The Crippled Masters (1979)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-02-21
Summary: A waste of time
“Crippled Masters” is an atrocious movie that probably couldn’t be made today and shouldn’t have been in 1979. It isn’t really offensive since it employs actors with real disabilities to play a character who has lost the use of his legs and another who has had his arms cut off at (almost) the shoulder. But it is so ineptly made that it rewards a heavy thumb on the fast forward button. Since every scene—actually just about every shot—is too long, the viewer doesn’t miss anything as the images whiz across the screen. The director may have been trying to edit in the camera but kept forgetting to yell “Cut”.

The martial arts scenes look like walk-throughs at a rehearsal but nothing in this movie looks rehearsed or even thought about much. One of the crippled masters is missing one arm completely and has only a vestigial forearm and hand attached to his other shoulder. The actor who plays him looks like a Thalidomide baby. The other crippled master has stunted and useless legs and must move around on his knuckles—he looks like a person who had polio as a child. Obviously there couldn’t be stunt doubles for these two so the fight scenes in which they are involved are taken at less than full speed with little concern to make them look real—just the fact that men with such handicaps are engaging in martial arts is sufficient. Unfortunately the fights between the able bodied (non-disabled?) members of the cast weren’t any better.

Parts of the movie were difficult to watch, but not, I think the parts in which the director wanted to create a sense of unease in the audience. When the armless master was humiliated in a restaurant, literally treated like a dog, it was just another set of overlong and not very well developed scenes. But when the same actor rolled down a flight of stairs or hills covered with bamboo pipes or especially when he was filmed in a rock strewn stream it was impossible not to think that he was really getting knocked about and not to hope that the director got everything in one take. There have been terrific movies about people with disabilities/handicaps including many that have won (and deserved) major awards. “My Left Foot” about the Irish artist Christy Brown, “The Miracle Worker” about Helen Keller, concerned themselves with dramatizing the stories of actual individuals while others such as “The Men” and “The Best Years of Our Lives” were fictional but rang true nonetheless. It isn’t an easy area in which to work and the director of “Crippled Masters” didn’t have a clue on how to proceed.

There were generic bad guys—the big boss, his two chief thugs, his smarmy clerk—all of whom either tortured or humiliated the leads in the first half of the movie and each of whom was dispatched during the second half. The good guys were a seemingly happy-go-lucky guy with a white suit and exceptional kung fu and a kung fu master who looked to be about one hundred years old and acted twice that age, The kung fu master intervened into what was the only conflict believable in human emotional terms—the guy with the crippled legs had ordered the severing of the other guys arms at the beginning of the movie—actually the very first scene—then was crippled himself by the evil big boss and tossed out into the wilderness. He encountered the armless guy who was in the process of kicking him to death when the elderly master appeared from a basket where he had been waiting—possibly for months—and convinced them to work together. The eight jade horses were tossed into the mix quite late in the film, possibly when the director or producer realized that they needed another plot point to justify the presence of the guy in the white suit and to set up the final battle.

I began watching this movie because I thought I had rented “The Crippled Avengers” and was wondering why so many people thought so highly of it. Once I realized my error I decided to see if the rest of it was as bad as the first several minutes, which it was.

The soundtrack was a typical mix of “Swoosh” sounds when someone threw a punch or kick, bad English dubbing (my wife who was not watching but who heard some of the dialogue asked “Do you think the Cantonese script was that stilted?”) and occasional completely incongruous music cues.

Most definitely not recommended.
Reviewer Score: 1