Review: Opium and The Kung Fu Master (1984)


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Starring Ti Lung, Kuan Tai Chen, Philip Ko, Lee Hoi-Sang

Fight Choreography by Tang Chia

Directed by Tang Chia

In the immortal words of Rick James, drugs are a hell of a thing. 

Case in point: this film is proof that doing opium can mess up even the best kung fu master. BUT-when he–or she– gets clean, prepare to die!

The story opens as we find Opium dealers led by Rong Feng (Chen) and his lieutenants played by Philip Ko and Hoi Sang Lee roll into a town protected by Master Tie Qiao San (Ti Lung).  At first only the affluent take the drug, and Master San also consumes it. A little at first, but as the film continues he takes more and more. As Rong Feng tightens his grip on the town and kills off Master San’s students one by one, can Master San quit the drugs and train himself in time to defeat Rong Feng? 

This film isn’t exactly saying anything more except, well, 

Drugs are a hell of a thing.

Ti Lung is okay here, playing the stoic yet tortured master, a character type he’s played a lot. Where he differs is how over the top he goes when he tries to portray Master San as he goes into withdrawal. When I say he goes over the top he aims for the moon! It’s not very good acting but he tries his best. Most of the character and story tropes we associate with Shaw Brothers films are all here, and that’s NOT a bad thing. It’s like a great comfort food. Kuan Tai Chen is a snake of a bad guy, and his henchmen are all bastards who you know are gonna take a beating that will end in broken blood capsules before the credits roll. 

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The fight scenes, particularly a rooftop fight near the start of the film, and the final fight toward the end of the film is actually some of Ti Lung’s best work. The choreography is fast and intricate, and the camera knows exactly where it needs to be. Kuan Tai Chen’s final two fights with Ti Lung are terrific, with different parameters as Ti Lung’s Master San starts to kick the drug habit. The finale, a battle royale with Ti Lung versus Kuan Tai Chen, Hoi Sang Lee and Philip Ko, is a flurry of swords, spears and staffs. It’s the best fight in the film. Only the warehouse scene comes close. 

 

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 7

Opium And the Kung Fu Master doesn’t reinvent the kung fu wheel, but it tells and entertaining story about kung fu and opium. And it imparts a very important lesson: Drugs are a hell of a thing. 

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