The Spiritual Boxer (1975)Director: Liu Chi-liang
Starring: Wong Yu, Lin Chen-chi, Chan Shen, Chiang Yeng, Lin Chen Chi, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai
Tagline: The Kung Fu dork makes good
The film begins with a trio of spiritual kung fu practitioners demonstrating their skills to the Empress Dowager in the forbidden city. Cut to out in the stick and spiritual kung fu swindler, Master Chi, is getting drunk.
He gets so drunk that his student, Hsiao Chen (Wong Yu) has to fill in for him at a ceremony. It all goes well with Hsiao impersonating the Monkey God and doing the iron armour scam with fake knives. When he is being taken out for dinner however, a cranky kung fu master finds out the trick and Hsiao has to skedaddle.
Not having any money, Hsiao uses what he knows to help a young bun-thief and wows the townsfolk. They laugh at him when he falls off a bridge, but he says he is just summoning the Dragon God of the Eastern Sea and it rains so they believe him.
This life as a spiritual Robin Hood draws him into conflict with the local gang boss, which inadvertently leads him to Jin Lian (Lin Chen Chi) when is running away. She ends up saving him when he is cornered by the henchmen.
In my favourite scene Hsiao wrestles with Jin and she punches him the gut. Hsiao doesn't know Jin is actually a woman until an accidental grope, which earns him another beating.
Hsiao lords it up around the town, but Jin is not that impressed. They wind up performing an exorcism at a house, where the ghost would have got away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids. Even though Jin doesn't approve, she wanted to help the people involved so she lets Hsiao take the money.
After this, Hsiao's popularity grows and he begins teaching kung fu. This leads to a big confrontation and some real adversaries who know all the tricks Hsiao has been playing. Will he succeed in a real fight or not?
Although it looks like a kung fu movie at the beginning, this movie turns out to be more of a comedy, buddy film and slight romance. If you watch this movie thinking it will be all action you will be disappointed.
Wong Yu plays a very daggy role here as he is always getting beaten up. He is good at this role as he played a similar character in the film Dirty Ho a few years later. It also proves that he can play comedic roles as well as serious parts.
Lin Chen Chi as Jin Lian is great as she won't put up with any rubbish and likes beating up Hsiao and shooting firecrackers at his backside. She is in drag for most of the movie, but she pulls it off very well and it is great she is not the traditional damsel in distress or the flowing robe wearing wistful lover of most kung fu movies. It was annoying that she doesn't mix it up in the finale as she just cheers from the sidelines while Hsiao fights it out and accidentally rips his shirt off and the other two fighters. Kung fu fighters seem to like ripping their shirt and wrestling with other muscular men, it happens too often for it to be a coincidence.
While the emphasis is not really on kung fu, there are still some great fight scenes including the obligatory one where the hero is trying to fight a gang of bad guys who are all laughing at him. The scenes where Hsiao invokes the various 'Gods' are also really well done (the Monkey God is my favourite, which includes walking on hot coals.)
I would recommend this movie if you would like to see something different than the usual kung fu movie or like comedies with an action bent.