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  Thunderclap Meta martial arts comedy
Year: 1984
Director: Tony Leung Siu-Heung
Stars: Robert Mak, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ku Feng, Max Mok, Yeung Jing-Jing, Lau Yuk-Pok, Liu Lai-Ying, Tony Leung Siu-Heung, Hon Kwok-Choi, Wong Lik, Hung San-Nam, Cheng Kei-Ying, Yiu Man-Kei
Genre: Comedy, Martial Arts, Weirdo, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Imprisoned for attempting to conquer the Martial World the evil Lord Tianmo (Chen Kuan-Tai) resides within a crystal tomb inside a hot-springs cave. Using the fabled Ice and Yin-Yang elixirs Tianmo's minions rouse him awake, but their efforts to endow him with ultimate power go awry. The heroic intervention of the Chaoyang Sect stops Tianmo from ingesting the Yin-Yang elixir. Which is promptly swallowed by a passing pigeon! Said pigeon is then cooked and eaten by Tianji (Robert Mak), a happy-go-lucky kung fu bumpkin who alongside his more sensible roommate, gadget-inventing scholar Shi Chun (Max Mok) is oblivious to the whole affair. Until Sage Chaoyang (Ku Feng), his lovely and lethally skilled purple-clad daughter (Yueng Jing-Jing), and a dozen deadly assassins deployed by Lord Tianmo all come crashing through their door. Whereupon our hapless heroes are flung into a madcap adventure involving a kidnapped princess (Liu Lai-Ying), a sex-crazed witch (Lau Luk-Pok), all kinds of crazy spells and a some surprising revelations.

Released in 1984, arguably the last vintage year for Shaw Brothers, Thunderclap is one of the oddest martial arts fantasies released by the venerable Hong Kong film studio. Like a number of similarly dingbat Shaw productions from the early-to-mid-Eighties (e.g. Demon of the Lute (1983), Buddha's Palm (1982), Ambitious Kung Fu Girl (1981)) this super-stylized, frenetically-paced wu xia ("swordplay") outing is as much a comedy as an adventure film. Styled like a live-action cartoon, its lush colours, evocative art direction and ingenious low-budget practical effects (rear projection, cel animation, stop-motion, double-exposed images) evoke both Russian fairytale films and the painterly manhua (Hong Kong comic books) of innovative artist Ma Shing-Wa, but with a quirky sense of humour.

Action choreographer-actor-director Tony Leung Siu-Hung (who went on to make the fan-favourite all girl Lethal Weapon remake Satin Steel (1994) and several direct-to-video American action films) periodically pops up as an on-screen narrator, commenting on the action, rewriting scenes and striking pompous poses in period garb. This running gag culminates in a fourth wall-breaking finale that ranks among the most outrageous endings of any kung fu film. Unlike the laboured slapstick of many martial arts comedies the gags here are endearingly off-the-wall and often genuinely funny, enhanced by amiable performances from an engaging ensemble cast (Leung amusingly casts veterans Chen Kuan-Tai and Ku Feng in roles opposite to their established screen personae while cult favourite Yeung Jing-Jing delights as the plucky and oh-so-adorable kung fu gal). As befuddled hero Tianji, Robert Mak is a likable lead. Known to Hong Kong film buffs as the "Dance King", Mak found fame after winning a disco dance contest on television then parlayed that gimmick into a lengthy career (his signature film remains the Shaw Brothers kung fu comedy Disco Bumpkins (1980)). Co-star Max Mok initially also plays for laugh making memorable use of some kung fu gadgets, but eventually assumes a more dramatic role after a plot twist steers the film in a darker direction. While vaguely reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) the twist is genuinely unexpected and effective, allowing Mok to flex his acting muscles with a memorable second role. Typical of a wu xia fantasy the plot is mind-boggling and overpopulated with admittedly fun eccentric supporting players. Yet it is also fundamentally simple and easy to follow. Driven foremost by spectacle, Thunderclap gallops through one breakneck, blisteringly paced set-piece after another with both Leung's dizzying camera-work and the acrobatic prowess of the featured performers routinely breathtaking.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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