Master of Disaster (1981)
Director: Lau Kar Wing
Writers: Wong Jing
Starring: Alexander Fu Sheng, Chang Chan Peng, Wang Lung-wei and Gordon Liu

The Plot: Roaming con artist Chi Ta Po (Alexander Fu Sheng) joins forces with the black sheep of a rich socialite family, Chow Su (played by Chang Chan Peng), in order to find a hidden treasure. The gold in question is the long-lost booty of a pirate by the name of Chan Po-chu, and its whereabouts have been a mystery for years up until this point. When they track down their first clue, owned by a antiques dealer (played by the film’s director, Lau Kar Wing), they discover that a evil priest named Wu Sheng (Gordon Liu) appears to have the treasure for himself. Tied in with all of this mystery is the Lord Mo Chung (played by Wang Lung-wei), who is not nearly as nice as he appears on the outside. With a giant sum of gold at stake, this means that everyone will be after these two goofs. Including the police inspector, Lord Mo and a army of other bad guys! Will they survive and find the gold, or will these forces prove too much for our idiotic heroes?

The Review
Although we are well into the Kung Fu Christmas celebrations (year 2011), Master of Disaster marks the first actual Shaw Bros. film reviewed for this month of martial arts mayhem. Although Master of Disaster may be a classic around my household, even I must admit that it isn’t the greatest title in the Shaw library. However, it has more than enough big names attached to it for martial art fans to search it out. Featuring the legendary Fu Sheng, right before he passed away, as well as the immortal Gordon Liu, the project is also notable for the names that rest behind the camera lens as well. Directed by Gordon Liu’s lesser known brother Lau Kar-wing, and written by Hong Kong exploitation legend Wong Jing, there are enough big names attached to Master of Disaster that Kung Fu film aficionados should already be turning their head. It doesn’t even matter that the comedy is borderline juvenile or that the story is a bit of a mixed blessing, the promise held by these names are enough to warrant a view from just about any potential viewer.

The Kung Fu comedy was still catching on in its popularity at this point, but the wit that Jackie Chan had managed to deliver with his Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was not duplicated often. Master of Disaster is another Hong Kong title that goes incredibly over the top in the broad appeal of its comedy. Whilst trying to outdo the The Three Stooges, Alexander Fu Sheng and his real life brother Chang Chan Peng go out of this world in terms of exaggerated humor. These two are above even the most absurd of comedic Kung Fu films ripped from this era. Even in the midst of a fight scene, these two crack credit card jokes, despite this being a film set in the ancient past. Such instances simply show that this isn’t a movie that feels it necessary to ground itself within reality. Although the credit card gag is not a true sign of things to come, as the movie rarely breaks down the forth wall, it does manage to show off the absurdist comedy element.

Narratively, the movie seems fairly strong. After Fu Sheng and Chang Chan Peng discover the first hint that there is a treasure, the movie takes off on its natural series of progressions and it rarely relents. While the movie does start to feel rather episodic at times, due to the “jokey” nature of the film, it does generally stay focused. There are simply moments, such as the library sequence, that feel as if they take on a life of their own, rather than adding to the story at hand. The story itself is actually quite interesting, certainly for this sort of picture. Treasure hunting stories have a very unique style to their narratives, where exposition becomes almost as entertaining as the action, and Master of Disaster is no different. As our two leads stumble from one action set-piece to another, they become engulfed in the hunt for this treasure more and more.

Although the movie may have a higher focus on comedy than the usual, the action sequences throughout are thoroughly entertaining. Featuring a stellar cast such as this, one would expect nothing less. Gordon Liu, who plays a supporting character for the most part, does manage to impress during the few fight sequences that he takes part in. His climactic showdown towards the end, between himself, Wang Lung-wei and his guards, is one of the most impressive fight sequences throughout the entire movie. Alexander Fu Sheng and Chang Chan Peng are both gloriously over-the-top in terms of their acting performances, but they manage to take things quite serious when it comes to their choreography. It was as if these two had something to prove in terms of martial arts, and they perform to their utmost ability during their fight sequences. Complex long takes filled to the brim with wildly acrobatic movements are par for the course in Master of Disaster, and the athleticism on display could be the envy of any film within the genre.

The Conclusion
Master of Disaster probably should not be as entertaining as it is. The movie is so very dumb. Lacking in wit or subtlety, you couldn’t imagine a movie like this stepping up to the plate and delivering upon the action in the way that it does. Yet, here it is! A diverse and brilliantly choreographed piece of martial mayhem, Master of Disaster mixes the comedy and action in a splendid fashion. Although the comedy may lower IQ points, it does manage to land on a few funny bits throughout. Despite the film snob in me rallying against it, I must give it a solid four out of five rating. This film is chock full of entertainment, and should be recommended to all fans of the genre.

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