“SPIRITUAL KUNG FU”, Jackie Chan’s 1978 spooky, martial-arts comedy, directed by Lo Wei is OUT NOW! Coming from a new 2K remaster of the Hong Kong cut from the original 35mm negatives, it’s another stunning Blu-ray presentation of an old- school classic, ORDER YOURS from 88 Films and Amazon!
In an early leading role Jackie Chan stars as “Yi Lang”, a mischievous member of the Shaolin Temple. Along with “Dragon Fist”, “Spiritual Kung Fu” was filmed in early 1978. As director Lo Wei’s studio was going bankrupt at the time, both films were shelved to cut costs and Chan was loaned out to Seasonal Films for a two-picture deal.
Whilst there he made “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master” with Yuen Woo-ping. The huge success of these two films at the domestic box office prompted Lo Wei to give belated releases to “Spiritual Kung Fu” and “Dragon Fist”.
Hong Kong actor and producer Dean Shek plays Yi Lang’s friend and fellow Shaolin novice. Shek is recognisable from his many appearances in period kung fu films including “Drunken Master“, “Odd Couple”, “Warriors Two“, “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow“, and “Dance of the Drunk Mantis”. He also featured in the John Woo classic “A Better Tomorrow 2”. Actress Wu Wen-Siu appears as “Ms. Fong”.
Yi Lang is a cheeky novice student at the Shaolin Temple. When a mysterious thief steals a book that teaches a potentially fatal style of martial arts from the Temple Library, Yi Lang and his friends are punished for not stopping the theft.
Tasked with guarding a haunted portion of the school, Yi Lang encounters five ghosts who are masters of a kung fu form known as The Five Style Fists. Yi Lang offers himself as a student swiftly mastering the style. With a little help from his five spiritual masters, Yi Lang is forced to use his new skills to defend the Shaolin Temple from a surprising traitor.
Jackie’s Influence as Action Director is Immediately Obvious
Our first glimpses of Jackie Chan are a couple of simple pieces of physical comedy. The fighting action starts with a ninja-style thief whose burglary is interrupted by a Shaolin monk. Jackie’s influence as action director is immediately obvious with much more intricate and acrobatic choreography than most of director Lo Wei’s previous films.
Skilful Physical Slapstick & Amusing Special FX
What follows is a series of comic spooky encounters. The ghostly special effects are not that bad for a film of this age and budget. Never sinister, just charming and amusing in a lo-fi way. The comedy ranges from skilful physical slapstick to childish fart jokes and toilet humour.
James Tien Activates Villainous Fight Mode
The introduction of James Tien brings with it deadly serious fighting and is certainly not played for laughs. Tien has always been excellent at playing this type of villainous character and makes no exception here.
Jackie Demonstrates His Fluid Animal Shapes!
Jackie’s first proper fight is with a very skilled young actress called Wu Wen-siu. Her graceful, flexible, dance-like movement allows Jackie to demonstrate his versatility as he fluidly works his way through the different animal styles.
Chan Holds His own with Kung Fu Choreography
His obligatory training scene with the five ghostly masters is a reminder that Jackie Chan used to perform traditional style kung fu choreography as well as anybody.
Jackie Fires Up with Increasing Complexity, Somersaults & More!
A pole fight with his fellow monks gives us glimpses of the more complex, frenetic-yet-flowing style of action that would come to define his best work.
The conclusion has Jackie firing on all cylinders, switching seamlessly between the animal styles whilst throwing in his gravity-defying somersaults.
I originally saw this film over thirty years ago on a poor quality VHS titled “Karate Ghostbuster”. I was initially dismissive of it, perhaps spoiled by having seen films such as “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” or “Project A“.
Revisiting this pristine version all these years later I was pleasantly surprised. Once you get past the goofy comedy of the first 30 minutes, there are actually several entertaining kung fu fight scenes. Although very much in the style of 1970’s Hong Kong martial arts movies, they are indicative of the heights Jackie Chan could and would reach in his subsequent work.
The 88 Films Blu-ray picture and audio are immaculate. Lots of bright, colourful costumes and sets pop out of the screen. Although Lo Wei’s films are mostly workmanlike in their cinematography, there are actually some beautiful location shots (with Korea standing in for China) in this one.
Extras include a great retrospective from UK martial arts video pioneer Rick Baker, archival interviews featuring Jackie himself, Sammo Hung and Stanley Tong, audio commentary from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, alternate scenes and various trailers.
Fans of Jackie Chan’s old-school action from the early days in his career will enjoy seeing his unique brand of comedy, acrobatics and intricate kung fu fighting!
- Although made earlier, film producer and director Lo Wei only released “Spiritual Kung Fu” after the huge box office success of “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master”.
- Jackie Chan was given much more control over the action direction for this film – and it shows!
- For its release on video in the 1980’s, the film was renamed “Karate Ghostbusters” to cash in on the 1984 Hollywood film that had been a worldwide hit.