Return of the Kung Fu Dragon (1978)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-02-19
The chaos, terror, and hopelessness that occurs during the carnage following the breaching of the walls of a besieged fortress has been described in literature for as long as there has been literature, beginning with "The Illiad". In "Return of the Kung Fu Dragon" this desperation and despair is illustrated in the scenes after the invaders shatter the gates and overrun the defenders who, despite their superior kung fu, are overwhelmed by the heavily armed and numerically superior attackers. Unfortunately it is marred by poor acting and bad editing. A General is charged with rescuing the princess, getting her out of the doomed city and keeping her safe in the countryside. To do so he has to abandon his family, including his daughter who is the same age as the princess. His wife pleads, thrusting their child at him while saying (according to the dubbed soundtrack) "even if you don't care about me you have to rescue your only child". It really isn't a choice, of course, since duty must come before everything else, even the survival of one's family.

The General deals with this with all the emotional involvement that someone might show after being told that his cheeseburger was topped with cheddar instead of parmesan. Leaving his wife and daughter to be killed and perhaps tortured by bloodthirsty maniacs just wasnt' that important. The scene plays as if the General's wife thought she should make up for his lack of emotion. He doesn't really underplay his role--he simply stands around waiting for his next cue and she doesn't so much overplay hers--she starts at full speed, completely hysterical and has nowhere to go as the scene progresses. With some judicious editing and fewer lines for the General's wife this could have been a very powerful scene. Flawed as it was it still has an impact.

One reason for it does play strongly is that those responsible for the action, including the action happening in the background of shots, do an excellent job. In most action movies melees that happen behind the stars are closer to people milling around than desperate men fighting for their lives. In "Return of the Kung Fu Dragon" the background action makes the fighting among the featured players look more real--although these fights don't need much help. The superior kung fu that the emperor and his generals devised is very powerful, allowing individual unarmed fighters to defeat platoons of enemies with swords and spears.

The General escapes with the Princess but is killed by an enemy archer. As he is dying he tells a stranger to take care of the Princess. The stranger is a kung fu master with magical powers over the elements and avoids the pursuing enemy soldiers by creating a whirlwind around the mountain where they live, saying that no one will be able to enter the mountain for 19 years. In case we missed the importance of this an extremely annoying spirit being says "Master, the princess will be grown in 19 years."

She is indeed and has become a very comely Sze-Ma Yu-Chiao but other than some outrageously camp costumes for the men and risible training sequences for the women that is the end of the watchable portion of “Return of the Kung Fu Dragon”. There are a lot of images of women in peril, women in bondage, men is short skirts plus a thug with a big red bow on his head. Polly Kuan looks delightful in her short, gold sequined dress but resembles an overdressed Las Vegas showgirl trying a new dance routine during the training sequences and Yu-Chiao just looks uncomfortable while trying to demonstrate her mastery of kung fu. Cheung Lik, a magistrate for the emperor currently ruling the Golden City, has a costume that makes him look like he wandered onto the set from an Old Testament sand and sandals picture, a very short skirt patterned like the faux-Egyptian outfits that Cecil B. DeMille and other Hollywood epic directors liked. His nemesis who then becomes his buddy, played by Li Chung-Chien, also is garbed in a thigh-skimming miniskirt although with a much less flamboyant pattern.

Some of the fights are very well done with punches and kicks landing--or looking like they are which is the point of action choreography. Taiwanese stuntmen did not have an easy life in the 1970s.

Recommended only for the first fifteen minutes and for the campy costumes
Reviewer Score: 3