My Life’s On The Line | aka 60 Second Assassin (1979) Review

"My Life's On The Line" American DVD Cover

"My Life's On The Line" American DVD Cover

AKA: Sixty Second Assassin, Minute Fong
Director: Wang Chung Kwong (Wang Chang-Kung)
Cast: Leung Kar Yan, Wan Li Pang, Shu Jin Ping, Dean Shek Tin, Wang Yung Sheng, Wang Chi Sheng (Wang Chi-Sang)
Running Time: 91 min.

By Joseph Kuby

Directorial debuts are never meant to be this ambitious but alas this one shows confidence in a way a lot of first-time Kung Fu movie directors would be shy of showing.

Chester Wong Chung-Gwong’s debut (whose HK title is Sixty Second Assassin) contains unique mise-en-scene for the genre. Rather than having the finale take place in a courtyard of a palace/bungalow, on a beach, on a field/hill top somewhere or in a tea house, this one takes place in a canyon/cliff area of some kind (complete with smoke) before moving temporarily into a coal mine and then into the canyon/cliff area complete with geysers (ala One Armed Boxer); whereas the very last fight scene takes place outside a more Westernized building where there’s poles of bamboo placed to form a slew of pyramids.

I think Chester was aiming for a Western feel and his direction reminds me of the guy who did King Boxer a.k.a. Five Fingers of Death. The director of Lo Lieh’s big hit movie said he felt Westerns had a preferable flair for pace than Asian films and always tried to emulate the pace of those films which is probably why King Boxer started the trend of Kung Fu films in the West.

A sterling example of the Western iconography Chester chose is the use of Western clocks and watches. The first part of the final showdown where we see One Minute Fong (the Taiwanese title of the film is Minute Fong) take on two assailants is acute in depicting an Eastern Western. The opening shot of this encounter contains a shot that’s similar to the Mexican stand-off between the three leads in the ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.

The course of the narrative is fresh for the most part. Even though it contains revenge and training, it does these with unexpected turns and handles them in a new setting.

Not bad for a directorial debut. Chester Wong became the director after working as assistant director on Return of the Chinese Boxer and the Jimmy Wang Yu/David Chiang effort One Armed Swordsmen. Hu Tai-Fu was the producer for this flick after working on the planning of One Armed Swordsman Against Nine Killers. Hu was appreciative of Chester’s professionalism and couldn’t think of somebody else more organized.

The UK DVD cover might mislead people. I thought it was going to be a comedy due to the expression of the assassin’s face. Whilst there is humor in this film, especially in one scene with comic maestro Dean Shek, it’s mainly a drama and, come to think of it, the image on the front cover wasn’t really intended for humorous purposes at all (chalk it down to the dubious timing of the still photographer or even the acting).

The lead actor, Wan Li Pang, is somewhat stiff though I suppose the implication is that he’s a character of a stern nature. He starts to loosen up facially towards the end, perhaps because he starts to become more like a human being and feels emotional when he acquaints himself with a family whose grandfather he has to kill (something he finds out only after a subtle clue the elderly figure inadvertently gives away).

I think good acting is as much to do with fluctuations of the voice as visual expression. John Hurt was limited facially when it came to doing David Lynch’s Elephant Man and he stressed how underrated the voice is as a tool to deliver emotion. Therefore, Wan’s performance could be better received under the circumstances of hearing him in the original Mandarin soundtrack.

Any limitations perceived in Wan are compensated by fiery performances by the other members of the cast. Lung Fei (the Chinese Pat Morita) is in fine form as is Shing Fui On (who played the gang leader in John Woo’s The Killer).

There are some satisfactory bouts of combat but the emphasis is on the interaction between the characters which is what makes this more distinctive than a lot of films round this period where there was a fight every three minutes or so.

When the fight scenes do arrive, they are worth the wait. There is a balanced emphasis of circular and linear movements. The techniques are executed in a way which, when isolating each person, would be good for Kung Fu practice.

One of the stunt coordinators is Wan. He assisted Jackie in the choreography for Spiritual Kung Fu. Wan also appeared in a few films with Jackie during the Lo Wei era. Spiritual Kung Fu being one of them. Wan proves to be no less commendable than John Liu when it comes to kicking. The advantage Wan has is that he is just as good with his left leg as his right.

The production values were quite high as well, maybe not on the level of a Shaw Brothers film but astonishingly efficient for an independent film.

In 1979, Leung really proved how versatile he was as an actor in this film (as a calculatingly cold gang leader), in Knockabout (as a simple-minded and gullible youngster), The Odd Couple (a hot-headed and sadistic avenger) and Thundering Mantis (a happy-go-lucky fish seller who becomes a traumatized psychopath). I find it strange how Bey Logan called him one-note on his audio commentary for The Odd Couple.

Leung Kar Yan is truly a great actor, easily my favorite actor. Leung, in a way, was the next Bruce Lee. The dramatic intensity of his performances was no less thrilling than Lee’s. Leung also had Lee’s penchant for a low-key yet effective emoting. Remember how Bruce adopted a disguised persona in Fist of Fury? Leung does the same thing in the finale.

He may not have been a thoroughly trained martial artist as Lee was but the fact that Leung delivered complex motion with no formal training meant that the level of impressiveness was the same. For a guy who was a practitioner of soccer than Kung Fu, Leung has a poetic grace when it comes to depicting vigorous exhibitions of physical dexterity.

For more essential LKY viewing, I recommend Secret Service of the Imperial Court (a.k.a. Police Pool of Blood).

Wong Jing is a very big fan of LKY, which is why Wong was always looking out for him (after his career waned in the mid ’80s) to make sure he was never relegated to Taiwanese television or TVB. When watching this film, you will see why Wong likes him.

Commentary on the ending for those who’ve seen it:

It’s baffling at first until one realizes that the watch being kicked in the air represents One Minute Fong’s time is up but the general assumption is that when LKY and Fong jump in the air, both of them kill each other as they land techniques on each other.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Retribution Sight Unseen | aka 3 Days of a Blind Girl (1992) Review

"Retribution Sight Unseen" Chinese DVD Cover

"Retribution Sight Unseen" Chinese DVD Cover

Director: Chan Wing Chiu
Producer: Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting
Writer: So Man Sing
Cast: Anthony Wong, Veronica Yip, Jamie Luk, Anthony Chan, Alfred Cheung
Running Time: 83 min.

By Gwailo

The plot of Retribution Sight Unseen is lifted in part from the Michael Apted film Blink, with Madeline Stowe as the main afflicted and Terence Young’s, Wait Until Dark, with Audrey Hepburn as the tormented blind. This HK counterpart gives it that glorious Cat III punch and it’s ‘over the topness’ makes the film surpass others in the genre.

Veronica Yip is struck with a loss of eyesight for 72 hours (some mumbo jumbo of ruptured blood vessels causing the damage). Her husband, a renowned heart surgeon, must leave her home in HK to attend a medical conference in Macau. By now you know what will occur in the remainder of the film because you’ve seen this device time and again. As hubby exits, Anthony Wong steps on the scene. Wong tells Yip he’s an old buddy of the doc’s and would like to thank him for performing life saving heart surgery on his wife. Yip informs him of her hubby’s absence and politely invites Wong in for tea. The audience groans at her stupidity as we know Wong is there for good. Mayhem ensues and Wong chews scenery.

The typical cliches are enlisted-phone lines cut, light’s go out, deserted home where no one can hear you yelp for help, and a HK favorite, the family pup served for supper. Wong’s reasoning for catching the crazies is his cheating wife. Turn’s out Yip’s surgeon-hubby was treating/banging Wong’s wife on the side as well as prescribing vitamins instead of heart medicine, thus leading to her death and Wong’s psychotic vengeance. At one point in the film, delusional Wong tell’s Yip,”He fucked my wife, I want to fuck his”. All’s fair in love and war, I guess, but Wong doesn’t succeed. As Yip slowly regains her sight, she takes him on in combat, grabbing anything she can for defense, including a humongous frozen sausage, which she uses to whack him over the dome with. Hysterical, and worth the watch alone. Eventually, retribution sight is seen and Yip wins the battle-as if you didn’t know that would happen.

What would a Veronica Yip movie be without nudity? A bad Veronica Yip movie. Since this one is not, we are treated to an unforgettable shower diddy, more funny than bone inducing, as Wong slips in behind Yip and mimes washing her. Wong’s portrayal of the weirdo is like many other characters he had played in Cat III films of the time, more disturbingly absurd than menacing. His wardrobe stand’s out in the film and is chuckle inducing. Along with his scraggly long hair, he dresses like a mountain-man from one of those Ricola cough drop commercials-clad in green hiking shorts and suspenders. There is also some choice banter between the two stars as Yip reveals that she sometimes thinks of Chow Yun-fat while making love to her husband, to which Wong replies,”How about Jackie Chan, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok?”. Adding in gwailo Richard Gere as well.

The movie is very well made and though some of the suspense comes off silly, do to Wong’s nut job performance, it is strongly maintained and reminds of a Dario Argento shocker. The acting by Yip is quite good and along with the film, deserves some type of award.

Gwailo’s Rating: 8.5/10

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36 Crazy Fists, The | aka Bloodpact (1979) Review

"The 36 Crazy Fists" Newspaper Ad

"The 36 Crazy Fists" Newspaper Ad

AKA: Secrets of the Young Master, The Master and the Boxer
Director: Chan Chi Hwa
Writer: Sze To On
Cast: Tony Leung Siu Hung, Lau Kar Yung, Ma Hon Yuen, Paul Chun Pui, Ku Feng,
Fung Hak On, Yen Shi Kwan, Michelle Mai Suet, Chan Lau
Running Time: 90 min.

By Kenneth T

Now I know there are a million reviews telling how bad this movie is but I actually liked it. I think the problem with most people is that it was falsly advertised as a Jackie Chan movie. Hell I was mad too. But after careful review of this movie, I think it’s the shit. Maybe the story line is a little bit goofy but this movie is a masterpiece. Being directed by Jackie Chan and all it would have to be the stuff. It has a very young Liu Chia Yung in it and Hung Fak On. The fight scene at the end is really good.

Bottom Line: It’s not the story line that counts. But the quality martial arts.

