Most Hong Kong cinema fans know Kirk Wong’s 1983 film “Flash Future Kung Fu“. They know that the Ocean Shores English-dubbed DVD is the only current available version. And they know it is cropped, faded, heavily edited uber-crap. While I don’t want anyone to see this version, I know it is the one we all end up seeing. Sadly, because of its execrable print condition, “Flash Future Kung Fu” is given short shrift by reviewers – a first natural reaction, I suppose, to a film that has been chopped and squeezed into a tiny ball of utter nonsense.
This is a shame because beyond Ocean Shore’s butchery lies a pretty damn awesome film. “Flash Future Kung Fu” was nominated for six HK Film Awards in 1984*, and not without reason. These nominations are in themselves a big clue to the fact that something is very, very wrong with the version available today.
When I put on my Sherlock hat to try to look beyond the print destruction and piece together what remains of the story, I can vaguely see an extremely innovative film with outstanding art production and an entirely fresh take on the classic Chinese conflict (East-vs-West, Tradition-vs-Modernity) that dominates kung fu cinema. The cast is great. Wang Lung Wei stars in his only leading hero role. His co-stars are Ray Lui Leung Wai and Eddy Ko Hung. San Kwai/Shan Yeh and that natural phenomenon called Elvis Tsui make delightful appearances. The sets are quite creative and interesting, and very different than what we find in typical 1980s Hong Kong cinema. The fight scenes are excellent, if you study them carefully. It was a very creative, fun film, and the story was probably good. It earned a Best Screenplay nomination so you can place a pretty safe bet that it was very good.
Looking at the Ocean Shores version, I can only assume that it has been seriously damaged by heavy-handed editing. Here are the reasons for my accusation: One, there are some sudden abrupt sound changes in a film that mostly uses good music fades/overlays for its scene shifts. This indicates crappy excisions. And yet the film earned a “Best Editor” nomination. “Somebody cut the hell out of the Ocean Shores version” seems like the most likely scenario.
Two, there are one or two scenes in which an actor vaguely refers to a previous scene that is not in the film.
Three, and most importantly, there is no main villain. Have you ever seen a Hong Kong film without a villain? Where are his dastardly conversations with his minions? Where is his order to kill Lui Leung Wai? He is nowhere to be found, and that’s just not HK cinema style. He appears very briefly in a short nonsensical (e.g. edited) scene in the beginning of the film and he returns at the very end to fight in the ring with Wang Lung Wei. And that’s all we see of him.
It seems that all of the villain’s other scenes were purposely edited out of the film later. This may be the primary reason why the Ocean Shores print makes not one whit of sense. Try to follow the story. You can’t; there are too many non-sequitur leaps from one scene to the next. And since the villain almost entirely absent, I believe that it is precisely his scenes which have been removed, leaving nothing more than an absurd, twisted, film wreckage.
Don’t hate the film maker; hate the distributor or studio who made this decision, probably for “legal reasons”.
A tiny bit of light can be shed on the film via the Ocean Shores Cantonese dubbed version (currently unavailable). It it un-subtitled and the print is only slightly less crappy. There is almost no quality difference between this print and the English dubbed version except that the color is a bit better.
The Cantonese version is still criminally cropped, which means we can only experience emotional moments via the cheekbones of Ko Hung and Wang Lung Wei:
Other differences are: some very brief nudity in a club is cut from the Chinese version (typical Chinese censorship but not a big deal), and the final fight scene is a full two minutes longer. That’s a much bigger deal. You can probably see it on Youtube**.
The Cantonese dubbed version also contains a couple interesting title cards. Here’s a screencap that I hope causes nerdly satisfaction somewhere: the title card with the name of the film company, Verdull. I hope this screencap can help online databases give credit where it’s due.
