In our review of the Crazy 88 figures, we pointed out that their leader, Johnny Mo, was played by martial arts legend Gordon Liu, and asked what the odds were of ever getting another figure of the star. Turns out the odds were pretty good.
A martial arts master who trained Bill, Elle, and the Bride. According to legend Pai Mei was head priest of the White Lotus Clan and was over 1000 years old. Pai Mei is the only known master of the legendary "Five-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique."
Now this is a figure no one expected to get. Yes, Pai Mei's scenes in the movie were quite memorable, but movie toys, even ones aimed at collectors, always seem to be solely focused on the main characters to the detriment of everyone else; it's not like we get figures of the kids Freddy kills, you know? We only ever see Pai Mei in flashback, yet here he is in Series 2 of NECA's figures.
Pai Mei was a character seen often in the chopsockey movies Quentin Tarantino grew up on, but he was also a real-life person. And we don't mean that story Bill told the Bride, either; we're talking real, historical fact. Maybe.
During the early Qing dynasty, a fierce revolutionary army was raised against the empire. When the emperor's troops could no longer contain the revolt, emperor Kangxi called upon the monks of the southern Shaolin temple for help. Over a period of three months, the 128 monks decimated the warriors without suffering a single casualty. This earned the monks enemies in the Qing army and the royal court, who feared that they might turn against the Empire. While Kangxi ignored these rumors, his successor did not, calling for the destruction of the temple.
The imperial army attacked, killing 110 monks, and another 70 days were spent hunting down the 18 survivors. The remaining monks managed to inflict massive casualties on their pursuers, but eventually there were only five left: three monks, a nun and an initiate. After two years on the run, the Five Elders reunited. At that point, depending on who you believe, Pai Mei either willingly betrayed his comrades, was sent into the court as a spy or was captured and coerced into attacking his brothers. He either acted alone or with help, and sometimes "Pai Mei" is just a nickname for a different monk who was the real threat. Oh, and there might not be any historical basis for any of this, in which case it's all based on wuxia novels. In any case, he's generally viewed as a duplicitous or malicious character, so if Quentin wants to make up some new details, more power to him.
The sculpt on the figure is very good, with a number of textures used for Mei's robes. His rope belt is a sculpted element and the long bundles of hair hanging from it are separate pieces. The lining of his black robe looks perhaps like wool. The flow of his hair, beard and eyebrows is all quite good, and the detail around his eyes really cements the likeness, though the figure really should have more of a furious look on his face.
Pai Mei is offered in two variations: one with a straight beard, one with the beard pulled to the side to dangle over his fingers. The beards are both molded from soft rubber, so they can work in both intended poses, but the sculpts are subtly different. Don't just grab one of the peg without looking, or you may get a beard you don't like.
Paint can be a problem on this figure. NECA tends to go heavy on their paint washes, and that can really do some damage to Pai Mei, making him more Tzang Hwei. Too much wash on all that bright white hair can really muddy things up, so you may have to do some searching to find a Pai Mei that hasn't been sleeping in a ditch. There's also a few uneven lines where the white and black sections of his garment meet.
Articulation is light, but it suits the character. Yes, Pai Mei can perform some great feats of agility, but his skill is so great that he can counter most attacks with but the slightest movements. The figure moves at the neck, shoulders, elbows (just peg joints, sadly, not pins), wrists, waist, hips and ankles, though his robes really make anything below the waist nearly useless.
Quality control is a real issue for this figure, with many folks finding that the joints have broken inside the packaging. I had to trade in my Mei to get a version whose head was still attached. Be very careful when you take your figure out of his tray. The interior mechanisms of his balljoints are inexplicably molded from clear plastic, which might account for the breakage: translucent plastic can be notoriously brittle if the factory making it doesn't watch the batch closely.
Pai's accessories are nice, though there are a few other items that would have suited him, but weren't included. We'll begin with what we do get, though, before we start complaining about the lack of imaginaries. All the figures in the Kill Bill series come with a display base, and Pai Mei's is a small section of his mountain home. The base, measuring about 3", displays the large cobblestones and a few tufts of grass. The detail is all nice, and if there's a Series 3 of these figures, it would be nice to get a "Harsh Tutelage" Bride with a base that connects to this one.
Pai Mei includes with crooked walking stick, a 3 1/2" tall piece that he can hold in his left hand. And he can use his stick to walk over to his big wooden sword rack. The rack, resting on its rough stone base, is 4" wide and 2 1/2" tall. Add to that four swords - three sheathed, one bare - that can rest against the display or be held in the various figures' hands, and you've got a pretty nifty setup. There are no pegs to hold the swords in place on the display, but there weren't in the movie, either, so it's accurate.
So, if that's what we do get, what accessories would we have liked in addition? Well, how about the plank Beatrix had to punch her way through? The weapon rack is thicker than that item, so there's no confusing the two. How about a few bowls of rice and some chopsticks? Or for that matter, some fishheads and a small cooking pot over a fire? Maybe NECA could include all that with the hypothetical Series 3 Flashback Bride.
Pai Mei was certainly an unexpected figure, but a welcome one. There are a few definite problems you need to be aware of, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't buy him. Just choose wisely.
The history lesson: cool addition or pointless diversion? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.