Kenneth T’s Rating: 9/10

By Numskull

Rejoice my friends, for I have at long last convinced messire Bona to open up this legendary film for all sorts of constructive commentary. I am, however, deeply offended by the vile and slanderous remark that he made about me in his review for “Cannonball Run II.” So, as just punishment, I am sending him all sorts of inane and space-eating messages via e-mail (such as “‘Tis better to shed this mortal coil with lobsters on your piano than with crabs on your organ”) while refusing to respond to the pleas for forgiveness he keeps writing me (you don’t talk to Numskull you listen mother fucker!). This will continue for an indefinite period of time. Meanwhile, on with the review. 36 Crazy Fists is a very interesting film to show to 1,000 monkeys before putting them to work on 1,000 typewriters because the primates stand an excellent chance of duplicating the script word-for-word in a matter of minutes due to its highly repetitive nature. Here is the gloriously intricate plot structure for 36 Crazy Fists in 15 easy steps:

1. Kung fu underdog gets terrorized.
2. Kung fu underdog seeks revenge.
3. Kung fu underdog trains hard to become kung fu overdog.
4. Kung fu overdog beats bad guy(s).
5. Kung fu overdog gets challenged by big bad boss man.
6. Repeat step 4.
7. Kung fu overdog gets challenged by even bigger and badder boss man.
8. Repeat step 6.
9. Repeat step 7.
10. Repeat step 8.
11. Entire kung fu community is struck dumber than Jackie Chan’s Shaolin Wooden Men character with the realization that all of its big bad boss men are dead.
12. With no competition to keep him occupied, kung fu overdog hires a group of bad guys and becomes a big bad boss man himself.
13. Big bad boss man sights kung fu underdog.
14. Repeat step 1.
15. The eternal struggle continues.

If you would just as soon watch a kung fu demonstration through the eyes of the singer in John Woo’s “The Killer” while wearing earmuffs, then jump right in; the water’s fine. Otherwise, ignore this movie the same way McDonald’s ignores FDA regulations.

Numskull’s Rating: 3/10

By Tyler

The 36 crazy fist aren’t really that crazy, because they are very boring. A better name for this film would probably be”The Little Shaolin Weenie”. This film is like the “ugly duckling learns kung fu, and beats up everyone”, and another thing Jackie doesn’t even star in it. Jackie was the martial arts director for this film, but was a big disappointment. This film kept repeating itself too, it was you like this”You killed him so now I’ll kill you” (Then he dies and another guy shows up) “You killed him now I’ll kill you”(Then he dies and those two guys master shows up) “You killed my best students, and you insulted me, now you will die!” (So then we see a boring drawn out kung fu scene with a beggar and two Shaolin guys watching,and then the master dies the end). Although I don’t like this film it did have some comedic elements. I listed some down below is how the “Weenie” learned Kung Fu during the film.

1.The second Shaolin guy beats up the little “Weenie”
2.Beggar beats up “Weenie”
3. “Weenie” learns a bit of Kung Fu and fights second Shaolin guy, and learns a bit more Kung Fu
4.”Weenie” goes to learn more Kung Fu from Beggar, but Beggar’s student beats “Weenie” up
5.”Weenie” learns more Kung Fu, and fights gang and beats them up
6.Gets challenged by gangs leader, and goes back to Shaolin and learns more Kung Fu
7.”Weenie” kills gangs leader, and gets challenged by gang leaders brother (they have to fight with weapons)
8.”Weenie” learns a little about fighting with weapons,and then fights brother of gang leader
9.Shaolin monks help “Weenie” cheat and so “Weenie” kills bother of gang leader
10.Master of the two brothers challenges “Weenie” so “Weenie” learns the (get this) “The 36 Crazy Styles”
11. The beggar’s student and “Weenie” use the 36 crazy styles to kill the master the end

This film has also been called Jackie Chan’s Bloodpact, but don’t be fooled by the pretty cover. this isn’t a Chan film.

Tyler’s Rating: 1/10

By T-Man

I remember watching kung fu movies on “Kung Fu Theater” late Saturday mornings when I was a youngster. The movies were always bad but I was a kid so what did I know. Stupid plots, people flying in the air, kung fu gorillas, etc. I’m sure 36 Crazy Fists was one of these horrible movies!

Bottom line: Unless you are purposely looking for a cheesy kung fu movie, avoid this film at all costs! The acting is pititful, the jokes are bad, and the actual 36 Crazy Fists technique is just plain silly looking. Jackie Chan is NOT in the movie. He is shown before the movie instructing the actors and it’s almost as boring as the actual movie. You’d be making better use of your time if you sat and stared at the wall for an hour and a half!

T-Man’s Rating: 2/10

By Alvin George

I can’t believe I bought this shit for three lousy bucks at Circuit City! I got it in October 1998 because it was the only “Jackie Chan” movie that I could afford at the time. When I started to watch it at home, the sound was barely audible, though I noticed that “Jackie” didn’t dub his own voice for that one. I ended up returning it as a defective product (without finishing it, of course), but it wouldn’t go out of my life. I saw footage of it in that stupid “Fists of Chan” documentary video. I actually saw more of the movie on that video than I did on the first copy. Nevertheless, I foolishly believed the whole time that Jackie Chan was really in the movie. Then I stumbled onto Jeff’s site and discovered to my horror that Jackie Chan was NOT really in the movie as the star, though he did appear at the beginning as the stunt coordinator. I started getting angry at the video companies Platinum and Parade, but I never went as far as writing any letters. Then I read Jackie Chan’s autobio and discovered that the unscrupulous producers promoted this as a “Jackie Chan” movie way back in 1979 or whatever, incorporating the behind-the-scenes shit into the movie. The companies must’ve been fooled. Fraud aside, the movie itself isn’t that good. It’s lame as hell, with typical campy dialogue, though some of the fight scenes were OK. (After all, JC was the stunt coordinator.) Skip this crap.

Alvin George’s Rating: 2/10

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2046 (2004) Review

"2046" International Theatrical Poster

"2046" International Theatrical Poster

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Writer: Wong Kar-Wai
Producer: Wong Kar-Wai
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong Fei, Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Tung Jei, Kimura Takuya, Bey Logan
Running Time: 129 min.

By Iuxion

The latest film from Wong Kar Wai needs no introduction. Kind of a sequel to his previous feature, In the Mood for Love, 2046 tells the story of Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung), an author who pens the science fiction story of the movie’s title, in which the protagonist (Takuya Kimura) boards a train to 2046, a place where nothing ever changes. Cutting between the past, the future, and the present, the bulk of the movie lies in the exploration of Chow Mo Wan’s various failed relationships with women played by Zhang Ziyi, Carina Lau, and Gong Li, with brief glimpses of a character played by Maggie Cheung, presumably the same one from In the Mood For Love.

As expected, the cinematography and music are absolutely outstanding, and the entire film is, without a doubt, a technical marvel. However, the pace is at times, a little slow, and admittedly, Tony Leung’s Chow Mo Wan is one of Mr. Wong’s least likable lead characters (very different from the Chow Mo Wan of In the Mood For Love, although the differing characterization makes sense from a story standpoint).

For me, it’s probably one of my least favorite Wong Kar Wai movies, but that really doesn’t mean anything, considering I’ve loved every single one I’ve seen up to this point. There’s really nothing particularly better or worse about 2046, and I’m sure someone will find this to be their favorite, depending on what they take from the experience. In any case, it’s not to be missed.

Iuxion’s Rating: 8/10

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100 Ways To Murder Your Wife (1986) Review

"100 Ways To Murder Your Wife" Chinese DVD Cover

"100 Ways To Murder Your Wife" Chinese DVD Cover

Director: Kenny Bee
Producer: Wong Jing
Writer: Law Kai Yui
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Joey Wang, Kenny Bee, Anita Mui, Wu Ma, Anthony Chan
Running Time: 91 min.

By Numskull

For a black comedy, this is pretty grey. Chow Yun-Fat and Kenny Bee are two noteworthy football/soccer players (Fa and Roberto, respectively) who get drunk off their asses one night and agree to kill each other’s wives. Fa’s wife Hsiao Hsien (Joey Wang) is a friendly, cutesy housepet of a woman whom he is convinced is sleeping around behind his back and is plotting to kill HIM. Bee’s spouse, Fang (Anita Mui, who gives the best performance of the main actors), is a nagging harpy who loves nothing more than pointing out her husband’s failures and shortcomings in front of other people. One hangover after the deal is struck, Roberto has lost his enthusiasm, but Fa declares that he has kept his end of the bargain and that Hsiao Hsien must die. In between half-assed attempts on her life, Roberto gets pretty chummy with her, which further enrages Fa.

The last third of the movie has a different (and worse) feel to it and suffers from excessive coincidence and an icky, gooey, preposterous kiss-and-make-up ending. This is an extension of the film’s key problem: it just isn’t nasty enough. The characters need to be more despicable, the dialogue more heated, and the general tone more cynical for this thing to really work. There are some mildly amusing moments, but true black comedy in a severed, blood-gushing vein is what’s really required here. Wong Jing produced, so it’s no wonder the film is more silly than nasty.

I will leave you with this snafu and vivid mental image: Fa and Hsiao Hsien have a dog named Nancy. Presumably, this dog is a female (or a bitch, if you will). However, when we see…”Nancy”…for the first time, her/his/its cock and balls are swinging all over the place. You don’t have to be some perverted, beast-humping redneck to notice. As long as you’re looking at the screen, you’ll see it. I will not, however, go so far as to say that this is one of the most interesting things in this lame, boring film. That would be…you know…weird.

Numskull’s Rating: 4/10

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All Men Are Brothers | aka Water Margin 2 (1973) Review

"All Men Are Brothers" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"All Men Are Brothers" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: 7 Soldiers of Kung Fu, 108 Heroes
Director: Chang Cheh, Wu Ma
Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw
Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Danny Lee, Michael Chan, Betty Chung, Guk Fung (Yu Feng), Lily Ho, Yueh Hua, Tetsuro Tamba (Tetsuro Tanba), Bolo Yeung, Wong Chung, Chan Sing
Running Time: 101 min.

By Joe909

There is more epic-scale action in the first ten minutes of All Men Are Brothers than there is in the entire running time of its predecessor, The Water Margin. Events seem to pick up right after those shown in the Water Margin, but it’s not in the least necessary to see that movie before watching this one. In fact, All Men gets started with a recap of several things that didn’t even happen in the Water Margin, as several battles are waged between the 108 Outlaws of the Marsh and the rebels they’re against.