The credits in the Chinese version are of course in Chinese, and here is one that is very interesting:
The top line says “Action Director: Lyun Mouh Keung”. This isn’t a name. It’s slang for “thick curly hair”. It is a term usually used for men with perms (or sometimes men with natty hair). The meaning of this slang term is: a guy with one of those HK 80’s perms. And the meaning is that he is a low-level wannabe triad; a punk; a pimp; a gangsta.*** I wager a six pack and a bag of Doritos that this is Wang Lung Wei. First because his hair is really natty, and second because the choreography style of “Flash Future Kung Fu” is very, very similar to his personal style. Maybe it’s him and maybe it isn’t. Does anybody know?
Other credits for the film can be found in the standard online Hong Kong movie databases. But I still don’t know the name of the actor who plays the villain. He looks Korean (just a guess) and he certainly is an ass kicker. If you know who he is, let me know!
As an interesting side note, Charlie Parker identifies Velvet Underground’s song “Venus In Furs” in the club transvestite dance scene. Kirk Wong knew what he was doing. If you know of any other “borrowed” music, it would be cool to give them credit.
Now for the missing subtitles. In both versions of the film there are two prologue cards cut into the opening sequence. They are not subtitled. Just like “Long Arm of the Law“, it seems that the powers-that-be don’t care about you. But unlike that film, the prologue cards for “Flash Future Kung Fu”‘ can’t tell you much more than what you can deduce from simply watching the film. Still, the lack of subtitles rankles, know what I mean? To satisfy my nerdly needs, below is an approximate translation. I beg you to correct my errors.
“In the early part of the next century there was enormous advancement in science and technology. This created extreme sluggishness (in people). Civilization experienced complete destruction; society collapsed; industry and commerce ground to a halt. People became decadent; without goals their strength collapsed. They began to build stamina through exercise and became engrossed in underground boxing matches. The world of martial clubs became young people’s only home.”
“At the edge of this martial club world, the “Jing [Upright] Martial Club” upheld their mighty task of developing orthodox martial virtues. Many were trained under their strict, sincere rules. The background for the sudden rise of the “Culture Society” is unclear. Members were trained with science and pharmaceuticals, and a decadent lifestyle was used to attract the new generations. Their power rapidly expanded.”
Okay, well, yeah. Not a whole lot you hadn’t already figured out.
And here is the final card:
And now a little clarification on the title. The original Chinese title is 打擂台 (da leuih toih), which means “fight in the ring”. Here it is on the title card from the Cantonese version:
The film goes by several English names depending on distribution region. “Digital Master” and “Mr. Digital” exist for some reason and “Flash Future Kung Fu” is the title used by many fans in the West. We’ve seen this popular cover:
The title “Health Warning” is also common. This may possibly be the Hong Kong English title, as mentioned in the IMDB entry. Google Translate seems to have conflated this title and the actual meaning of 打擂台 (fight in the ring). That is really fucked up and dumb. And lastly, 打擂台 is also the Chinese title of the 2010 movie “Gallants”. I know all these titles may feel uncomfortable but life is filled with ambiguity and we must do our best to keep moving forward.
Tragically, the titles make more sense than the Ocean Shores version of the film. I hope to one day see the film restored, with a new release that will put it back onto the little throne it deserves. I will be in the front row, cheering.
If you have any information on this film, please let me know! I’d love to add it to this article.
For a detailed comparison of the two versions and a comprehensive review, check out the Podcast On Fire’s episode entirely devoted to the film in which I go ham and won’t stop talking even though I am only a guest. Wopsploitation wrote about the film’s many wonders here and Steve at Chopsticks on Fire has a lot of fun with it here. He also made a great video of Wang Lung Wei just smashing the crap out of everything, which is always a beautiful thing to see.
* Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay, Best Film Editor, Best Art Director; Best Music. 3rd HK Film Awards website page (Chinese) here.
** There are many un-subbed Youtube clips with Cantonese and Mandarin audio options. They seem to be the Ocean Shores print.
*** Super dojeh saai to knowledgeable Cantonese speakers Frank Djeng and Den DaiDee for their help.