Fists of the White Lotus | Varied Celluloid

Fists of the White Lotus

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 10 - 2008
Plot Outline: Hong Wen-Ting (played of course by the brilliant Gordon Liu) is a young martial arts master who along with his best friend destroy the evil priest Pai Mei. Things seem okay for a while but then White Lotus the leader of the White Lotus society makes it clear that he doesn’t like the fact that Hong killed his associate Mr. Pai Mei. To reinforce his dislike of the situation he kills several of Hong’s friends and chases he and some others out of town. Hong, being the guy he is, decides to challenge White Lotus where he experiences first hand the secret techniques of White Lotus. He finds that he cannot get close to him nor can he harm him. So Hong with his sister-in-law and friend begin to train his body, but will Hong figure out White Lotus’ techniques and can he counter them? Make your wagers now.


  


The Review: By god, I love Kung Fu. I love all forms of Kung Fu, just as long as it’s made in Hong Kong or specifically inspired by it. In particular though, I love the old stuff, the classic stuff. I love the Shaw Bros. films, but my love and regard spreads throughout more than just that one studio. Fists of the White Lotus though, just so happens to be one of the many classic films produced by Runrun Shaw and yet another film starring the indestructible and charismatic Gordon Liu. As I say, I love Kung Fu films, even those ones that subscribe to a formula put to use in a million other films from the era. The only thing I love more than a well put together formulaic Old School flick though is one that deviates from formula but doesn’t try to reinvent the genre. More often than not, when a film tries to branch out and head in different directions it can lead to disaster (See: The Deadly Kick), but if the path that it happens to pioneer happens to be that of a bizarre and totally unrealistic one; you’re almost always guaranteed high quality entertainment. That’s the case with Fists of the White Lotus. It subscribes to many of the same formula often represented in these types of films: bad dubbing (granted that’s not the fault of the original filmmakers), a plot that is quite simple but still finds ways to overcomplicate things, a young martial artist having to take upon a new Kung Fu style in order to take on an evil master, a heavy use of comedy that can seem corny but still makes the audience laugh, a resolution to the film that involves a long fight that immediately ends the film as soon as the fighting is complete and of course the insane villains who use techniques that would make your momma hide under her desk. Yet none of these things should ever be considered negative, lest you happen to be a film snob of some sort. Sure you may have seen them used in other films a million times, but they always seem to work because of the drive and passion behind the films. The films were produced on laughable budgets, but the talent of the stars (charisma, martial arts and yes, even acting) and the capable handling by some of the directors always give the films a feeling of importance no matter how similar they all may be. That right there is the reason why I love the genre all together. With FOTWL, it adds even more to the formula than is normally present. To sum up the film in one word, it’s simply ‘weird’. The whole idea of the villains and techniques might make more sense to those who know the legends behind the characters, which I assume do exist (I hear the priest Pai Mei can be found in several Kung Fu films of the time, and is being resurrected by our man Gordon Liu for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill), but for your average western viewer like myself whose sole knowledge of Chinese history happens to come from watching films such as this one, the lack of knowledge can either hinder or help the film depending on the viewer. For me personally, it does nothing but help the film. The fact that so many key elements of the film go all but unexplained just give me the impression that the film is even more out of control than it probably is. As if you’re looking in on an alternate universe where even though things may seem strange to our eyes, the characters seem to have complete confidence in the fact that all is sane. The psychosis is all part of the charm, and if you don’t like that part of the equation you probably just won’t like the film.

