New Kung Fu Cult Master (2022)

Directed by
New but not necessarily improved
Reviewed by Simon on 2022-12-06

True to its name, New Kung Fu Cult Master is basically a scene for scene remake of Kung Fu Cult Master, updated for more modern sensibilities - for better or for worse.

For better, the film is more focused and clearly had more money to spend. For worse, it loses that manic hypercreativity that early 90's HK wuxia developed when big imaginations refused to be limited by small budgets.

The cast is somewhat downgraded here, particularly the rather bland lead (who seems too old for the role). To be fair the original did have a dream cast for 1994, and New Chingmy Yau is a decent enough stand-in who channels her spunky cuteness quite well.

It's a shame they didn't get Sammo Hung to reprise his role - he's about the right age for it now! Donnie Yen more or less fills his shoes though, and there are some other familiar faces in minor parts.

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The action isn't as delirious and inventive as the original, but it's solid if uninspired, and uses CG quite tastefully to enhance the supernatural skills of the characters.

It was a nice surprise seeing the new Shaw Brothers logo at the start of the film - I'm not sure in what sense it qualifies as such, but with TVB listed as a co-producer I suppose there is some continuity with the studio that produced the first Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre cinematic adaptation (that I'm aware of).

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By far the biggest thing New Kung Fu Cult Master improves over the original is that when Part 1 ends on a cliffhanger there actually is a part 2. KFCM came out late in the 90's wuxia boom when audiences had lost interest, it bombed at the box office and the planned follow-up was cancelled, so that cliff remained hung.

Apparently Wong Jing learned the lesson and shot both films up front this time, so finally after 28 years we get some Kung Fu Cult Closure! I assume this is basically the film Wong Jing would have made in 1994, but with a new cast and mainland co-producers (Cantonese seems to be the main language spoken so I'm still calling it a Hong Kong film).

The second film takes the story in some interesting directions, not necessarily where you might expect (unless you know the source material, presumably) and ties everything back to the original Legend Of Condor Heroes story.

Whilst it's nice to finally scratch that itch and I enjoyed the film, I doubt it is one that people will still be talking about it with excitement 28 years from now. It's altogether more sober and mature, and altogether less fun. It's tonally and aesthetically closer to modern mainland wuxia than the old Hong Kong style that made me fall in love with cinema.

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I suppose that kind of scrappy, can-do style of filmmaking when tiny Hong Kong punched up in more ways than one would be hard to sell in this day and age, but it had real personality, which it's hard to say about the newer stuff.

Still, the old films still exist - for now, and often in less than ideal forms - so it's not necessarily a bad thing that we have something new in the world as well. I know which I'm more likely to watch again in the future though.