King of Money and Fists (1979)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-06-27
Summary: No Sale
Recognition scenes have been part of the stock in trade for dramatists for as long as there has been drama. Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides knew the power of these scenes and made a point of including them (though not always completely successfully) in their various retellings of the story of the House of Atreus. More of Shakespeare’s plays—many more—have recognition scenes than do not. It is a very powerful tool—a daughter who has been thought dead in a shipwreck for sixteen years turns up at the royal court; a dearly loved brother who has been mourned daily is found to be alive; a merchant and his servant meet their long lost twins. Even though the meetings are improbable or farfetched if the audience connects with and cares about the characters these scenes are extremely moving. They can show the incommutability of the human spirit, the preternatural strength of blood ties and the power of hope and memory.

Or, as in “Kung Fu on Sale” the recognition scene can be tossed away in the last couple of seconds of the movie and have no impact at all. The difficulty here is that the three principals are really irritating people. The grandfather is first introduced as a manipulative jerk who is only interested in coercing those around him to act as his servants. He remains very much on jerky side for most of the movie. The grandson is a very ineffectual young (actually not very young) man who wants to live a life based on kung fu but who has no idea of what he must do. His father is interested only in money and can’t understand anyone who thinks otherwise. This is a very dull family—we don’t particularly care if they are reunited since the father, son and grandson are such badly drawn caricatures and none of them are particularly good at anything. The son is a bust at learning kung fu, the miserly father comes across more like Scrooge McDuck than Shylock or Silas Harpagon—he is cheap but prosaic and becomes tiresome very quickly. From the time the adopted grandfather shows up the audience knows what he will do—we just wish her were a bit more creative while doing it.

Sze Ma Lung brings very little to the role of Hsiang Wu, the son. He was far past the point where he could credibly impersonate a young man, something which I found hard to ignore. He whined a lot when trying to convince his father that he wasn’t interested in the family fortune but wanted to strike out on his own and find a kung fu master. The scenes between Hsiang Wu and his father played like a bad parody of Al Jolson (or even Neil Diamond) and his father in “The Jazz Singer”.

The beggars with whom Hsiang throws his lot don’t have much success. While they are able to badger and embarrass a couple of merchants into paying them small amounts of money to go away they never get close to a big score and are reduced to scrounging money by letting passersby punch Hsiang (who has a pretty impressive upper body but a bit of flab at the waistline) or the beggar played by Li Teng-Tsai who is impressive only in his scrawniness. The obligatory drunken boxing type fighting supplied by Su Chen-Ping, the adopted (or is he?) grandfather is slow and perfunctory. The only real highlights are supplied by Man Lee-Pang, a very active and skilled martial artist and a superb kicker. He is fast, mean and does an excellent job impersonating a villain who very easily fools his client, Hsiang’s father. For Dean Shek’s typical shtick to work he has to be a part of a well written movie with a strong cast. “Warriors Two” is one example, “Drunken Master” another, but in “Kung Fu on Sale” he is just weird and annoying.

Not recommended
Reviewer Score: 2