Incredible Kung Fu Mission (1979)
Director: Hsin Yi Chang
Writers: Hsin Yi Chang
Starring: John Liu, Robert Tai and Paul Wei

The Plot: John Liu is a mercenary for hire in this Hong Kong action yarn. After a member of the revolutionary committee is imprisoned in China, a good friend of the captured man hires John Liu to take a team he has collected into dangerous territory and rescue the man. The team consists of a juggler, a gigolo, a carpenter, a fighter and a undertaker. All of the men have no true previous experience with Kung Fu, not even the fighter! John Liu must train the men vigorously before their mission, and before long these men are ready to go! Twists and turns are sure to follow along, as well as a good deal of Kung Fu and comedy.


The Review
Who doesn’t love those giant assorted DVD collections? You know the ones. They usually feature a reasonably well known star or movie poster on their cover to lure you in, but then when you start researching the actual movies inside of the box you find a very mixed bag. When I first discovered these amazing 6 and 12 pack collections, I went on a buying spree. The quality of prints used were always terrible, and for the most part a lot of the movies were horrible or bland (Ninja Turf, 1000 Mile Escort), but sandwiched in between the crappy films with the crappy picture quality there were at least a few classics. Out of these initial collections, one that quickly became a favorite of mine was Fighting Ace. It was a late 70s action/comedy featuring a star I had never seen before, but who quickly knocked me off my feet. That man was John Liu.

John Liu’s style isn’t totally unlike what many others were doing at the time, but his high kicks, speed and natural charisma really drew me in as a viewer. Sometimes seen as a poor man’s version of Hwang Jang Lee, John Liu is one of the more underrated Kung Fu film stars from this time period. Spending much of his time working in independent productions, he rarely receives much credit for the solid films that featured his likeness. So, I had picked up Incredible Kung Fu Mission a while back and it has been sitting on my shelf for quite a while. Today (as of the time most of this was originally written), I just felt like watching something mindless and so I hit the play button. Well, this may only be my second film featuring John Liu, but I am feeling very excited about this guy! As a matter of fact, I think that I enjoyed Incredible Kung Fu Mission more than Fighting Ace, which says a lot because I friggin’ loved Fighting Ace! Incredible Kung Fu Mission isn’t exactly the most original film on the planet, but even if it steals from other films for it’s plot(The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape) , it more than makes up for it with everything it brings to the table. The martial arts, the cheeseball comedy, the sets, the to-the-point story and everything else you expect from a great Kung Fu film.

One of the first things I knew I liked about the movie was how direct it is. Honestly, during the first four minutes of actual run-time the entire plot of the film is explained to the audience. The whole thing! And this makes it much easier on me, the reviewer, because I have to write out those annoying little plot outlines up above. I really enjoyed the ‘in your face’, this is what we’re going to do, style of getting the plot out of the way. With everything laid out for all to see, we then move directly into the training and fighting sequences. It is so very direct, and it’s refreshing to sit down to a film that knows how to maintain its genre momentum and doesn’t relent from it.

Although it was another low budget action title for Liu, no doubt shot in Taiwan, you would never guess it when looking at the quality of the fight choreography or general action. Although the fight seems to be a bit on the sporadic side, the quality of the action is of a very high caliber. The climax for the film is one of the more exhilarating Kung Fu battles that I have seen in quite a while. It is truly epic in scale, as we get to see John Liu finally throw down with Hong Kong legend Robert Tai. There are also plenty of other amazing action sequences dispersed over the course of the movie. A personal favorite would be the scene where our rag-tag group returns to a brothel that they were originally kicked out of, but this time they are the ones who do the kicking. The scene escalates and features some awesome performances by all involved, but the work between two of our heroes who use each other to flip one another is quite impressive. You can pick apart the film choosing deliberate scenes of Kung Fu genius, but there’s really no need to since every fight within the film is worth watching.

The fighting isn’t the only thing worth watching in the film though, if it were it certainly wouldn’t get such high blessings from me. The plot to the film is a bit familiar for sure, but even so, it manages to find that perfect blend of genre-film expectations as well as inventive new ideas. I’ve always been a fan of the “men on a mission” action subgenre, and Incredible Kung Fu Mission is just one more film in a long list of favorites of mine. This one just so happens to take place in China and features excellent Kung Fu, and that’s not a negative my friends that is a positive. It might also sound familiar to those of you familiar with the Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung/Yuen Biao vehicle Fantasy Mission Force, but surprisingly this low budget action title hit the market a few years before the popular three-dragons vehicle.

Along for the ride in this film is an ensemble of some of the strangest villains outside of a Jimmy Wang film. Robert Tai steps up to the plate as a blonde haired freak who wears a red cape to clash with his blue pajama-like clothing. If you remember what Franco Nero looked like in Companeros, then just imagine him as Asian, skinnier and dressed like a wizard. Robert Tai may be familiar to some of us due to his work with the Shaw Bros. Studio during the early part of the 70s. He did the action choreography for several of Chang Cheh’s films, and helped solidify the Venom clan during this period. What makes his bad guy character so fun isn’t just the funky fashion sense, it’s his unnamed Kung Fu style in which he punches through your heart using his fingers. The gimmick is established and used very well throughout and works as a constant threat for our heroes. There are also a great number of unknown fighters throughout the movie who randomly challenge our wandering mercenaries. Most are not as interesting, but there are a few who stand out. From this group, my personal favorite would be the assassin who dresses in blue and fights using an umbrella that appears to have a blade on the end. The fight involving this guy is quite impressive. As is the battle with the assassin who carries two swords. There are plenty of other mini-boss type battles throughout the film, and it all adds to the charm.

The Conclusion
If you know old school Kung Fu you should know what to expect. If it’s something you like, then perhaps you’ll agree with me. If you’ve never liked Kung Fu in your life, then perhaps you should start someplace else. Incredible Kung Fu Mission isn’t groundbreaking and that’s the only real fault I can find in it. Some films are meant to break down doors and some films are meant to keep us entertained, and this is one that does just that. The comedy in the film isn’t going to fit everyone’s cup of tea, it’s more along the lines of regular Kung Fu gags (ie: A man in drag fooling a nosy official), but if you want something to watch and have fun with this might just be the movie for you. Highly recommended.