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A BETTER TOMORROW

(Hong Kong 1986) 

Original Title: Ying Hung Boon Sik

 

Directed by John Woo Produced by Tsui Hark, John Woo Action by Stephen Tung Wei Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Waise Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Emily Chu, Shing Fui On, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Wang Hsieh, Tien Feng Reviewing: Nova Media/Fortune Star South Korean Blu-ray Release Genres: Heroic Bloodshed / Action / Drama

Rating - 5 / 5

Nova Media Blu-ray Synopsis: The passage of a heroic character in the underworld seeking vengeance against conspirator and the love of his younger brother. The brothers are in conflicting roles, the outlaw and cop. Sung Tse Kit (Leslie Cheung), a dedicated police man blamed Tse Ho (Ti Lung) for fathers death as much as obstructing his career in the police force. Flamboyant Tse Ho and Mark (Chow Yun Fat) are betrayed by their jealous subordinate Tam Shing (Lee Tse Hung) into the counterfeit syndicate. Gun wounded Tse Ho gives himself up in order to let Tam Shing escape. After serving his jail term, repentant Tse Ho returns to Hong Kong to lead a new life and finds out Mark was crippled in the massacre for his vengeance. But crooked Tam Shing as a rising lieu tenant in the syndicate would not take the chances. He wastes no time to plot against Tse Ho and Mark... (95 Mins)

Deltamac HK DVD: The passage of a heroic character in the under world seeking vengeance against conspirator and the love of his younger brother. The brothers are in conflicting roles, the outlaw and cop. Sung Tse Kit (Leslie Cheung), a dedicated policeman blamed Tse Ho (Ti Lung) for father's death as much as obstructing his career in the police force. Flamboyant Tse Ho and Mark (Chow Yuen Fat) are betrayed by their jealous subordinate Tam Shing (Lee Tse Hung) into he counterfeit syndicate. Gun wounded Tse Ho gives himself up in order to let Tam Shing escape. After serving his jail term, repentant Tse Ho returns to Hong Kong to lead a new life and finds out Mark was crippled in the massacre for his vengeance. But crooked Tam Shing as a rising lieutenant in the syndicate would not take chances. He wastes no time to plot against Tse Ho and Mark... (91 Mins)

MIA Video UK VHS: Supercool mobster Mark (Chow Yun Fat) is a man of honour in a world of crime. His partner Ho (Ti Lung) is having second thoughts because kid brother Kit (Leslie Cheung) is an ambitious cop. Kit remains blissfully ignorant until Ho is doublecrossed, their father is murdered and Ho is imprisoned. Mark swears to avenge his friend, but his right leg is shattered in the ensuing shoot-out, a legendary scene of sensationally choreographed gunplay. When Ho leaves the slamer he finds the crippled Mark reduced to scrubbing dirt off the gang boss' stretch limo. Both are determined to go straight, but neither Kit nor the crimelords are done with them yet. Finally, Mark, Ho and Kit must face their destiny in a blazing crossfire of conflicting loyalties and hot lead. Who will survive? John Woo creates a finely tuned balance of strong characterisation and ballistic action, while Chow is flawless in the role which launched him into superstardom. (95 Mins)

Views: By the time I had gotten around to actually getting A Better Tomorrow, I had already fallen in love with Chow Yun Fat after seeing the incredible Hard Boiled, Full Contact, and The Killer back in the early '90s. So I was quite late in seeing the film that really helped launch him as the heroic-bloodshed-action-star we all know him for today! In one of the ultimate modern tales of brotherhood, A Better Tomorrow helped make household names of its stars and director John Woo, as well as fast becoming a firm favourite to fans of action cinema and film right around the world. Although Woo had already gained notoriety and success with his films such as Hand Of Death, Last Hurrah For Chivalry, and Heroes Shed No Tears to name but a few, the world sat up and took notice of him as a director when A Better Tomorrow proved to be a box-office hit. With this classic story of cops and robbers, the team-up of director Woo and producer Tsui Hark deliver one of Hong Kong cinemas finest that keeps its audience gripped with some fantastic cinematography, an emotionally charged and amazing soundtrack, a brilliant cast, some stunning gun-play action, and of course, the incredible performances from its main stars!

 

Chow Yun Fat's stunning performance as 'Mark' gave cinema one of its most memorable characters ever, paving the way for a collection of tributes and spoofs from other HK film-makers and stars that still runs to this day. Starting his acting career as a television actor, Chow starred in a number of films for Goldig Studios in the late 70s, but it would be his role in The Bund (1980) that would help take him further with A Better Tomorrow strengthening that a good 6 years later - with his portrayal of Mark winning him the award for Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards that year (and only 1 of 11 roles at that). This success convinced Chow to trade his television career for the film industry, which was the right decision of course as the superstar went on to star in many amazing titles from The Killer to Hardboiled, Tiger On The Beat to God Of Gamblers, Bulletproof Monk to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and the sequels of this classic, as well as many others. The awesome Ti Lung, whom I find doesn't usually receive the same amount of credit for his role here in this film, plays his part flawlessly while delivering some fantastic action and lump-in-the-throat moments as he carries the story between his best friend (Mark) and his younger brother, Kit. After leaving the Shaw Brothers studio in the early 80s, Lung's career started to drop - especially as the traditional kung-fu movie was dying out - but it would be his role here as Sung Tse Ho that would reignite his fame and see the legend go on to star in a host of other titles right through to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, starring alongside Chow a number of times after this in films such as A Better Tomorrow 2, City War, and Tiger On The Beat. I must admit, I wasn't too keen on the handsome Leslie Cheung as Kit at first, but after warming to him in other movies and enjoying repeated viewings of A Better Tomorrow, it was easy to see that Woo and Hark had made the right choice in putting these 3 together on-screen. Having starred in over 50 films and released 40 successful albums during the course of his career, Cheung made his mark on Hong Kong cinema for many reasons and not least for his suicide in 2003 which was a great loss to his fans, family, and the Hong Kong film world in general. Waise Lee stars as the double-crossing Shing, and actually plays his role of the menacing bad guy pretty well. While he's never been one of my favourite actors, it's only fair to say that Lee definitely does the job here as a character you just love to hate. The additional casting of the great Kenneth Tsang just helps strengthen things even more, along with a hilarious cameo by Tsui Hark as one of the examiners at Emily Chu's music recital and, of course, I can't forget about the wooden acting of director John Woo who pops up throughout as an officer of the force who is determined to stop the loveable gangsters...

The gritty action and gun-play is choreographed by Stephen Tung Wei, who does a great job in providing some intense moments as well as some explosive scenes. Along with John Woo's infamous slow-motion and some violently bloody kills, Tung Wei and team deliver a number of memorable moments that helped shove the heroic bloodshed genre into the limelight, and inspired more than a few cinematic moments in many other Hong Kong films that followed. A film as emotional about brotherhood and friendship as A Better Tomorrow is, made some impact on me when I watched it as a young man. The scenes between Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung alone were so intense, they would leave a lump in my throat more than once and even today after all these years, it still continues to do so. I couldn't recommend it enough! This is, without a doubt, one of John Woo's finest moments and one of my all-time favourite movies that managed to break box-office records upon release (and without hardly any advertising) and set a whole new standard of how Hong Kong's gangster movies would be made from there onwards. It's also worth pointing out that eagle-eyed viewers can catch an uncredited young Stephen Chow Sing Chi as one of the bodyguards to the Taiwanese Triad boss. A Better Tomorrow is an absolute gem of a film that will always be remembered and loved by many fans of Asian (and non-Asian) cinema. From the first time I watched it right up until the last, the film stands proud as a classic piece of entertainment. Action-packed, emotional, gritty, and beautifully directed – there's no ignoring why this is recognized as the one that put Chow Yun Fat on the action map. And it's easy to see why!

Overall: One of the best titles in my collection, A Better Tomorrow is a film that inspired a generation and should be seen by any action fan!

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Code Of Bullets Part 1, Photo Gallery

Deltamac HK DVD Extras: Trailers

Watch my unboxing video for this Nova Media release HERE

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A BETTER TOMORROW 2

(Hong Kong 1987) 

Original Title: Ying Hung Boon Sik 2

Directed by John Woo Produced by Tsui Hark, John Woo Action by Tony Ching Siu Tung, Yuen Tak Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, Dean Shek, Kenneth Tsang, Emily Chu, Shing Fui On, Louis Roth, Ng Man Tat, Mike Abbot, Ken Boyle Reviewing: Nova Media/Fortune Star South Korean Blu-ray Release Genres: Heroic Bloodshed / Action / Drama

Rating - 5 / 5

Nova Media Blu-ray Synopsis: From John Woo, the director of Hong Kong movie classics including Bullet In The Head and The Killer comes this explosive sequel to his revered action thriller A Better Tomorrow. Once again, the legendary Chow Yun Fat is called back into action to help out Triad boss, Dean Shek. Along for the bullet ballet are Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung ensuring maximum carnage in a film that easily challenges the body count orgy of any previous John Woo heroic bloodshed movies. This isn't Hollywood Woo, as you'll soon find out from a film that sears the brain with outrageously delivered shootouts. Outstanding amongst the glorious gunplay is Chow Yun Fat, easily the coolest man with a grenade ever to grace the silver screen. Just try to keep up with the blood spray as you witness the true gangster classic that is A Better Tomorrow 2. (104 Mins)

Hong Kong Legends UK DVD: From John Woo, the director of Hong Kong movie classics including Bullet In The Head and The Killer comes this explosive sequel to his revered action thriller A Better Tomorrow. Once again, the legendary Chow Yun Fat is called back into action to help out Triad boss, Dean Shek. Along for the bullet ballet is Ti Lung and Leslie Cheug ensuring maximum carnage in a film that easily challenges the body count orgy of any previous John Woo heroic bloodshed movies. This isn't Hollywood Woo, as you'll soon find out from a film that sears the brain with outrageously delivered shootouts. Outstanding amongst the glorious gunplay is Chow Yun Fat, easily the coolest man with a grenade ever to grace the silver screen. Just try to keep up with the blood spray as you witness the true gangster classic that is A Better Tomorrow II. (100 Mins)

