Plot Outline: Li Ho is an ex-escort for a very lethal gang, and once the boss grows tired of Li Ho’s company (there’s not a huge reason why the boss wants it done), Li Ho has both of his arms severed from his body. Li Ho doesn’t waste time sitting around feeling sorry for himself or visiting a doctor, no sir, he goes on with his life as usual and tries to get something to eat, but is humiliated by a cruel waiter (aren’t they all?). He’s tossed out in the streets and begins to fend for himself, but while take a sip of water from a stream, he is washed downriver where he awakens outside of a farm house. He is then put to work by the farmer who owns the house where he takes residence, and begins to make a life for himself. As we all know though, the movie just wouldn’t be too entertaining if he continued watering crops for the remainder of the time. Nope, Kung, the man who oversaw the order to have Li Ho’s arms removed also has run into trouble with the big boss. Instead of having his arms removed though, Kung has acid poured over his legs which cause them to shrivel up into useless boney ‘things’. Crawling away in pain, Kung actually runs into Li Ho down by the river side and Li Ho being the man that he is then goes on to beat the legless man to the best of his abilities. While fighting in a cave though, Li Ho and Kung find an old man who can squish himself into shapes I didn’t know were possible. The old man takes the two handicapped men under his wing in order to teach them Kung Fu so that they can get their revenge.
The Review: Well, it’s December 2003. It’s chilly outside, Christmas is right upon us and I’m feeling the holiday spirit. So with that in mind, I could think of no better way to commemorate my favorite holiday than to throw a marathon of cinematic treats from my personal favorite cinematic style. The Kung Fu genre boys and girls. I’m going through seven randomly chosen Hong Kong classics, all coming straight out of the old school, and hopefully you the reader will join in on the festivities as well. I’m at number six on this huge countdown of Kung Fu and this is a review I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. Crippled Masters is one of those genre defining films that, if you ask me, if you haven’t seen it already then you’re missing out on the cinematic art form all together. I consider it to be the type of film that if I’m at a Kung Fu website and I don’t see a review for it, I begin to wonder what is up. I knew some day I would get around to finally publishing my own opinion of it, but you can never be sure about some of these other guys on the block. It’s not a particularly rare film, and it’s most certainly not a particularly ‘good’ film, but it is something that pretty much any fan of the genre should see at least once. Why? Because it’s just too strange a film to pass up. I first bore witness to this outlandish bit of psychosis about five or so years ago. At this time Joe Bob Briggs’ Monstervision was where my attention was being paid nearly every Saturday night. For those that don’t know, Joe Bob hosted a show that focused it’s time on the truly horrific/monumental bits of b-movie cinema, and I learned many things while watching that show. Turner Network Television had the rights to a lot of strange movies at this time, so after Monstervision would go off, they would continue airing their freakishly strange films in a block called 100% Weird. I was never a huge fan of the films that would come on, usually they were in black & white and at this time I just wasn’t as big a cinema fan as I am now, but one night a film caught my eye and that film was Crippled Masters. After I sat through the first five minutes, in which a man has both of his arms sliced off with a sword, I was petrified, but still interested. Crippled Masters still has a lot of the same effect on me while watching, it’s not a film I find easy to grow comfortable with. It’s what you would get if you took Todd Brownings’ Freaks, but added Kung Fu to the mix and a whole lot of crazy characters. What I’m about to say may be offensive to some, but I really can’t stand to see visibly physically disabled people. People with no arms/legs/lower torso/facial features or whatever, they all really leave me gagging. I know these people have it rough and I more than sympathize, but I find it hard to look at anything like that. Which I guess is reason enough for me to have searched out long and hard trying to get a copy of Crippled Masters. Yes, I am somewhat stupid. Crippled Masters isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it really all that ‘good’, but for some reason it leaves me in awe every time I force myself to sit through it. The missing limbs within the film don’t make me want to purge, but staring at the nubs of Frankie Shum is enough to hypnotize even the most strongest willed person in the audience.
