Born invincible (1978) Review

Born invincible (1978) Review

Theatrical poster “Born invincible”.

Director: Joseph Kuo
Cast: Mark Long, Jack Long, Carter Wong, Lo Lieh, Nancy Yen, Corey Yuen, Yuen Shun Yee, Lung Fei, Alan Chui, Yuen Sam, Chen Chiu, Chu Siu Wa, Yuen Woo Ping
Duration: 83 mins.

By Ian Whittle

My immediate reaction to Born invincible is that someone must have put all the actors’ names in a hat before casting the roles… we have regular villain Lung Fei playing the master of the good guys, Jack Long playing a student rather than an old master, and also if Lo Lieh is in the cast, he’s not playing the white-haired villain with the retractable groin. Nancy Yen was lucky to end up with one of the female roles!

The film begins with a kind of mini-documentary about Tai Chi… which according to this film is not a group of old people doing morning exercises in the park, but rather a little boy being trained in a technique that will make him practically invincible. The problem…it will turn his hair white, make his voice “weird in the ear” and make him sound like Carter Wong.

From there we proceed to Lei Ping School rescuing an old man and his daughter from the Chin San gang (represented by choreographers Corey Yuen Kwai and Yuen Shun-yi in wigs resembling old rags). Unfortunately for the Lei Ping School, their teacher is played by Lung Fei, who despite being a seemingly good boy is a real obstacle. He punishes his pupils for helping the weak by punishing them, most ridiculous of all was the sentencing of a student (Mark Long) to 3 years without kung fu practice!

The masters of the Chin San gang have arrived on the scene to take their revenge and kill Lei Ping’s master and senior student, and we have a strange piece of casting here too. Lo Lieh plays the more ordinary master Chin Sang, but he’s dubbed by that English voice actor with the effeminate, eunuch voice (if you’re British, sound like Melvyn Hayes; if you’re American, John Fielder). Carter Wong, in a white wig and shiny waistcoat, is voiced by Rick Thomas, who doesn’t really know the high pitch, and seems to have trouble blocking his character’s accent, resulting in a strange Apu from The Simpsons and old Irish drag-act Old Mother Riley. Thomas also struggles with the character’s signature (and plot point-specific!) laugh, resulting in a sudden and frequent jump to the Mandarin voice actor. Just to complete the ridiculous image, every time Wong does the groin retraction, the soundtrack plays a whistling sound similar to the one that marred the car’s 360-degree stunt in The man with the golden gun.

The rather ridiculous villains aren’t helped by the fact that Lei Ping School is mostly full of boring milksops. Only Mark Long’s character has any real depth and, in the manner of many of the previous post-Big boss bashers, the plot manages to keep him from fighting for as long as possible – and even by the standards of this genre, 3 years is absurd! The bad guys could die of old age at that moment!

recall Born invincible having a fine reputation in certain circles – the eccentric Falkor of Rare Kung Fu Movies was a huge fan – but the film as a whole, entertaining as it is, is compromised by a ridiculously contrived plot, goofy heroes AND villains, and some rather disappointing the fight choreography, which despite being designed by Yuen Woo-ping, relies too much on the cut of the shot and on the unconvincing doubles.

I will say this: It’s worth a look at the people who thought Carter Wong couldn’t get a more ridiculous role than his bullfrog impression in Big trouble in Little China

Rating by Ian Whittle: 4/10