Views: The gang return – along with that incredible score – in this emotionally charged and action-packed sequel that still holds it's title today, as one of the finest Hong Kong films ever made! In return for an early release, jailbird Ho (Ti Lung) has been encouraged (although forced) to work undercover for the police on an important case. Unbeknownst to him, his brother Kit (Cheung), who is now a mature police officer, has been placed undercover on the same case also. That case just happens to involve Uncle Sei, the man who taught Ho everything he knows. To get close to Uncle Sei, Kit feigns love for his daughter Peggy – although his pregnant wife soon gets wind of it and expects the worst. While attending a large party for Sei, the brothers finally get the chance to meet – their first connection since Lung's arrest at the finale of A Better Tomorrow - and let each other know of their positions in a bid to help crack the case sooner. At the same time, Uncle Sei is double-crossed by his right-hand man Ko, with the planned assassination of a Triad boss leading to more murders at the party. As the shock and confusion mentally destroy him, Ti Lung quickly removes Sei amidst the panic and takes him to hide at Ken Tsang's taxi company. In no time at all, they get Uncle Sei on a ship to New York where he can hide and clear his name, but the following day finds that his daughter is gunned down at the family home as she looks for him. Enter Chow Yun Fat – this time playing twin brother Ken (to part one's Mark) – a New York-based hard-ass that runs the Four Seas restaurant and a man that takes no shit from anyone. You'll get what I mean when NY gangster Louis Roth (Drunken Master 2) complains about his fried rice and tries to hustle Ken for protection money, in what is still one of my favourite scenes from any Hong Kong film. Uncle Sei soon finds shelter with an old friend, who is now the minister of a NY church, and soon calls home to let his men know where he is. Of course, this reveals his location and before he knows it, trouble very quickly follows. As his close friend, church-goers, and children get murdered around him, Uncle Sei loses the plot completely. Ken soon gets word that Sei is locked in the local madhouse and still under threat, and sets out to rescue him. As Ken goes to some extremes to try and break Sei's child-like mentality, some pissed-off gangsters launch an attack on him, blowing up his restaurant and shooting up his home. This continues soon after, as the two hide-out in a rundown hotel, only to be tracked down by more gunmen. It's a scene that kicks off one of the best action sequences of the film and pulls Uncle Sei out of his despair. At the same time, back in Hong Kong, the shit really hits the fan as Kit gets ahead of himself, trying to infiltrate Ko's gang. With his cover blown, Ko has his Kit's brother step up to the mark and put a bullet in him. It's a harsh moment for the brothers, but a powerful scene! An emotional reunion brings Ken and Sei back to Hong Kong, where they meet up with Ho and (a now healed) Kit. It isn't long before plans are put in action for an attack on Ko and his men, some of which include the greatly missed Shing Fui On, Ken Boyle, and Lam Chung. It all leads to a beautifully shot finale, launched by the lump-in-the-throat moment of Kit's last minutes on the phone to his wife, just after she has given birth to their baby daughter. As Ken dons his brother's trademark coat and glasses, sadness turns to excitement as the vengeful friends load up and let the bullets fly in an incredible, action-packed ending aided by their old friend from the taxi depot, Kenneth Tsang!

Matching the same amount roles carried out by him just the year before, the awesome Chow Yun Fat returns in 1 of 11 movies in 1987 with enough energy and coolness to burn as well as starring in titles such as City On Fire, Rich & Famous, Tragic Hero, Flaming Brothers, Prison On Fire, and others to feed his new army of fans since wowing them in the previous film. I have to say that I did find Ken to be a much better marksman and cooler character than his brother Mark was, respectively. He's very similar to the character of Tequila in Hard Boiled, which was perhaps something that inspired his performance there. That said, if you enjoyed Chow in part one, then you'll love him in this! Both Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung return for more of the same, only this time with a stronger bond than before and a lot more emotion, and the wonderful Dean Shek does an incredible job in his role as Uncle Sei - perhaps delivering the greatest performance of his career. While Emily Chu returns as the now-pregnant wife of Leslie Cheung, Regina Kent stars as Peggy - the daughter of Uncle Sei and love interest that starts to upset life in the marital home. The hugely missed Ng Man Tat does his part as a gangster called Boss Wong, with Lau Siu Ming popping up as a high-ranking police officer. Popular westerners of the time Mike Abbott, Ken Boyle, Mark King, Wayne Archer, and Louis Roth appear as killers and thugs throughout, and the brilliant Kenneth Tsang returns for more action this time round as previously mentioned. Also, keep an eye out for a brief cameo by director Stanley Tong who appears as a policeman...

 

This time round, the spectacular gun-play comes courtesy of Tony Ching Siu Tung, who lights up the screen with some fantastic action pieces, plenty of explosions, and a massive body count that takes this chapter of the series to a whole other level. He is backed by the great Yuen Tak, who also appears throughout as a thug, and Bobby Wu Chi Lung who has worked alongside Ching on a few of his movies like A Terracotta Warrior, A Chinese Ghost Story 1& 2, and others. Of course, this is all under the watchful eye of John Woo and Tsui Hark who have, once again, managed to deliver yet another one of the best films to ever come out of Hong Kong. As with part one, A Better Tomorrow 2 is well worth a place in any fan's collection and a movie that still entertains as much today as it did over 30 years ago!

Overall: Fuck your fried rice!! A Better Tomorrow 2 is a powerful and emotional, action-packed classic that never tires!

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Code Of Bullets Part 2, Photo Gallery

Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Trailers, An interview with Tsui Hark, Trilogy of Bloodshed (Animated Essay), A Better Tomorrow 3 Preview

Watch my unboxing video for this Nova Media release HERE

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A BETTER TOMORROW 3

(Hong Kong 1989) 

Original Title: Ying Hung Boon Sik 3: Zik Yeung Ji Gor

 

Directed by Tsui Hark Produced by Tsui Hark Action by Lau Fong Sai, Lau Chi Ho Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Anita Mui, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Maggie Cheung Ho Yee, Kirk Wong, Shek Kin, Cheung Ho Yee, Saburo Tokito, Andrew Kam Reviewing: Nova Media/Fortune Star South Korean Blu-ray Release Genres: Heroic Bloodshed / Action / Drama

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Nova Media Blu-ray Synopsis: A man travels from China to Vietnam, who are on the brink of war with America, to retrieve his uncle and cousin but finds complications when he falls in love with a female gangster with a dangerous ex. (119 Mins)

Views: Often frowned upon by hardcore fans of John Woo and the series, A Better Tomorrow 3 is treated like the bastard child of the infamous Hong Kong trilogy! As it stands, and understanding how director Woo and producer Hark parted after part two due to creative differences (with Woo going on to make A Bullet In The Head, and Hark, this one), you get a firm understanding as to why this chapter stands apart from its predecessors. Producer and director Tsui Hark, who needs no introduction, may have taken things down a completely different road in this loosely based prequel – but it's a story that gives us an insight into how a younger Mark (Chow Yun Fat's character from part one) becomes the 2 gun-toting cool gangster that we all love...

While not as action-heavy as the first two (although it's far from disappointing when we get it), Hark lays on the drama in the midst of the Vietnam war, teaming Chow up with his cousin (Tony Leung Ka Fai), along with a mentor in the fantastic Anita Mui – who pretty much steals the show as his love-interest and sassy gunfighter extraordinaire. Apart from the obvious political and social commentary of Hark's story, love, and revenge help flesh things out, with great performances from everyone involved – including some heartfelt, emotional moments as with the previous entries. Every scene is beautifully framed delivering some stunning visuals in its cinematography, which won me over with one scene in particular. That happened to be the first action scene of the film, where a double-gunned Anita Mui takes on a mini-army, complete with that wonderful Hong Kong night-lighting, tons of smoke, and plenty of gunfire. Just stunning!!

With the longest-running time of the three, Love And Death In Saigon definitely feels like the most epic of the trilogy. The first 45 minutes of the film takes part in Saigon, with Chow coming to help his cousin (Tony) get his Uncle (Shek Kin from Enter The Dragon) back home to Hong Kong. From the moment he arrives, Chow lays eyes on Anita Mui – a skilled gangster who steals his heart. When his cousin arranges a business deal that goes sour, they are quickly aided by Mui who becomes friends with the troublesome cousins. Of course, Tony quickly falls for her also and wastes no time in making a move. The team soon arrive back in Hong Kong which then begins to lend itself to familiar territory. As romance and friendships blossom, you just know the shit is going to hit the fan before its 2-hour running time is up, as we get introduced to Anita's ex-lover – a dangerous man who wants to keep her under his control, even if it means taking out her new friends. After killing Tony's dad, the pair are forced back to Saigon and hell-bent on revenge, resulting in another fantastic, beautiful bullet-ballet with some top gun-play and action courtesy of Shaw Brothers star Lau Fong Sai and action director, Lau Chi Ho. While their style may stand apart from that of John Woo and Ching Siu Tung's action direction, it still makes for plenty of amazing shots and violent gun-play – as well as an explosive finale resulting in Chow Yun Fat doing his best Cruise impression, when he speeds towards the enemies tank on a motorbike with a crate of explosives, attached by a single strand of barbed-wire!

Much like its predecessors, there is the odd bit of humour laced throughout, but it's never too wacky to distract from the maturity of the whole thing. Tsui Hark's use of footage from Vietnam adds grittiness and realism to the whole thing and helps set the film apart from Woo's previous entries. A Better Tomorrow 3: Love and Death in Saigon is criminally misunderstood! Any fan of Tsui Hark, Chow Yun Fat, or Hong Kong cinema, in general, should really check it out – and if you have done so already, then once again.

Overall: An underrated classic and fantastic end to the trilogy, that shines as one of Tsui Hark's finest!

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Code Of Bullets Part 3, Photo Gallery

Watch my unboxing video for this Nova Media release HERE

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A BETTER TOMORROW 2012

(South Korea/Hong Kong 2010) 

Original Title: Moo Jeok Ja

 

Directed by Song Hae-Sung Produced by John Woo, Terence Chang, Park Hyung Jun, Daisuke Miyachi Starring: Ju Jin-Mo, Song Seung-Heon, Kim Kang-Woo, Jo Han Sun, Lee Kyeong-Yeong, Lim Hyeong-Jun Reviewing: Los Banditos UK DVD Release Genres: Drama / Action /Thriller

Rating - 3.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: 'A Better Tomorrow' is now remade under the patronage of the master himself. 'A Better Tomorrow 2012' consistently follows the story of its predecessor and takes the action and fighting scenes into the new millennium. Again it is the fight between brothers, again they are separated as children and again destiny puts them in the position of the hunter and the hunted. 'A Better Tomorrow 2012' leads the audience through 118 minutes of action-packed cinema to the most powerful shoot-out ever. (124 Mins)

Views: For any die-hard fan of Hong Kong cinema (or of the original film itself), it came as a bit of a surprise when news came out about the remake of the classic, A Better Tomorrow. Even with John Woo's name behind it, there was definitely a bad taste in the air among fans, and only a few were excited for what was to come. Although sold as a Korean and Hong Kong co-production (and I think Japan got involved also), this is really a product of South Korean cinema. While based on John Woo's original screenplay, A Better Tomorrow 2012 was reworked by no less than 4 Korean writers, extending the film's run-time by almost an extra 25 minutes than the original. And while slickly produced, well-acted, and neatly directed, I have to admit, it is hard watching this version without judging everything on-screen in comparison to the original. There's no denying that it does hark back to the 1986 classic with some re-imagined, poignant scenes – but ultimately, this modern-day remake of A Better Tomorrow fails to capture the magic of its predecessor, yet at the same time, proves to entertain on its own merits...

If it was John Woo's plan to recreate the whole trilogy with this South Korean team (or at the very least, parts 1 & 2), then perhaps the lukewarm reception of this adaptation put an end to that. Not to mention that another remake was launched in 2018 (of which I have yet to see) by revered Chinese director Ding Sheng, the very same man who brought us Little Big Soldier, Police Story: Lockdown, and Saving Mr. Wu. And while it probably offers the same in terms of re-imagined scenes, I'd say it probably fared a little better given Sheng's track record and could be the one that gains a sequel quicker than this. A Better Tomorrow 2012 was directed by Song Hae-Sung, a South Korean director known for a handful of films (by this stage anyway), and certainly hadn't delivered any titles that had left an impression with me – especially in the action genre. So it was a weird choice in that respect that John Woo and Terence Chang would feel that Song, was the right man for the job. Personally, I would have fought to get Kim Jee-Woon on board as the director. What he delivered in 2005 with A Bittersweet Life was just incredible, and more along the lines of A Better Tomorrow than anything in Song's filmography up to this point. But that's not to say that Song Hae-Sung did a bad job!