This opening act flows along rapidly, with an onscreen legend (in Chinese and English) giving you the background of the events about to be seen. It’s humorous that these legends also tell you how these events are going to end, too. Anyway, here we see lots of cool battle scenes as members of the Marsh army decimate their foes in large battles, sacrificing themselves for the cause. Best part of all: one of the Outlaw leaders is portrayed by the same guy who played the ninja leader in Five Element Ninja! I love that guy!

After this bloody opening, things get started with a meeting of the leaders of the Marsh. It’s decided that rebel leader Fang La is the greatest threat to the Emperor, so a force is sent to destroy his stronghold city of Yongjinmen. The city however is well-guarded, with high walls and even water fortifications. This is the part where the movie shows the limits of its budget, though. Where the Water Margin merely hinted at naval warfare, All Men shows an armada assault on Yongjinmen, and it isn’t pretty. Only a handful of boats are shown, and they’re waylaid by a half-assed gate of wire-laced logs. The naval force is wasted, with only one guy escaping to tell the tale.

The Marsh leaders then send a few heroes into the city alone, to figure out a way to break down the defenses so the Outlaw army can get in, by land and by sea. This successfully whittles down the unwieldy cast list, and we’re given only a few heroes to root for, which makes the movie much more accessible than its predecessor. David Chiang is of course one of these guys, some of the others being Chen Kuan-Tai, Wang Chung, and Danny Lee. Ti Lung unfortunately isn’t along for the trip, but shows up long enough for some heroic sacrifice at the very end.

The movie soon becomes a protracted cat-and-mouse scenario, with the Outlaws trying to evade being caught in Yongjinmen. Much like the Water Margin was an endless loop of guys getting captured, jailed, and then freed, All Men Are Brothers is an endless loop of the Outlaws being spotted by rebel soldiers, then making a lone, heroic stand against them. Imagine a movie comprised of several bloody set pieces similar to the finale of Boxer from Shantung, and you’ll get an idea of what All Men Are Brothers is like. Unlike the Water Margin, though, this endless loop of battles is entertaining, and doesn’t grate your nerves. Admitably however, the movie is mostly braindead in the story department.

One surprising aspect of the Water Margin was that all of the heroes survived. To say this was unusual for a Chang Cheh movie is an understatement. I have a feeling Chang woke up in the middle of the night after completing that film, sputtering “What in the hell have I done?” and promptly got to work on All Men Are Brothers, in which EVERYONE dies. The violence level is fantastic, with multiple dismemberings, hackings, and slicings. Chen Kuan-Tai gets the best scene in the entire film, using whatever he can get his hands on as a weapon, killing tons of guys. The Shaws red blood is everywhere throughout the length of the film. This is one of the most violent Shaw Brothers flicks for sure. Another name for the movie could have been “All Men Are Bloody.”

Like the Water Margin, the Celestial DVD release is near-perfection. I have read that it’s slightly edited, though. Apparently there were a few extra seconds of violence in the US print of the movie. In particular, I’ve read that there was a shot of David Chiang getting stabbed in the back (literally) during his final battle sequence. On the other hand, the US print was not in any way preferable; the US release of All Men Are Brothers reverted to black and white to obscure several of the more violent scenes. The Celestial release is in glorious color throughout.

Final word: if you want a blood-drenched classic, seek this out. The choreography isn’t Venoms-quality, but it’s better than the wrestling antics of the Water Margin. David Chiang comes off better in this one than the previous movie, and the tattoo-covered Chen Kuan-Tai is the highlight of the film. It’s like this: the Water Margin seemed like the work of some unknown director who was unsure of his footing. All Men Are Brothers is a Chang Cheh classic through and through. It’s only let down by the occasional misstep (the awkward naval battle, the utterly annoying Black Whirlwind, the fact that Fang La’s men only seem capable of chasing our heroes for a few feet before giving up), but it will entertain for sure.

Joe909’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Water Margin, The | aka 7 Blows of the Dragon (1972) Review

"The Water Margin" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Water Margin" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Chang Cheh, Wu Ma, Pao Hsueh Lieh
Producer: Sir Run Run Shaw
Cast: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Lily Ho, Yueh Hua, Chin Feng, Guk Fung, Cheng Miu, Chen Kuan Tai, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Tetsuro Tamba, Paul Chun Pui, Yuen Shun-Yi, Yuen Cheung Yan, Wong Chung, Wu Ma, Fan Mei Sheng, Yen Shi Kwan, Cecilia Wong Hang Sau
Running Time: 120 min.

By Joe909

These days when we think of old school kung fu movies, we think of Five Deadly Venoms and 36th Chamber of Shaolin. But the fact is, those movies were made at the tail end of the initial kung-fu boom which swept the West in the 1970s. But back in the early part of that decade, when movies like Enter the Dragon and Five Fingers of Death got things going with Western audiences, it was movies like The Water Margin, aka 7 Blows of the Dragon in the US, that drew them back into their grindhouse theaters for more martial arts cinema. So this is true old school, and in reality is nothing like the old school most of us know and love.

Based on a monstrously-long Chinese classic detailing the activities of 108 Outlaws who defended their Emperor against armies of rebels, The Water Margin wisely limits itself to just a few chapters, but unwisely assaults us with too many characters. The opening scene piles character introduction on top of character introduction, with each appearing alongside an on-screen credit. The scene itself is very impressive, and somehow reminds me of something Orson Welles might have pulled off. Luckily these multiple characters we meet in the opening disappear for the majority of the film, only to reappear in the end.

But this is one of the manifold problems with this movie. The opening scene, even though it confuses you with so many new faces and names, makes you believe you’re in store for an epic. Even the production values for this movie are on par with Hollywood epics of yore, with splendid outdoor sets of castles, a cast of thousands, and even a small armada. You see the money and effort that went into making this movie, and expect a Hong Kong Spartacus. Instead, what you get is a disjointed tale that squanders its promise.

As mentioned, there are 108 Outlaws banded together. The movie gets rolling with an evil general, Golden Spear, killing one of their leaders. The Outlaws find out about this, and fearing Golden Spear’s skill, decide that only one man, Lu Jun-Yi, can defeat him. So they go looking for this man who apparently is the only dude in all of friggin China who can kill Golden Spear, and along the way they meet Lu’s cocky disciple, Young Dragon Yen Ching (David Chiang). It would have been nice if the movie had then skimmed over the events in the book and instead gotten straight to the gist, the epicness of the story, but instead we must look on as things spiral into blandsville.

This is pretty much what happens, over and over in The Water Margin: someone will seek out Lu Jun-Yi. Either that person or Lu, or both, will then get captured, and then someone ELSE will come to rescue THEM. Over and over: wash, rinse, and repeat. This goes on for a good hour. I’d say it’s a comedy of errors, but judging from the production values and the music cues, it’s obvious Chang Cheh et al are aiming for something grand. But watching guys endlessly being jailed and freed isn’t grand, it’s boring. Well, initially it’s boring. Soon enough it becomes frustrating.

What makes it even worse is that the filmmakers stuck with the martial arts combat as described in the source material, and instead of cool kung-fu we get wrestling matches. David Chiang, for whatever reason Chang Cheh’s early favorite, is a master wrestler, tossing huge guys over his wiry and unimpressive frame. He does get a cool “chooka-chooka” music cue every time he does something, though. Occasionally there is a sword fight, or the burly Black Whirlwind will hack someone with his twin axes, but the violence is minimal, especially when compared with similar films of the era.

Finally Lu Jun-Yi is freed, joins the rebels, and everyone gets together for a battle against Golden Spear. But this final fight is anti-climactic. Golden Spear selects a mere five fighters to take on five of the 108 Outlaws (one of whom is sexpot Lily Ho, aka the Lady Professional), and during the round-robin melee Golden Spear himself takes on Lu Jun-Yi. The choreography here is better than any other part of the movie, however, and makes the viewer wish there had been more of it, and less jail time.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the sequel, All Men Are Brothers, is everything The Water Margin should have been. There are reviewers who will claim that The Water Margin is the superior film, and All Men is just a typically-bloody sequel, but I disagree. I’d even suggest if you’re thinking you have to watch Water Margin before All Men, then forget it. Just go straight to the sequel, as you won’t miss a thing. It’s not like we get to really know any of the characters in the Water Margin; most are just introduced for a handful of seconds. And speaking of introductions, this movie is crazy about them: even a damn clerk gets an on-screen credit, and he’s only in the movie for like two seconds!

On a side note, I’d say if there was a “Most Misleading Poster Award” out there, the US release of this movie would surely win it. The US poster for 7 Blows of the Dragon has male and female kung-fu warriors baring their teeth in martial rage, with all manner of bizarre weaponry in hand. There isn’t a THING like that in the movie. It seems obvious the distributors realized they had a mostly-boring flick on their hands, and tried all they could to make it appealing to the gullible masses.

I really shouldn’t be too hard on this movie, though. After all, how many other kung-fu flicks can you name with a soundtrack featuring the prog rock of Uriah Heep?

Joe909’s Rating: 7/10

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12 Nights (2000) Review

"12 Nights" Chinese DVD Cover

"12 Nights" Chinese DVD Cover

Director: Aubrey Lam
Producer: Peter Chan Ho Sun
Writer: Aubrey Lam
Cast: Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Eason Chan Yik Shun, Candy Lo Hau-Yam, Nicola Cheung Sam-Yuet, Sue Au Suk-Jing, GC Goo Bi, Siu Ye Jim, Nicholas Tse Ting Fung, Stephen Fung Tak-Lun

By Woody

When I first heard about Aubrey Lam’s “12 Nights”, it was being mentioned as being a must-see for those of us who have been dumped, right up there with “Swingers” and “Chungking Express”. On November 3rd, 2002, at 5:32PM, I was dumped. No need to get too much into why I was dumped. But I can tell you this much: it really sucks being in a relationship and then all of the sudden being out of one. It’s as if the rug has been pulled out from under you and you are stuck frozen at the exact moment in which you are about to hit the floor. You feel bad, like “Shit, I’m about to hit the floor.” You have money, but no one to spend it on. You have your movies, and CD’s, and meaningless materialistic goods, which have been collecting on the shelf, but they no longer matter. You have friends, but it’s been months since you’ve talked to them, and the prospect of going back to them is like admitting defeat. And overall, you just feel shitty. Movies you watch just aren’t the same without her. Food you eat tastes like shit when she’s away. Everything is bland and flavorless; if life were a food it would be tofu. Only four things have been helping me through these shitty times. My friends, who, despite my protests, are doing their best to get me back on my feet. “Chungking Express”, which I understand now better than I ever have. “Swingers”, which allows me to laugh at what a loser I am. And finally, “12 Nights”, which is basically my relationship with that girl on film, only with better looking people and a higher budget.

