The same way that a good suit has to be tailored to fit the wearer a good review has to be tailored to fit the movie.
Now, I definitely could write a traditional review of Buddha’s Palm. After all, it features acting and sets and I’m pretty sure I saw some edits, too – so, yes, all of the traditional elements of filmmaking are present. But a scholarly review wouldn’t give you any real sense of what a mindbogglingly gonzo film this is.
You see, this 1982 kung fu film doesn’t really fit any standard mold that I can think of. In my experience kung fu films tend to walk a more or less linear path between “man gets wronged” and “man gets revenge” – but that’s not what happens in Buddha’s Palm. Here Chien-Fei loses a fight to his sister’s evil fiancée, which embarrasses him enough that he instantly commits suicide by throwing himself off of Misty Mountain (which is less of a mountain and more of a floating fairy tale castle.) However, as soon as he hits the mist around the 'mountain' he gets scooped up by a furry flying dragon named Teng-Ma... Who immediately deposits him at the feet of a blind man named Pi Ku who demands to teach him how to shoot lightning out of his palms. (It is like the scene from the Simpsons where Mr. Smithers complains that he can’t walk down the street without getting offered a job, but times an electrified billion.)
At first Chien-Fei refuses to become the Pi Ku’s apprentice – he would still rather exit this planet, thank you very much – but he finally relents because, let’s face it, having thunder hands would be pretty bitchin’. However, almost immediately after he pledges himself to one master Chien-Fei runs into a priest in a bright green yin/yang suit who ALSO wants to teach him magical kung fu – specifically, he wants to tutor Chien-Fei on how to “chop” green energy blasts at rural outhouses.
And this is only the first fifteen minutes of the movie. And that doesn’t even summarize all of the first fifteen minutes because it leaves out the two minute credit sequence, which is a mixed media extravaganza which overlays footage of real flames on top of paper cut outs of anime-style drawing. That's a thing that also happened.
So, no, a straight forward review of Buddha’s Palm wouldn’t do the film much justice. Because even though it has so many characters that most of them start to run together; and even though all of those characters have too many ancient and inexplicable grudges for the plot to have any sort of shape; and even though it often feels like a story told by a sugared up child with an overactive imagination – despite all those shortcomings Buddha's Palm is still a lot of fun. And as such, I need to create a review that gives you a sense of how overstuffed, bizarre and entertaining this movie really is, not an academic deconstruction. Which is why I’ve decided to just list all the crazy-ass shit this movie contains without any further commentary:
A green glowing sword that looks suspiciously like a lightsaber
An evil wizard who blinds people by playing the bongos super loud at their face
A band of ghost musicians who wait for people to wander into a graveyard at night so they can torture them with evil synth-and-Chinese-mandolin music
A gold dragon embryo that heals a blind man's eyes after he rubs it in his eye socket, like a stem cell on steroids
A dragon that vomits up magic pearls (and lots of dry ice) once every hundred years
A small child who makes cat squeals while squeezing a stream of face-melting acidic pus out of a blister on his neck
A fight scene between two women and a flying Buddha shaped cut out that is made entirely out of living gold foil (I'm not kidding - they defeat it by rolling it up into a tube and then handcuffing its ends with their wrist bracelets)
An old sexist master who will only teach his female protege the first 4 steps of the 8-step Buddha palm - even when she begs him on his deathbed
An old woman who wears a plastic face over her scarred real face until her apprentice gives her a magic branch that somehow returns her to her former beauty
An evil wizard whose fake leg can grow to twenty feet long and eight feet wide (think Street Fighter's Dhalsim, only more prone to fits of evil sarcastic laughter)
A man who shoots swastika covered energy beams out of his hands
Oh, and did I mention that Ta-Meng the dragon looks like what would happen if a water buffalo had a baby with an iguana and then someone gave it wings? No, that doesn’t quite capture it. Maybe he looks like a cross breed of the Neverending Story’s Falkor and a stegosaurus? Or if Sesame Street’s Snuffleupagus had a baby with a Chinese New Year’s dragon? Whatever the perfect metaphor is, he was weird looking and overly floppy, but I loved him. Every time he flew with someone on his back - which was a lot - I cracked up. Imagine someone riding on the back of one of those two-people horse costumes, but then add wings and make it fly past a mist-covered magic castle and you'll kind of get the picture.
Anyway, this is a movie that has to be seen to be believed. Actually, I saw it and I didn’t really believe it, so maybe I should say: this is a movie that has to be seen to be enjoyed. But it truly is enjoyable, in the way that only a completely insane movie where a half-blind misogynist does mid-air battle with a swastika-blasting anti-Buddhist can be enjoyable.