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The Old Master
cast: Yu Jim-yuen Bill Louie, Wang Yung-sheng

director: Joseph Kuo

90 minutes (15) 1979
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
MIA DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 1/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
As if 'old school' kung fu wasn't bad enough, here we have it played out to a backdrop of late 1970s Hollywood. The elderly master (Yu Jim-yuen) of the title is asked to California by a former pupil to deal with incorrigibles threatening his kung fu school. He does this time and again, effortlessly dealing with opponents, each and every one of them a third of his age. It's all a ruse, the former student corrupted by his relocation, organising secret wagers on the outcome while using the publicity and name to drum up attention and note for his school. They rake it in. One of the current students is a young fellow working out his fee by way of janitorial duties and fix it chores about the building, with experience already of judo, karate and an irritating style of his own devising, a mime-robot distraction that merely embarrasses all his opponents off their guard. An ethical mime he overhears of the plot and informs the visiting elder lemon who thereupon walks away but without a fee and unable to stump up the return airfare. The student having lost his own place at the school offers to put him up at his pleasant home, a house in the Hollywood hills. They must take work, but in the meantime can enter into some Karate Kid type teaching exercises that includes the highly appropriate backwards somersault into a dustbin. All that was questionably best of the era and location are invited in, so we get a disco sequence during which even the dancing queens unconvincingly kick ass. Here, the old master is invited to boogie on down. "Dancing is just like kung fu," suggests the student, "All you need to do is move around." I doubt the scriptwriters were being ironic. No film more pointedly spells out the message that Hong Kong movie kung fu is the Eastern equivalent to the choreographed dramatics of Saturday afternoon British wrestling (I'm told there is an American strand that is quite popular).
   Over an hour in and a fight takes place at the hotel that is almost interesting, though limited by budget away from the furnishings of the foyer to the hardier courtyard garden, exterior fire escape and roof. For his invention of robot kung fu the young defender gets the twatting he deserves but alas survives and with the backup of the kung fu anti-sage master wins. The old master doesn't mind getting fired from his menial hotel job as he has saved enough money for the flight home, only the director realises that they are short with the running time and tag on a return to the kung fu school for a final, big kick-to. It just wouldn't end.
   The highlights to this film were the two points at which I ripped my fingernails into the wick. It stung but it at least woke me up. No effort has been gone into to raise The Old Master above the level of basic premise. The fights are high ballet and nominal daftness, closer to disco dancing than to a combative sport. The aging defender takes three punches to the gut then uses his stomach muscles to repel the fist planted there.
   The in-betweens to the action sequences are bunged up with dull, insipid conversation. The old master possesses none of the local language, his words are dubbed into English, the English language of the Californians is also kept in English, all of which means that he shares the language he is telling them that he cannot understand them because of; a jape of the dubbing department one presumes but still not funny enough. The disc is also loud. Even the main menu is noisy. It is not just the whumps and thwacks of connecting body parts but a soundtrack of brass bands, jiggery dance, disco tempos, comedic tharps, eardrum skewing laughter, exaggerated footfalls and the shouting of every single syllable. Noise annoys, empty vessels and all that!
   Facial expressions too far, badly cast voiceovers, the video transfer so short on frames that the fight sequences look pixelated, tryingly dull and just sad and embarrassing for the veteran dance instructor... martial artiste. The disc also features trailers for other DVD releases from the original studio (Hong Wai International) that you may choose to avoid.
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