Cecilia Cheung is Jeannie, your typical female. Eason Chan is Alan, your typical male. “12 Nights” takes us through 12 nights of their relationship, from the first night, when the two meet, to the last, when they split. If only I had seen this movie before I had gotten into a relationship. Then I would have known how a trivial argument can lead to a girl accusing you of “growing tired of her.” I would have known how much it hurts a girl to tell her you are busy, or that you don’t like what she is wearing. Overall, I wish I had not taken her for granted. I know I’m not alone in our relationship failing, but I was an active participant. “12 Nights” is quite brilliant, and quite painful to watch at times. Jeannie loves Alan, but can’t accept that, following that brief period at the beginning the relationship where everything is wonderful, Alan has to put her lower on his list of priorities. Alan loves Jeannie, but feels smothered and embarrassed by her. He wants to hang out with buddies from work. He needs his time at work, and his sleep. He needs space.

The film feels fresh in the beginning, as does the relationship. But as it progresses, things get more boring and stale, as does the relationship. It gets talkier, with Jeannie saying the same things over and over again, trying to get Alan to understand her, and where she’s coming from. Aubrey Lam uses these techniques to show just how boring and painful times are when you are in a failing relationship. This technique also leads to one of the best scenes of the movie, where Jeannie delivers a never ending monologue to Alan. Just as we, the audience, start feeling bored, it cuts back to Alan, asleep.

If you haven’t been in a relationship, or plan to ever be in another one, this is required viewing. This movie shows you just how they go wrong. Now that I’m starting to get into another relationship, I’m going to try and apply the knowledge that I have gained from this film into the relationship. I pray it works. I’m running out of shirts to iron!

Woody’s Rating: 9/10

By Alexander

The worst thing about this excruciatingly dull film is the horrid performance by newcomer Eason Chan (Triad Zone). Had he been exceptionally handsome, I might have excused his minimal talent as the by-product of a film industry renowned for casting models and pop stars in major roles (see also Ekin Cheng, Faye Wong, Sammi Cheng, Stephen Fung, Andy Lau, Edison Chen, at al.). However, Eason is NOT a good looking guy so for him to appear convincing as the sole object of gorgeous Cecilia Cheung’s affections, the dude better be able to A-C-T and appear to have at least one redeeming quality. Sadly, Eason bumbles about, a step slow at times and obviously overwhelmed at the prospect of sharing major screen time with one of Hong Kong’s most desirable female stars. When Jeannie (Cecilia Cheung) hits Eason’s Alan Hing over the head with a MAGAZINE, he reacts as if he’s been shot at close range with a bazooka. He doesn’t react this way to elicit laughs from the audience; rather, he reacts this way because he’s unable to feign surprise at being hit in the head with a magazine. Also, early in the film, his actions seem prompted more by a producer whispering his lines to him from off camera (“Roll your eyes NOW, Eason!”) than to anything going on in the film.

The second problem with 12 Nights is the complete dearth of sympathetic characters. As appealing as Cecilia is, it’s impossible to root for or care about her character because she is so willing to put up with what amounts to sustained emotional abuse by her dimwitted, neglectful boyfriend. 12 Nights is essentially about Alan treating Jeannie like shit for most of the film, and Jeannie taking it all in stride as if this Alan dude were the only eligible bachelor in Hong Kong. Compounding my disdain for the film was Jeannie’s inexplicable willingness to sleep with Alan late in the film despite his palpable vileness. I longed for the film to shift gears, for Cecilia’s character to drop this loser and get with either the flamboyant Nic Tse or the brooding Stephen Fung (both of whom make brief cameos).

Another of the film’s flaws was an attempt to organize the story into twelve “chapters”, with each chapter representing an evening in the lives of Alan and Jeannie. Days one to eight chronicle the budding romance of our leads but writer/director Aubrey Lam, obviously realizing 3/4 of the way through her film that she couldn’t possibly tell these character’s stories in twelve days, shamelessly cheats and fastforwards months into the future. A minor grievance, sure, but irritating nonetheless.

Alexander’s Rating: 5.5/10

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2002 (2002) Review

"2002" Chinese DVD Cover

"2002" Chinese DVD Cover

Director: Wilson Yip (Wai Shun)
Producer: Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu
Cast: Nicholas Tse (Ting Fung), Stephen Fung Tak-Lun, Law Kar-Ying, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Danielle Graham, Rain Li (Choi Wah), Alex Fong (Nik Sun), Anya.
Running Time: 96 min.

By Ben Poppel

Do you want to watch a movie about ghouls and goblins? Well maybe more like ghosts. Whatever the case, this is not your traditional actioner. Sure it’s got fighting, shooting and chases. But it also has flying spirits, crazy demon ladies and plenty supernatural beings. It also has the re-teaming of the cool Nicholas Tse and “I will try to be cool” Stephen Fung. Their on screen chemistry together works pretty good. The settings, costumes, music and atmosphere are also very slick and polished. But all that can’t save the bland substance that surrounds the whole scenario. Take two guys who like two girls, throw in an old man, and a bunch of cops who are all trying to stop bad ghosts, but the two guys are the only ones who can stop the wicked spirits while saving their girls and not trying to die, but end up dying and living and killing bad ghosts and helping good ghosts… whew… I lost myself… what , what was I saying…

Well, the point I am trying to make is that this movie has more style and showiness than substance and story. For some reason when the credits started rolling, I didn’t feel completely satisfied. Kind of like going to a party, enjoying yourself, but not waking up with a hangover the next day – well actually that is a good thing. So I guess really this movie wasn’t all that bad. Just enjoy the ride while it lasts because you may not feel any wow-ness after it’s over. Or maybe I’m just freakin’ crazy and don’t know how to write reviews!

Ben Poppel’s Rating: 7/10

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9413 (1998) Review

"9413" Chinese DVD Cover

"9413" Chinese DVD Cover

Director: Francis Ng Chun-Yu
Producer: Herman Yau Lai To, Ng Ga Bo
Writer: Sandy Siu
Cast: Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Christine Eng Wing Mei, Amanda Lee Wai Man, Mo Jun Fai
Running Time: 90 min.

By Ben Poppel

Lan, a police officer, relies on Carmen, a hypnotist, to cure his amnesia. As Lan gradually regains his memories, it dawns on him that he may be the famous cop murderer. Things escalate and Carmen is soon terrified of becoming his next victim.

With a low-budget look, not-that-great story, zero martial arts, and a cheap look and feel to it, this movie looks to be a real stinker. But wait there is one catch: he film stars the outstanding Francis Ng and it gives him the perfect role to play. It allows for him to demonstrate all the characteristics that we have come to expect from such a great actor. This film doesn’t rely on action set pieces or even a real concrete story to keep our attention. Instead it just kind of has it’s own flow to it, and makes you want to keep watching just to see what Francis is going to do next.

I would say at least eighty percent of the screen time is done by Francis and that’s always a good thing. This movie is also directed by Francis. But remember don’t expect any real action or high tech special effects to blow you out of the water. Instead just good acting by a very good actor… did I say Francis enough or what?

Ben Poppel’s Rating: 8/10 (because It has Francis in it); 4/10 (If any other actor played the part)

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10 Brothers of Shaolin | aka Warriors of the Sacred Temple (1979) Review

"10 Brothers of Shaolin" American DVD Cover

"10 Brothers of Shaolin" American DVD Cover

AKA: Ten Brothers of Shaolin
Director: Ting Chung
Producer: Ting Chung, Wong Fung
Cast: Chia Ling, Don Wong Tao, Chang Yi, Wong Fei Lung, Lau Lap Cho, Phillip Ko Fei, Leung Kar Yan, Stephen Tung Wai, Luk Yat Lung, O Yau Man, Chen Chiu, Ga Hoi, Shaw Luo Hui, Au Lap Bo, Yim Chung, Woo Gwong, Man Man, Lung Fong, Lam Mong Nam, Wong Goon Hung
Running Time: 86 min.

By Milkcan

Wang Tao stars as a disciple of the Shaolin temple who must escort a high ranked official to a rendezvous location with his comrades, all the while fighting off an opposing force who wants the official dead. This Shaolin disciple is not alone in his task: his 9 “brothers” (also skilled fighters from the temple) secretly provide help along the way to ensure a safe journey. “10 Brothers of Shaolin” takes this story, a closeline for great moments of action, and runs face first into a brick wall with it. The film insists on racing through as many ideas and scenarios as possible, which means there are a good deal of characters who are easily forgotten, characters who are useless but have much screen-time, and a lame soap opera story that becomes blurred to the point where the two main characters seem to be aimlessly wandering around. The title is misleading: it is a shame the filmmakers didn’t create a better movie involving an actual band of 10 brothers pitted against a ruthless, threatening enemy.

Like several other kung-fu movies, “10 Brothers of Shaolin” has an abundance of moments that could have been exciting or at least interesting. In this movie, the various settings throughout the story would have been excellent for action sequences, but instead are rarely and poorly utilized. The entire film is darkly shaded with deep colors and shadows that bring out an ugly, harsh feeling to the screen (This is particularly evident in a death scene involving a patch of bamboo trees). Attempting to offer something new, the movie employs a chase sequence that, like most of the action, is not amusing or really thoughtful. However, the roaring soundtrack is very good and deserves to be accompanied with a better picture (The great theme song is: see Jackie Chan’s 1978 film “Drunken Master”). And above all, what makes a kung-fu movie like this a kung-fu movie are the fight scenes- “10 Brothers of Shaolin” offers no satisfaction.

Midway through the film, two fights occur that can be called weak but nonetheless better than duration of the movie, and that is all the audience will receive. The short lengthed and quick ending is an absolute let-down to top off this unorganized and disappointing chopsockie. This is the second movie I’ve seen that stars Wang Tao, and I begin to wonder how successful he was overseas. There is a look and presence he brings to the screen that suggests we’re watching a slapstick Bruce Lee. In the future, I would most definitely enjoy seeing this apparently skilled martial artist assume the lead role in a movie that knows he’s the lead role and that allows him to get his face dirty.

