New Kung Fu Cult Master 2 has the arduous task of tying up all the plot threads set up in the first movie, and if anyone has read the book, The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (倚天屠龙记), or watched the many TV shows based on the popular novel by noted wuxia author Jin Yong, there’s the fear of not bring up to the task.
These threads include the fight for the legendary weapons, the Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber, the power balance between the six sects in the world of wulin, the search for the villains, and of course, all that romantic tension between protagonist Zhang Wuji (Raymond Lam) and the three women in his life – Zhou Zhiruo (Sabrina Qiu), Xiao Zhao (Yun Qianqian), and Zhao Min (Janice Man) – vying for his love.
In other words, there are too many threads left dangling, for any single movie to contain. And therein lies the challenge of part 2 of this new take on the classic book. While the genre is still unmistakably that of wuxia, this sequel is structured more like a romance than an action flick. There are large action set pieces and unexpected schemes unfolding, but Zhang Wuji’s shifting relationships with Zhou Zhiruo, Xiao Zhao, and Zhao Min take centrestage, even though they’re situated within the macro power struggles between factions and powerful individuals.
As the story revolves around him and his trio of lasses, the importance of the characters from other sects is diminished due to Wuji being the main focal point. From a narrative standpoint, the romance feels more high stakes since Wuji is portrayed as the strongest character in the series, and thus it is never in question whether he’d win or lose a fight. However, being good at fighting doesn’t mean he’s good at sorting out the pseudo-harem that has formed around him.
The three women each have their own reason why they can’t just abandon everything and pursue Wuji, and the movie spends quite a bit setting up what will ultimately be doomed romances. Zhou Zhiruo is forced by her master, Miejue (Jade Leung), to make a promise to never end up with Wuji. As it turns out, Xiao Zhao is the daughter of a saintess, and the sole heir of the position, which requires her to remain celibate for life. Meanwhile, Zhao Min is from the Imperial Court, which sees Wuji and the Ming Sect as enemies.
Like a sappy Mills & Boon novel, part 2 places Wuji and his three women in scenes that set up potentially interesting interactions between each couple, but before we can invest any time in each of the relationships, the movie conveniently moves each one off the table, and points Wuji somewhere else. There are several plot twists along the way, but they lack the depth and intensity from the book, and the result is an unsatisfying narrative. Also, for much of the movie, Wuji refuses to be upfront about his feelings for all three women, behaving like an oblivious harem manga protagonist with a heart of gold.
Wuji’s characterisation may be more faithful to the original novel, but by cramming the content of an entire novel into two hours of runtime, nuances are bound to be lost in adaptation. The character rendered most egregiously, however, is Zhou Zhiruo. Mild spoilers – In the movie, she hatched a nasty scheme to frame Zhao Min, obtain the Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber for herself, acquire the position of Emei sect leader, and become Wuji’s lover.
If you read the book, it makes sense before time is spent setting her up but to see her duplicity played out in five minutes is like a slap across the face, as it goes against the characterisation and portrayal of Zhou Zhiruo in the entirety of the first movie, and everything that transpired in the second prior to the twist. The gentle and lovelorn woman is revealed to be power-hungry and cunning, going so far as to murder someone to silence him and to kidnap Wuji’s godfather Xie Xun (Elvis Tsui).
Is there a justification for the personality whiplash? Yes, but they’re not convincing. In the novel, she did abhorrent things because of her master’s dying orders, but we don’t see these orders given in New Kung Fu Cult Master 2. Sure, it is initially implied, and even mentioned in passing later, but it could’ve been much more explicit, leaving no room for doubt, especially since Miejue and Zhou Zhiruo do have a scene together. Also, her willingness to marry Wuji suggests that she’s fine with exploiting loopholes in the promise she made with Miejue, so why then would she decide to compromise her own moral standing, to follow Miejue’s orders?
It is implied that her personality was altered due to her learning the Nine Yin White Bone Claw (九阴白骨爪). That is a reasonable justification, but the timeskip isn’t communicated well. A significant amount of time passed between Zhou Zhiruo learning the technique and her becoming a ruthless person, but when that timeskip occurred, it isn’t at all clear, and only mentioned in a blink-it-and-miss-it line of dialogue.
New Kung Fu Cult Master 2 feels rushed, as it is trying to present all the major scenes in the novel that the first movie didn’t get to. Thus, the pace is blistering, which is a detriment to a wuxia movie that’s romance-heavy, especially one where the protagonist has three potential partners to contend with. We don’t get to see the characters build chemistry or deepen their bond convincingly, because the plot is always pushing them towards the next big scene.
The way the many-sided romance is resolved is also not satisfying. The plot is extremely nice to Wuji. He isn’t forced to make any difficult choices here. Out of the three women, Xiao Zhao gave up her freedom for Wuji, sworn to a life of celibacy and is thus out of the running. Zhou Zhiruo dies in the end to Cheng Kun (Xing Yu), the main antagonist whose existence is frankly barely felt in the plot, since his grand machinations come across as more of a subplot. Right before she dies, she even graciously gives her blessings for Wuji to be together with Zhao Min.
One can only dream of being as lucky in love as Wuji, who unintentionally builds a harem, and then have only a single choice left when it comes time to make a committal decision as every other woman is conveniently inconvenienced. And here’s the kicker – the movie doesn’t go further than showing Wuji and Zhao Min walk away together.
As for the action, part 1 did a better job and not because Donnie Yen was in that, and not this. While there are some good action sequences and choreography, it generally feels like there’s a sort of power creep between the first movie and this one. There are more CGI and super powers being thrown around, making some of the scenes feel rather Naruto-esque, and less Hong Kong action cinema. For example, one of the goofiest techniques involves Wuji making two shadow clones of himself in the shape of the Mercedes logo, which then starts to rotate like a windmill. Despite that, or perhaps because of the goofiness, the action scenes are fun to watch because of how silly it can be at times. Alas, due to the lack of cinematic weight given to the fate of wulin and the supposed major power struggle, these sequences lack emotional impact, making them rather breezy to watch, for better or for worse.
While New Kung Fu Cult Master 1 built up anticipation and set up the foundation for an enthralling story, New Kung Fu Cult Master 2 didn’t manage to deliver, due to a rushed pace and slight mischaracterisation of a core character.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Audiences have waited since 1993 for director Wong Jing to produce a sequel to his original Kung Fu Cult Master movie, but he decided to reboot them instead. While New Part 1 is better than the original, Part 2 makes it seem like the series should’ve been a three-parter instead.
Story - 7.5/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7/10