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  Weird Man, The He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!
Year: 1983
Director: Chang Cheh
Stars: Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, Chiu Gwok, Wong Man-Yee, Lau Yuk-Pok, Wong Lik, Yu Tai-Ping, Jason Pai Pao, Kwan Fung, Chu Ko, Goo Goon-Chung, Ngaai Fei, Dang Wai-Ho, Wong Chin-Ho, Lam Chi-Tai, Cheung Yiu-Sing, Ngai Tim-Choi
Genre: Martial Arts, Weirdo, Historical, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: On a visit to the court of Prime Minister Cao Cao (Jason Pai Pao), wily Taoist wizard Zuo Ci (Kwan Fung) uncovers a plot against his master, General Sun Jia (Chiu Gwok). The young general’s many victories in battle have earned him the nickname of “Little Conqueror”, but also the enmity of the power-hungry prime minister. Ambushed in the woods, General Sun takes a dozen arrows to the chest, but still manages to slay all six would-be assassins and live to fight another day! To aid the imperilled kingdom, Zuo Ci summons shaggy-haired mystical martial arts master Yu Ji (Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi) from his self-seclusion inside some sort of indoor water feature. Master Yu travels the country performing good deeds, but when peasants proclaim him a god, an enraged General Sun orders he be beheaded. Which is when things get weird…

This Shaw Brothers oddity was supposedly Chang Cheh’s take on the Chinese literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. If so, it is an idiosyncratic adaptation to say the least. Written in the 14th century by Luo Guanzhong, this sprawling historical novel chronicles the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era, beginning in 169 A.D. and concluding in 280 A.D. It focuses mainly on the three power blocs that emerged from the remnants of Han: the super-states Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wu. Portions of the novel served as the basis for John Woo’s two-part epic Red Cliff (2008) and another all-star historical romp, Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008). Chang rushes through the tangled web of conspiracies, alliances and shifting loyalties to get to the blood and guts, making a mess of a complex narrative.

However, some have likened The Weird Man to a kung fu allegory about the life of Jesus Christ, which seems unlikely given Chang Cheh’s staunch Buddhist/Taoist outlook. Nevertheless, Master Yu does indeed behave like Jesus. He heals the sick and the dying (by extracting a curious green slime from people’s bodies) and is proclaimed the messiah. He is betrayed and executed, only to live again albeit with the added ability to remove his soul as a wandering spirit incarnated as a bare-chested and baby-oiled kung fu hero (Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi again, minus beard). That the hitherto righteous General Sun, initially established as our hero, should turn out to be a contemptible tyrant, is an interesting if not wholly comprehensible twist. However, although Master Yu’s spirit plays pranks on the General and his wife Princess Xiao Qiao (Wong Man-Yee), he instructs his six sword-wielding disciples not to avenge his death but spy on scheming magistrate Xu Gong (Wong Lik), belatedly unveiled as the true villain of the piece.

Of course Jesus never spurted bubbles and balloons when stabbed, or disguised himself as a princess to coax the general into a threesome, or possessed a Taoist priest so he could grope some sexy ladies. At least not in any gospels, I’m familiar with. Quite what Master Yu aims to achieve with these juvenile japes is anyone’s guess, but his soul has a high old time, leaping like a monkey and grinning like an idiot. He also takes a shine to Princess Xiao’s sister, Princess Da Qiao (Lau Yuk-Pok) and fantasises that they are performing a full-on dance number in the heavenly clouds. Leading man Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi choreographed the film’s dynamic martial arts sequences along with co-star Chu Ko. Like many of his contemporaries, Cheng Tien-Chi studied martial arts at the Peking Opera School as a child. A superb acrobat and juggler, he was feted for his good lucks but somehow never wound up a major star. Instead Cheng usually served as a character actor, notably in Chang Cheh’s Five Element Ninjas (1982) and Shanghai 13 (1981).

Very little of The Weird Man makes any sense, but it remains oddly compelling in a dreamlike sort of way, with sequences that have more in common with ghost comedies like All of Me (1984) and The Dead and the Deadly (1983) than Chang’s usual stoic fare.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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