Milkcan’s Rating: 5/10

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2000 A.D. (2000) Review

"2000 A.D." Chinese Theatrical Poster

"2000 A.D." Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: Gordon Chan
Writer: Gordon Chan, Stu Zicherman
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Daniel Wu, Gigi Choi, Phyllis Quek, Ray Lui, Francis Ng, Andrew Lien, Ken Lo, Tony Ho
Running Time: 104 min.

By Raging Gaijin

Everything about this film suggests it was tailor made to be a big pan-Asian hit: it has a nondescript millennial title, a big budget put to use with some questionable CGI, locations around the continent, popstar Aaron Kwok in the lead role, and workmanlike director Gordon Chan behind the camera. Oh, yeah, and a very clear anti-US attitude. Unfortunately, the result is about as homogenized as you would expect. Despite some stellar action, as a whole “2000 A.D.” never rises above competent.

The plot is nearly indecipherable. There’s some kind of computer virus that can disrupt the stock exchange and it’s been stolen by a rogue CIA agent. In pursuit of the virus are some other shadowy government types and deadly assassins. Caught in the middle is plucky computer programmer Aaron Kwok. Needless to say, if you’re expecting an engaging story you’ll be disappointed. This is muddled at best.

Aaron Kwok is a decent actor when kept to a supporting or co-starring role (“Saviour of the Soul”, “Storm Riders”). However, “2000 A.D.” proves that he doesn’t quite have what it takes to shoulder an entire movie. He’s just too benign. You don’t get the sense that there’s a personality behind his good looks. He’s suitable in the action sequences but in the dramatic portions of the film he is clearly lacking. Aaron Kwok is in over his head trying to anchor this movie and it shows.

So what saves “2000 A.D.”? Two words: Francis Ng. He delivers another in a long line of stand-out performances. He’s nothing less than one of Hong Kong’s best character actors. Here he imbues a generic cop role with a rounded persona of dignity and strength. His performance isn’t showy at all, simply reserved, and the movie is all the better for it. Every time he’s on screen “2000 A.D.” comes to life.

The other saving grace is the action scenes. While not plentiful, they are well-done. They’re not all that over-the-top or in your face, just very immediate and violent. Much blood is shed and characters you might not expect to die do end up biting the bullet. Kudos to Gordon Chan for not holding back on the violence, even in a big-budget mainstream picture like this. Action fans will certainly be satisfied with the mayhem that unfolds.

“2000 A.D.” fits the bare minimum requirements of an entertaining film. A hackneyed plot involving computer viruses and an untested lead actor threaten to sink this ship but, just when you think the movie sucks, Francis Ng shows up or another action scene lights up the screen. You could do worse than “2000 A.D.” for a night’s entertainment but don’t set your hopes too high. This is a passable action movie; I just expect a little more from Hong Kong.

Raging Gaijin’s Rating: 6/10

By Numskull

The title of this movie is rather deceptive…it’s not about some Y2K bug or other such catastrophe waiting to be sprung on the world at the point at which most people thought the new millennium began (it was actually January 1st, 2001, whether you want to believe it or not). Lots of computers, but nobody mentions what year it is. Maybe they were trying to capitalize on millennium fever…

Anyway, this is a film that starts out dull but gets a hell of a lot better if you give it a chance. The first half hour is very boring, and I remained unconvinced that I should give a shit about any of the characters. But in due time the bullets start flying, the blood starts splattering, and there is some good hand-to-hand fighting…something too many action films lack these days. The shootouts and fights are handled in a very down-to-earth manner. No super-charged music, no flashy camera angles, no absurd heroics. Just sudden violence. The protagonists don’t valiantly do battle because it’s the right thing to do; they deal with it because they have no choice. I like it.

The cast is well-rounded, with no performances standing out as particularly excellent or suckworthy. Aaron Kwok eventually wins you over as the hapless everyman who gets thrust into extraordinary circumstances, newcomer Gigi Choi is reasonably likable as his girlfriend, and Phyllis Quek ably portrays a mysterious spy-type woman. Most guys will have a hard time taking their eyes off of her.

The story is fairly convoluted, with more than a few characters to keep track of. That’s good, but the general interest level isn’t particularly high. Also, the ending is pretty lame. As in many, MANY other HK movies it is very abrupt and gives you the feeling that the writers didn’t have a clue what to do after the primary conflict is resolved.

Not bad, not bad. Nice to see an HK action movie where the main heroes and villains aren’t your usual cops and robbers. A decent film to watch to get away from the endless chop-socky stuff that Asian cinema is synonymous with here in the west.

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10

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Stranger and the Gunfighter, The | aka Bloody Money (1975) Review

"The Stranger and the Gunfighter" International Theatrical Poster

"The Stranger and the Gunfighter" International Theatrical Poster

Director: Antonio Margheriti
Writers: Miguel De Echarri, Barth Jules Sussman
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Wong Hap, Chan Shen, Cheng Miu, Yen Shi Kwan, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi, Karen Yeh, Julián Ugarte, Erika Blanc
Running Time: 96 min.

By Joseph Kuby

One of the original Eastern Westerns!

Going by the trailer I saw somewhere, I was expecting an American quality film if not exactly a combo mix of Chang Cheh and Sergio Leone or Chor Yuen and Sergio Corbucci (or even Lo Wei and Enzo Girolami). Alas, the film comes off like a Hong Kong movie except shot in English (though dubbed in English as well) and shot in the West.

Some of the acting is terrible. The main villain, as played by Julian Ugarte, verily hams it up as a pantomine Warner Bros. cartoon style villain. Responsively, though Lee’s class and Lo’s style give this film much needed admiration.

The martial arts action is incredibly average (though I suppose watching this as a martial arts movie is like watching The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe as a Western) and the sound effects used for when Lo jumps in the air are cartoony to say the least (they make the ones back home seem realistic in comparison) and it makes it come off like a Kung Fu western equivalent to The Six Million Dollar Man.

Respectively, this should be watched as a Western than a Kung Fu film as the fight scenes are okay and (at the very best) good (like the final one between Lo Lieh and this Native American prize fighter) but the real highlight comes when Lee uses a Gatling gun to take on the hoodlums at the end (which Sammo payed homage to in his Eastern Western Millionaire’s Express).

I saw the UK DVD entitled Blood Money. The visual quality was atrocious and the film print faded to green sometimes, falling way below the same quality as the one depicted in the trailer with vibrant colors and widescreen image. This version is hideously cropped and it miserably spoils the action. What’s worse was that the print featured in the UK disc came from a VHS source. It indubitably doesn’t do the production values any favors.

I read somewhere the distillery fight sequence is missing, which is a pity. However, the film is still enjoyable. Lee and Lo make a great team, it’s regrettable that there was no sequel (I think it’s quite obvious it would have been more like Rush Hour 2 with Lee being the fish-out-of-water). It’s a pudency that no-one interviewed either Lo or Lee about their involvement in this film; it would have been nice to know how well they got along with each other as well as what the atmosphere was like on set and various other anecdotes.

When these two are on screen together, you realize Eastwood and Wang Yu could have been a wonderful duo. Joe Monco from the Dollars Trilogy teaming up with the One Armed Swordsman (or Boxer). Looking back at the ’70s, there were a lot of missed opportunities for crossover success. Ti Lung and David Chiang starring opposite Terence Hill and Bud Spencer would have been spectacular. Yul Brynner and Gordon Liu would have been delightfully canny in the possibilities stemming from such a union. Angela Mao and Carter Wong alongside John Wayne and Burt Lancaster would have been splendid.

Heck if you can have Mifune paired with Bronson, a Zatoichi vs. One Armed Swordsman movie, a Zatoichi vs. Yojimbo movie and even a movie featuring the two one-armed swordsmen then by all means the above were tangible ideas.

Strangely enough, despite the low budget exploitation feel (complete with the 70s music) there’s a substantial emphasis on character interaction and plotting than action (at least martial arts action) which isn’t too bad as the story is original, immersing and very funny (intentionally).

The film has some odd alternate titles. During pre-production, the film was announced to the Spanish press as Blood Currency before being known as Karate, The Colt and The Imposter. The Italian title was Here, Where it Does Not Strike the Sun. It was announced to the German press as Kung Fu in Wild West before being released as In My Rage, I Weigh 400 Weights. The French title is The Rough One, The Colt and Karate.

On a historical note, I don’t know much about what the impact of this film was at the American and Hong Kong box office. As far as I know it’s a pretty obscure movie but maybe it’s one of those films that was famous then but not now.

This film is one of many Eastern Westerns, the others are Dragon Blood, Red Sun, The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe, Sun Dragon (a.k.a. A Hard Way to Die), Once Upon a Time in China & America and Shanghai Noon.

Kung Fu fanatics would be well advised to check out Dragon Blood as it pits John Liu against Philip Ko.

Then in Hong Kong, there’s films set in turn-of-the-20th-century China where they absorb the atmosphere of westerns such as Peace Hotel (starring Chow Yun Fat).

Shanghai Noon remains, by far, the most well-rounded but this one isn’t too far behind.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 6.5/10

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Two Champions of Shaolin (1980) Review

"Two Champions of Shaolin" Chinese Theatrical Poster

“Two Champions of Shaolin” Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: 2 Champions of Death
Director: Chang Cheh
Producer: Mona Fong Yat Wah
Cast: Lo Meng, Chiang Sheng, Candy Wen, Lu Feng, Chin Siu Ho, Yeung Hung, Lam Chi Tai, Sun Chien, Chui Tai Ping, Yeung Jing Jing, Chan Hon Kwong, Chan Hung, Chan Shu Kei, Choi Kwok Keung, Chui Shing Chan, Ha Kwok Wing
Running Time: 101 min.

By Joe909

Back in Spring semester of 1994, my friends and I started up a weekly kung-fu movie night. One of our favorite flicks to watch was Two Champions of Shaolin. In fact, once we had a viewing with the college basketball team. These were hardcore dudes, mostly from the inner city, Brooklyn especially, guys who started a riot when our campus cable provider lost the BET network.

