I thought this film series had never been translated into English but I did find one image online that shows it may have been subbed at some time, somewhere:
But I have not been able to track down this or any other English-subbed version. There is a probability that this screencap is from a Buddha Palm-like film also starring Walter Cho, since he did make several including the adorable, amazing White Bone Yin Yang Sword (1963) which features Yu So Chow and hopping vampires. If you can identify this screencap, please let me know.
If you like the illustration at the top of this post, please check out the high-quality “Buddha Palm High Five” card and other prints by Robert Shaw on Etsy. I have several Robert Shaw prints, and I can say with confidence that the printing makes this and all of his images much, much cuter than they appear online. Please support the work of this cool kung fu cinema artist with your purchase!
Some information about the film, translation notes, shout-outs and links:
BUDDHA PALM (Part 1) / 如來神掌(上集) is a black-and-white 1964 Cantonese language wuxia film from Hong Kong. Because of its tremendous box office success, four more films were quickly made, three of which are direct sequels. It is, like most wuxia films, based on a novel: this time by author Shangguan Hong. Buddha Palm is considered by many to be the quintessential 1960’s fantasy wuxia film. Its popularity spawned a bunch of similar films, and it remains an active part of Hong Kong cinema consciousness. Similar films, like the wonderful Three Heroines aka Pledge of the Twin Blade are online*. Unlike some of its imitators, Buddha Palm is very well-paced and does not “drag”. There are many reasons why Buddha Palm is a special film; I won’t talk about it here but you can find more information in the links below. Sadly, not too many of fantasy wuxia films were made because the style was popular in Hong Kong for only a short time. Overly-simple dialogue, wieldy operatic action and “crude” special effects are just not fun for everyone. For me, they are part of the charm.
There is a good chance you will not like Buddha Palm. Enormous amounts of disbelief will need to be suspended to go along with the idea that nobody can recognize Long Gim Fei without his scars. There is some incredibly dumb decision-making (a story-telling device that creates tension), horrible parenting, and some perspectives that are offensive to current Western values. Cultural norms aside, the story themes are universal, and this is a story we have all been telling each other in various ways for a very long time. Buddha Palm can offer adventure and delight if we allow it to simply be what it is, and if we keep in mind what it was meant to be: a hero-journey morality fairy tale for audiences of all ages.
Today in Hong Kong, Buddha Palm is still a beloved wuxia classic, and references abound in contemporary films. I love Stephen Chow’s spot-on imitation of Walter Cho in Corey Yuen’s action comedy Fist of Fury 1991. This comic tribute is heartwarming and hilarious. Ultimately, even if you don’t like the original film, it is a valuable reference for understanding Hong Kong cinema.
Among the cast, many faces are recognizable today. Walter Cho Tat Wah, Sai Gwa Pau and Kwan Hoi San are well-known in Western fan circles. Lam Fung, Yu So Chao, Ko Lo Chuen, Ling Mung and Siu Chung Kwan were popular in their time and should be noted for their skill. Kung fu cinema enthusiasts should like seeing very young masters Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gaai, master Simon Yuen, and Chan Siu Pang (hidden in a giant eagle suit). Director Ling Yun (Cantonese spelling Ling Wan) was a very important and influential figure in wuxia and opera film making. Please note that this is NOT the dark-n-handsome movie star Ling Yun. There is conflation on the internet.
Translation Notes: I tried to stick with Cantonese Yale spelling but conceded to some popular Romanizations. For example, I use the Mandarin phrase “Jiang Hu” rather than the Cantonese “Gong Wu” because Jiang Hu is widely recognized and Gong Wu is not. I also tried to include as many Chinese idioms as possible to retain the original “flavor”. Since I am merely a student of Cantonese, I kindly request the help of any fluent speaker/reader who would like to correct my subtitles. Please feel free to contact me with questions, suggestions and corrections.
Names and titles: I chose to have Long Gim Fei call Ming “Little Sister” but he actually says “Little Apprentice Sister”. This title is part of the Chinese system of calling someone not by their name but by their ranked mutual relationship. I try to include these kinds of titles as much as possible to retain authentic dialogue. In the wuxia world, calling somebody “Hero” is very common. So although “Hero Long” may feel awkward in English, it is authentic and I choose to use it. My goal is for Western audiences to become more familiar and comfortable with these kinds of titles so that they can gain a better understanding and appreciation of Hong Kong film. This kind of exposure might help a little when trying to deduce the meanings of notoriously awkward Hong Kong Subtitles but I doubt it.
Also, most of the proper names hold meaning that I did not translate. Chinese character names are just the same as Western ones, e.g. the name “Jack Stud” conveys manliness. But Long Gim Fei’s English name would be something like ” Flying Sword Dragon”, and Suen Bik Ling is “Jade Tinkle” which is just downright awkward. “Longevity Sky” is a really cool name but it just doesn’t make a good subtitle. I chose flow over exactitude. I hope my translation flows well for you.
Shoutouts: Many people freely gave their time and energy to help make these subs. Super-thanks to Cantonese-English subtitle expert Frank Djeng, Kenneth Woo, Molle Parr, Miyuki Kobayashi, Jon Jung, Louisa Wei and Chan Hong Soi for translation help. Many thanks to John Skarp and archivist Greg Freeman for their technical expertise. I cannot thank Greg enough for patiently teaching me how to convert files and operate a subtitle program, and for cleaning up my file. Thanks to my Heroic Sisters Jane and Meredith, and Ken Brorsson from Podcast On Fire, all unfailingly supportive friends. Without all of these people, there would be no subtitles. Thank you!
Join the Heroic Sisterhood – Ladies Asian Action Cinema Appreciation Society page on Facebook to stay updated on my upcoming subtitles and other wuxia interests. I am currently working on the subtitles for the conclusion of Buddha Palm, BUDDHA PALM – PART 2!
Remember to get your own “Buddha Palm High Five” card on Etsy!
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
The film and subtitles are here. Download both files for a media player.
Yu So Chau has a Facebook page!
Stephen Teo’s excellent book Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition has more information on the Buddha Palm film series and other major wuxia films.
Law Kar’s book Hong Kong Cinema: A Cross-Cultural View is a very important book that discusses wuxia and the Buddha Palm series.
TarsTarkas.net did a multi-post write-up on the Buddha Palm film series. It is worth checking out for his thorough gallery of screen caps. And kudos to him for coming pretty dang close to figuring out the plot.
Here is my Fiery Cloud Battle Shirt dress pattern from Vogue. No, it’s not real. I made it all up.
Illustrator Robert Shaw has a website too.
*Many heartfelt thanks to Wong Jock Onn for introducing this and other wuxia films to me.
Feel free to contact me here or on the Heroic Sisterhood Facebook page to talk about Buddha Palm or other wuxia stuff. And thanks for reading all the way to the very bottom!