Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. Cool Ass Cinema


The first list of Favourite Hong Kong Movies comes from Brian, the brains behind the Cool Ass Cinema blog. Brian's encyclopedic knowledge and enthusiasm for genre film was and continues to be a genuine inspiration to me, the eclectic mix of subjects covered and the styles of the posts make for an ever fresh and exciting reading experience.

In chronological order :

THE HEROIC ONES 1971



"Saw this on Black Belt Feature in the early 80s under the bizarre title of SHAOLIN MASTERS. If Chang Cheh ever did a movie adapted from Shakespeare, it would look something like this. The plot is essentially about four things--Treachery, Greed, Honor and Betrayal between a war-mongering king and his 13 sons who are all skilled in the art of combat, drinking heavily, whoring and eating lots and lots of meat. At the time, there was nothing quite like it in terms of its scope and it led to a number of other big ticket 'Cast of Thousands' HK theatrical attractions. The major money sequence, which is a mini epic in itself, is a tense battle wherein Ti Lung tries to escape a burning fortress with his father all the while surviving a gauntlet of increasingly volatile soldiers and assassins. This sequence alone is better than some movies in their entirety. David Chiang steals the show as the youngest son with the slight build, yet effortlessly wields an enormous iron spear that takes two men to lug around. The musical score utilized here is one of the best and adds a majestic air to the movie. This sort of epic pageantry would die out towards the end of the 70s, but got a major resurgence the last ten years or so in the form of expensively flashy Hong Kong CGI infected actioners."


SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS 1974



"Another Chang Cheh Ming vs. Qing movie, but with a difference--all the typical Shaolin heroes are dead. The film takes place after Shaolin is destroyed and hostilities between both sides have ceased... temporarily. A God of War ceremony creates a tense situation leaving one man dead. Fearing an uprising, the Qing court orders any transgressions be quelled. Two top fighters, one Tai Chi inner strength man and an Iron Skin man (with skills surpassing the White Brow Priest), are brought down from the Manchu mountains to eliminate the Shaolin stragglers. A few survivors band together and train in various styles to combat the Qing kung fu masters. An unusually well defined script delves into some interesting, and diverse characters. The training sequences are many, the fights are intense, sweaty and bloody, and the template for the Teacher/Student dynamic began here. This got a lot of airplay on Martial Arts Theater in the 80s and 90s; a program that got so popular, it was on every night at 11 instead of just Saturday evenings. Many fans fawn over FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS (1974), but SHAOLIN MARTIAL ARTS is the pinnacle of Cheh's Temple series. John G. Avildsen must have seen this picture as he borrows the 'Work As Training' schematic for his KARATE KID in 1984."


CRIPPLED AVENGERS 1978



"After FIVE VENOMS was a modest success in HK, this unique tale of handicapped vengeance was one of the first out of the gate to capitalize on the venoms minor success, and ever so brief tenure in Hong Kong. The Chang Cheh-I Kuang script is one of the best of the directors later period. It's pure comic book excellence, but peppered with memorable heroes and villains. This movie is also intriguing in that the villain doesn't start out that way. It's the epitome of the revenge motif, but it has more charm than the average kung fu picture. Lo Mang's hot-headedness and Chiang Sheng's eventual status as a mental midget are largely responsible for much of this charm. The story concerns a group of men crippled by a madman who rules a town with his Tiger Style and his sons Iron Hands. Three of the cripples--one is blinded, one is turned into a deaf-mute, another has his legs chopped off and a swordsman who takes pity on the three is captured and has an iron tourniquet tightened around his head--all learn kung fu styles to cope with their impediments and take revenge. Chen Kuan Tai's highly touted return to the studio no doubt helped give this entry some additional notoriety. The stock musical score is a superb selection. It obviously inspired other cripple flicks such as THE FOUR INVINCIBLES and THE CRIPPLED MASTERS series. It was released here as MORTAL COMBAT. In the mid 80s, it was a regular staple of Black Belt Feature and occasionally turned up on Martial Arts Theater. It was also one of the few Fu Flicks my mom could still get into."


AVENGING EAGLE 1978



"Sun Chung was likely inspired by Chang Cheh to a degree; not the least of which being their initial joint directing effort on THE BLOODY ESCAPE at the tail end of '72 before Sun ended up taking over the movie while Cheh focused on an enormous slate of his own productions. The heroes in Sun's movies often emulated the resolve of those seen in Chang's pictures, but with Sun's own signature style, which began to take hold in 1977. AVENGING EAGLE is arguably the most similar to Chang Cheh's style in its depiction of a rampaging gang of thugs with a sadistic child abuser/tyrannical murderer as their leader. The performances are incredible, particularly a broodingly serious turn by the usually impish Fu Sheng. Ti Lung tugs at your heartstrings as the title Eagle torn between his duty as a member of the bloodthirsty cult of killers and his new-found emotional state after being nursed back to health by a kindly family. The level of drama and tragedy is high. You'll no doubt have the movies mystery figured out before the finale, but there's still some breath-bating twists along the way. The first time I saw this wasn't on television, but on a $40 tape from Dragon Video; and even in a washed out print, the conclusion had me on the edge of my seat. The stock library score is perfectly downbeat, matching the epic tragedy unfolding onscreen. This was a big movie for the director and its stars in Asia and was later loosely remade as 13 COLD-BLOODED EAGLES in 1993. Sun Chung reworked the plot of this movie the following year with a mostly no-name cast entitled TO KILL A MASTERMIND."


MONKEY KUNG FU 1979



"Forget Liu Chia Liang's MAD movie about monkey kung fu, this is the ultimate display of primate posturing with a near non-stop barrage of fight scenes. Both lead Ching Siu Tung and the comedy are annoying as hell, but the dozens of fights sizzle the screen. The underrated Kuan Feng ignites the screen in one of the most searingly indominatable villain performances I've ever seen. His pole style is a classic example of formidably bristling, lightning fast maneuvering. Hidden beneath the rapid fire, breath-taking battles is a plot concerning the search for a medal split into two halves. Both halves disclose the location of the title kung fu manual. Aside from that, the 'Point A to Point B' plot is an excuse to go from one splendid action set piece to the next, seasoned with an array of training sequences, and topped off with an exemplary final fight. That addictive score from HEROIC ONES is put to good use here, too. I saw this at the Drive In as well under its US title, STROKE OF DEATH, an aka that it retained for its numerous television airings."


REBEL INTRUDERS 1980



"The plot of this movie is an amalgamation of any of Chang's 'Cast of Thousands' movies without the 'Thousands', condensed to a smaller cast and confined to the cramped, smaller sets of Shaw Studio. It's still good fun, and while there's plenty of well choreographed action, the main characters are quite well drawn; which makes the fights all the more exciting. Basically it's three refugees, all skilled in kung fu, whose paths cross during some unnamed Chinese civil war. They all get jobs and eventually uncover a plot for a military coup and are framed in the process. They go on the run, but are unable to escape the city, and are hunted by the various factions of the KILLER ARMY (the films US title). This one's filled with flashy fights with intricate weaponry worthy of a venoms flick and enough subturfuge for a Chu Yuan Romantic Swordsman movie. The bar fight seen here is one of the best ever put to film and right humorous. The venoms appear to be enjoying themselves despite a couple wobbly moments that suggest a hurried schedule. At one point, this one was being shown every week along with MASKED AVENGERS and THE DESTROYERS (aka MAGNIFICENT RUFFIANS). The IVL DVD contains a few bits of gore missing from the TV prints famously bearing the credit, "Edited For Television By Larry Bensky" (and at least one Shaw flick, THE DEADLY MANTIS by one Jerry Koenig)."


KILLER CONSTABLE 1980



"This was yet another movie that blew me away on Black Belt Feature, but under the odd title of KARATE EXTERMINATORS, its US release title. The overly Japanese moniker wasn't totally out of place, though, considering the choreography had a Nipponese flavor to it courtesy of Shikamura Ito. The movie itself is unusual for a multitude of reasons. The "good guys" are the Manchu's being one! Chen Kuan Tai essays and excels in the role of cold-hearted chief constable Leng, sent to track down a group of gold robbers who have absconded with 2 million taels of government bars. The photography, the way certain scenes are shot, the whole look of the film is distinct and totally unlike any other HK picture of the time. The use of the blood effects is also markedly different from the norm. As per the Shaw style and that of director Kuei Chi Hung, this is undeniably one of the gloomiest, depressingly savage HK pictures ever mounted. Ironically, it's a remake of Chang Cheh's THE INVINCIBLE FIST (1969), an equally unusual movie in Chang's oeuvre in that things end happily for the protagonist. There was also another movie that was similar; the inferior Taiwanese cheapie, DEMON STRIKE (1979) starring Liang Chia Jen, Pai Piao and Hwang Jang Lee."