I remember they were mesmerized by Two Champions, and it’s easy to see why. This movie has a total charm, even if it’s shallow as far as plot and storytelling go, and even if head Venom Kuo Choi is nowhere to be found onscreen. But what it lacks in those areas is made up for by a total, unabashed desire to thrill the viewer with acrobatic displays of martial fortitude and blood-drenched violence. For God’s sake, a guy’s balls get ripped off in this movie.

One thing always mentioned in reviews for this film is that Kuo Choi chose not to appear in it, due to a falling out with Lu Feng, over who was going to become the lead choreographer. Kuo remained behind the scenes, acting as fight instructor; this was balanced out when Lu Feng didn’t appear in the next Venoms film, Ode To Gallantry. Kuo Choi generally took the lead role in the Venoms movies, but his absence doesn’t harm this film at all. In fact, it gives co-Venoms Lo Meng and Sun Chien a chance to shine.

The story is a myriad of revenge schemes; everyone in this movie wishes to kill someone. It opens with Lo Meng, a Manchu by birth who’s been raised at Shaolin after his parents were killed by fellow Manchu, leaving the Temple to get his revenge. The Wu-Tang clan, Shaolin’s rival, has aligned with the Manchu, and so Lo has to watch his back out in the real world. Lo discovers this real quick, as he’s attacked in broad daylight by a knife-wielding Wu-Tang fighter (Yu Tai-Ping, the only actor who was in all of the Venoms films).

Lo barely manages to get away alive. He stumbles into a house owned by noble warrior Sun Chien and his cute but deadly sister, Yeung Jing-Jing. Turns out these two have specialized in a style that counters the Wu-Tang knife-throwing technique; this style was taught to them by their father, an influential man who was, coincidentally, killed by Yu Tai-Ping. So these two are also seeking revenge. Lo goes back out into the city to take on Yu, and there he meets Chiang Sheng, who plays the role of Hu Hui-Gan (the same role Chi Kuan-Chun played in Men from the Monastery), a Shaolin rebel famed for his skills. The two hit it off.

They lure Yu back to Sun Chien’s place, where the four of them waste the poor bastard and his cronies. Now the Wu-Tang, lead by Yu’s brother Wang Li, want revenge. Only one of them stays distant from all of the vengeance, however: young Chien Hsao-Hao, in a role originally intended for Kuo Choi. He plays a young man who was raised by the Wu-Tang after his family was killed by the goddamn Manchu. Instead of vengeance, he just wants peace with his fellow Chinese, and understands why Shaolin is rebelling against these foreign Chings. His Wu-Tang brothers ignore his pleas.

The best part of the movie arrives with a tournament between the top Wu-Tang fighters and Chiang Sheng and Lo Meng. Squaring off in one-on-one combat, this segment of the film makes the Mortal Kombat movie look like the cheesy sh*t it was. Lots of carnage on display here, including the aforementioned ball-ripping. After killing more enemies, Lo and Yeung decide to get married. But weddings never go well this early in a film; Wang Li and his comrades launch an attack, with the departed Yu’s daughter Candy Wen arriving to gain vengeance personally, wasting Lo’s brand-new wife in cold blood. Lots of lives are lost here, and Lo’s taken captive. Chiang Sheng, meanwhile, is in a drunken stupor and misses everything.

Back at Wu-Tang, Chien Hsao-Hao manages to keep his brothers from murdering Lo, and then helps him escape. Lo then runs into Lu Feng, who, unbeknownst to Lo, is a Manchu assassin sent here to kill the Shaolin rebels. The movie gets a bit dry here, with Lu seemingly wanting to feed every human being he comes across. Finally Lu sets his trap, and we’re treated to a finale that ranks up there with the best Venoms climax, despite Kuo Choi’s absence. We have dudes in monkey masks, poisonous darts, massive spears, metal hoops, brains getting bashed out, and opponents being broken in half at the waist.

There are only two things that keep this movie from being perfect. One, the downward spiral that occurs directly after Lo Meng’s wedding. The preceding hour is awesome entertainment, and every time I watch this half of the movie I can’t believe how good it all is. But after that it’s obvious Chang’s killing time until the finale. This leads to the second problem: It seems that Kuo’s departure really messed up the script, and instead of rewriting everything they just cut down the time devoted to his intended character. The ending was also affected, of course; I highly doubt Kuo Choi would be as little involved in the final battle as Chien Hsao-Hao is. However, one thing that distinguishes this from other Chang movies is that there are no clear-cut villains, other than Lu Feng. Wang Li, for example, has as much a right to vengeance as our “heroes” Lo Meng and Sun Chien, as does the wife-killing Candy Wen.

Regardless of the middle-half slump, this is a great movie. The costuming, sets, and choreography are all the usual Venoms quality. The costumes are different than the normal Chang Cheh kung-fu garb; everyone wears silk kung-fu uniforms. The Wu-Tang get the coolest clothes, with nice black and white patterns. I’m also impressed by the tournament stage, which is a large platform that’s encircled by paintings of dragons. Weapons used are nice and bizarre; there’s a part at the end where Chiang Sheng tells his men to “bring the weapons.” You might expect swords or spears, but the guys come out with hoops and a metal baton.

The Celestial remastered release is the usual flawless presentation. I can’t believe how well they’ve cleaned up these old classics. I recommend all Venoms/Shaw Brothers fans to seek this movie out, despite the fact that Kuo Choi was too busy sulking to appear in it.

Joe909’s Rating: 9/10

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Five Deadly Venoms, The (1978) Review

"The Five Deadly Venoms" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"The Five Deadly Venoms" Chinese Theatrical Poster

AKA: 5 Venoms of Death
Director: Chang Cheh
Writer: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang
Producer: Runme Shaw
Cast: Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Philip Kwok Chung Fung, Lo Meng, Lu Feng, Wai Pak, Dick Wei, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Suen Shu Pau, Ku Feng, Chan Hung, Chow Kin Ping, Chui Tai Ping, Fong Yue, Ha Kwok Wing, Lai Yau Hing
Running Time: 96 min.

By Joe909

I was lucky when I first saw Five Venoms: I’d never seen a Venoms movie, and so I was actually held in suspense throughout. I was also young, which helped. Moreso a mystery than a kung-fu epic, one of the main draws of Five Venoms is you don’t know who is who. Part of the fun is trying to determine who the Scorpion is, and if the evil judge is secretly a member of the Poison Clan. This is surely the effect this movie had on first-time viewers back in the day, but now it’s such a part of the kung-fu mainstream that the actors are referred to by the parts they play. This sucks for the first-time viewer, because the movie doesn’t yield all of its secrets until the very end.

A caveat reviewers often provide is that this movie isn’t very action-packed. It isn’t, at least compared to other Venoms movies, but that’s not to say it’s slow, or boring. In fact, it’s more like an earlier Chang Cheh piece, as it puts just as much importance on story as it does on action. Later Chang movies usually recycled the same story over and over (I’m not complaining, mind you), with all of the flash zooms and occasionally-lazy directing that might imply. But in Five Venoms Chang was still in touch with the energetic camera control he possessed in earlier times.

I wonder if the success of director Chor Yuen’s swordplay/mysteries had any bearing on Chang’s direction for this. Chor made all manner of movies (Killer Clans, Death Duel, Clans of Intrigue) which toyed with viewers, holding them in suspense throughout. Much different than Chan Cheh’s straight-up tales of vengeance. Anyway, whatever his inspiration, Chang invested the movie with his full talent; probably he was just driven by I Kuang’s tight script, which itself was a takeoff on ideas he’d first presented in the Chor Yuen-directed 1976 film Web of Death.

Probably everyone knows the plot, but it goes like this: Chiang Sheng, a young disciple who’s been taught bits and pieces of each Venoms style, is sent by his dying master to seek out five former students, each a master of one of the five styles. Chiang doesn’t know who any of them are, as they each wore masks when being trained, and now go under different names. Luckily, it seems that all of them are now in one city in particular, where they scheme to steal the treasure of another of the master’s former students. Instead of making this into an all-out action extravaganza, Chang Cheh and I Kuang have bigger plans, and turn the above plot into a tightly-knit web of intrigue and conspiracy. The story takes precedence over the action and skill of the Venoms; those looking for examples of their acrobatic talents are directed to later films in the Venoms catalog.

My favorite part of this movie has always been the opening credits sequence. The murky lair in which the Venoms are taught their styles is cool enough, but the Venoms in their crazy masks are one of the coolest images in film ever. I wish they’d worn them more in the movie, but only the Scorpion hangs onto his for the duration of the film. The Toad’s mask is just plain goofy, though. The Lizard gets the coolest mask, and the Snake’s is cool, too, sort of a Peking Opera-style version of Gene Simmon’s KISS makeup.

The choreography is good, but not up to the insane level of later Venoms movies. There are also no bizarre weapons, as most of the characters fight empty-handed. The violence level as well is minimal when compared to later Venoms movies, though one of the characters gets pretty bloody when placed into an iron maiden. The film also features several murders more in line with a horror movie. Costuming is great across the board, and I’ve always liked Wei Pai’s flashy garb. The sets all seem claustrophobic, ramming home the Gothic element of the script.

It was a treat to see the remastered Celestial DVD. As usual, their restoration is amazing, and the film looks brand new. This is one of those movies where I know the English dub like the back of my hand, but I already prefer the original Mandarin track. It clears up several things that were confusing in the English dub, like when Kuo Choi tells some guy to leave and stay at the same time. I know it sounds stupid, but seeing these movies in their original language almost makes them seem more like “real” films. Not that I ever looked down on them (far from it!), but even though I always have and always will love the English dubbing in old school movies, seeing them this way gives me a whole new appreciation for them. That being said, the English dub does have its charm: compare the English dub’s “Poison Clan rocks the world!” with the subtitled version’s “The Five Venoms are out and the world is settled.”

So how would I rank Five Venoms? Well, I love all of the Venoms movies, pure and simple. I’d rate this one high for many reasons, but I’m not sure if it’s the best Venoms movie, because it doesn’t show off their individual skills. The story predominates, and Chiang Sheng especially is brushed to the side, unable to provide much of an idea of his phenomenal talents. That being said, the story for this movie pulls me in more than any of the other Venoms movies.

