RaEL Film Guide

Buddha's Palm
(Pearl City VCD/10 discs)


Animated rays coming out of the hands/palms; giant rocs and assorted creatures that are so obviously men-in-suits; kung fu fights that look more like warm up exercises, well, you can't get any cheesier than this.

Yet, in the mid-'60s, black-and-white Cantonese kung fu/swordfighting films ruled Hongkong cinema (until Shaw Brothers came out with widescreen, colour wu xia movies) and Buddha's Palm (better known in its Cantonese title - Yee Loi San Cheung) did well enough to generate four sequels (to be honest, it's actually three sequels - Parts One and Two were made back-to-back).

For those who yearn for that slice of nostalgia (you really can't look at it any other way), the Buddha's Palm VCD box set is heaven sent. While black-and-white Cantonese movies were not released on LDs, the cheaper VCD format probably meant Hongkong's Pearl City was game enough to take a chance.

The cast is probably as big as they got in those days - the hero being Cho Tat-Wah (who can be a bit prissy at times); the heroines Yue Siu Chau - then the leading wu xia actress - and Lum Foong; then there is a very young Kwan Hoi San (younger viewers will probably remember him as the triad leader in Hardboiled who gets bumped off by Tony Leung) and; in the last episode, Shek Kin (he who fought Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon and villain in countless Cantonese/Wong Fei Hung films); and the popular Chan Bo Chu and Siu Fong Fong.

Parts One and Two have the hero, Loong Kim Fei (Cho Tat-Wah), starting out as a no-hoper and is bashed up for his forthrightness, who meets up with this old master who has sort of retired from the wu xia world. In no time, he masters the eight degrees of the Buddha's Palm. As usual, the back story takes place 60 years ago where heroes gathered together to vie for the No. 1 wu xia spot. Of course, all were beaten by the (master's) Buddha's Palm.

Parts Three and Four have more villains coming out of the woodwork seeking revenge for the 60-year-old "misdeeds" and then hoping to rule the wu xia empire. Part Four is the high point where the hero masters the ninth degree of the Buddha's Palm in order to defeat three renegade priests who are powerful enough on their own. The hero's master is killed at the beginning and the rest of the movie is a search for the killer.

Part Five is practically a coda to the series, even if there are some really big names here. The one-legged Shek Kin grafts a new leg with super powers (it grows to giant size and is poisonous to the touch - don't ask how!) and he's out to rule the pugilistic world, only to be stopped by Kim Fei, with some help from the Little Dragon Girl (Siu Fong Fong) and a monkey boy (Chan Bo Chu, the result of some bestiality that is very much taken for granted here). By then, the energy and, not to mention, the storytelling, has certainly worn down.

Overall, the print is generally in fine form - there is some wear and tear, especially at reel changes; colours run a little; and the sound goes off a little - but nothing that will spoil your enjoyment of the films. The Chinese subtitles mean that this print is probably the one shown on Hongkong television. The box set comes with a Buddha medallion, three postcards and a programme booklet. And as nostalgia goes, this is it. Wallow to your heart's content. - Stephen Tan

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