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"Opium and the Kung Fu Master": You Don’t Need Drugs to Enjoy This

by on May 3, 2010

For reasons known only to its marketing staff, FUNimation recently provided toonzone with copies of four of its Shaw Brothers movie releases. In a similar spirit of devil-may-care fecklessness, we have actually decided to review them—even though their cartooniness is at best only metaphorical. Starting today, then, we will be bringing you “Kung Fu Week.” Enjoy!

Ten minutes into Opium and the Kung-Fu Master, I remarked out loud, “This movie is nuts!” I meant it in a good way.

This martial arts action/comedy film, one of many from the Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studio, pulls you in right away with its well-executed, intricate fight choreography and satisfying mix of the silly and serious, helped by the professional-looking cinematography and quick cutting. (This makes it far superior to the amateur-ish Ninja Vixens series of Japanese films I watched a while back.) Simply put, it’s a lot of fun.

The plot concerns Tieh Chiao-san, a kung fu teacher with as much of a love for kicking villain ass as he does for the intoxicating drug in the title. While he is able to balance his addiction with his superior fighting skills, he realizes that he’s setting a negative example for those in the village. Soon, what were once prosperous restaurants and shops have become sloth zones where the workers suck on opium and do little else. Tieh realizes he must give up the opium in order to positively influence those around him. But withdrawal is harder than he thinks, and training while clean, even to get to the level he was at before, is especially arduous. The climax involves Tieh facing off against goons who have terrorized the village. Can he defeat them without his “helper”?

It sounds like something you’d see on an After School Special (“Say no to drugs!”) or a morality play. Thankfully, it’s far more entertaining than the norm in those categories, due to its retro kung fu motif. The execution is just campy enough to be charming, but not so campy that you’re pulled out of the experience and start to make fun of it. To use just one example of what I mean, you won’t find cartoony, unrealistic gore violence such as in The Story of Ricky (hilarious as that can be). The fights and stunts are realistic, so that we become invested in what’s happening even while still smiling widely at the melodramatic performances, the badass main character, and the unbridled energy of it all.

The characters in Opium and the Kung-Fu Master fight at the drop of a hat, and thankfully the actors have the skills to keep the scenes both fast-moving and full of variety. Whether it be utilizing different impromptu weapons or ascending and descending throughout the scenery, there is plenty to keep you interested. My personal favorite fight scene in the movie is towards the beginning when two rival schools feud in a restaurant after a competition. The number of extras packed into the scene, the damage to the place, the characters hanging from rafters while still fighting each other … It’s just chaos.

Special features are non-existent on the disc, save for some trailers for other live action FUNimation titles. Luckily, the image quality of the feature itself makes up for the lack of extras. I was expecting lots of visible splices/image jumps between shots (something common with pre-digital anime series), but if you didn’t know any better you wouldn’t realize this title came from 1984.

It comes with both an English dub and the original Cantonese language, and on my player at least, the Cantonese was the default language. How was the dub? I’m happy to say it was quite good. One of the common criticisms of dubs of live action films is how the speech is awkwardly fit to match the lip flaps, but with a few exceptions that are almost unavoidable given the medium, the ADR directors and actors did a fine job with this title. The performances are just as manic on the Cantonese side, too. The subtitles are easy to read, seem to be accurate, and are free of errors or sentence structure problems. They occasionally move a bit quickly, but it’s not a huge problem, given that there’s less talking in battles, and this movie has a lot of them.

Mixing one part anti-drug “After School Special” and one part over-the-top kung fu flick, Opium and the Kung-Fu Master is highly entertaining and a must-have if you’ve enjoyed Jackie Chan movies and other such fist-and-feet flying mayhem.

Check out toonzone’s Kung Fu Week:
Review: “Opium and the Kung Fu Master”: You Don’t Need Drugs to Enjoy This
Review: “Hong Kong Godfather” Offers Entertainment You Can’t Refuse
Blog: Cool Stuff: Wing Chun Mechanical Arms
Blog: Top 5 Martial Artists of Animation
Review: “The 14 Amazons:” When Effort Trumps Skill
Review: “Shaolin Hand Lock”: The Joyless Lock Club
Blog: Cartoon Intro Cavalcade: Hong Kong Phooey
Blog: Cool Stuff: Red Dragon
Blog: Cool Stuff: Kung Fu Bunny
Blog: Top 5 Martial Arts Fights of Animation

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