The things that make Fists of the White Lotus truly stand out are all these little added bits of insanity. The key ingredient is most definitely White Lotus Chief and Pai Mei. Pai Mei is only in the film for a few moments, but I can only assume that he is more like a watered down version of White Lotus himself. They both seem to have the same groin technique. Yes, you read that right, groin technique. I don’t know how to explain it, and I don’t feel like reading up on the strange character of Pai Mei to discover what it’s all about, but I’ll put it like this: For some reason in the film, Hong Wen-Ting and whomever he has as a partner in the beginning, both seem to enjoy trying to hit White Lotus and Pai Mei in the groin. That’s not the weird part either. Several times in the film when Gordon Liu keeps trying to smack White Lotus in the package, he punches and somehow has his hand stuck in his special region. It’s as if Pai Mei replaced his naughty spot with a baseball glove. There are also some strange popping noises that accompany this whacked out image. The film never attempts to explain how White Lotus/Pai Mei are able to pull this off, or why Hong Wen-Ting continues to try to hit them there. Was that where Pai Mei’s vital nerve was located? It didn’t seem that way in the introduction, but I’ll be willing to accept anything. White Lotus isn’t just relegated to being the only man who can grab someone’s hand with his reproductive organ, he also has the ability to float around somehow. This one doesn’t quite puzzle me as much as the groin technique, it’s more of just a really cool attribute to have. White Lotus can seemingly reduce his weight to that of paper, thus causing the air from his enemy’s punch to leave him sailing away before they can get close. That might be considered a spoiler maybe, but it’s apparent what he is doing after about thirty minutes into the film so it’s no big deal. Anyway, White Lotus is the glue that holds the film together and his character alone propels it into the hearts of fans worldwide. That’s not to say he’s the only character worth watching for, Gordon Liu is on top of his game yet again delivering great martial arts with some humor as well. The comedy doesn’t get too thick which is always a good thing, but Liu gets to goof off and truly seems to enjoy doing so. That goes for all involved. Lo Lieh chews scenery like you wouldn’t believe, every scene he’s in he steals. It could just be his dubbed in voice that sounds like an elderly man that brings him so much attention, but no one strokes a fake beard like Lieh. Gordon Liu’s Sidekick has a relatively small part but delivers the dominate amount of comedy in the film. He can either be an annoying character or quite hilarious, depending on your belief in Kung Fu comedy. Since I’m the kind of geek who laughs uproariously at Jackie Chan films that I’ve seen a million times before, I thought he was a valuable asset. You should see the film for his haircut alone. He looks like his hair was cut by a blind man with a lawnmower. Then there’s probably my favorite hero of the film; Mei-Hsiao. Played by the talented Kara Hui, she’s not the damsel in distress one would expect from a film like this one. No, she throws down with the best of them, and gives birth! Let’s see Gordon Liu do that! Over time I think I’ve developed a part of me that really likes seeing women perform Kung Fu, there’s something both attractive and intimidating about a woman who could beat you until tears fall from your face, and Kara Hui has all the right moves.

I’ve went this far and I still haven’t even bragged on the Kung Fu it’s self, unbelievable. Well, if you like your Kung Fu delivered old school, you might want to wear a neckerchief because you may be drooling by the end of the film. Pretty much anything and everything Gordon Liu does in the film is instantly classic, and his epic battles with White Lotus (that eventually show off a little of Lo Lieh’s nude posterior, c’mon ladies!) are all brilliantly choreographed and enviously brought to the big screen. Not surprisingly, Lo Lieh who fills in as a director brings his experience to the table and shoots the heck out of these fight scenes. Plenty of fight scenes there are too, everything from huge battles featuring dozens of combatants all meeting their fate at the hands of Gordon Liu and his friends to those amazing duels between Liu and Lieh. Sad to think that Lo Lieh is no longer with us. He passed away last year, but he’ll always be remembered for his brilliant work. He may have starred in quite a few low level and fairly incompetent films during his career, but even then he was still the most entertaining and interesting parts of the films he was in. The man left an undeniable and much needed mark on the Kung Fu industry and will be sorely missed by all those who love the genre. I don’t mean to bring it up again, but I do hope that ‘Kill Bill’ will both be an artistic as well as a mainstream success, that way Lieh’s memory will live on by those who wish to seek out the films that inspired Tarantino’s work. That’s the greatest thing that could happen out of Tarantino resurrecting the character of Pai Mei in my mind. Of course, I do all this talking (well, typing) and I probably come off like a broken record or a meandering fanboy. I probably could be described as the second one quite fairly, but even I can see some things in Fists of the White Lotus just don’t work to the perfect effect. The film generally has a good pace and always keeps moving, but during the latter episode of the film things can get a bit repetitive once Liu challenges White Lotus for the second or so time. By the third things just seem ridiculous. Scenes of training and fighting seem to compromise the whole last act of the film and this can sometimes try even the most faithful’s nerves. Other than that, there are only minor things to disrupt the audience. Like certain plot twists not being fully etched out and of course the obvious things like overacting and such, but this is a Kung Fu flick not Oscar material. The fans could care less, and since I am a fan I write like one.

After all that positive with only a half paragraph of minor negatives you probably would assume it would get a Stubbing Award right? Well no, I’m afraid not. It gets a five rating which is usually accompanied by that gigantic fish rating of ours, but the film just isn’t groundbreaking. It most certainly is imaginative and it’s obviously incredibly entertaining, but it doesn’t bring enough originality and doesn’t crack enough unopened doors for me to really give it that highest of ratings. Of course I do recommend it at my highest for Kung Fu fans. If you love the Shaw Bros. films and haven’t seen Fists of the White Lotus, then you’re just harming yourself. If you want to get into old school Kung Fu, Fists is a great film for that too. A classic in all regards, and the only film I’ve ever seen to feature the 100 Pace Palm Technique.


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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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