Buddha's Palm (1982)

Directed by
Creative and camp fantasy wuxia
Reviewed by Simon on 2023-09-03

A martial arts master invents the ultimate technique by meditating in a cave, and is hounded to death by rival clans eager to learn it for themselves. His only pupil goes on a rampage of revenge but is finally defeated and disappears, until Derek Yee stumbles upon him 10 years later and becomes his reluctant pupil, opening pandora's box again.

It will be a familiar story if you have even a passing acquaintance with the wuxia genre, it's the template for so many stories in the genre, and plays out like an early Kung Fu Cult Master in particular. As such it's not that big a deal that Taylor Wong wastes very little time trying to explain it - characters and plot points come and go with minimal introduction as the film bounces from set piece to set piece.

On first viewing I found the film a little bit too campy and unfocussed, though I may have enjoyed it more if a wave of over-enthusiastic feedback hadn't preceded it on various forums. On rewatch I find myself more forgiving of its flaws - of which a coherent story is certainly the the biggest - and more charmed by its playfulness and irreverence.

The manic wire-based action was right at the cutting edge of a revolution in wuxia. The special effects are clearly of their time but they're not too shabby, and the camera work and editing in the action scenes is very tight. It's easy to imagine Tsui Hark being heavily influenced by this film when he embarked on Zu: Warriors Of The Magic Mountain.

The genre developed so rapidly in the years that followed that BUDDHA'S PALM looks a little primitive in comparison to films released just 12 months later, but I can't think of anything comparable that actually preceded it. In terms of creativity and spectacle it was probably, briefly, a high water mark for the genre.