Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: See-Yuen Ng
Written by: Lu Tung
Starring: Hwang Jang Lee, John Liu, Lee Hoi San, Tino Wong & Phillip Ko
Out of all the genres on film, the one that I’m least familiar with is kung fu. Though I have a couple of friends who wholly embrace this cheesy category of foreign films, I just haven’t ever found myself in the mood to bother checking one of these movies out. However, that all changed a couple of nights ago when a buddy invited me to join him at the monthly Kung Fu Night at Brewvies (Utah’s only cinema pub). September 2015’s selection was THE INVINCIBLE ARMOUR and I can’t say that I was walking in with high expectations. The trailer promised this would be every bit as silly and stupid as I could possibly imagine. What I wasn’t expecting was how entertained I would be and that this movie would actually pull off a handful of qualities in a memorable way. Though I may be a novice to the kung fu genre (and don’t necessarily plan on becoming an aficionado), INVINCIBLE ARMOUR is a cheesy blast of stupid entertainment…both for intentional and unintentional reasons.
The film follows General Chow, a man who’s on the run after being wrongfully accused of assassinating the Minister of State. While hunting for the real killer (Hu Lung, a former student), Chow hides out in the countryside home of two siblings (a brother and sister). The brother is no ordinary kid though, because he knows the rare style of “Invincible Armour” (a technique that shields the body from any weapon). Chow learns this rare technique as well as the one fighting style that can render it useless, the “Invincible Finger”. In an effort to catch Lung, Chow must make a reluctant ally, kick many asses (both of random thugs and of regular enemies), and uncover a bigger conspiracy at work.
The film kicks things off into high silly gear with a prologue that introduces the viewer to the “Invincible Armour” style of fighting, complete with a guy balancing on spears and being hit with spiked balls in the crotch. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the “Invincible Armour” style looks like someone clenching up their body with a constipated expression on their face. However, it seems to do the job just fine as a plot device that makes for a long, entertaining confrontation during the finale. I don’t think it would shock anyone to say that characters and story aren’t necessarily the main focus of INVINCIBLE ARMOUR. We don’t know much about Chow or Lung, other than what we’re given through shameless pieces of exposition. The plot is also convoluted and production values were clearly on the cheaper side of things, as the sets all look sparse and most of the fights take place in random fields or forest clearings.
As shoddy and silly as INVINCIBLE ARMOUR may be as a whole, there’s no denying that the film has a charm to it. Most of the fight scenes (the main reason that I imagine anyone goes to a kung fu movie) are fun to watch and a number of sequences are well-choreographed to the point where I was just fully absorbed by the stunts being performed. Seeing as this was made in late-70’s China, the movie wasn’t exactly allowed to have an overabundance of graphic violence. This means that the most blood we see comes in the form of a couple of red dribbles from dead characters’ mouths. Pieces of the film rely on different stylistic approaches to get across the pain that these fights are inflicting (cutting to a tree branch snapping in place of a character’s broken arm or eggs being crushed for…well, you’ll see). The story may be as convoluted as the day is long, but the writer and/or director knew how to shoe-horn in a lot of action scenes. The introduction of a three-person gang seems to come right out of nowhere, but serves for two of the film’s best fights. The finale is also long, but remains engaging thanks to a number of faceless body guards, a shirtless studded assassin, and an old foe who has mastered the Invincible Armour technique.
While it might be argued that most of the entertainment value in INVINCIBLE ARMOUR comes from entirely unintentional humor, the film also seems to have a good sense of comedic timing and over-the-top fight scenes. The former is glimpsed in a snobby rich character (who pops up for two genuinely funny moments) as well as a great scene that had the theater cracking up as Chow prays to his ancestors, while taking down three guards without even glancing behind him. I don’t know where INVINCIBLE ARMOUR stands in the grand scheme of cheesy kung fu movies (not an aficionado in this field). Taking this film as a whole, it has problems that can’t be overlooked. However, there are a handful of qualities that elevate it far higher than I was expecting. INVINCIBLE ARMOUR might benefit from a group of B-movie-loving friends and a steady supply of alcohol (though I was totally sober while watching this film), but the movie is (intentionally and unintentionally) entertaining in spite of its shortcomings.