9th Annual Old School Kung Fu Film Fest: Joseph Kuo Edition – The 36 Deadly Styles (1979)

There’s always something happening in New York, and this weekend, if you’re in Queens, swing by the Museum of the Moving Image who, in conjunction with Subway Cinema, are delivering their ninth annual Old School Kung Fu Film Fest!

The focus of this year’s festival is writer/producer/director Joseph Kuo, who has sixty-one directing credits to his name, and thirty-nine writing credits.

I was intrigued just by the idea of digging into some old kung-fu films, as I’d only merely brushed up against the genre previously with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan films. So when I was offered an opportunity to have a look at some of the films, a number of them featuring a lovely 2K remaster which delivers a picture better than its original release, with all new sub-titles, I jumped at it.

Screening tonight at 7pm is The 36 Deadly Styles, and it starts with a bang and doesn’t let up as the film races from fight sequence to fight sequence. There are heroes, and there are villains, all of them easily identifiable (a number of the baddies are cursed with really bad wigs – poor Bolo Yeung got stuck with a horrible one), and it put me in mind of the traditional English Panto, a number of stock characters are thrown up on the screen, and you know when to cheer and when to laugh, and if you don’t chances are the characters will let you know.

There’s an almost garish beauty to the colors as the story spills across the screen delivering pulp images of flying fists, strikes, dynamic poses, and brutal finishes.

At the center of the tale is Wah Jee (Nick Cheung) a young man taken in at a monastery where he is looked after Senior Huang (Tse Lin Yang), who may be more than he appears to be, as we learn that a number of red coated villains, headed by the Ghost Face Killer (Kuan-Wu Lung), but whose main henchman, Fourth Brother (Lau Chan) is the film’s dominant villain, and also comic relief.

As the pursuit rages, Wah Jee is joined by Tsui-Jee (Jeanie Chang) and her father (Mei Sheng Fan), who finishes Wah Jee’s training just in time to confront Ghost Face at the film’s climax.

The crux of the plot hinges on the Ghost Face Killer’s clan seeking vengeance for the death of one of their brothers at the hands of Wah Jee’s clan. But that’s just the backdrop needed to fill in the broad brush strokes of a movie that mainly wants to deliver a plethora of combat.

Each match is a rumble, and as skills progress and combat gets tougher, the combatants begin to announce their styles and moves, and they all have great names!

There are laughs to be had with some truly comic moments, and some great fight choreography, and equally important, when shooting a fight scene, great fight geography and continuity. Kuo knows when and where the camera should be to capture the images he wants, and each fight flows smoothly, and frenetically.

I won’t lie, this was my first Kuo film and I cannot wait to dive into another one. And if that sounds like you’re thing, and you’re in NYC, hit up Museum of the Moving Image, and check out The 36 Deadly Styles! Check out the rest of the schedule here.

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