Sunday, February 25, 2024


This is part of a series I started when working on Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, reviewing wuxia films and discussing their relevance to tabletop RPGs. I am a little rusty on these written reviews and my last one was a little long winded, so I am going to aim for brevity on this one. 

If you want to bring wuxia to your RPG table, try Righteous Blood Ruthless Blades or Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate. 

Note: I am writing these as a fan of the genre. I am not a movie expert or an expert in asian cinema. These are my own observations based on what I have learned by watching wuxia and kung fu movies, and by reading about them through interviews and books. But my knowledge is quite limited and I am an English speaker. So understand that my commentary comes from this perspective.  

This review contains many spoilers.

Kung Fu Wonderchild is a 1986 martial arts film directed by Lee Tso-Ham starring Lin Hsiao-Lu, Chang Shan, Jack Long Shi-Chia and Yukari Oshima. Lin Hsiao-Lu plays a male lead named Hsiu Chuen, who is a servant and the son of a cook at a taoist school, which turns out to harbor an evil sorcerer gathering souls into jars to increase his own power. With the help of his grandfather, Yukari Oshima's maiden Chiu Hse, and two rather incompetent students from the school, he must confront the taoist sorcerer to free the imprisoned spirits. 

The plot here is both simple yet convoluted with a number of detours, many of which don't really pan out. In some ways this is okay, as the detours held my interest and were often amusing, but it doesn't feel like a well constructed plot. The film features many gonzo elements, lying somewhere between Miracle Fighters and The Weird Man. 

What works is the humor and the action. I found all the fight sequences to be tightly shot and performed. I enjoyed the sharp and punchy action scenes. The use of reverse crank worked really well and I found the fight choreography and performances to exceed other aspects of the movie. I especially liked Yukari Oshima and Lin-Hsiao Lu, though the cast was all impressive. 

This is not a movie that takes itself terribly seriously so if you enjoy weirdness and potty humor mixed with with kung fu, this may be up your alley. If you ever pondered "who punishes the master for urinating in the courtyard?" then Kung Fu Wonderchild will satisfy many of your curiosities. 

In some ways it is a film more about individual moments, and has a bit of a hangout-movie feel at times. And many such moments have very little connection to the overall story, though some of them to help flesh out characters, often characters who become unimportant by the end of the movie. Still I did have fun in most of these scenes. 

What the movie feels like to me is decent saturday morning martial arts viewing. I think viewed casually it is engaging and fun. But it is not a movie I would rave about. I am glad I saw it. One day I might want to see it again, but for the most part, it was a one-and-done feature for me. 

The version I saw seemed to have been restored, though I am not sure. But it was very brightly technicolor, which I actually kind of liked, though the technicolor tone changed inexplicably at various points in the film. I must admit if it had been more grainy like many other martial arts movies from this time, then it would not have held my attention as well because at times the visuals were all that was maintaining my interest. 

The special effects do sometimes tread into old Doctor Who territory. In some places they are fine though. I liked the wirework and I liked some of the rotoscoped effects. But the practical effects for the monsters definitely fell short. There is a cartoon dragon in the final fight, which was unusual and I am still not sure how I feel about it. It was like like Pete's Dragon for a second. 

The movie hand waves certain things, but I kind of liked that it did so. There were places where the handwaves helped keep the plot moving at a rapid pace. For example in one scene, after the heroes encounter the sorcerer and discover his soul-filled jars, instead of the obligatory explanation when they see grandfather, he simply informed them that he already knows and we can get back to the action. 

There are a lot of gonzo elements to the film. It would be impossible to list them all but to give one example we have a sequence early in the movie where Chiu Hse encounters two children who turn out to be hopping vampires looking for their father. The father, also a hopping vampire, falls face first into a pile of poo and is largely used for a bunch of slapstick as Chiu Hse tries to help his children find him. We are treated to a nice fight between her and the hopping vampire by the end of the sequence, however. There is quite a lot of this kind of thing in the movie. 

I don't aggressively recommend this movie. I do think, since it is on prime with ads, if you want something a little light and you like martial arts on the weird side, it may be worth checking out. Also if you are a Yukari Oshima fan or a fan of Lin Hsiao-lu, you may want to see it for their performances. There are certainly films I would recommend in this category before getting to this one but I did enjoy it. 

If you are looking for gameable inspiration, then I recommend this movie more than if you are just looking for a solid martial arts action film. This film oozes gameable content. If you're a game master, and you watch this movie, you will have an adventure idea by the end of it. 

The first element that is very easy to take to the table is the villain. A martial arts master who wields magic and is putting souls into jars to increase his power, writes itself as an RPG adventure. It also has an interesting countdown to disaster aspect because the villain is increasing his power each night by drawing on the energy of the trapped souls. I think this would be pretty impossible to screw up as an adventure concept. 

There are also lots of other little elements that are workable. There is a ton of magic on display and if you are looking for new kinds of magic to bring into a wuxia RPG, you will find plenty of interesting examples here. 

One of my favorite gameable moments of Kung Fu Wonderchild was when Hsiu Chuen is punished by the school for an offense that warrants having his eye plucked out. To avoid this fate, his grandfather agrees to have him undergo a trial by ordeal, in which he is shrunk and put into a miniature courtyard house that he must fight his way out of in 5 minutes or less to avoid death. During this sequence they freely borrow the face hugger from Alien and throw in another creature that is a little harder to describe. But this would work beautifully in an RPG. I love miniature realms, and used one recently in one of my campaigns earlier last year. Here I like the idea of a model of a house being used as a dungeon. I would probably tweak it so there is something inside the house but in order to reach it, voluntarily being shrunk is a tempting solution. 

There are also plenty of monsters: hopping vampires, a zombie, and ghosts. Plus the aforementioned face hugger and company. 

I think most GMs running wuxia campaigns or campaigns in a similar genre, will find plenty of inspiration in Kung Fu Wonderchild. So for that, I recommend it enthusiastically. However if you are just looking for some fun gonzo martial arts, maybe watch Buddha Palm and work your way down a list of better films before settling on this one. 

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