Tuesday, 4 August 2015

K'ing Kung Fu

K'ing Kung Fu was a series of chop-socky pulpers that came with an iconic logo, and some beautiful Bruce Lee take-off covers courtesy of Chris Achilleos for the UK, and some barmy ones by Barry Smith for the USA. Plus there was a couple by Dick Giordano. Sadly, they weren't quite as epically fun as those covers promised.
The first volume, Son Of The Flying Tiger, takes 180 odd pages to tell an origin story that really could've taken 30 at the most.
Lin Fong, aged & venerable Master Of Kung Fu, lives in a shack in the Gobi desert with his two students, nice guy Chong Fei K'ing, and destined for a bad end Kak Nan Tang.

Lin Fong is a master of The Blue Circle, a worldwide Kung Fu peacekeeping force, guiding people towards the heavenly city of Zhamballa, and he spends his time training his students so that they're not tempted towards the evil Red Circle of bad guys.
It all begins with K'ing wondering where Lin Fong regularly disappears to for days on end, and one morning decides to follow him to a nearby patch of trees.
After making the young K'ing live in a shack in a middle of the desert, learning the way of Tao for months on end, you kind of hope Lin actually secretly visits a brothel or a casino on the sly, but no, it seems he goes off to practice chopping railway sleepers in half.
Because K'ing has followed him, this apparently means he is at last ready to learn the sacred art of Kung Fu. Good for him.

Before that though, Lin launches into a seemingly endless reminiscence about K'ing's father, who was the leader of a crack team of fighter pilots called The Flying Tigers. You can literally feel yourself growing older while reading this section, and you do suspect that Lin Fong, for all his wisdom, may've spent a bit too long living in the desert by himself as, boy, does he love the sound of his own voice.

Due to Lin Fong's world-wide reputation, he & K'ing are fed and looked after by a handy nomad tribe living nearby, and has set himself up as their guardian and protector. One day, their leader Ton Te Ming turns up at the shack, asking for help. The tribe has been massacred by a gang of Mongol warriors, claiming water rights to the only oasis for hundreds of miles.
Aware that the reader may be falling asleep with all his speechifying, Lin Fong immediately heads out to kick some Mongol ass, Ton & K'ing in tow.
Taking on an army single-handed, we finally get some gore-filled violence, as the 70 year old Master splits skulls, splinters spines and crushes genitals. And still finds time to lecture K'ing on death, reincarnation, the inherent weakness of men who use guns and the ins and outs of a duck's arse.
The bad guys are actually Opium smugglers, and old enemies of Lin Fong, so he unfortunately has to kill every single one of them in what's easily the best section in the book.
Mind you, these drug dealers are never really mentioned again, leading you to suspect they were included simply to justify a fight scene.

Soon after this Kak Nan Tang shows up to begin his Blue Circle training, and for a few years all is well, although both Lin Fong & K'ing suspect Kak is slowly turning to the dark side, and enjoying Kung Fu violence a bit too much.
Then one day an American shows up in a jeep, with two boys of his own. This bad guy is, rather oddly, called Loki and is, of course, an emissary of the Red Circle and has come to challenge our three navel-gazing heroes to a battle to the death.
If only it was that simple. Before we get to the action, we have to wade through yet another chapter of meditation, pontification and rumination.

Eventually, Lin Fong fights Loki, and K'ing & Kak take on their rivals. The adults fight to a draw, while Kak annihilates his direct opposite, then wanders off into the desert to meditate about it for a chapter or several.
Off screen, he then kills Loki and his other charge, before finally coming back to the shack and bawling out Lin Fong before, in what's quite an unexpected move for a Kung Fu novel, shooting him in the head.
K'ing and Kak then fight a duel to the near death, both to the point of exhaustion, and K'ing nearly, but not quite, kills Kak. Then Kak runs away. The end.

This is a completely bizarre, epically frustrating book where, when the action and the story actually kick in, it's great. But in between, there are literally acres of dull as dishwater dialogue, interspersed with way, way, way too much navel gazing. Remember Kwai Chang Caine's flashback scenes in Kung Fu? Imagine an entire novel of just those bits. You spend the whole time shouting at the writer to just get on with it, pleez.

The second volume, Return Of The Opium Wars, follows much the same pattern. In this, Chong Fei K'ing chases after Kak Nan Tang, swearing vengeance for the murder of their master.
While on the run, Kak has killed a family and stolen their boat, aiming for Shanghai where he can catch up with his new masters, The Red Circle.
K'ing teams up with the surviving daughter of the murdered family, Sun Lee Fong, and sets off down the river after Kak in what must be the slowest, dullest revenge chase ever.
There follows page after page of K'ing philosophising about The Way, The Zhamaballa, the ins and outs of another duck's arse and just about anything rather than get on with the bloody story.
Interspersed with all this navel gazing are endless flashbacks to when Lin Fong fought The Red Circle during the original Opium Wars, leading us farther away from any kind of momentum. Still, at least there are actual action scenes in these chapters, as for most of the book, Kak disappears completely from the story, and K'ing literally does nothing exciting at all.

Eventually, K'ing & Sun Lee reach Shanghai, and meet Hsaio Tsai, an old opium addict who's been instructed, in mystic dreams of Lin Fong, to guide them.
Unfortunatly, Hasiao ( and Macao ) then spend an entire chapter detailing, in excruciating detail, the entire history of the opium trade in China, which grinds the story to an absolute dead stop, when all he really needed to say was: they're the bad guys, and we have to stop them.
After this though, the book ( and the reader ) finally wakes up, as the rest of the story is one long action scene blending into another, as K'ing takes apart an opium den, before mounting an assault on The Red Circle's mansion headquarters, and ending up at a dockland battle where he nearly, but not quite, again, kills Kan Nan Tang.
It's also at this point that The Moor, a black Kung Fu master presumably played by Fred Williamson, pops up to fight alongside K'ing. He's a character who hasn't even been alluded to before, but he should have turned up sooner, as he's easily the best thing in the book.
Return Of The Opium Wars has, sadly, all the same faults as it's predecessor, taking way too long to get to the action, and although there are lines like the following:
He himself did not know whether Hsiao had already awakened in a heavenly city of perfect peace or whether nothing remained of the old addict but a mutilated corpse with it's face blown in.
There's nowhere near enough of that kind of pulpy fun.
I'm probably being a bit too harsh on K'ing Kung Fu, but compared to something as action packed and fast paced as Steve's Lee's Sloane, it can't help but drag. But then you've got later books with fantastic titles like Red Plague In Bolivia and New York Necromancy. Maybe it gets better. Anybody tried any of the others?

1 comment:

  1. I agree 100%. The comics in the 70's were so much better in every way. The artist really put their blood and sweat into each issue, and you could feel the pain of the character in each issue. Those older comics are a treasure, and I still have a huge box full of comics that I read to my kids now.

    Matthew Lawrence @ Kung Fu Philly