Director: Wong Jing, Keung Kwok Man
Cast: Raymond Lam, Janice Man, Yun Qianqian, Sabrina Qiu, Xu Jinjiang, Alex Fong, Raymond Wong, Lok Ying Kwan, Jade Leung, Tin Kai Man, Lam Tze Chung, Derek Kwok, Yu Kang, Wilfred Lau, Xing Yu
Runtime: 1 hr 53 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 12 February 2022
Synopsis: The masters of the Six Major Sects were trapped in Wan On Temple, each of whom was hit with the Ten Scents Poisonous Powder, and lost all martial power. Zhang Wuji (Raymond Lam) led the Ming Sect masters and stormed into Dadu to rescue the victims of the Six Major Sects. However, Master No-mercy refused Wuji’s goodwill of saving her, and chose to end her life with Xuanming Duo. King Ruyang saw that Zhao Min (Janice Man) never struck a deadly blow on Wuji, he was convinced she had a crush on Wuji, so he took away her authority, and handed it over to Cheng Kun, who sought refuge in the Imperial Court. Min ran away in anger. As Wuji had promised Min to do three things for her, Min requested to take a look at the Dragon Saber, and was willing to travel with Wuji to Ice Fire Island thousands of miles away, with the company of Xiao Zhao (Yun Qianqian) and Zhiruo (Sabrina Qiu)…
We mentioned in our review of ‘New Kung Fu Cult Master 1’ that we were pleasantly surprised at how engrossing and exciting it turned out to be, given how wildly the quality of Wong Jing’s works over the years has been; and indeed, this concluding chapter simply reinforces why we need to approach each of Wong Jing’s films with equal parts hope and trepidation. Whilst watchable, ‘New Kung Fu Cult Master 2’ is a notable step-down in almost every respect from its predecessor, so consider that fair warning to those who, like us, were enamoured with the initial setup.
As promised at the end of the first movie, Wuji (Raymond Lam) journeys to Dadu with his fellow Ming Sect leaders, including Bat King (Raymond Wong) and Left Emissary Yang Xiao (Alex Fong), to free the members of the Six Major Sects whom Princess Zhao Ming (Janice Man) has trapped within the Wan On temple. Right from that very rescue mission, you get the sense the storytelling is off – not only does Wuji seem more interested in engaging the Princess than freeing the imprisoned with immediate urgency, there are too many subplots squeezed within, like how the Princess’ guardian Master Ku (Kwok Jing-hung) is in fact a sworn brother with Left Emissary Yang or how Miejue makes her disciple Zhiruo (Sabrina Qiu) swear that she would never fall in love or marry Wuji.
Unlike the mostly one-on-one battles in the first movie, the first big set-piece here exemplifies the weaknesses in co-director Keung Kwok-man’s action direction. Besides lacking proper build-up, the rescue attempt itself is hectically spliced together without an adequate sense of pacing, and is further marred by cheap CGI, not least when Wuji uses his mastery of the ‘Grand Diversion’ to bring those stuck in the upper floors of the burning temple down to ground safely.
These flaws are unfortunately underlined by the other set-pieces in the film: a confrontation between Wuji and the emissaries Moon, Cloud and Wind of the Ming Sect’s Western headquarters turns out underwhelming despite the presence of not just the Heavenly Sword but the equally famed Sacred Flame Plaques; ditto the climactic battle between Wuji and ultimate baddie Cheng Kun (Shi Yanneng), which will leave you feeling indifferent even as it pits the former’s Sacred Flame Plaques against the latter’s Indestructible Vajra.
It says a lot therefore that the action is nonetheless a comforting distraction from the storytelling, which only goes downhill over the course of the film. Now that he has come to terms with not seeking vengeance for what happened to his father many years ago, Wuji seems to be motivated only by his reluctance to let down any of the three girls he has fawning over him, namely Princess Zhao Min, the newly crowned Emei Sect leader Zhou Zhirou (Sabrina Qiu) and the soon-to-be-crowned Guardian Sectess of the Ming Sect Xiao Zhao (Yun Qianqian).
Than about him as a cult master, this chapter is more preoccupied with him as a love master – whether is it agreeing to Zhao Min’s wish to borrow the Dragon Sabre to study it alongside the Heavenly Sword, or agreeing to save Xiao Zhao’s mother the Purple-clad Dragon King from self-immolation after failing to obtain the manual to the Grand Diversion, or agreeing to release Zhirou’s Ren and Du pulse points so she can increase her internal strength to boost her martial arts skills. Whilst it is true in the classic Louis Cha novel that Wuji’s dalliances precipitate his circumstances, Wong Jing handles the twists and turns with little conviction and even less finesse.
It is indeed a pity, because it is ultimately Wong Jing’s scripting that undermines the entire movie. The writing barely spends any effort trying to let us get to know Wuji better, including why he would allow himself to be dictated by the whims and wishes of the women around him. It also hardly develops the relationship between Wuji and either of his three loves, besides having them take turns to gaze into each other’s eyes over a duet by Lam and Chen Yongtong. Worse, the last act unfolds like whiplash trying to spin betrayal after tragedy arising from Zhirou’s unfortunate obsession with uncovering the secret behind the Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre.
So while we were pleasantly surprised by its predecessor, we were left genuinely jaded by ‘New Kung Fu Cult Master 2’, particularly because we thought the point of Wong Jing revisiting this story was so he could get a chance to film the conclusion. Those who have read the book will know that there is more than enough material within for a trilogy, but to try to tell the story over the length of two feature films necessarily means Wong Jing should have had the good sense to trim down the story and make some narrative adjustments. As much as you feel compelled to see how it ends, we urge you to leave it hanging; at least then you’d have done so at a high, than endure a sure but gradual descent to new lows.
(If this is the sequel Wong Jing did not get to make back in the 1990s, we'd rather he did not make it after all)
Review by Gabriel Chong