When it comes down to it, though, there is no perfect Venoms movie. Each has its own positives. Five Venoms was the first and has the tightest story, Crippled Avengers has the acrobatics and the coolest villain (Lu Feng with his metal hands), Kid with the Golden Arm has the bizarre characters, Invincible Shaolin has the drama, Killer Army has the tightest choreography, Masked Avengers has the Satanic bad guys, and House of Traps has the, well, house of traps. And that’s only a few that I’ve mentioned. Regardless, Five Venoms is regarded as a classic for a reason, and I’ve rated it as such.

Joe909’s Rating: 10/10

By Alvin George

I borrowed a VHS copy of “Five Deadly Venoms” from one of my friends. For a guy who hated “Five Fingers of Death,” I was surprised at how effective “Five Deadly Venoms” was. It actually has depth. My favorite villain was the snake dude, whatever his name was. His moves seemed reminiscent of Jackie Chan during his Lo Wei phase. I’m not the biggest fan of old-school martial-arts cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but for those looking for a different-looking old-school flick, “Five Deadly Venoms” is something of a standout.

Alvin George’s Rating: 7.5/10

By Numskull

Director Chang Cheh hit upon an extremely successful formula for this landmark kung fu film featuring a very talented cast and a genuinely involving story that goes far beyond the threadbare “I must avenge Teacher” and “kill the Japs” stuff that gives the old school martial arts genre a bad name. In fact, the plot overshadows the action to a certain extent; fight scenes in this movie are not particularly long, intense, or numerous. As it is, it’s very good fun, and its impact on the genre is tremendous. But, with some beefing up, it could have been that much greater as a film in and of itself and as a springboard for its prolific stars.

A Poison Clan sifu feels death fast approaching, and begins to worry that five of his former pupils may be using their lethal skills for all the wrong reasons, so he sends Yang Tieh, a green but very loyal student, to investigate their activities. The problem is, the names and faces of these pupils remain secret. The teacher knew them only by the fighting styles in which he schooled them, each related to a poisonous (or at least “icky”) animal of some kind, and during their training, they wore Chinese opera-style masks. The five students are as follows:

CENTIPEDE (Lu Feng): adept at overwhelming the enemy with raw, blinding speed

SNAKE (Wei Pai): a flexible fighter who lashes out at vital areas with his fingertips with plenty of power and precision

SCORPION (Sun Chien): mimics the strength and crushing power of the animal’s pincers

LIZARD (Kuo Choi/Philip Kwok): highly agile, with the unique ability to cling to sheer surfaces and thus attack from advantageous positions

TOAD (Lo Meng): packed with brute force and immune to many attacks thanks to rock-hard skin

In the hands of a lesser director, this premise probably would have led to little more than a series of battles in which Yang Tieh finds some clever way to eliminate the other Poison Clan students one by one, then walks off into the sunset with some bimbo on his arm. Happily, that’s not even close to how it works out. Although it is established in the early going which one(s) has/have turned bad and which one(s) has/have not, Yang Tieh’s quest to unveil the identities of his master’s former disciples before a cache of treasure can be claimed by the villainous one(s) makes for a very enjoyable film despite the slightly restrained action content. The last fight is well done, but don’t expect a whole lot aside from that.

No women in this movie. Stag kung fu, I guess. The role of Snake was supposedly intended for a woman, but for one reason or another it went to Wei Pai instead.

Subsequent “Venoms” movies used the same stars in different stories and roles with varying degrees of success, and the bunch of them eventually moved on to other things. Probably the most well known is Philip Kwok, who, besides appearing on camera in a number of films, directed “Ninja in the Deadly Trap” and choreographed stunts and fight scenes for films as diverse as Hard Boiled, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Brotherhood of the Wolf (God bless that man). Director/co-writer Chang Cheh, as you probably know, passed away in June of 2002, leaving a large and impressive kung fu filmography behind him.

“Poison Clan rocks the world!”

Numskull’s Rating: 7/10

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Arahan (2004) Review

"Arahan" Korean Theatrical Poster

“Arahan” Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Writer: Ryoo Seung-wan
Producer: Kim Mi-Hee
Cast: Ryu Seung-Beom, Yun So-Yi, Ahn Seong-Gi, Jeong Du-Hong, Yun Ju-Sang, Kim Young-In, Baek Chan-Gi, Kim Ji-Young
Running Time: 114 min.

By Alexander


I’ve FINALLY seen a FUN Asian film. YAY! No live squids being eaten here. No rapes. No severed Achilles tendons. No punctured jugulars. No cannibal babies. Just a lot of comedy, some fantastic martial arts action, a virtuosic performance by Ryu Seung-beom, and the super-fine Yun So-Yi. And before you scream “But what about the fun romantic comedy My Sassy Girl starring Korea’s darling Jeon Ji-Hyun?!”

Hated it.

I’ve no patience right now to summarize the complex plot (work beckons), but I’d recommend you do as both Equinox21 and I did: watch the film without knowing a thing about it.


So stop reading this review.

I’m warning you.

Alright. Up to you.

Anyway, I assumed I was going to be watching a Musa-like period piece. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to discover something akin to a cotemporary super-hero story with some fight scenes seemingly ripped from the pages of Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu comic.

Ryu Seung-beom as Sang-hwan is the best thing about Arahan. While his whiny, rubber-faced shtick is grating early in the film, Seung-beom dials the antics down considerably and actually emerges as a pretty convincing action hero late in the film. His transformation from super-geek to world-saving martial artist is gradual and believable. The rest of the cast is nearly as stellar, and Yun So-Yi is absolutely stunning (and kicks a ton of ass, to boot).

There are also many shout outs to other films in Arahan. Part of the fun of watching Arahan stems from trying to identify the many movie references. Reservoir Dogs, Power Rangers, 5 Lucky Stars, Taxi Driver, George of the Jungle, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan all get referenced in some form or another.

Highly recommended.

Alexander’s Rating: 9/10

By Iuxion

With a somewhat novel premise, Arahan tells the story of the world of Tao, which exists alongside the normal modern world that everyone else seems to be stuck in. In the world of Tao, there are seven legendary Tao masters (read: kung fu badasses), who protect mankind or something like that. Everything is a little tongue-in-cheek, cleverly put together, and overall it makes for a pretty entertaining movie. The plot revolves around a dorky police officer (Ryu Seung Beom), who gets involved with the seven masters, and ends up having to save the world. Yeah, it all sounds a little cliché, but the film plays around with them (the clichés, that is), and it just ends up making the whole experience better.

While the comedy’s good, the action can’t quite keep up. A restaurant fight scene is well done, and some training sequences are fine, but I felt that the final fight sequence dragged on a little too long for my tastes, and none of the fights really contained outstanding choreography or technique, although perhaps they were just not to my tastes (most people enjoyed them just fine, from what I’ve read). Regardless, if you like a good Korean comedy and are into (or have been into) martial arts movies, Arahan is a must see.

Iuxion’s Rating: 8/10

By Equinox21

I usually love popping in a DVD and knowing nothing about the movie. Sometimes, depending on how nice the packaging is, I’m really anticipating it and sometimes I’m really dreading it. I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you can usually tell a lot about a movie based on how much effort went into designing a nice package for it. Well, this is the case with Arahan. The only thing I knew about it was that it was directed by Ryu Seung-wan (his follow up to one of the coolest Korean flicks yet, No Blood No Tears) and it starred his brother, Ryu Seung-beom.

Arahan turned out to be a flick that remided me a little bit of a Korean comedy version of The Matrix (minus the computers ruling the world bit). There is the real world that everyone knows, but then there’s the secret Tao world in which people are masters Kung-fu style fighting and have the ability to walk on water and walls, levitate, use a “Palm Blast” type maneuver and are all around defenders of peace and justice. Such is the case with Wi-jin, to everyone she’s a simple convenience store cashier, but when she senses crime in progress she excuses herself and chases down the mugger’s motorcycle. Also on the mugger’s trail is a lowly traffic cop, Sang-hwan (Seung-beom), who gets blasted off his feet as Wi-jin fires her notoriously hard to aim palm blast. This starts a strange relationship as Sang-hwan is discovered to have some of these Taoist powers dormant in his body, and has them unlocked through secret acupuncture techniques performed by Wi-Jin’s father, Ja-woon (Ahn Sung-ki).

It’s kinda a long complex story, but it’s sprinkled with great comedy and amazing special effects. There are great fights of all kinds. You get terrific hand to hand fights and some slick weapons duels. All trying to take out a guy who has some seriously bad Tao powers.

Everyone should see this movie, if only for the enjoyable martial arts, incredible one-shot during the big swordfighting scene near the end and the Brothers Ryu. Seriously.

Equinox21’s Rating: 9.5/10

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Antarctic Journal (2005) Review

"Antarctic Journal" Korean Theatrical Poster

"Antarctic Journal" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Yim Pil-sung
Producer: Cha Seung-Jae
Cast: Song Gang-Ho, Yu Ji-Tae, Kim Gyeong-Ik, Park Hee-Sun, Yun Je-Mun, Choi Deok-Mun, Kang Hye-Jeong
Running Time: 115 min.

By Owlman

I have to admit something here. I got suckered into buying Antarctic Journal from the selling line at YesAsia – “Suspense and danger lurk everywhere, even at the South Pole!” The premise of a team of explorers trekking through the Antarctic seemed very interesting at the time so I placed my order for the movie.

Prior to receiving it, I read Equinox’s poor review of the movie and got antsy. I was really hoping he got bombed out of his mind watching the movie, couldn’t remember any of it, and wrote some crap about it being bad. Either that, or he was wrong (it wouldn’t be the 1st

Well, unfortunately, he was right. Antarctic Journal was about as enjoyable as a vasectomy without any of the necessary purpose behind the latter. It started off well, with sweeping shots of snow dunes and mountain ranges. It also had some interesting characters to begin with. And, quite frankly, when you’re setting a movie in the wasteland of the Antarctic, you’re only going to get these two things to play with.

As the movie progressed, however, the scenery became nothing more than just white. Mind you, the Antarctic is a wasteland so the scenery is all you can play with. But, c’mon, when you start off with some interesting scenery shots and then jump right into what obviously looks like some piss-poor studio backdrop, it’s bound to disappoint. It reminded me a lot of when I saw the Dune miniseries – special effects were interesting but the studio backdrops were poor that you would expect somebody to accidentally punch through the sun on the wall. Luckily for Dune, it had a rich story and a multitude of characters to utilize.

