Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange: “Fighting Life” (1981)

Tired of life in rural China, brothers Sung-Chuan Shen and Chao-Ming Kang head for Taipei to better themselves. That their efforts are hampered by a lack of fully functioning arms and legs, respectively, is less a vehicle for drama or suspense or even expectation-defying action – though there is a smattering of the latter in this Taiwanese martial arts film – than a launching pad for soggy, uncomfortable melodrama that takes an awful long time to say that disabled people can do lots of stuff, too. Shen and Kang were given a more energetic vehicle in the 1979 cult favorite “Crippled Masters,” in which they play former opponents who team up to fight their corrupt former teacher. Though taste was definitely in the mouth of the beholder for “Masters” and its sequel, “Crippled Heroes” (1980), both pictures let the stars show off their unique talents with (relatively) little pity or exploitation. Here, Shen and Kang spend most of their screen time bemoaning their fates or absorbing abuse from their castmates until the final reel, when their training in martial arts and acrobatics is put (briefly) to the test. More effort is expended on scenes with Shen chewing out Kang for his aspirations, or the stars executing minor stunts (Shen flipping coins into his pocket with his feet, etc.), neither of which will satisfy kung fu or psychotronic cinema devotees. Those fascinated by awkward or unfortunate filmmaking choices – like the conclusion of the picture, where Shen gives a rambling monologue about disabled people’s abilities before the entire cast is frozen in mid-celebratory leap, ’70s-sitcom style – will undoubtedly be the most receptive audience for “Fighting Life.” Frolic/Allied’s DVD is full-frame and dubbed into English by what sounds like the usual cast of British VO talent.

 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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