To be completely honest about the film, the only real attraction there should be is for the fact that it’s so completely bizarre and disgusting. That doesn’t make it without merit mind you, and for some this is probably a drawback, but you have to take the film for what it is and it most certainly isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s a cult film for cult fans, to say the film is targeted at a niche market would be understatement. When you get your first glimpses at Frankie Shum with his protruding nub where an arm should/would (I assume he was born the way he is, if you get your arm cut off I doubt there’s any way to grow a defected hand-thing out of your shoulder) have been, you’ll know if this film is going to be up your alley. As disturbing as Frankie’s arm is, I find his partner Jackie Conn’s weirded out legs to be far more mind bending. I literally have no idea what may have happened to this man’s legs. I’ve thought about the idea that maybe he has no bottom torso and they glued a couple of fake legs on to him, but when you see the bottom of his deformed feet, you can tell it’s real. He looks like a grown man with the legs of a seven year old Ethiopian child, but his upper body and even his feet seem to be in perfectly fine shape. In the film he has some kind of acid poured on his legs that makes them shrivel up the way they do, I question if perhaps something similar happened to him in real life. After staring at his legs for an hour, it’s enough to drive any man to madness, and the fact that he seems to have two cavity’s in his front teeth doesn’t help anything when watching the film. I don’t demand that a film contain beautiful people, and maybe I’m shallow, but birth defects and deformity’s really freak me out. Body abnormalities aside, the film actually contains some decent Kung Fu from our Criplled Masters. Frankie Shum uses his half-hand to toss around a staff with which he lays the beat down on people, and Jackie Conn throws his half-body around either smacking his enemies with his rear or punching them from the ground. The Kung Fu it’s self is what makes the film even more interesting, just the fact that these men are able to overcome their disabilities and come out as super heroes is quite the sight, although I doubt the producers were going for a film to uplift people with a story of the disabled overcoming adversity. The film was made to display a couple of crippleds who beat the crap out of people, and if you can get down with that, you’ll find that it’s a relatively fun film to just sit with and let the time pass bye. Other than our two main characters, the film also gives us a few strange characters worthy of even a Jimmy Wang Yu film. The lead villain, Ling I think his name was, is one incredibly strange bad guy, and I mean that as a compliment. He has a gigantic scar on his face that is never actually explained, and looks as if someone just threw a few anchovies on his cheek, but that’s not all, he has a gigantic hump on his back made of metal. That’s right, like the hunchback of Notre Dame, but with one made of metal. Is the hump ever shown with his shirt off? No, you know how the audience knows that it’s made of metal? Because every time someone hits it, or he slams it against someone, it makes a giant clanging sound. Talk about a weird and pointless weapon. His Kung Fu on the other hand is quite great, and the way in which he uses the metal hump ranges from absurd to quite impressive. The two other big characters would be Black and White. Black is a fairly large bald man who dresses all in black, while White is a smaller guy who dresses all in white (obviously) and even wears white makeup over his face. What purpose do these two serve? Nothing other than being somewhat cool. The acting by all involved is on the terrible side, no one except Frankie Shum seems to have any kind of on screen presence that wades through the terrible English dubbing, and I might only favor Shum because he favors the late Victor Wong who all genre fans tend to admire. It doesn’t really matter though, because no one would watch a film like this for acting, I’m just covering the bases. The direction is pretty low, even for a film like this. Continuity is a dirty word when discussing Crippled Masters. The way in which they try to hide Jackie Conn’s disability is shoddy, during the final fight sequence the fight starts somewhere and then when we cut to a different scene and return, it’s in a completely different location. Too far away for them to have ran to from the first destination. Then there’s the terrible attempts at storytelling that just comes off as rubbish, but you know what, who cares. This is a film about a man with no arms teaming up with a man with no legs in order to fight a metallic-hunchbacked villain. Why would common sense enter any of this?
Crippled Masters is a b-movie, so it should be treated that way. There’s not a lot of really ‘good’ things one can talk about in a review, it’s more about the good things you individually find in it. To put it bluntly, this is a party movie. You invite some friends over, you tell them you have the strangest movie they’ll ever see and you pop it in. End of story. It’s the kind of film that won’t reach out to a crowd that considers themselves “sophisticated”, this is dumb fun just like mama used to make. With that in mind, that doesn’t mean I’m going to give it a very high reward. Maybe I’m giving it a three because I want to deviate from my previous films in this Kung Fu marathon that have almost all garnered a four rating, but I like to think that I’m giving the film what it deserves. I think everyone out there who can stomach this kind of cinema should see it, but when watching it alone, the film can be fairly gross to sit and watch and although the pacing is actually fairly quick there are moments that seem to take an eternity. It’s a one of a kind film and if you’re the least bit interested you should seek it out and prepare to freak out your friends. It’s a classic of b-cinema, no doubts about it.