Tuesday, January 27, 2004

REVIEW: Crippled Avengers (Can que)

* * ¾ (out of four)

Seen 23 January 2004 at Coolidge Corner #2 (Midnight Kung Fu Madness); print shown was dubben in English

This movie goes under a lot of names - the print actually displayed the title "Mortal Combat", and the DVD is titled "Return of the 5 Deadly Venoms" (the cast had worked together in a completely unrelated movie before). But what's in a name? I suppose you could try to sell it to people multiple times under different names. The structure of the movie is incredibly familiar and formulaic, if only from being parodied so often, but to details are just peculiar enough to set it apart.

The movie is clever enough to mess with expectations at the beginning - martial arts master Tu Tin Tao's wife is murdered and his son's hands are cut off, and we flash forward about 15-20 years to see Tu Jr. getting a new pair of mechanical hands. But he isn't the Crippled Avenger of the title. Oh, no, he and his father have become bitter tyrants, taking anyone who doesn't hide their hands in their presence as mocking the son. A group of travelers and an outspoken blacksmith learn of the Tus' capriciousness the hard way - they are blinded, made deaf and mute, have their legs cut off, and their skull compressed to cause brain damage. And the townspeople are told not to patronize the blacksmith's business. But, the one made an idiot was delivering a note to his martial arts teacher, so the others decide to take him there, and learn kung fu...

Crippled Avengers has everything we mock about Kung Fu movies (but secretly love). The training sessions, the speaking of a move's name as it's executed, the literal army of goons who choose to fight our heroes one-on-one rather than working as a team or just overwhelming them with sheer numbers. Each of the heroes gets to dispatch a ton of goons, then a "boss"-like character who has special weapons or skills, then they team up to fight Tu Tin Tao. The fight scenes are athletic and well-choreographed, and there is a campy appeal to the dubbed dialogue and formulaic story. And, of course, there's a late-70s Hong Kong political incorrectness to it - it doesn't exactly make jokes about disabilities, but can be somewhat irreverent. And you can't help but raise some eyebrows at the buff bad-guy who never wears a shirt, the bad guy with the simpering dubbed voice whose weapon is "flying balls", or the way the blind and deaf-mute guys spend much of the second half of the movie holding hands (to communicate via tracing letters on each other's palms) - especially since there's been no women in the movie since Tu Tin Tao's wife was killed in the first scene. Or maybe I've got a sick mind.

Like most of the shows in the Ass-Kicking/Kung Fu Madness series, these are a lot more fun in a group setting; it's a better value for your money to spend $6 on a ticket to the movie at the Coolidge than $3 renting the DVD.

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