So, before today, how many movies about mentally handicapped martial artists could you name? Well, congratulations, after today it's two.
In Heart of the Dragon Jackie Chan plays Tad (wait, really?), a cop who works with the SWAT team, who gives up his dreams of sailing the world in order to support his brother, Danny. Danny is played by Sammo Hung--a huge star most well known in Hong Kong for his movies, and most recognized in the States for his hit series Martial Law (what do you mean "what's Martial Law?" Grow some fucking culture, heathens).
Hung is the mentally challenged one, by the way. Honestly, is this a whole genre over there? Does "handicapped" mean something different in Asia? Do roving gangs of mentally disabled just terrorize the streets in Hong Kong?
This film attempts quite a bit of dramatic bonding between the characters in between the kung fu, and we quickly learn that this is not a great genre for learning important lessons about the mentally challenged. One minute somebody's struggling with balancing life goals and supporting their handicapped brother, the next they're getting a back-kick to the groin.
For example, when we first meet Danny, he's goaded into ordering all kinds of food from an expensive restaurant for his friends, none of which he can pay for. He's embarrassed and wants to go home. This is a mentally challenged man who's been taken advantage of by people he thought he could trust. Tragic.
At least, it would be if the staff at the restaurant didn't respond by instantly kung fu-ing the ass of a clearly disabled man, complete with wacky sound effects--every punch to his stomach sounds like Moe beating up on Curly.
Danny eventually locks himself in the kitchen freezer at the restaurant and won't let anyone in. When he's finally brought out by Jackie Chan, he's cartoonishly frozen--but the surrounding characters treat it all very seriously.
It's all just so, so wrong. It's like they never sat down and had a meeting about whether they were making a slapstick kung fu comedy or a heartfelt Best Picture nominee. Serious predicaments are treated with comical beatings, and the cartoonish antics are treated like high drama. And the thing is, you don't feel right laughing during any of it, because at the end of the day you're watching a guy with a malfunctioning brain get kicked in the gut.
The Crippled Masters is about Lee Ho and Tang, two guys that are crippled by their evil master. Say what you will about Asian cinema, those guys get right to the point with their titles. If Inception was filmed in Hong Kong, it would be called Punch You in Your Dreams.
Lee Ho has his arms chopped off by his master's goons, which includes Tang at this point for some irony later on. But instead of writhing around in pain or maybe dying from blood loss, Lee Ho just kind of stands around and argues with Tang. Even after being thrown out the front gate, he gets up and staggers into town with his bloody stumps. The dude deals with tragedy really well, we guess is the point of all that.
Our interns, on the other hand, whine whenever they lose one measly finger.
Lee Ho, still freshly armless, sits down to eat (they're called priorities, gentlemen), when some other diners notice he's got no arms. Naturally, they call a bouncer to beat the crap out of Lee Ho before throwing him out. Shit, you think your neighborhood's bad? In Lee Ho's 'hood they kick your ass for daring to get your own arms chopped off. But eventually, Tang, the one who saw to Lee Ho's disarmament, has his legs burned to uselessness by the same master, apparently not catching on to the hostile work environment after being ordered to chop off his co-worker's arms.
He's then shoved off a cliff where he lands, by chance, right next to Lee Ho, who's a bit put out about the whole arm thing (still?) and proceeds to beat the tar out of Tang. Only the sudden appearance of an old man stops the fighting. He convinces them they can learn kung fu and get revenge on their master if they work together. Off camera, somebody screams "montage!" and that seems like a good idea, so they do that.
They train hard, become adept at fighting, and get right down to using their newly acquired skills to do everything but kill their master. They go back to the restaurant to get even with the host who had Lee Ho thrown out earlier, but somehow agree to pull a heist for the old man, who wants to steal a treasure known as the 8 Jade Horses, and so of course they- wait, what just happened movie? Did you stop paying attention yourself?
A little later someone completely unrelated (i.e. not the host who prompted them to steal the 8 Jade horses in the first place) explains that the horse statues are actually a puzzle revealing, conveniently enough, the art of crippled kung fu. By combining the pieces, they learn all about the secret and mysterious fighting style which basically boils down to "ass to ass." Mentally re-cast that scene in Requiem for a Dream with two crippled Chinese guys, and you've pretty much got it.
Or else one just becomes the other's half-man backpack.
The crippled masters are finally ready to get their revenge, and at last face their evil master. But wait: The only thing that allows the crippled masters to defeat their own evil master (who they hate, because he crippled them)... is the fact that their master crippled them.
...Holy shit, is this the Chinese Memento?
For more martial arts insanity, check out 5 Movie Martial Artists That Lost a Deathmatch to Dignity and The Most Batshit Insane Martial Arts Movie Ever.
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