While I've mentioned A Bittersweet Life, I have to say that I've often looked at the film's lead (Lee Byung-Hun) as Korea's answer to Chow Yun Fat, and while I feel he would have been perfect for the role of Mark in this adaptation, I must admit that Song Seung-Heon does a great job in this position. It wasn't too long ago that I had watched the Korean Netflix series, Black, of which Song Seung-Heon is the star and most definitely left an impression. So I was excited to see him appear in this, and he does not disappoint. Although he is no Chow Yun Fat, Song holds his own and manages to bring a different type of energy to the role of (the now-named) Yeong-Choon. Joining him is Ju Jin-Mo, whom I had only seen previously in the fantastic Musa: The Warrior. He plays the Ti Lung role, offering an emotional performance as well as looking good when the action comes about. His little brother, and the character of Leslie Cheung, is played by Kim Kang-Woo, star of The Chase, Doomsday Book, and popular K-drama series, Item. Along with Ju, Kang-Woo offers a strong and emotional performance as one-half of the brothers, who escaped North Korea only to lead a life of dire consequences and pain. Of course, the story of A Better Tomorrow would not be complete without the one man who screwed everyone over, originally seen played by Waise Lee. Here, the now-named character of Tae Min is played by Jo Han-Sun – star of Attack At The Gas Station 2, Cruel Winter Blues, and Deja Vu. As the double-crossing friend, Jo offers a hint of humour to his role, going from dopey sidekick to the gangsters, to becoming the leader of the underworld himself. All-in-all, each star provides a great performance and I'm sure while filming, they all felt somewhat nervous in portraying such characters that had been cemented in Hong Kong film fans' hearts, by such legendary actors from the original.

Simply put, A Better Tomorrow 2012 has nothing on the original A Better Tomorrow. When I first saw the 1986 film, it brought tears to my eyes and left a lasting impression via its amazing score, emotional performances, and blistering action (most of which this remake failed to do). But if you watch this as a stand-alone movie, you can't help but enjoy it as a slickly made, Korean action-thriller, that offers some great performances and damn-good action scenes. A remake of any classic is going to annoy any fans of the original material, and understandably so, but when the makers of the original are behind it you have to give it a chance I guess. A Better Tomorrow 2012 is far from terrible (like most people say), and is certainly worth a watch, but as I stated before – it just fails to carry the magic of the original, which is unfortunate.

Overall: Well made and well-acted, with some nice action scenes, A Better Tomorrow 2012 proves to be a decent homage to the original, but just not as incredible!

DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Interview with John Woo, Trailer...

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A BITE OF LOVE

(Hong Kong 1990) 

Original Title: Yi Yao O.K.

 

Directed by Stephen Shin Produced by Stephen Shin, Dickson Poon Action by Philip Kwok Starring: George Lam, Rosamund Kwan, Hui Siu Hung, Tsui Siu Keung, Cheng Pak Lam, Tsang Kan Wing, Rocky Lai Reviewing: Joy Sales/Fortune Star HK DVD Release Genres: Comedy / Horror / Drama

Rating - 2 / 5

DVD Synopsis: The Duke, who lives in a mysterious castle in the suburban London, is the only vampire left in the world. When he fells guilty to injure a little orphan, he decides to save him by using his immortal blood. This is seen by Anna, who's a beautiful fashion designer from Hong Kong and attracts the Duke at first sight. However, the secret of the Duke is discovered by Anna's brother, Fung, who pursues for it to get almighty power. He then kidnaps both the Duke and the orphan to Hong Kong. At the same time, Anna and the Duke's servant hurry back to Hong Kong to rescue them. Nevertheless, on the way to escape, the Duke is forced to bite Fung, making him a vampire. The Duke then determines to kill Fung to stop him from killing people. The war between good and evil starts. (91 Mins)

Views: I think it's fair to say that A Bite Of Love is one odd little movie. It tells the tale of a Chinese-born vampire who resides in a castle in London, long gone off the taste of humans, and living a lavish lifestyle as The Duke. Dressed in typical Count Dracula attire, The Duke frequents the streets of modern London in his black horse-drawn carriage and is a regular at a local gentleman's club. It's here that he comes face-to-face with the lovely Anna – a fashion designer from Hong Kong who also lives in the city, along with her sick brother Fung who is in desperate need of a rare blood type. But Fung is a nasty man with an army of gangsters behind him, and doesn't take too well to The Duke flirting with his sister. This leads to a fight between The Duke and his men, which results in an orphan kid getting severely injured and sent to hospital due to Fung's actions. Thankfully, The Duke arrives to help the child by giving him some of his blood, but arouses the attention of Fung at the same time who knows that the same blood will help cure his sickness. Of course, determined to have what he wants, Fung sends out his men to kidnap The Duke and kid so that he can bring them back to Hong Kong for his own benefit. Aided by The Duke's long time servant, Anna heads back to Hong Kong in a bid to save the vampire and kid – only to find that her brother has now been turned and is killing everyone around him. Now, with the help of Anna's offering-of-flesh, The Duke must face-off against vampire Fung in an explosive showdown that will put a stop to all the murders!

Long before he made an impression with Hong Kong action fans as the director of Jade Leung's highly enjoyable Black Cat, Stephen Shin made a name for himself directing comedies and dramas such as Affairs, Innocence, Easy Money, Heart To Hearts, It's A Mad Mad Mad World 3, Happy Together, Heart Into Hearts, The Perfect Match, and obviously A Bite Of Love – with the exception of his action-drama, Brotherhood, having a bit of a darker tone than the rest. Of course, at the same time he had been producing D&B Films classics including the Tiger Cage and In The Line Of Duty series, as well as writing for his own films and television studios. And while I've never found him to be the strongest of directors, Shin obviously knew what he was doing, because by the time A Bite Of Love came about he had already been in the industry for a good decade – with the latter half of the 80s proving to be the busiest period of his career. The wonderful Philip Kwok, who is mostly known for his role in Chang Cheh's Venom Mob movies as well as John Woo's epic Hardboiled, handles the film's action scenes which are, for the most part, entertaining enough although aren't exactly martial arts-based to be honest. Keeping in mind though that the majority of the main cast aren't action stars or martial artists (except for one), it's really Fung's thugs who get the majority of the fight scenes and stunt work between them – made up by a host of recognisable faces such as Jackie Chan stunt-team member Rocky Lai, Chan Hon Man, Lee Yiu Ging, Chan Wai To, Derek Kwok, and Tam Wai Man...

The charming George Lam Chi Cheung stars as The Duke, a western-styled vampire who owes more to the legend of Dracula as opposed to his ancestors from the east. While I kind of enjoyed him as the fun-loving vampire, I wouldn't exactly say that it was his greatest role ever. Having made his debut in the film world with Money Trip in 1979, Lam starred in a host of great titles leading up to this production including Disco Bumpkins, All The Wrong Clues, Boat People, All The Wrong Spies, Banana Cop, Owl vs Bumbo, It's a Drink! It's A Bomb!, Easy Money, and Shanghai Shanghai alongside Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. As well as being a popular actor and the husband of actress Sally Yeh, Lam has charmed audiences all over with his singing and music skills, both of which he lends to A Bite Of Love, and has continued to be a big part of the entertainment world from television to film, and more. I did like the fact that the majority of the film was set in London, with the connection that Lam had spent many years of his early life studying and living there from the mid 60s. The beautiful Rosamund Kwan stars as Anna, the Hong Kong fashion designer (which may have been a nod to her role in Armour Of God perhaps) and sister of the gangster Fung. Since she arrived on the scene in 1982, Kwan was kept busy jumping between studios with roles in Millionaires Express, Prince Charming, Project A 2, Armour Of God, Casino Raiders, Tiger Cage 2 and many more. Some of these were also for D&B Films which saw her star alongside Lam in films like the Stephen Shin directed rom-com, Heart To Hearts. Much like Lam in his role, Kwan entertains to a point but never goes above and beyond as the maiden-in-need. Shaw Brothers legend and action star Norman Tsui Siu Keung stars as her brother Fung, a character that hates everyone because of his illness and is the boss of a gang of thugs – although we really don't know any more than that. Tsui plays the role of Fung like many he has done before and since A Bite Of Love, proving to be a hateful bastard that refuses to let anyone get in his way – regardless if it's a kid or his sister. Coming off a busy couple of years leading up to this production, Tsui delivers yet another throw-away role but gets to challenge Lam's 'Duke' as best-dressed-Dracula in the final showdown. Prolific character actor Hui Siu Hung joins his old Shaw Brothers veteran to star as the servant of The Duke, getting to have a much fun as the main characters – and especially when it comes to rescuing his long-term boss. As with Kwan, Hui starred alongside Lam a number of times over the years including the fun It's A Drink! It's A Bomb!, and rom-com sequel Heart Into Hearts with super-cute child actor Cheng Pak Lam, who stars (here) as the little orphan kid that gets caught-up in all the action. Starting his acting career alongside Conan Lee and Cynthia Rothrock in Prince Of The Sun, the young actor managed to star in 11 films over the course of 5 years including The Perfect Match with George Lam, Benny Chan's Son On The Run, Inspector Wears Skirts 4, and Bogus Cops, with Wong Jing's Teenage Master providing his final feature role – which is also known as My Father Is A Hero 2 (minus Jet Li of course).

While it may be far from the greatest Hong Kong film ever, I must acknowledge Stephen Shin and his writers for attempting to bring something a little different to the table during the height of Hong Kong's vampire craze. There are plenty of chuckles, some small stunts, and a few interesting ideas, but at the same time a lot of it just falls flat and never really excites you enough to want to go back for a second watch. And while it's heart may be in the right place, A Bite Of Love fails to leave a mark!

Overall: A tad messy and far from being a competitor to Mr. Vampire, there isn't really much of a bite in A Bite Of Love but it passes the time!

