The Plot in 18 words (in honor of the 18 weapons featured in the movie)
Master betrays his clan, goes into hiding. Many assassins are sent to kill him, but their success... varies.
The Best Bits
Each of the “legendary weapons” gets introduced like a character, complete with a little title card and a freeze frame (my personal favorite is the three section staff), all ultimately highlighted at the end in the climactic end battle. What helps with those weapons is a really deep bench of martial arts talent, going at least 6 deep in terms of principal characters, including the director Lau Kar Leung, Chia Yung Liu, Kara Wai, and the great Gordon Liu. Kara Wai in particular is awesome as an undercover agent trying to discover the hidden master.
Did this make sense back in the '80s?
Gordon Liu and director Lau Kar Leung had collaborated on 18 films, the most famous probably being The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Gordon Liu and Kara Wai also collaborated in 15 films, including Clan of the White Lotus.
Religious hocus pocus - in one of the earliest scenes, a young disciple of the clan is involved in a spiritual ceremony where he ends up putting out the candles with his kung fu, and then bites off and eats the extinguished candles. I know there’s cultural context I’m missing here, but it looks full-out crazy. Gordon Liu is also admonishing members of the same clan to use their kung fu to survive gunshots. It goes… about as well as can be expected.
I’ve seen hypnosis in martial arts movies before, but this feels like the first time I’ve seen voodoo body control. There is a particularly engaging segment of voodoo where the main villain wishes to fend off Wu and his gang of charlatans, which involves a slapstick parade of hiding, mistaken identities, outhouses, and sewage ponds. It feels like I’m making a case for Wu and his gang to be the secret MVPs of this movie.
Here’s the trailer: