My Kung Fu 12 Kicks - After the success in 1978 of Drunken Master, the Hong Kong cinema industry was quick to cash-in with kung fu flicks starring cheeky, loveable rogues in an action/comedy vein. Whereas Drunken Master was a sort-of polished remake of 1977's Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (which also shared stars Hwang Jang Lee and Roy Horan and action director Yuen Woo Ping with Snuff Bottle Connection of the same year), My Kung Fu 12 Kicks is sadly more like a cheap knock-off.
Ta Pien is a pickpocket who falls foul of the village loan shark, Chow, when he is caught dipping and receives a beating for his troubles. Brothel cleaner Ah Chai helps him home to the old temple which he shares with Mr Wu. He suggests that he learns kung fu to get his revenge, but on the way to the local school they find the three teachers being beaten by Iron Skin Kwai, who is after their secret book of techniques. When Ta Pien gives refuge to the crippled teachers at the temple, the three decide to teach him how to fight. But after getting his revenge on Chow and his men, Chow hires Kwai to take Ta Pien down. It is then that the old rickshaw driver Mr Wu steps in to teach Ta Pien his formidable Tan Toi style. There's also a love interest in the form of a girl sold to Chow for the brothel who escapes with Ah Chai to the temple but is then kidnapped by Chow, though she seems to be forgotten about by the end of the film.
One big problem with 12 Kicks plot-wise is that, unlike the other films from the Drunken Master stable, Ta Pien pretty much deserves his first beating for being a thief so it's hard to get behind him in his initial quest for revenge on Chow as it's all his own fault. The nods toward more clear-cut villainy with Chow buying the girl for his brothel is also dampened when it seems that Ta Pien barely gives a damn about her anyway and is much more enthusiastic about biting thug's ears.
My Kung Fu 12 Kicks starts off with what looks like a kung fu master with a hairy goat's head throwing some moves to a Whicker's World-type cheesy voice-over explaining the origins of the Tan Toi style. It doesn't get much better. The humour here is all desperate gurning and slapstick and whilst the fight scenes do improve as the movie goes on, they never reach the giddy heights of the better late 70s martial arts films. With none of the fights taken particularly seriously it's left to the comedy to shoulder the burden but many of the jokes just aren't funny, rarely if ever matching the physical comedy displayed in Drunken Master.
The low budget is evident throughout, you can even see the electric wiring for the buildings overhead in street scenes and on the front of what is meant to be the old temple, and the dub is the crappy caricatured style that seemed to go down well 30 years ago but renders all the dialogue ridiculous rather than humorous. Any merits to the film as, say, a post-pub indulgence are ruined by the awful presentation that does nothing but detract from an already dangerously average film.
The picture on this disc looks like an ex-rental video from the early 80s that you found in the attic; marks and scratches appear on the print throughout; the panned-and-scanned ratio frequently chops out the main action leaving you looking at half a person or an empty background; the darker scenes are so murky that it looks as if they couldn't afford lights and in general it's one of the worst looking DVDs I've yet seen. With no Cantonese language track or subs you are left with only the embarrassing stereo dub, so when you factor in the extras consisting largely of a poor promo trailer you get the complete package, albeit one of sewage.
My Kung Fu 12 Kicks isn't very good, but this DVD is diabolical. Even if you'd already seen every old school kung fu flick going and were desperate for more it would be insane not to seek out a different version. A poor release for a videotape, I can't see any option other than giving this stinker a wide berth.