DVD Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery

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A BITTERSWEET LIFE

(South Korea 2005) 

Original Title: Dalkomhan Insaeng

 

Directed by Kim Jee Woon Produced by Eugene Lee, Oh Jeong Wan Action by Doo Hong Jung Starring: Lee Byung Hun, Min A Shin, Kim Yeong Cheol, Jung Min Hwang, Roe Ha Kim Reviewing: Splendid Films/Amasia South Korean Blu-ray Mediabook Release Genres: Gangster / Drama / Action

Rating - 5 / 5

Splendid Film/Amasia South Korean Blu-ray Mediabook Synopsis: With his unique style and an incredibly brutal story, director KimJee-woon (I Saw The Devil) has created an outstanding action masterpiece. For the 15th anniversary of A Bittersweet Life, the genre classic is being released as a limited and serialized 3-disc media book: The Special Edition includes the uncompromising Korean theatrical version in HD for the first time worldwide, the Director's Cut with a new picture master, over 90 minutes of unreleased extras 20-page booklet and Kim Jee-woon's actioner, 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird' Blu-ray bonus disc! Sun-woo is the right hand of crime boss Kang. He always does his job with absolute perfection and keeps a cool head in every situation. When Kang decides to go away for a few days, he hires Sun-woo to babysit his young lover Hee-soo, whom he suspects of cheating on him. If Kang's suspicions are confirmed, Hee-soo and her lover are to be killed immediately. Sun-woo catches them both after a short time, but he cannot kill Hee-soo and lets both of them live. A fatal mistake that turns him from hunter to hunted... (119 Mins)

Tartan Asia Extreme UK DVD Synopsis: Sun-woo is no ordinary hotel manager. He is also the ruthlessly efficient right hand man of underworld boss, Kang. But tough guy Kang has a weakness; his young girlfriend. Suspecting she's unfaithful, Kang orders Sun-woo to take care of the problem. When Sun-woo discovers her with another man, he uncharacteristically grants them mercy. Kang is furious and orders his gang members to hunt down Sun-woo. With nerves of steel, Sun-woo battles the gang alone. With each kill, he takes one step closer to his final confrontation with Kang. (114 Mins)

Views: When I first bought A Bittersweet Life, I wasn't too sure what to expect. I had not seen anything about the film leading up to my purchase, but I knew it was directed by Kim Jee-Woon who had directed A Tale Of Two Sisters, and The Quiet Family - two films that I really enjoyed. Then I watched this – and probably about 4 more times in the first week, showing it to every friend that stopped by. What a movie! I was hooked right from the beginning with its tight direction, great cinematography, and, of course, leading man Lee Byung-Hun. It seems this man can do no wrong, making quite the impression in movies such as The Good, The Bad And The Weird, I Saw The Devil, JSA, and television show's like the wonderful, Mr. Sunshine, and many Hollywood productions also. His looks, fighting skills, and on-screen presence were all just amazing – often coming across like South Korea's answer to Chow Yun Fat. Kim Jee-Woon should be making directors such as Scorsese, De Palma, and Mann, very nervous after providing such an incredible gangster film. For me, this very beautifully filmed production offered much more entertainment than anything I've seen from those aforementioned Hollywood directors in the last 25 years! I've often said that from the turn of the century, South Korean films have impressed me the most. And A Bittersweet Life is one of those films...

In a nutshell, A Bittersweet Life could be easily sold as an exciting tale of gangster revenge, but director Kim Jee-Woon makes it so much more than that. Sprinkled with that typical dark-humour Kim loves so much, we follow Sun-Woo (played by Lee) who plays a hotel manager that also happens to be the right-hand man to his boss and big-time gangster, Mr. Kang. Treated more like a son after working under Kang for 7 years, Sun-Woo gets a break from his hit-man duties when he is offered the easier job of keeping an eye on his bosses new girlfriend Hee-Soo (Shin Mina) - an early twenties cellist who, Kang expects, is cheating on him. This is ironic in itself, as Mr. Kang has a wife and children of his own. After catching a glimpse of the beautiful Hee-Soo and hearing her play, Sun-Woo finds himself quickly falling for her. To make matters worse, after following her home one night, the handsome Sun-Woo catches her with a boyfriend (and someone more her own age). Under his boss's orders, Sun-Woo is to kill them both, but as his emotions override and he sees the fear in her eyes, the hit-man with a heart lets them go. Of course, he understands the consequences of turning on his boss, although doesn't expect the extremities of Mr. Kang's reaction when he finds out about Sun-Woo's decision. Following the long tradition of the gangster underworld, Kang decides to punish his man who is like a son to him. Giving Sun-Woo a chance to explain himself, the big boss reveals that he knows of the hitman's feelings for Hee-Soo. It's a poignant moment as Sun-Woo is knelt in the mud, understanding his predicament in falling for the one girl that has brought him to his knees, that soon sees him buried up to his neck and left-for-dead in the heaviest of rain.

As A Bittersweet Life hits the 1-hour mark, you are forced to the edge of your seat (and if you aren't already, there's something wrong). After he has suffered some intense torture, Sunwoo makes an incredible escape in 5 minutes of solid action that makes similar scenes from Oldboy and other movies, look tame in comparison! Just when you thought the pace and action up to that point were doing a good enough job in keeping you hooked, director Kim decides to crank things up another few notches – just to make sure you're watching. It sets Sun-Woo on a crazy journey of vengeance as he takes on the very men he once controlled, locks-horns with a deadly assassin in a brutal showdown, and of course, gets his revenge on Mr. Kang. It's intense, it's violent, but it's beautiful. And boy oh boy, what an ending!!

Overall: An incredible action-noire that I will never tire of watching, A Bittersweet Life is a modern classic!

Splendid Film/Amasia Blu-ray Mediabook Extras: Korean Cinema Version in HD, Directors Cut with Remastered Picture, 20 Page Booklet, Additional Movie with 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird', Audio Commentary with Director, Audio Commentary with Cast & Crew, Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary, Making of Documentary with Audio Commentary from Director & Crew, The Style of A Bittersweet Life Featurette, La Dolce Vita Director Interview, Tell Me Why – Interview with Cast & Crew, Trailers, TV Spots

Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Extras: Cast & Crew Interviews, Featurette, Trailer, Justin Bowyer Film Notes

Watch my unboxing video for this Splendid Film/Amasia release HERE

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A BLOODY FIGHT

(Hong Kong 1988) 

Original Title: Lie Xue Feng Yun

 

Directed by Wilson Tong Produced by Wilson Tong Action by Wilson Tong Starring: Lau Kar Leung, Gordon Liu, Norman Tsui Siu Keung, Chor Yuen, Shum Wai, Tai Bo, Fung Hak On, Ngai Lau Na, Thomas Sin, Yeung Wah Reviewing: Joy Sales/Fortune Star HK DVD Release Genres: Action / Triad / Martial Arts

 

Rating - 2 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Keung and Fai had been good friends since childhood. They both had keen interest in boxing-matches. Having parted with Keung for more than ten years, Fai had become a police officer. On the contrary, Keung had joined an illegal organization as a professional killer. Keung decided to resign from the organization, but his family died of the explosion set by the chief leader, Mr. Chor. Keung saw Fai again because of Fai's younger sister, Mui. He lied to Fai that he had been working as a sailor for the past ten years. When Fai discovered that Keung was a professional killer,he got furious and expelled Keung away. After Keung had left, Chor's men came. Mui was raped and beaten to death. Keung decided to fight a duel with Chor... (90 Mins)

Views: Directed, produced, and choreographed by the talented Wilson Tong, this late 80s action-thriller sees him reunite some of his old Shaw Brothers team with the wonderful Gordon Liu, Norman Tsui Siu Keung, Fung Hak On, popular studio director Chor Yuen, and a great extended cameo by the late Lau Kar Leung. The film opens to the sounds of a Cantopop version of The Final Countdown as Liu and Keung duke it out in the ring while training, soaked in a sepia-tone filter for the first 4 or 5 minutes until the full-colour footage returns to show that 10 years have already passed. While Liu has become a successful cop in the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, Keung has spent his time working as a gangster and criminal for one of Hong Kong's biggest crime-lords - determined to leave so that he can enjoy the rest of his life with his family. Keung soon announces his retirement from the gang - much to the disappointment of his boss, Chor - and sees his family killed in a car bomb that was meant for him. This makes him realise that there is no escape from the life he leads. As he confides in his old friend Leung, the pair are attacked by 20 guys with metal baseball bats that sees Leung shot dead by boss Chor, and Keung barely escaping with his life. Waking up in hospital, Keung is reunited with Liu but lies about his past when he finds out that his old friend is a cop – with Liu welcoming Keung into his home. It doesn't take long for Liu's sister to fall for Keung, and equally for Liu to find out the truth about Keung's past. As tensions build between them, the pair find themselves riddled with bad luck as Liu's sister is raped and murdered, and Chor's men hunt them both down. Together, the friends must get revenge for their families and bring the powerful gangster down!

I have to be honest in saying that I was expecting quite a bit more from A Bloody Fight, considering the talent involved. That said, it's hardly a complete waste of time and still has enough going on throughout to keep fans watching. Although I have enjoyed him in countless roles and as a martial artist, Wilson Tong has never been the strongest director ever and flaws his production with some melodrama that is over-acted by his two leads, as well as some daft moments such as Liu and Keung boxing on a mountainside, playing leapfrog on the beach, or rubbing sand in their faces like they're are 8 years of age while The Final Countdown plays once again. In fact, the music seems to have been borrowed from many different films with a track from Godfrey Ho's Lethal Panther heard, and John Carpenters Halloween score even creeps in at the end. Wilson Tong Wai Shing started life in the Hong Kong film industry around 1969/70 with small roles in films such as Dead End, The River Dragon, and The Invincible Eight as well as many other early Golden Harvest productions. A few years later after he moved into the Shaw Brothers studio, Tong began his foray into directing action under the guidance of the late Lau Kar Leung for his classics Shaolin Mantis, 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Heroes Of The East, and Spiritual Boxer 2. Around the same time, he also managed to score a role as the assistant director on Tyrone Hsu's Boxer's Adventure with Tan Tao Liang and Mang Fei, and soon headed out on to make his directorial debut with the highly enjoyable Kung Fu Genius which was quickly followed by the equally fun, Snake Deadly Act. While he went on to star in a host of Kar Leung's titles (with Leung sometimes returning the favour for him), Tong continued to prove his worth as a director and choreographer with A Bloody Fight and A Fiery Family proving to be two of his most action-packed. The Vampire Combat would prove to be his last as a director in 2001, but Wilson would continue to appear in roles here and there such as To Live And Die In Mongkok, Treasure Inn, and Naked Soldier, as well as appearing in the brilliant Chin Kar Lok produced documentary Kung Fu Stuntmen in 2020.

Wong utilises the friendships he had gained back in the Shaw Brothers studios by bringing in names such as Gordon Liu, Tsui Siu Keung, and the legendary Lau Kar Leung – all of whom were already working together on Leung's self directed and fantastic Tiger On The Beat the very same year – but he also brings in celebrated Shaw Brothers director Chor Yuen, perhaps most recognisable to viewers as the wicked drug boss Koo in Jackie Chan's Police Story just a couple of years before. He plays a similar role here, although it's certainly not as impactful, and is backed by popular character actor Shum Wai who is out to bring Keung down. Then there is the wonderful Fung Hak On who cameos as another villain of the piece, forcing Tsui Siu Keung to strip down to his tighty-whities when he arrives to take him out while dressed as a policeman. Keung must bare all to reveal any hidden weapons, but still manages to take Fung out by ramming a fork down his throat. While I'm a huge fan of both Gordon Liu and Norman Tsui Siu Keung, both of them tend to really over-dramatise everything about their roles here – going so far as to even look awkward during some action scenes. But it has to the great Lau Kar Leung that steals the show, getting to show his worth in the fight scene against 20 guys armed with metal baseball bats before he gets shot down by Chor. It was the highlight of the film for me, although there are numerous other actions scenes throughout to enjoy. Jackie Chan film-regular Tai Bo also appears in a cameo as Gordon Liu's cop friend, and bit-players Mang Ding Goh, Thomas Sin Ho Ying, Tony Tam Chun To, and Wong Chi Keung appear as assassins...

Overall: I was expecting a lot more from all involved, but A Bloody Fight still has it's moments and is worth a watch at least once!

DVD Extras: Trailer, Photo Gallery

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A BOOK OF HEROES

(Taiwan 1986) 

Original Title: Huan Le Long Hu Bang

 

Directed by Kevin Chu Yen Ping Produced by Raymond Wong, Dean Shek, Karl Maka Action by Lin Wan Chang Starring: Bin Bin, Chang Fu Chi, Chao Shun, Chen Hui Lou, Hu Hsiung Chih, Yasuaki Kurata, Pauline Lan, Yukari Oshima, Eugene Thomas, David Wu, Yang Hui Shan Reviewing: Joy Sales/Fortune Star HK VCD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Comedy

 

Rating - 4 / 5

VCD Synopsis: Having learned that the underworld society smuggled a batch of gold, the police authority sent Hu Pai and so on to watch and arrest. But unexpectedly it's robbed by the 5th Rat of another gang. Therefore, Hu Pai was demoted as a traffic policeman. Hu Pai's girl friend Little Wild Cat intended to join Royal Police but didn't know how to get in, and so handled cases often in the name of Hu Pai. One day, when she met the youngest of Five Rats and was ready to arrest him, but was stopped by Risking San Niang. The second boss of Five Rats and Lawyer contrarily accused Little Wild Cat for pretending to be police. The 5th Rat wanted to sell the robbed gold to the 1st boss, but the latter took possession of it and sent Black Baboon to kill the 5th Rat. Before dying, the 5th Rat said "gold drawing, elder sister, fire" Little Wild Cat and Hu Pai started to investigate the 5th Rat's sister Ever Changing Fox. Fox and her partner Smiling Tiger held the picture of hiding gold. The 1st boss, for the gold, started a chasing fight with Fox, Smiling Tiger and Stupid Rat. They used tricks one another with being extremely ridiculous. (81 Mins)

Views: Presented by Karl Maka, Dean Shek, and Raymond Wong over at Cinema City, A Book Of Heroes lets you know what kind of film you are in for from the get-go, and hardly stops to catch its breath until it ends. The story opens with a gang of masked-men riding a forklift truck to a robbery, before they find themselves on-the-run from policeman Hu on a bicycle. The chase takes him into the middle of a bike race which results in Hu winning first place. Shifting to the introduction of our lead girl Little Mei who, after challenging some men in a drinking game, brings on the first action-sequence as she takes-on some gangsters in an wonderfully choreographed bar-fight that sees the arrival of the awesome Yukari Oshima, and delivers some hugely impressive stunts that would make even the most hardened Hong Kong action-fan wince in pain. From here on in, A Book Of Heroes gets even more insane as it follows the adventures of the two cops, a couple conmen, an Interpol agent, a gas station attendant, and some angry gangsters in a race to find the stolen gold before Japanese crime boss Yamashita gets his hands on it!

It's fair to say that this mid 80s action flick is one crazy film – but what else would you expect with director Kevin Chu Yen Ping at the helm? This is the same guy that brought us the equally insane Fantasy Mission Force, the fun Shaolin Popeye movies, the star-studded Island Of Fire, and in recent years the entertaining Kung Fu Dunk and Treasure Hunter with Jay Chou, as well as many other great titles. In fact, his filmography is highly impressive that offers some crazy films and some crackers, but I have to say that I am a fan of his work. Of course, as with the most of his titles from this period, the story and script are so OTT and insane that you must remember to switch your brain off before settling down to watch this one. A Book Of Heroes is a lot of fun and a tad mental at times, offering cartoon-like humour and situations aplenty but at the same time showcases some of the best martial arts fights and stunts ever committed to celluloid, along with a great cast to support it and a fun soundtrack – imagine My Lucky Stars on crack and you've got the picture. This was during a time when Hong Kong action films from Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, and many others, were dominating the box-office, but Taiwanese stuntmen were proving themselves to be on another level altogether. I remember this coming to my attention at an early age while watching the incredibly fun Lucky Seven and being both shocked and amazed at the talent involved. In fact, I'd be as bold to say that some of these very films both offer-up and challenge the action choreography of many great Hong Kong titles – with their only downfall being that their screenplays, directors abilities, and choice of cast weren't always of a higher calibre of what was on offer from their neighbours at this time.

Taiwanese actor Hu Kua (aka Hu Chih Hsiung) makes his film debut as Hu Pai, the young cop with no luck. His character and looks reminded me of Conan Lee's roles in Tiger On The Beat and Prince Of The Sun, and also stars in Chu's Funny Family that was shot the same year. The lovely Pauline Lan stars as Little Mei - a similarly named character like her one in Funny Family that paired her with Hu Kua once again. This little firecracker had only just made her film debut the year before in Yu Kan Ping's little known Myth Of A City alongside prolific Taiwanese star Sun Yueh – most recognisable to fans in the west as the scruffy old guy in Fantasy Mission Force who enjoys singing – and had vanished from screens for almost 2 decades before coming back for a role in Patrick Tam's drama, After This Our Exile, with Aaron Kwok before continuing her career as a television actress through to today. I have to say, doubled-or-not, Lan most certainly impresses in her first action role and delivers some fun moves throughout the many of her on-screen fights. The always impressive Yasuaki Kurata plays the big villain of the piece, complete with a white cat on his lap and glorious mansion. While I know it's not the same place, his house looks exactly like the same set as the Gentleman's Club from Project A (with the double staircase and chandelier) which had obviously came out a few years earlier. By this stage of the game, Kurata had starred in a strong 50+ titles in Hong Kong and Taiwan, starting with his debut in Chang Cheh's The Angry Guest for Shaw Brothers, going on to star in a host of classics for the studio from Four Riders to Heroes Of The East, and other classic titles such as Secret Of The Shaolin Poles, The Magnificent 3, Legend Of A Fighter, Ninja In The Deadly Trap, Aces Go Places 2, A Life Of Ninja, and the awesome Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars. 1986 would see him also star in The Seventh Curse with Chow Yun Fat and give a highly memorable role in Sammo Hung's epic Millionaires Express, making it the second time that year where he would star alongside the amazing Yukari Oshima after A Book Of Heroes. This has got to be one of my favourite roles with The Osh, and although she's missing for a good chunk in the middle, the Nipponese nutcracker steals the show with her incredible martial arts abilities and fight scenes. Although she had already starred in Japanese television shows, 1986 would be the year that saw her make her Hong Kong/Taiwanese feature film debut starting with the brilliant Kung Fu Wonder Child (with choreography by Alexander Lo Rei), Kevin Chu's Funny Family and A Book Of Heroes, and her show-stopping role in the aforementioned Millionaires Express. Of course, the following year would define her as the 'one-to-watch' with her villainous performance in Angel/Iron Angels alongside Moon Lee, that would start the high-demand of the ass-kicking femme fatale. The wonderful Elsa Yang (aka Queenie Yang) joins the team as one half of the con-artists alongside David Tao Da Wei – who played a similar role alongside Brigitte Lin in Chu's Fantasy Mission Force. Having started in the film industry in the late 1970s with Five Pretty Young Ladies, Yang went onto star in a host of fun titles including Wandering Dragon, The Fight For Shaolin Tamo Mystique, Gold Queen's Commando, Pink Force Commando, Challenge Of The Lady Ninja, and A Life Of Ninja once again with Kurata. I'd say that A Book Of Heroes was one of her last full roles, along with The Kinmen Bombs for director Ting Shan Hsi, but she definitely holds her own alongside Yukari and Pauline as she kicks-ass and looks good doing it. The wonderful Chen Hui Lou – most famously known for his role as The Unicorn in Jackie Chan's Fearless Hyena – cameos as Hu and Little Mei's police chief, and child actor Bin Bin (aka Siu Ban Ban) pops-up for a little bit of action. This is the same cute kid from Wong Jing's fun Magic Crystal, who would retire from the film world at the age of 12 after starring in Sammo Hung's Daddy, Father, Papa – although made a brief return in 2015's Sorry Baby, and is now the father of Little Bin and Mini Bin (I kid you not) who have went on to start acting themselves. The brilliant Eugene Thomas appears as Kurata's right-hand man and gets to show-off his impressive skills once again, going up against all of the heroes at one point or another. I adore seeing this lanky fighter in action – having first caught him in the super fun Ninja USA when I got it on video back in 1990. That would only have been his second role after debuting alongside his close friend, Alexander Lo Rei, in the fantastic Super Ninja in 1984 where he would then go on to star alongside him in films such as Mafia Vs Ninja, Ninja The Final Duel, Ninja Condors, and the cut-and-paste effort Ninja The Battalion. I also can't forget that he was one of the highlights from another of my favourite childhood movies, the aforementioned Lucky Seven, which was made the same year as this and also starred a number of actors here such as the hilarious Fang Cheng – the petrol station attendant with the styled facial hair who also stars in Fantasy Mission Force – as well as the impressive Chang Yi Teng, Tsai Chong Chiu, and Chang Chung Yu...

The fight action in A Book Of Heroes is incredibly similar to (once again) Lucky Seven, which leads me to believe that some of the same choreographers and stunt-team were on board for that production the same year. The man in charge here though is Lin Wan Chang, a bit-part actor, extra, and choreographer that appeared in many early Joseph Kuo titles as well as films such as Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu, Sun Dragon, Magnificent Bodyguards, Iron Neck Li, Big Boss Of Shanghai, and played the prisoner that escaped in Fantasy Mission Force. But as well as directing the action for a host of Kevin Chu's titles, including the aforementioned Jackie Chan vehicle, Lin went on to direct a handful of films himself including Kung Fu Kids 5 & 6, Young Kickboxer with Alexander Lo Rei, and City Of Darkness with Donnie Yen, Collin Chou/Ngai Sing, and Billy Chow – each of which also star Chang Yi Teng. The fights in A Book Of Heroes are fast and furious, with some amazing moves and plenty of painful looking stunt work that will have you reaching for the rewind button more than a few times. And while the film may have its flaws on a technical level or via its broad comedy, it still makes for a highly entertaining watch and one that's proving harder and harder to find!

Overall: Crazy fun with awesome fight scenes and mad stunts, makes A Book Of Heroes a must for fans that miss the golden years of Hong Kong cinema!!

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A BROTHERHOOD OF HEROES

(Taiwan 1980) 

Original Title: Kua Le Ying Xiong (aka) Knights Of Misadventure; The Brotherhood Of Heroes; Happy Hero

 

Directed by Tsai Yang Ming Produced by Chou Ming Hsiu, Liu Ling Feng Action by Chen Mu Chuan Starring: Chen Sing, Cheung Chung Kwai, Cheung Pang, Ling Yun, Barry Wai Ji Wan, Ko Keung, Shih Ting Ken, Chow Shui Fong, Ha Ling Ling Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Wuxia Pian / Comedy

 

Rating - 2 / 5

Synopsis: A Brotherhood Of Heroes follows the exciting adventures of 3 young swordsmen who uncover the corrupted actions of the Imperial superintendents, only to find further perils. (95 Mins)

Views: Popular Taiwanese director Tsai Yang Ming – also known as Ulysses Au Yeung Jun – who brought us films such as The Prodigal Boxer, 72 Desperate Rebels, Secret Of The Shaolin Poles, Shaolin Drunken Monk, and Gangland Odyssey with Alex Man, delivers another imaginative and busy wuxia adventure that just falls-short of being as memorable as many others that came before it. The film begins with our heroes standing-off against a team of fighters called the Four Ants – who are (believe it or not), four dwarves dressed in different colours that carry a large coffin around on their shoulders for the next person they kill. The English dub makes them sound like adults speaking like children, which is very odd and slightly disturbing, and even though their swords are bigger themselves – they still manage to move pretty well. It doesn't last long, but at least you have an idea of where things are going. Things soon come across a little messy before the film starts getting exciting around the 30 minute mark. At this point, our three heroes have uncovered and helped stopped some corrupt officials, but from here on in, things just don't seem to be in their favour and bring plenty of problems their way!

The film stars popular Taiwanese actor Ling Yun who made his debut in the late 1950s, before going on to star in films such as Killer Clans, Crazy Bumpkin In Singapore, Clans Of Intrigue, Death Duel, Militant Eagle, A Hero's Tears, The Revenger, and so much more. He is joined by Barry Chan (Wei Tzu Yun), a Hong Kong actor who started in the early 70s and went on to appear in titles like The Fists Of Vengeance, The Blazing Temple, Militant Eagle, Swift Shaolin Boxer, 72 Desperate Rebels, Little Hero, and more. Prolific actor and fan favourite bad guy, Yi Yuan, stars as Golden Dog in one of his 225+ roles over the course of his career that spanned 35 years. Sharing the screen many times with his co-stars over the years, Yuan would be most recognisable for his roles in films like Shaolin Kung Fu, The Shaolin Kids, Prodigal Boxer, Blazing Temple, 18 Bronzemen, Shaolin Invincibles, Shaolin Vs Ninja, and as one of the old prisoners in Jackie Chan's Island Of Fire. Taiwanese actress Hsia Ling Ling also co-stars, along with many popular faces such as Peter Chang Peng, Hwa Ling, Shih Ting Ken, Chang Chung Kui, and Kao Chiang. The wonderful Jacky Chen cameos throughout – an actor and choreographer who made his debut in King Hu's A Touch Of Zen, going on to appear in many great films including Enter The Dragon, The Loot, Tai Chi Shadow Boxing, and the brilliant Of Cook's And Kung Fu – as does the legendary Chen Sing, who had just come off 14 titles in 1979 and was working on a further 9 the same year as this. So you can understand why certain roles around this era were often only cameos or bit parts. Of course, Chen would go on to star in over 140 films from the late 60s to the early 90s – with Caged Beauties giving fans one of his final roles. Chen Sing would pass in 2019 at the age of 82, in Jakarta...

 

As a fan of 70's Taiwanese kung-fu films, I really wanted to love A Brotherhood Of Heroes but it just didn't have enough excitement or fight scenes to win me over (and the English dub didn't help either). That said, there are a few good fights throughout, and more-so after the one-hour-mark, but it really had nothing special to make me want to see it again.

Overall: Slow and messy at times, A Brotherhood Of Heroes has some fun fights throughout, but that's about it!

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ACCIDENT

(Hong Kong 2009) 

Original Title: Yi Ngoi (aka) Assassins

 

Directed by Soi Cheang Produced by Johnnie To Action by Jack Wong Starring: Louis Koo, Lam Suet, Stanley Fung, Michelle Ye, Richie Jen, Monica Mok, Peter Lau, Han Yu Qin Reviewing: Netflix UK Release Genres: Drama / Thriller

 

 

Rating - 4 / 5

Netflix Synopsis: A contract killer skilled at staging lethal accidents fears he may be a victim of his own strategy when an accomplice dies in a mysterious mishap. (90 Mins)

Views: It took me a number of years to get to watch this tense thriller from director Soi Cheang. While I have imported the majority of my collection from Hong Kong, there have just been so many other titles that I'd been dying to get my hands on before this. Thankfully, Accident popped-up on UK Netflix a couple of years ago which gave me the chance to finally see it and I must admit, I was only sorry that I had waited so long. Cheang has been working on the Hong Kong film scene for a number of decades before making his directorial debut in the late 90s, starting as an actor and assistant director on films such as Black Mask, Young And Dangerous 2, Bio-Zombie and a number of Johnnie To productions including Drug War and PTU, and I hadn't really seen much of Cheang's work as a director before I owned his amazing Dog Bite Dog soon after its release. Regardless, it was clear the guy had some talent to show and while I've still to see Shamo, Motorway, and many more of his works, I have went on to enjoy his Monkey King Trilogy and the fantastic SPL 2: A Time For Consequences over the last lot of years. With an intense score from Xavier Jamaux (who has scored a small number of films for Milkyway Productions), and stunning cinematography from Edmond Fung – who incidentally shot Dog Bite Dog and Shamo for Cheang – you can't help but get drawn-in to this intriguing world of Accident, even with its slow-burning pace. Although the film is produced by hugely celebrated director Johnnie To, it's clear that Accident carries the influences of a lot of To's movies, but director Cheang still adds enough darkness that harks back to his earlier films and brings us an often intense, violent, and dark thriller that – in my opinion – is quite underrated. Of course, as a viewer, this means stretching the imagination a little as some of the ideas involved rely on coincidences and chance – but not to a ridiculous degree – and of course at the end of the day, it's just a film after all!

Louis Koo plays the Brain (literally) of a small but covert team of assassins who get paid to take out people, all while making it look like an accident. It may sound simple, but the team go to some lengths in their planning to pull of some convincing accidents that makes Death from Final Destination seem like a 60's Bond villain. After a brief but brutal car-crash introduction, we get to witness the skills of Koo and his team as a middle-aged business man comes to a 'pane-ful' end. Set in the tight streets of Hong Kong, he gets stuck behind a car with a flat-tyre, which is driven by Michelle Ye – a member of Koo's team. As she fumbles about while blocking the road ahead, the impatient man turns-right only to find himself hit with more obstacles that leave a large material banner draped over his front window. Having soaked some passing people in the process (after driving through a puddle), the man finds himself alone and gets out to remove the signage. He yanks hard on it, breaking the banner from its catch but, at the same time, triggers something that shatters the large window pane just above it. As the heavy shards of glass come crashing down on him, the man looks up in fear with many spectators watching – some of which are the killer team of Koo, Ye, Lam Suet and Stanley Fung Sui Fan. The next murder comes with a bit more focus, as a 'hit' is bought for a wheelchair-bound, old pawn-shop owner by his only son and minder. Its an incredibly tense set-up as Koo relies on timing, heavy rain, and his competent team in order to make it look like an accident. At the same time, we start to see how paranoid Koo is becoming, as certain events that go-on around him almost seem like he is a victim of his own strategies. As the days pass and the team abort time-and-time again, it seems that they might not be able to pull-off this murder as planned anytime soon. But as the heavens open unexpectedly, Koo quickly calls them into action which leads to the intricately planned death of the old man – and then some. I really enjoyed this moment personally, with some incredible and atmospheric night-scenes captured in floods of rain. The film starts to take a turn-for-the-worst, as plans start to go awry and Brain's paranoia kicks-in leading him to believe that he is now under threat, and a victim to someone else's planning. It all leads to one of the films more shocking moments, which shifts viewers to the edge of their seats (if it hasn't already), and keeps them there for the remainder of its running time.

With so many surprise twists-and-turns to follow, it would be wrong of me to give too much more away, but I can tell you that Accident is most definitely worth the watch. Louis Koo gives a great performance as Brain, (as does everyone else to be honest) and definite offers up a very different character to anything else he was working on that year such as comedies like On His Majesty's Secret Service, All's Well Ends Well 2009, Poker King, and the Derek Yee produced thriller, Overheard. It was great to see Stanley Fung (from the Lucky Stars series) back in such a serious role, and while he has appeared in almost 140 films from the late 1960s, I definitely think this is one of his finest performances that saw him nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 29th Hong Kong Film Awards. Although he plays a major part of Koo's team, Fung's character of Uncle is plagued with early on-set dementia which brings a serious amount of disruption to Koo's plans and a bevy of problems for all involved. Johnnie To regular and prolific Hong Kong actor Lam Suet also appears, delivering another memorable role which was one of his seven performances of the year alongside films like Storm Warriors, Shinjuku Incident, Vengeance, and Poker King alongside co-star Koo. Since he first appeared on-screen in the late 80s, Suet has went on to star in well over 260 films for many of Hong Kong's greatest film-makers and is still going strong today, appearing in films such as The Rookies, Invincible Dragon, A Home With A View, and Dynasty Warriors. While it may have its flaws, and is definitely not supposed to be the kind of film that leaves you feeling happy, Accident is well worth the watch and should definitely have gained more international attention with Hong Kong film fans – not to mention anyone one who loves a great thriller.

Overall: A tense, atmospheric thriller, Accident is beautifully shot with an amazing score and performances from all involved!

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THE ANGRY GUEST

(Hong Kong 1972) 

Original Title: E Ke (aka) The Annoyed Guest; Kung Fu Killers

 

Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Tong Kai, Lau Kar Leung Starring: Ti Lung, David Chaing, Yasuaki Kurata, Chang Cheh, Chen Sing, Ching Li, Bolo Yeung, Law Lok Lam, Chieh Yuen, Lau Kar Wing, Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Cheung Yan, Yuen Shun Yi, Yen Shi Kwan Reviewing: Black Hill Pictures/Koch Media German Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 3.3 / 5

Synopsis: The sequel to Chang Cheh's contemporary actioner Fan Chi - Deadly Vengeance is in no way inferior to Part 1 in terms of fistfights, betrayal and murder. Fan Ke (Chiang) and his brother Wen Lieh (Lung), who runs a martial arts school in Hong Kong, learn that the killer whose leg Wen Lieh shattered in a fight, has escaped from prison. Assisted by the gang of Tokyo-based Japanese Yamaguchi (Cheh), he kills the brothers' mother and captures Wen Lieh's bride Yu Lan. With the help of his whip he wants to blackmail the two brothers until Yamaguchi makes them a lucrative offer. (90 Mins)

Views: The surprising sequel to the 1971 Shaw Brothers hit, Duel Of Fists, sees the 'iron triangle' of David Chiang, Ti Lung and director Chang Cheh return to continue the story of the new-found brothers. I guess a sequel for the legendary director was such a rare thing, as he would often have his heroes killed in some violent way at the end of his movies – something that quickly became his trade. After a brief flashback that reminds viewers of what went on previously in Thailand, the film opens right where it ended (give or take a week). Thai gangster Chen Sing, who had gotten his leg badly-broken during the end battle in Duel Of Fists, has since been locked up but it doesn't take him long to make a plan of escape. After knocking-out a passing prison guard and stealing his keys, Chen manages to abseil down the prison wall with the help of his old friends who are waiting outside! Back in Hong Kong, Chiang is still running his construction site (complete with more fun outfits like before) while Ti Lung is now teaching at their fathers martial-arts school. Life is good, and all seems well until (almost within minutes), the semi-crippled Chen Sing shows up in Hong Kong for revenge – killing off their kung-fu brothers one-by-one. One such victim meets-his-maker right outside the school when Chen drives a truck right into him, and crushes him up against the wall before speeding off. It doesn't take long for our two heroes to give chase on their motorbikes in a scene I was actually quite impressed with, as both actors prove to do it all themselves. With no helmets on, Chiang and Lung weave around on-coming traffic, smash through wooden barricades and climb from their bikes onto the truck, while still in motion. In an attempt to shake them off, Chen drives the truck over the cliff edge – with the truck exploding as it rolls down the hill but like any good villain, he manages to survive. Later that night, Chen returns to the school to cause more trouble and with the actions that follow, you just know that this guy holds one hell-of-a-grudge! Shooting a grappling-hook from the street, Chen climbs the rope with his trusted crutch in-hand and soon gains access to a bedroom balcony. Once inside, he attempts to stab the sleeping person in the bed only to find out he's been fooled by the heroic duo who are lying in wait. A brief scuffle between them is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious lady, who claims to have Ti Lung's girlfriend, Yu Lan, held hostage and offers a trade for Chen Sing to go free – a deal they quickly agree to. With their focus now set on saving the girl, things quickly shifts to Tokyo where we find the mysterious girl and Chen Sing colluding with Japanese gangster and karate master Katsu, played by the legendary Yasuaki Kurata. Once the heroes arrive in the city and get past some lengthy establishing shots, they are escorted to meet the big Yakuza boss, Yamaguchi, who is played by director Chang Cheh himself – a dastardly gangster that enjoys his 'James Bond inspired' villain's set-piece and showing off that blackened smile of his to everyone!

Fight choreographers Tong Kai and Lau Kar Leung also return, and with things kept out of the ring this time round, they get the chance to make the fights a little more exciting. Even though Lau Kar Leung had been an actor and action-choreographer on over 100 films by this stage, he hadn't quite honed his skill as yet - with certain names of talent unable to deliver some genuine moves no doubt. I just found that, while the moves were quick, they still seemed to be quite stilted and uninspiring at times – perhaps more suited to a late 1960's kung-fu flick than a modern-day action film. It would be a couple of years after this before Leung started delivering the fights and choreography that we all talk about today, and became a legendary filmmaker in his own right. Tong Kai, who started acting just a year after Kar Leung, started his career as an action-choreographer in the 1962 film The Flaming Mountain for director Mok Hong See. He went onto choreograph over 190 in total, many of which were alongside Lau and for Chang Cheh respectively, and in '83 made his directorial debut with his first film Shaolin Prince, which starred Ti Lung and Chiang's brother Derek Yee (the famed director). Tong would quickly follow this with Shaolin Intruders (once again with Yee) and the awesome Opium & The Kung Fu Master a year later that saw Ti Lung return. David Chiang, who looks like a boy in this role with hardly an ounce of muscle on him, continues with his usual style of stiff kicks and flailing arms – looking like he took more inspiration from Jimmy Wang Yu, who was definitely not the most graceful of on-screen fighters. But it's really the handsome Ti Lung who shines in the action department, proving once again that he was a much better physical-performer than his equally famous co-star. And while there are numerous small bouts throughout, it would be the last 30 or 40 minutes of the film that really showcases the best of the action. From a throw-down with the great Bolo Yeung (who looks like he just came off-set from a shoot for the latest Village People music video) to a violent and lengthy gang fight, that eventually sees the heroic duo go up against the always impressive Yasuaki Kurata in the grand finale – it does theoretically, save the best for last. I must also note that this was also the Japanese superstar's debut role for Shaw Brothers, and possible in the Hong Kong film industry also. As with Duel Of Fists, there are plenty of recognizable faces to keep an eye for such as many members of the Yuen Clan, members from the original Jackie Chan Stunt Team, Lau Kar Wing, San Kuai, Philip Ko, Yen Shi Kwan, Chui Fat, and many more...

With Duel Of Fists having been set in Thailand for the majority of its running time, it was nice to see The Angry Guest shift from Hong Kong to the colourful and bustling metropolis of Tokyo, from the 30 minute mark. And although there are many moments of unintentional comedy laced throughout (many of which are provided by Chen Sing from his attacks to his death), the mood is still quite dark, the fights are enjoyable, and the clothes are outrageous. The Angry Guest may not be the best of the bunch from the team involved, but it does pass the time and I did quite enjoy it for the most part. One thing I do hate about Chang Cheh's movies though, is when he wastes so much running time showing every single member of a gang revealing something – such as an axe in Boxer From Shantung. Here, it's everyone taking their jackets off to show their matching vests. It's long, it's boring, and by the fifth person we already get it! Regardless, it's a small gripe and doesn't really ruin anything in the grand scheme of things, leaving The Angry Guest as an entertaining piece that has enough good moments!

Overall: Typically 'chop-socky' for its time and a tad over-long for what's involved, The Angry Guest is a fun action-drama that has its moments, yet is far from the best of what the 'iron triangle' involved have delivered!

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery

Watch my unboxing video of this Koch Media release HERE 

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ARMOUR OF GOD

(Hong Kong 1986) 

Original Title: Lung Hing Foo Dai (aka) Operation Condor 2: The Armour Of The Gods; Mister Dynamite; Thunder Arm

 

Directed by Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang Produced by Leonard Ho, Lam Chua Action by Jackie Chan Stunt Team Starring: Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Rosamund Kwan, Lola Forner, Ken Boyle, John Ladalski, Kenny Bee, Anthony Chan, Clarence Fok, Carina Lau Reviewing: 88 Films Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Comedy / Adventure

Rating - 4.5 / 5

88 Films Blu-ray Synopsis: Unquestionably the most popular martial arts actor of his generation, superstar Jackie Chan features in this mid-80s Indiana Jones-esque romp which mixes Hollywood thrills with Hong Kong-style action. Former musician Asian Hawk (Chan) becomes embroiled in a dangerous quest to seek out the last three parts of lost treasure the Armour Of God, in order to save his ex-bandmate's girlfriend from the clutches of a ruthless cult. Heavily inspired by Spielberg's movie series, the style and stunt sequences are delivered with the star's custom brand of slapstick and physical prowess. All the elements come together in a pleasing assortment of comedy, misadventure, and gloriously realised action set pieces. (98 Mins)

Hong Kong Rescue Blu-ray Synopsis: What do you get when you combine Indiana Jones-style globe-trotting adventure, James Bond-style gadget-laden cars and Jackie Chan-style martial arts action? Armour Of God... Jackie's answer to Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Chan plays former musician turned treasure hunter who goes by the nickname 'Asian Hawk'. He must team up with his former band-mate (Alan Tam) to rescue his ex-girlfriend (Rosamund Kwan) who has been kidnapped by a religious cult as a means of blackmailing Chan to deliver the remaining pieces of the legendary 'Armour Of God', a mystical artifact from the Dark Ages. What follows is a non-stop, pulse-pounding, adrenaline ride of precision vehicle stunts, acrobat martial arts fights and high-flying stunts that only Jackie Chan can deliver. Heralded as one of Jackie's all-time classics, the film is also infamous for featuring a flubbed stunt that nearly cost Jackie his life. Thankfully, Chan recovered and returned to complete the film, which went on to break box-office records across Asia. (97 Mins)

DVD Synopsis: Starring as “The Asian Hawk”, a bounty hunter and martial arts expert, with an insatiable taste for adventure, Jackie is blackmailed by a mysterious cult leader into acquiring 'the Armour of God', a mysterious artefact from the Dark Ages, which holds the key to unlimited power. Combing action, romance and Chan's trademark Keaton-esque comedy, “Armour of God” is an explosive heart-pounding martial-arts extravaganza, which is internationally one of Jackie's highest grossing films to date. Featuring a dazzling array of precision driving stunts, high-falls and explosive, high-energy fight action, this is one movie that is guaranteed to thrill from beginning to end. Making this film very nearly cost Jackie his life, and the accident footage is included in the end credits. With an exclusive, remastered DVD transfer, and a selection of exciting 'special features', this is one title no Chan fan will want to miss!! (94 Mins)

 

VPD UK VHS Synopsis: Jackie is something of a modern-day buccaneer. Among the many curious trophies of his adventures are some fragments of an ancient religious artifact, the fabulous 'Armour Of God'. Being of no significance to Jackie, he is happy to sell them to an antique collector called Bannon – for the right price. But there are others who also place a high price on the relics, the followers of an evil ancient cult. They kidnap the only woman Jackie ever truly cared for. To trade the armour for the girl Jackie first has to borrow it back from Bannon. He agrees but only if his beautiful daughter goes along to keep an eye on the treasure. Enlisting the help of an old friend the three quickly become embroiled in a heady cocktail of death-defying stunts, danger and double-cross as Jackie fights to win the day, the love of Bannon's daughter, and the 'Armour of God'. (88 Mins)

 

Views: Without a doubt one of Jackie's most internationally known and respected films, Armour Of God may be a little rough-around-the-edges, but it still brings me great joy and such a feeling of nostalgia over 30 years later. I'm pretty damn sure that this film was one of the first modern-action Jackie Chan movies that I had ever seen, and while I had been hiring out his Lo Wei classics from a young age, I hadn't quite experienced the modern Jackie Chan we all know and love today – albeit for his brief stint in Cannonball Run. From the first time I saw it, Armour Of God fast became a weekly ritual for me (until I could own my own video tape), as well as one of my all-time favourite Hong Kong movies – and that was only from watching the trimmed original 1980's English dub that was released on video in the UK (it would be another 20 years before I could see this classic uncut). Not too long after that, I managed to catch a great insight to Jackie Chan when Jonathan Ross introduced him to the UK on his television programme The Incredibly Strange Film Show, which ultimately sealed the deal of my love for Jackie Chan and the fantastic film industry of Hong Kong!

 

It's no secret that this was the film that almost cost Jackie his life. After perfectly completing a simple stunt in the first take, Jackie wanted to get one more which involved him leaping from a wall to a tree branch, before swinging over to safety on the next wall. But he was not to make it. As his hand slipped from the branch, Jackie came falling down; snapping more branches before hitting the ground hard below and smashing his head on a rock. Of course, this quickly brought a stop to the production – and almost his life! Thankfully, one of the worlds top surgeons happened to be in Yugoslavia during the time of the accident and was able to save the legend, allowing Jackie to bring us many more years of incredible entertainment and a long happy life for him. The great Eric Tsang, who had starred with Jackie in The Lucky Stars Trilogy, Accidental Spy and many more, had originally been drafted to direct, completing a healthy amount of the film before the aforementioned accident stalled the production. This included the memorable and exciting opening scene at the castle ruins, where Jackie steals the sword from some African natives in the middle of a sacrifice. After some spectacular acrobatics, slick moves and comedic moments, the Asian Hawk makes his escape which, of course, led to the accident. Another memorable scene completed under Eric's eye, was the attack on the fashion show by gunmen. It's a brilliantly executed scene, that actually proves to be a little more dark and violent than usual for a Jackie Chan movie of that era. One scene in particular shows a gunman fire a bullet through the lens of an unsuspecting photographer, which goes right through his head and splatters the screen with blood. Brutal, but beautiful! By the time Jackie had healed and was ready to come back, Tsang had to move-on due to a clash of schedules, but seeing that hint of darkness delivered by Tsang from his time spent on the production, I'd love to have seen just what direction Armour Of God may have went had he directed the whole thing.

 

Once in the directors seat, Jackie kicked things off from the moment of his accident. Continuing his getaway, the Asian Hawk slides down the side of the mountain where his hair grows a bit longer by the time he reaches the bottom. It's an odd moment, but funny at the same time – and all down to a very honest reason. Apart from growing his hair to cover the scars from the operation, some older executives at Golden Harvest advised Jackie to get back his long-locks, since cutting his hair short (for the first time in his career) had brought him bad luck – a suggestion that he easily agreed with after almost losing his life. Elsewhere, an army of crazed monks are desperate to get their hands on the legendary Armour of God for the sake of their cult. After finding out that Jackie has the sword, they make an elaborate plan to kidnap Laura (an old girlfriend of his played by Rosamund Kwan), so that they can blackmail the Asian Hawk into finding the rest. It just so happens that Laura, Jackie and Alan used to be in a band together called The Losers – a riff on Tam's own band from his past called The Wynners – along with original band-mates Anthony Chan, Bennett Pang and Kenny Bee, as well as actress Carina Lau, actor Danny Yip, and director Clarence Fok. After learning that Laura is now a famous fashion designer in Paris, the monks send a small army of gunmen to kidnap her which results in the fantastic (and aforementioned) brutal scene, intercut with an epic live-performance of Alan Tam on stage as he sings the highly memorable, Midnight Rider. Giving the audience a bit of a breather after such an epic opening, and probably allowing Jackie a little more healing time – the story slows down a tad when Jackie, who has just sold the sword at auction to the lovely Lola Forner, returns to his hotel to find a distressed Alan waiting for him with news of Laura's kidnapping. After clearing the air about their past love-triangle, the pair start planning her rescue and pay a visit to a local Baron who just happens to own most of the legendary armour. With the promise of bringing him back the rest of the armour (that the monks should have in the possession), the Baron agrees to help the odd couple, along with the addition of his daughter – Lola – the very same girl who bought the sword at auction. Although things slow down, it's certainly not in a boring way. There are a number of comedy sequences that keep things ticking- especially from their time spent in the Baron's magnificent house – and a bizarre nightmare sequence of Jackie getting chased by his car as Alan and Rosamund wave to him as a happy couple. I also really enjoy the montage of the trio on their journey as they head to Yugoslavia in search of the monks hideout, covered by the wonderful song called Friend which is sung by Jackie and Alan.

 

With the lovely Lola positioned high, sniper rifle at the ready – Alan soon meets the monks and tries to trick them with some scrap metal, in replace of the armour, but a quick scuffle breaks out with the monks gaining the support of about 20 bikers who suddenly give chase to the Asian Hawk and his side-kick. This leads to an incredibly fun, stunt-filled, and wild car chase through the village. This was the first time I had really seen the connection with Jackie and his long-time sponsors, Mitsibushi. I had always dreamed of owning his car here; a slick-silver convertible with turbo boosters and a single motorbike that ejects from the passenger side. While this film was Jackie's nod to Indiana Jones, the car was definitely all about James Bond! Soon after, the guys find their way to the monks mountain home by hitching a ride with a truck load of prostitutes who are destined for the hooded horn-balls. One of these women is Lola, in disguise (of sorts) who surprises Jackie and Alan when they see her - perhaps a nod to the role she played a couple of years earlier in Wheels On Meals. Aware that the heroes have arrived in the monastery, the head monk drugs Laura (Kwan) with an 'obedient drug' and orders her to drug Jackie when they get home. Unaware that the monks have purposely lowered their guard, Jackie, Alan and Lola soon find Laura and escape on the next truck out. That evening at home, we are treated to a fun scene where Jackie tries to stop Lola from finding Alan who is hiding in her bedroom – a situation that reminded me of the fantastically funny and clever sequence from Project A 2 (made just a year later) when Maggie Cheung experiences a host of visitors, all of which much hide from the next ones. Perhaps this was a small inspiration for that moment – After escaping, Alan makes his way into Jackie's darkened room and quickly finds a needle stuck in his ass-cheek by Laura who was hiding behind the door.

 

With both Alan and Laura now in the hands of the evil monks, Jackie must set-out on a lone rescue mission to save them both, which begins with a crazy abseil down a cliff-face to enter the monastery through an old cave system. This in itself kicks-off a solid 30 minutes of excitement packed with incredible fight scenes, solid stunt-work, plenty of comedy, explosions, and much more. While I'm guessing that this was based on a set in Hong Kong, it comes across as a fantastically lit and epic looking place. The finale of Armour Of God comes in 3 parts starting with Jackie taking on a small army of monks in their dining hall. With such intricate choreography and dedicated stuntmen, Jackie and his team deliver a fight scene that stands-tall as one of his best and most exciting. Busting some incredible moves, Jackie kicks, punches and flips his way to the next stage – almost like getting to the big-boss level of your favourite computer game. Once in the main-domain, with the titular Armour of God in his sights, Jackie is attacked by 4 very tall and very muscular black women – all of who know how to throw a kick. Now, granted that throughout the whole fight sequence 6 of them were his stuntmen and 3 were actually women – it still looks amazing and is one of the highlights of both the film and his career. In fact, kung-fu queen Cynthia Rothrock was originally set to be the final 'big boss' of the show, but was shifted to Yuen Biao's brilliant Righting Wrongs after Jackie's fatal accident delayed schedules. Once defeated, Jackie is approached by the army of monks only to scare them off with his vest of dynamite, which he accidentally lights and literally brings the house down! As the mountain collapses around him, Jackie makes a dash for the cave he entered from where he sees Alan, Laura and Lola nearby in a hot-air-balloon. Without a second thought, Jackie leaps off the cliff-edge and base-jumps right onto the top of the balloon. It's a pretty incredible sight and one hell of a closing scene that launches the end credits, backed by another brilliant song (or 2 depending on which version you are watching), before we get treated to some fantastic behind-the-scenes footage, NG shots, and that crazy accident that almost took this amazing man from us far too soon...

 

With things up in the air after Jackie's aforementioned accident and prolonged healing time, original director Eric Tsang was moved onto direct the fun Lucky Stars Go Places – produced by Sammo Hung and choreographed by his action team, with Tsang also making an appearance in his classic Millionaires Express the very same year – although it's pretty clear just what scenes he was behind. It's also worth noting just how many assistant directors worked on the film, with the majority of them going on to make a career for themselves in the film world. These include Alexander Chan – a popular actor and industry journeyman who also directed films such as Lover At Large, His Fatal Ways, and The Fiend as well as assisting on Millionaires Express, Dragons Forever, Eastern Condors, Project A 2, and many more. Another is award winning director Stanley Kwan of Rouge fame, who also helmed films such as Centre Stage, Love Unto Waste, and Everlasting Regret to name but a few. They are joined by Wong Ying Kit, Season Ma, and O Sing Pui, an actor and assistant director who has went on to direct the remake of Golden Swallow, An Eye For An Eye, My Flying Wife with Sammo Hung, and more. One thing I really want to highlight about Armour Of God is the incredible score and soundtrack it carries. I absolutely love it and have been singing its songs and humming its tunes to myself for decades now. Apart from some superb songs by both Jackie Chan and Alan Tam, the wonderful Michael Lai Siu Tin gives the film an original score that has lasted forever (and no, its not that Miramax nonsense). Lai was the composer of many Jackie Chan movies such as the Project A, Police Story and Lucky Stars series, as well as other Hong Kong classics such as City War, Duel To The Death, and Miracles before unfortunately passing in December 2019. Even watching it today, 35 years later, I can still see why I totally fell in love with Armour Of God and Jackie of course. For years I was bouncing bubble-gum off walls and doors, perfecting the gum-style of the Asian Hawk and how he ate it, and even after his life-saving surgery, it's hard to deny the man his dues as Jackie Chan shows that he is the king of Hong Kong action comedies; giving a showcase that still blows me away today. Just avoid the US edited version by all means!!

 

I must also add that, with each edition I have had of this amazing movie over the years, I've had the chance to experience some great extras included (on both the DVD and Blu-ray's of course). With the 88 Films Deluxe Edition, fans are treated to a highly enjoyable candid interview with Jackie on Celebrity Talk Show. This is the second episode of season two, hosted by actor & entertainer James Wong, producer Lam Chua – who produced Armour Of God, Mr. Nice Guy, Robotrix, Story Of Ricky, and Crime Story – and prolific screenwriter and author Ni Kuang, who was responsible for writing the majority of the Shaw Brothers greatest titles. New star Andy Long directs a fan-film with pop duo Side-By-Side called High Upon High: The Armour Of Funk, which sees them revisit most of the films most popular locations and recreate as much of the action as the can for their music video. Action superstar and Hong Kong cinema mega-fan Scott Adkins discusses Jackie's work with Matt Routledge on an episode of his web-series The Art Of Action, and there are a few great audio commentaries to choose from when you feel like going back for a re-watch. This Blu-ray release also carries the same Jackie & Willie Chan interviews from the Hong Kong Legends DVD release, as does the fan-made Blu-ray release from Hong Kong Rescue. While I don't agree with the how the guy produces them by stealing other peoples produced work to compile the ultimate editions and sell them, I simply can't deny the work he puts into the restoration of the prints (which are first class) and compilation of extras. Of these, the exclusive featurette called Under The Armour offers a neatly made bio on the film which offers plenty of unseen stills and footage from Jonathan Ross' Incredibly Strange Film Show and more. High Upon High: The Armour Of Funk also appears here, but the biggest special feature for me is the addition of the Jackie Chan produced Traces Of A Dragon – a full-length documentary that tells the story of his parents and his younger years. This runs for a good 70 minutes and is an emotional tale of the Chan family, directed by Mabel Cheung. The featurette called This Is Jackie Chan offers a neat BTS look at Jackie in everyday life – cleaning the gutters, taking out the trash, and playing with his toys and gadgets. Of course, there are plenty of other exciting extras to enjoy on both releases that should fill the day of any true Jackie Chan fan!

 

Overall: Though it may hail some minor flaws, Armour Of God still proves to be one of Jackie's greatest films with amazing fight scenes, incredible stunt-work, great comedy, and an awesome soundtrack that still entertains as much today!

 

88 Films Blu-ray Extras: 4K Restoration, International Cut (88 Mins), Audio Commentary with Asian cinema expert Frank Djeng, Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Audio commentary with Kenneth Brorsson & Phil Gillon of the Podcast On Fire Network, The Art of Action with Scott Adkins & Matt Routledge, Jackie Chan on VHS - The VPD Years with Steve Lawson, Rise of the Phoenix - Radek Sienski on Armour of God, Celebrity Talk Show (1989) Season 2 Episode 02 (57 Mins), Short film High upon High – The Armour of Funk (2016). Produced as a 30th-anniversary music video and was shot at original location from Armour of God, High Upon High - behind the scenes with Andy Long Nguyen & Side-by-Side, Hong Kong Movie Tours - Then & Now, Japanese Closing Out-takes, Interview with in-house Golden Harvest editor Peter Cheung, Archival Interviews with Jackie Chan &Willie Chan, Hong Kong Cantonese Trailer, Hong Kong Mandarin Trailer, English Trailer, Blu-ray Trailer

 

Hong Kong Rescue Blu-ray Extras: Alternate Miramax Version, Traces Of A Dragon Documentary, Image Gallery, Restoration Featurette, Under The Armour Featurette, Jackie Chan & Willie Chan Interviews, Outtakes, Trailer Gallery, Japanese Promotional Archive, That Same Question Featurette discussing Jackie's injuries and footage of The Wynners, Short film High upon High – The Armour of Funk (2016), Jackie's Oscar Win, Officially Amazing Featurette, This Is Jackie Chan Featurette, There Can Only Be One Featurette, Comedy Special Featurette, HK Cinema 101 – A series of short documentaries from The University of Hong Kong, Charitable Chan, 'Sing Lung' Sings, Working With Jackie – A short film showcasing Martial Club's project with Jackie Chan, Hong Kong Rescue Trailer

 

Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Jackie Chan Bio, Trailers, Photo Gallery, Interview with Jackie Chan & Willie Chan

Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE

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