Kung Fu Wonder Child (1986)

Directed by: Lee Tso-Nam
Written by:
Chang Hsin-Yi
Tony Chow
Lin Hsiao-Lu, Yukari Oshima, Chen Shan, Jack Lung, Yan Hsiung

Although similar in creative ingenuity, it also belongs to the fantasy genre and therefore became unofficially slotted into the cluster of Child Of Peach-movies, its female star Lin Hsiao-Lu (often playing male characters in these movies) did Kung Fu Wonder Child the year before. It's ever so slightly more clunky versus the frantic, technical achievement that was The Child Of Peach but Kung Fu Wonder Child is required warm up and caters to a wide audience. Mainly children who'll enjoy the requisite comedy such as people (or rather hopping vampires) falling into poo but also adults who'd marvel at the use of physical and post production special effects with a snap and pace that showed Taiwan was on a roll in the 80s and not just poor imitators of Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain.

An evil, holy man (Lee Hoi Hing) is attempting to absorb all kinds of magic from the land and its practitioners. A kitchen's assistant Hsu Hsien (Lin Hsiao-Lu) at the school the priest works at has picked up some of these magic tricks though and that's a potential threat to the nefarious plans in question. Sending out minions to get rid of the boy, Hsiu Chien befriends Hai Chiu Hse (Yukari Oshima) whose father and sister are being held captive by the priest. Also added to the team is Hsiu Chuen’s grandfather Hua Won (Jack Lung), a pair of bumbling students and the stage is set for wild confrontation.

Its technical chops and creative content that makes Kung Fu Wonder Child review proof. It's entirely easy therefore to forgive its slight sluggishness and an extended period of comedy when you're given enough prior and eventually continual wild sights. The Taiwanese special effects movie for children bingo-card is filled rather quickly before even Lee Tso-Nam has concluded reel one as the standard cheery theme song is presented (and used frequently throughout), he mixes special effects and physical wire techniques such as rigging up what essentially is a deadly cloth that's set on fire, energy bolts are coming out of the performers with brightly colored facial hair and soon enough someone falls over a bit into dog poo. Anxious to please but very good at it, the stage is set for energy but you worry if Lee Tso-Nam sprinting through the book of techniques too early and too fast. The filmmakers aren't bored, that's for sure but it seems like the budget is blown on the accomplished, opening beats. Not to worry. Not even during but especially not after the village set shenanigans.

Because anyone managing to craft this much energy isn't disinterested in the work that's required to get there and one unique aspect sees director Lee putting modern action queen Yukari Oshima in a fantasy setting. Recognizable action choreography is given to her but she is rather fetching in this switch of genre and costume as she battles a hopping vampire early on. Lin Hsiao-Lu enters having picked up some of the magic taught at the school within the village, leading to shenanigans where she and a couple of students exact revenge on one of the mean ones by for instance freezing him. It's village idiocy with shrill dubbed voices to accompany it but still infused with a sense of the physical and creative even amidst the lighthearted. Despite immaturity, Kung Fu Wonder Child survives its extended comedic sections through setting and focus on putting cast and crew to work. The bumbling students are clearly stuntmen and are pulled hard into breakaway stuff on occasion so the film isn't just doing the easy, verbal battles back and forth and pratfalls but adds a physical element. Comedy IS what holds the movie back a tiny bit but it's easy to clear your memory of it when Lee Tso-Nam switches gears for the remainder of the film.

The frenzy is compelling, even if slightly slow paced but the film has unique, inspired and jaw dropping sights like Lin Hsiao-Lu doing battle with essentially the facehugger from Alien followed by a fairly limp puppet worm on a wire with laser sound effects to enhance matters. The point is, even if not accomplished as a physical effect, it's the insistence, the approach to go through with it that would win an open audience over. Of note is also the sense of timing across the finale set in a patch of forest where make-up and effects-showcase gets the movie the farthest in terms of acceptance. The timing as Lee depicts powers with actor's gestures, via pyrotechnics set off in the ground is combined with stretches of hand to hand choreography, a wicked transformation of our lead that includes an additional head popping out of his forehead and a cartoon dragon is unexpectedly well drawn and animated. The comedic middle isn't unforgivable but we certainly forget about it as they put the pyro, wire and animation-crew to work and Kung Fu Wonder Child gains the most when it relies on its fantasy- and special effects-elements clearly. You might even say Lee Tso-Nam was teasing at the top of the movie. He had a plan and a bag of tricks for us after all.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson