The Geisha of Gore Reviews:
KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982)
By Colleen Wanglund
Everybody was kung fu fighting…..including the dead…..in this action/horror flick from the legendary Shaw Brothers. For those of you who don’t know (could there be that many of you?) the Shaw Brothers began their enterprise back in 1924, making and showing their own kind of silent films. The 1950s saw brothers Run Run and Runme Shaw establish Shaw Brothers (HK) Ltd., and that would lead to the most prolific decades for Shaw Brothers movies. Not only did they run their own movie studio/production company, but their film empire also included movie theaters and distribution companies. They even had exclusive contracts with many actors and actresses, just like the old Hollywood system. Their logo is, in fact, modeled on that of Warner Brothers Studios. In 2002 Celestial Pictures bought the rights to the entire Shaw Brothers library of over 760 films, and until this happened very few of the studio’s movies had appeared in any format other than original theatrical releases.
Enough with the history lesson, on to the film!
Directed by Chiu Lee (who also worked as an actor, writer and stuntman) KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982) begins with the Chinese Ghost Month, an annual festival that takes place in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when it is believed that the spirits of the deceased visit the living from the lower realm. Chun Sing (Billy Chong) is visited by the ghost of his father, who tells Chun that he was murdered by Kam Tai Fu (Lieh Lo), a powerful lord, and that Chun must avenge his father’s death. On his way, Chun comes across the body of a sorcerer and finds the book of magic that the Dark Sorcerer killed him for, but couldn’t find (it was cleverly hidden in the hilt of a sword).
In the meantime, Kam has employed a Dark Sorcerer (Sai Aan Dai) to perform a series of rituals that will ultimately make Kam invulnerable to weapons of any kind. A series of murders have occurred at a local inn, among couples whose hearts have been removed from their bodies. These hearts are what the Sorcerer requires for his bloody rituals. A government agent has been sent to investigate the murders and is staying the inn when Chun arrives. Chun goes to Kam’s home and tells him who he is and that he is out to avenge the murder of his father. After some fights with Kam’s men, Chun leaves and goes back to the inn. Chun is told about a man who may know where his father’s bones are buried and is led to a hidden burial ground in the forest. The man, his daughter and Chun are attacked by an angry spirit and must flee for their safety.
The government agent and his recently arrived partner know what is happening and must put a stop to it. Two of Chun’s allies pose as a young couple in need of a room at the inn and they ultimately foil the plans to steal two more hearts for the final ritual. There is a final battle between the good guys and the Sorcerer with the help of the book of magic and some prostitutes with their monthly female business (don’t ask) and Chun and the government agents manage to rally the town against Kam, with a final fight between Chun and Kam in the hidden burial ground.
My bootleg copy of KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE came to me through a friend of mine who didn’t know what they were giving me. As a fan of Asian films, I knew immediately this was a Shaw Brothers B-movie….and watching it, you will recognize its very low-budget quality.
As to the horror aspect of the film, it’s kind of weak and cheesy. I still am not sure if the dead seen in the movie are supposed to be ghosts or zombies; I know the mythology used says they are ghosts but the laughable special effects seem to have them looking more like zombies. I do think the rituals using the hearts from a couple killed at the height of orgasm was a very cool concept, however I would have liked to have seen more in the way of the black magic and the Ghost Month and its significance to the story. There is a truly bizarre scene when Chun and the Sorcerer meet up and some ghosts “fight” for Chun—the Sorcerer calls on Dracula to come fight the spirits. These particular effects involve the sky turning to night and a wolf howling, introducing the only non-Asian guy in the cast. Alas, Dracula is quickly dispatched by garlic cloves that cause the vampire to explode. It’s weird and out-of-place, as though it was added as an afterthought to boost the horror of the film. I could have done without it. There was also an attempt at humor with these particular spirits, but in my opinion it falls flat.
What really makes KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE worth watching is the kung fu. The fighting is awesome to watch and is beautifully choreographed. Billy Chong is an Indonesian martial artist who also starred in KUNG FU ZOMBIE the same year. His character, Chun, is still just a martial arts student, so he is not the best fighter and that is what makes things interesting. Chun gets his ass kicked more than once but doesn’t give up and finds help along the way….from both the living and the dead. The movie’s bad guy, Kam, is played by another great Indonesian martial artist, Lieh Lo, who also starred in one of the best kung fu films ever made and really established the genre, 1972’s FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH. Lo seems to play his role with much glee, reveling in the badness of Kam. Lo joined the Shaw Brothers in 1962 and was a kung fu superstar before anyone had heard of Bruce Lee.
There isn’t much dialogue, which is at times a blessing, as the film’s English dub is atrocious—but makes for some very funny moments. There is also a lot of ghostly moaning and groaning going on in between the ghosts speaking actual words, of course. The basic story is pretty cliché—“find my body, bring it home, and avenge my death!”—but it works to set it all up, so I guess you just stick with what works. And as I’ve said the special effects are cheap and cheesy. The ghosts’ faces all look as though someone just threw some oatmeal at them, the wire work isn’t too impressive and the magic book shoots really bad looking laser beams to combat bad magic. Yes, I was rolling my eyes and laughing my butt off.
I will say, for all of its faults, KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is an entertaining little flick. Not quite campy enough to say that it’s so bad it’s good, but close enough. What is especially disappointing to me as a B-movie fan—no matter what country it comes from—is that the latest DVD release of the film from 2003 gets the title wrong. That needs to be rectified when or if it’s ever rereleased to Blu-ray.
© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund