghosts are endearingly inept rather than scary. Taking another cue from Encounters of the Spooky Kind the film indulges in silly anachronistic humour as when one ghoul sticks a television aerial out of its coffin to intercept the hero's transmission. Or when a dying character quips that with three against one, it would be amazing had he survived. To its credit Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave plays its horrific scenes straight including a cool ghoulish climax with the villain engulfed by angry undead victims demanding their hearts back. The film also upholds the curious HK horror film convention of women's underwear possessing magical ghost repelling properties. See the Sammo Hung vehicle The Dead and the Deadly (1983) for another example of this, er, idiosyncratic trope.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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