COUNTRY OF BEAUTIES 1981



"This bonkers, totally wacky Taiwanese oddity blew me away after seeing it on USA Network's Night Flight as part of 'Mike's Take Out Theater'. More widely recognized as ISLAND WARRIORS, the program condensed the 90 minute adventure picture into a 60 minute experience. The combination of Virgin Kung Fu, castrated pirates turned into homosexuals, lesbianism, bizarre sexual life saving procedures preceded by the classic phrase, "Only my kung fu can save him" bolstered by an outlandish Chinese disco main theme means a good time will be had by all. There's two plots going on here; one involving Three Horny Stooges lookin' for love in all the wrong places and Don Wong Tao as a representative of Men's Island who negotiates to allow the men to return to their birthplace and is captured for his trouble. It's an Asian version of similar Italian warrior women movies like BATTLE OF THE AMAZONS (1974) and WAR GODDESS (1974) among that sub genre of pseudo Sword & Sandal epics. You'll also see little baby boys cast away to the sea to become shark food, a gigantic naked Queen statue that shoots cannonballs from its eye sockets, a hot 100 year old kung fu princess and you'll hear 'Jill's Theme' from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST put to good use, and the FIRST BLOOD theme not so much. Best Film & Video got this movie in a lot of stores in the 80s on videotape."


MASKED AVENGERS 1981



"Hong Kong cinemas ultimate Fork Movie is a warm up for Chang Cheh's FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS in terms of viscera strewn creativity. It's essentially a gorier murder mystery version of FIVE VENOMS but built around a sadistic gang of blood-drinking masked rapists. Kuo Chui is the Man of Mystery here, basically essaying the same role as Lung Tien Sheng in the previous years FLAG OF IRON (1980), itself a remake of Cheh's own THE DUEL from 1971. The plot is again simplistic revolving around a band of young swordsmen from well known clans aligning together to track down a vile gang of trident bearing assassins. The abandoned temple is the title fiends lair and proves to be an even more spectacular labyrinthine death trap than the title abode of Cheh's misfire HOUSE OF TRAPS released the following year. The directors loving obsession with Peking Opera impalings goes into overdrive here as the cast is run through in a variety of nasty ways. I saw this at the Drive In and later on USA Network's Kung Fu Theater program. By the late 80s-early 90s, MASKED AVENGERS was seemingly on television every week on Martial Arts Theater."


FIVE ELEMENT NINJAS 1982



"This simplistic Wuxia/Kung Fu hybrid tale of good vs. evil is punctuated by dynamite choreography and Cheh's patented heroic bravado pushed to abusively maximum effect. The glue of the film is an increasingly inventive string of weapons battles and gruesome comic book styled gore. There are little nuances hidden ninja-like within the narrative that enhance the picture, and are more noticeable upon repeat viewings. Both Batman and Bond would be seethingly jealous at our heroes gigantic 'Swiss Army Knives' that make up one of many highlights during the last thirty minutes. I first caught it on the Black Belt Feature in 1983 and immediately fell in love with it. Interestingly enough, every showing of it on WGGT-TV 48 had the nude scene intact, but was missing (along with additional shots of gore) on the USA Network showings. The movie is incredibly popular with fans and a high water mark of the genre despite being mostly ignored in Asia at the time while everybody else was into "New Wave" kung fu ie lamentable comedic shenanigans. Still, it's obvious 5EN was a popular attraction in other Asian territories considering the flood of similar movies that copied its main title selling point. The fact that I've seen it over two dozen times and can quote every line of dialog with the same inflection of the three or so dubbers doing all the voices shows what a geek-nerd devoted, sad individual I really am. 5EN is my all time favorite and nothing comes close to it in sheer entertainment value."


3 comments:

Fazeo said...

Terrific list. I really need to see Island Warriors, that's a new one for me.

mr c said...

the list is a great reminder of shaw brother classics!

venoms5 said...

ISLAND WARRIORS is a lot of fun. The wide version under its original title is preferable.

The Shaw's rule Mr. C!!!

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