Mystery of Chess Boxing: Flippin & Trippin

May 24th, 2013 by | Tags: ,

Memory lane: my grandfather has been going to the video store every Tuesday after work for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I could make requests or beg him to come home before going to the store. Sometimes we’d go a couple times a week. When I was older, I could drive myself over there, but the bulk of my video store memories are of the two of us walking into the video store and splitting at the twin metal detectors.

He broke to the left to check out the new releases. At $2.50 for three days/overnight, that was a little rich for my blood. I broke right, because that’s where the trash was. $1.50 got you a five day rental of the finest — or maybe just “readily available,” my taste as a kid was and remains suspect — low budget no budget exploitation flicks. I tore through the Carnosaurs, ate up the Roger Cormans, and pretty much anything that might have had some blood or part of a boob in it.

The crown jewel of the video shop’s collection, at least for me, were the kung fu flicks. They came in garish boxes, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle green and sickly yellows. You can see a lot of the cases in this photobucket account. I don’t recognize each and every one of them, since tearing through two or three movies a week for a few years isn’t really conducive to making lasting memories, but I love them nonetheless. I’d buy the Wu-Tang Collection on DVD if I could, and every other flick I rented back then.

As a general rule, I really enjoyed every one of these as a kid. I’ve rewatched a few and I still like a lot of them, though some are utterly bottom of the barrel. Chinese Super Ninjas 2 is trash, sure, but Hell’s Wind Staff is great fun. Sometimes they’re outrageous enough to be entertaining despite their flaws, as in the case of Super Ninjas, but the good ones are genuinely good, like Drunken Master.

My favorite flick from this era is easily Mystery of Chess-Boxing, aka Ninja Checkmate. Joseph Kuo directed it, Ping Han Chiang wrote it, and Mark Long stars in it as Ghost Face Killer. He’s the villain, not the hero. It’s hard to put my finger on why, because I don’t think I’ve ever tried to explain why it’s so good. It just clicks for me, from the stunts to the jokes to the choreo. It’s funny, it’s plenty charming, and the fights aren’t the best, but they are great to watch.

Amazingly, it’s streaming for free on youtube. The video is marked with “official,” so I assume it’s legal. You can watch it here:

It’s well worth the 90 minutes. It’s overdramatic, full of musical stings, and a bunch of familiar characters. It’s got my favorite kung fu kitchen fight, too. You want spectacle? Watch Ghost Face Killer and his Five Elements kung fu tear a swath through the countryside. The joke with the table that’s about ten minutes in is great, too.

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2 comments to “Mystery of Chess Boxing: Flippin & Trippin”

  1. replace “Grandfather” with “Stepfather,” and this is a dead ringer for my young video store experience too. generally i spent more time in the horror section than the kung fu section, but i definitely loved the hell out of weird shit like Drunken Wu Tang and especially Crippled Masters (still do). thanks for this, there are still so many classic kung fu flicks i haven’t seen.

  2. For me it was the Saturday afternoon movies on WXON 20 out of Detroit. Early afternoon was a kung fu movie, then Hammer horror flicks or something with Godzilla in it.

    Hey, David, you dropped a comment on Twitter about this movieMystery of Chess-Boxing being a key to Ghostface Killah’s music. I thought about that a lot as I watched this. You ain’t wrong, and not just because of his namesake being the villain. The old master’s speech at 1:01:21 could double as a description of GFK:

    “Your style must combine toughness and gentleness. It must have the power to stop the waves, to stop anything….As fierce as an explosion. Roll, and make it hard, but make sure that it’s well controlled.”