Therefore, one would assume that the characters of Antarctic Journal would come out to the forefront. Nope – pretty soon, most of them are killed off without ever understanding who they were, nor what purpose they really served in the expedition itself. As some form of thrill, the director has put in hints of the supernatural in the movie but never fleshes that out, too. The more I think about it, Antarctic Journal reminds me a bit of The Abyss but at least that movie was fairly interesting.

What a disappointment. Did I mention already that Equinox was right? Well, he was wrong in one aspect – he was far too generous with his rating.

Owlman’s Rating: 2/10

By Equinox21


Unfortunately, Song Kang-ho’s last two films have, in my opinion, been fairly boring. I really didn’t care much for The President’s Barber and Antarctic Journal just adds to my disappointment in his recent choice of movies. It wouldn’t be so bad if he were starring in more than just one film per year, but as it is now, he’s 0 for 2 since 2003’s brilliant film Memories of Murder.

Antarctic Journal is the story of a team of explorers from South Korea trying to reach the POI (Pole of Inaccessibility, or the point in Antarctica furthest from any of the ocean’s, reached just once by a Russian team in 1957). Of course, in such an inhospitable climate, it takes everything the group has to get there Enter a 24 hour day, endless fields of snow, frostbite, insanity, relics from a failed 1922 British exploration and just all around spooky music, it sounds like the premise for a terrific film. Unfortunately, it just fails to live up to any sort of expectation.

It’s not that it’s a bad movie, or maybe it’s just that I keep telling myself that because I can’t bear the thought of Song Kang-ho starring in such a crapfest, but Antarctic Journal just fails in all respects. None of the explorers seems to want the group to succeed. The one that does just ends up royally screwing it up for everyone else (and thus letting most of them die). Of course, there’s also the clichéd character that wears glasses and is blind without them. When he first came on screen and I saw the glasses, I already knew they’d be a plot point sooner or later. And, surprise surprise, he doesn’t have a backup pair, so when his main pair get destroyed, what does he do? Kills himself. Of course. Makes perfect sense.

Don’t waste your time with Antarctic Journal. If you want to see the beautiful landscape of snow filled emptiness, don’t bother with this movie, just come visit me in Wisconsin in January. I promise not to hacksaw your foot off if you get frostbite.

Equinox21’s Rating: 5/10

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Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld (1973) Review

"Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld" UK DVD Cover

"Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld" UK DVD Cover

AKA: Blood Snow, Shurayukihime
Director: Toshiya Fujito
Writer: Osada Norio, Koike Kazuo, Kamimura Kazuo
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Toshio Kurosawa, Masaaki Daimon, Miyoko Akaza, Noboru Nakaya, Takeo Chii, Yoshiko Nakada, Kaoru Kashiwada, Akemi Negishi, Sanae Nakahara
Running Time: 97 min.

By Reefer

It is unfortunate that Fugita Toshiya’s Lady Snowblood might be remembered most only for it serving as the main source material for Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 hit and Asian cinema tribute Kill Bill. I guess I should just be happy that it was remembered at all. Because without QT’s extensive reference to Lady Snowblood, I might not have checked it out in the first place. So thanks Quentin. Well, kind of.

I hesitate to display my appreciation more fully because Kill Bill was such a complete sampling that its almost a modern day retelling of the film. So honestly, I felt kind of cheated. But that’s Kill Bill. This review is about Lady Snowblood. A film that simply blows Tarantino out of the water despite it all. Using a mixed up chronology before it was cool, Fugita Toshiya’s film begins with a young woman encountering some men traveling on a snowy path. Unknown to them, she has another purpose other than getting from here to there. Soon, swords are drawn and much blood (entirely theirs) stains the ground on which they lay. The woman named Yuki moves on.

We learn that her father, a school teacher, was brutally murdered and that her mother was beaten, raped, and imprisoned. From her dying mother’s lips on the day she was born, she learns that she was born for the express purpose of revenge. Think about that for a minute. Her mother had sex with every creep and prison guard in order get pregnant and spawn an instrument of death and revenge. So now Yuki’s quest is to kill the four villains, three men and a woman, who destroyed her parents even though she never actually knew her them. It is chillingly explained by her mother that “karma can stain the unborn”.

As you might expect, this is not an uplifting film. The experience is harrowing and hard, but you are pulled along with her because of her incredible sense of duty and the horrible acts perpetrated. This is clearly “eye for an eye” stuff. No credit given for good behavior. Yuki is set to kill whether or not life has rewarded or punished after the crime. There are no rollicking action sequences here to be rewound and watched again. There is, however, plenty of swords and gore, filmed in the blunt, straight forward style of something absolutely inevitable. The violence here still shocks as it must have in 1973 at the time of its release.

If there was a part that I didn’t like about Lady Snowblood, I would say that the narrative periodically falls into a history lesson format accompanying the introduction of each of the four chapters that the film is split into. But even those sequences are well made, employing almost a comic strip feel and presentation. And yea, that is another element Tarantino included in Kill Bill.

Please. Please. Anyone who enjoys Asian cinema should see this film. Forget about Tarantino or Miramax’s exploitation. See the film that was meant to be seen. Ignore the reruns.

Reefer’s Rating: 10/10

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Failan (2001) Review

"Failan" Korean DVD Cover

"Failan" Korean DVD Cover

Director: Song Hae-Seong
Producer: Song Hae-Seong
Cast: Choi Min-Sik, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi.
Running Time: 116 min.

By Klotera

This is a very unique film. At a very general level, one would call it a drama. But, it is more like a character based gangster film put together with a romance film that has no romance. Yes, it sounds strange, but it really works. Let me break it down:

Choi Min Sik plays a gangster, Kang-jae, but he has kind of just fallen into that place by being lifelong friends with the gang’s leader. He is angry, aggressive, and violent – but sucks at all the gangster stuff and has earned a bad reputation within his gang for it. After a drunken fight that turns deadly, the gang’s leader suddenly appreciates him again…. because he wants him to take the fall. But, Kang-jae soon gets news that his wife, Failan, has died and he must travel to make final arrangements about her death.

Failan (Cecilia Cheung) had come to Korea to live with family there. She finds out they are no longer there, but cannot go back to China because she has no family there anymore. She has no one and is a stranger in a foreign land. In order to stay, a “convenience” marriage is a arranged and Kang-jae is the one she marries. Of course, this is a business arrangement and she will have to work off the money that a sponsor has put up. She cannot work as a girl in his club, though, because she is very sickly so she goes to work in a small village doing laundry. She never meets her husband and falls sicker with the disease.

The film takes its time to set up Kang-jae’s character and then follows his travels to make arrangements after Failan’s death. It is on this journey that he learns about her short life in Korea.

The film does an interesting job of showing us how he learns about Failan. Through her letters and the stories of others, he learns about a young woman who has made life for herself in a foreign country and appreciates everything she has. Despite his greedy reasons for marrying her, she still says he is the sweetest of all – because he married her. We see this irritable, hard nosed character learn the value of appreciating things in life that many take for granted and begin to develop feelings for this woman he never met during her life. This changes him and to see how these discoveries change him in such a short time is what makes the movie so interesting.

The film is very well done in most respects. Due to the strange nature of the story and the slow pace of the film (particularly, the long amount of time devoted to developing Kang-jae in the beginning), some viewers may be turned off. But, I believe the pay-off is worth the patience. Despite the slow pace, the development is necessary to the impact of the film. All the acting is very good, particularly Cecilia, who does very well as the young woman in a strange land with basically no one. When she spends her first night at her job and begins crying, it hurts.

Overall, this film is definitely a recommended viewing, as it really does show a unique story that has some real character and emotion to it. If you are looking for a traditional tear-jerker romance movie, this is definitely not it. Have some patience with it and you’ll find a great story of a young woman who appreciates even the smallest things and a hard-nosed gangster who learns from that.

Klotera’s Rating: 8.5/10

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Green Fish (2001) Review

"Green Fish" American DVD Cover

"Green Fish" American DVD Cover

Director: Lee Chang-Dong
Producer: Myeong Kye-Nam
Writer: Oh Seung-Wuk
Cast: Han Seok-Kyu, Shim Hye-Jin, Moon Seong-Keun, Myeong Kye-Nam, Kim Yong-Man, Lee Ho-Seong, Han Seon-Kyu, Oh Ji-Hye, Sohn Young-Sun, Cha Yu-Kyeong
Running Time: 111 min.

By Equinox21

The story of a guy who can’t find a job so he ends up involved in gangs is nothing new, but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing this one. There is plenty to keep your interest, even if the story isn’t entirely original. If you are at all a fan of Wong Kar-Wai’s work, you will enjoy Green Fish.

Because the plot is nothing special, I won’t bore you with the details about it. Instead I’ll enlighten you to the great points of this movie (and there were many). One stand out point is the acting. It was some of the best I’ve seen. Han Suk-kyu is one of Korea’s most lauded actors, and he deserves every bit of praise he receives. He doesn’t play a tough guy, he doesn’t play a high-ranking member of a gang, instead he merely plays a regular guy who can’t find work, ends up in a gang and eventually makes a bad decision, which costs him dearly. Along the way he falls for the boss’ girlfriend, the gorgeous Shim Hye-jin. She positively glows in her role. The very end was truly moving, and it was all because of her. Rumor had it (though I am having a hard time verifying this) that she’d have a role in Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, if that’s the case then 2046 jumped from my most anticipated film of the year to my most anticipated film of all-time! I sure hope it’s true.

The music in this movie was another aspect that worked extremely well. Every song sounded perfect and enhanced the emotion of every scene in just the right way. In the same way a Wong Kar-Wai soundtrack perfectly suits the film, so did the soundtrack for Green Fish.

Another superb aspect of this film was the direction. There were many terrific shots, and many scenes that would have fit perfectly in a Wong Kar-Wai film. I am starting to think that Lee Chang-dong (Oasis, Peppermint Candy) MIGHT be Korea’s answer to WKW. Both directors have very similar styles, and both generally write and direct their own films (Lee Chang-dong was a novelist before getting into the Korean Film industry). I’ll still have to check out more of this director’s work before making a final decision on this, however.

While not the best movie of this genre, it’s really not the plot nor the genre that you should see this movie for. You should see it for the acting, the soundtrack, the direction and the absolutely, positively gorgeous Shim Hye-jin.

Equinox21’s Rating: 8/10

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