Jet Li plays Mo-Kei in "Kung Fu Cult Master" (1993)

Revisiting Kung Fu Cult Master 倚天屠龍記之魔教教主 (1993)

Wong Jing’s upcoming big-budget remake of Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主> is split into a two-part saga and will be released on January 31 and February 3, 2022 respectively. But this isn’t the first time Wong Jing adapted Jin Yong’s (Louis Cha) classic wuxia novel, The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre.

Twenty-nine years ago back in 1993, Wong Jing reportedly spent around a whopping HK$50-60 million to direct Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主> but only tell half the story. A sequel was initially planned but the dismal box-office result at just HK$10.4 million prevented it from happening. The movie’s box-office failure was a victim of several setbacks and one of them happened to be the cause of wuxia genre fatigue at the time. In 1993 alone, there were already five movies that featured Jet Li in the aforementioned genre (Once Upon A Time In China III <黃飛鴻之三獅王爭霸>, Fong Sai Yuk <方世玉>, Last Hero In China <黃飛鴻之鐵雞鬥蜈蚣>, Fong Sai Yuk II <方世玉續集> and The Tai-Chi Master <太極張三豐>).

Looking back at the movie today, I have to admit that Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主> is an uneven effort. Even with Wong Jing’s decision to tell only half the story (he also served as the screenwriter), it still feels like everything is crammed together in a scant 95-minute length.

Jet Li and Chingmy Yau in "Kung Fu Cult Master" (1993)
Jet Li and Chingmy Yau in “Kung Fu Cult Master” (1993)

During the prologue itself, Wong Jing chose to summarise the story of two opposing clans battling against each other to get their hands on the two magical swords in a superficial way possible. The clans themselves consist of multiple factions (among them includes Wu Tang, Shaolin and Ming). For instance, the Wu Tang sect includes its elderly leader, Cheung Sam-Fung (Sammo Hung) and earlier in the movie, we are introduced to his disciple, Cheung Tsui-San (Francis Ng) and San’s wife, Yan So-So (Cheung Man). Yan So-So turns out to be the daughter of White Eagle from the Ming Sect. They even had a child together named Mo-Kei.

Long story short, we learn that the adult Mo-Kei (Jet Li) vows to seek vengeance against the factions responsible for the death of his parents. Unfortunately, he is unable to possess any martial arts skills due to the internal injury caused by the “Jinx Palm”. But it wasn’t until one day, a crazy monk chained himself in a rolling boulder (no, I kid you not) teaches him his martial arts technique called the “Great Solar Stance”. Then, there’s Siu Chiu (Chingmy Yau), a maid in a red dress, who saved Mo-Kei and they end up fleeing together.

There are certainly a lot of things going on throughout the movie. But Wong Jing is hardly known as a storyteller, who would choose to slow things down to make way for a coherent narrative. Besides, we are talking about a sprawling saga like Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主> that deals with multiple characters and interconnecting storylines.

A scene from "Kung Fu Cult Master" (1993)
A scene from “Kung Fu Cult Master” (1993)

The movie also suffered from the obligatory Wong Jing’s brand of crass and sleazy comedy, complete with all the sex jokes and juvenile humour. While I understand that Hong Kong wuxia movies are no stranger to blending a straightforward martial arts genre with lighthearted moments, it feels somewhat awkwardly misplaced for Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主>.

The all-star cast is rather a mixed bag. But at least Jet Li delivers a decent performance as Mo-Kei while the female cast is better than I expected. Chingmy Yau almost steals the show as the feisty and acid-tongued Siu Chiu. Cheung Man pulls off excellent double duties as the ill-fated Yan So-So earlier in the movie and later, as another character — a femme fatale princess named Chao Min. Gigi Lai deserves an equal mention too in her solid supporting turn as the scheming Chow Chi-Yu.

Sammo Hung also served as the movie’s martial arts choreographer here. Some of the wire-fu action scenes are incomprehensibly put together, thanks to overly sped-up camerawork and frenetic editing. Fortunately, the late scenes include Jet Li’s Mo-Kei fighting against a Shaolin monk (Cho Wing) and the final third act packs with enough worthwhile entertaining moments.

Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主> may have been a box-office flop but the movie has since gained a cult (no pun intended) following after it hits the home video market.

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