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THE CALL

(South Korea 2020) 

Original Title: Kol

Directed by Lee Chung-Hyun Produced by Jeong Hul-Sun Starring: Park Shin-Hye, Jun Jong-Seo, Kim Sung-Ryung, El Lee, Park Ho-San, Oh Jeong-Se, Jo Kyung-Sook, Ryu Kyung-Soo, Lee Dong-Hwi Reviewing: Netflix UK Release Genres: Thriller / Drama

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Synopsis: Two people live in different times. Seo-Yeon lives in the present and Young-Sook lives in the past. One phone call connects the two, and their lives are changed irrevocably. (112 Mins)

Views: For his first feature film, director and screenplay writer Lee Chung-Hyun does an amazing job in bringing a highly entertaining and incredibly tense film to the screen. In The Call, characters are kept to a minimum which helps in making things a bit more gripping, allowing you to focus on what's going on. With that said, it's hard to talk about The Call without giving too much of its surprises away...

The story focuses on two young women, Seo-Yeon who lives in our present time, and Young-Sook, who lives a decade in the past. The connection is that they both live in the same house, albeit with 10 years of time separating them, but when a mysterious phone call connects them – the girls set out to help each other fix their lives, which leads to some drastic consequences. Having lost her father in a house fire 10 years ago, Seo-Yeon asks Young-Sook to go to their home and prevent the accident from home, something that she manages to pull off and help change Seo-Yeon's life in the present as her mother and father re-appear at home, healthy and well as if nothing ever happened. This is actually executed in a pretty cool way, with some interesting visuals that fix Seo-Yeon's world. But as time passes, Seo-Yeon begins to forget about Young-Sook and what she has done for her – enjoying her family time and repeatedly missing calls from the past. Unbeknownst to Seo-Yeon, the poor Young-Sook isn't getting it so well on her side. Suffering from mental illness, the teenager suffers some major abuse at the hands of her wicked stepmother, a practicing shaman who beats, burns, and ties Young-Sook up while trying her own form of exorcisms, which ultimately, will lead to her death. As she learns about the abuse and murder, Seo-Yeon tries to warn Young-Sook of her stepmother's actions which help save her life – yet at the same time, unleashes a monster!

It goes without saying that what follows in the second half of the film is twist-after-twist, murder after murder, leaving viewers with the same kind of feeling they had while watching the Oscar-winning Parasite, or I Saw The Devil – but I don't want to spoil too much more for you, as the shocks and surprises are gripping. What I will jump to and hope to save you from, is the final twist of Lee Chung-Hyun's story that comes about in the post-credit scene. I wouldn't be lying if I told you to miss it in a bid to leave you feeling like you've watched an incredible film. As with all movies that deal with time travel (so to speak), there are questions on how it's approached or what would really happen. The Call doesn't make a mess of this, for the most part, executing its changes through time in a beautiful and original way – but for most, its post-credit scene screws things over and almost undoes everything before it. Some reviewers have looked into The Call quite a bit deeper than most, expressing how the past is all part of Seo-Yeon's present-self dealing with her own mental health issues. I suppose in some respect there is an element that could be pulled from it, but for me, it's a serial killer-thriller done with a unique approach. It was nice to see lead actress Park Shin Hye get behind two big hits during such a time in our world, both with her role here as Seo-Yeon and as the co-star of the very fun, #Alive. Although I haven't seen her in most of her television outings (which is odd considering the K-Drama is never off in our house), Park Shin-Hye has proven to be a great actress over the past decade and continues to do so in The Call. But it has to be her co-star, Jun Jong-Seo that steals the show as the deranged and incredibly twisted, Young-Sook. Having impressed with her debut role in Lee Chang-Dong's incredible thriller, Burning, Jun takes things to the next level in The Call (in only her second role) creating a character you just love to hate, and in all honesty, wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.

The blueprint was taken from the original screenplay by Sergio Casci, which was actually made into a film in 2011 named, The Caller, a British/Puerto Rican production directed by English director Matthew Parkhill. I've yet to see what he managed to do with the story then, but having seen The Call a few times now I'd be excited to see what the differences are overall and if the original is as twisted and dark as this is. Of course, Lee Chung-Hyun's adaptation would have been modified to suit its South Korean audience most of all, but I do feel it may be the stronger contender of the two having taken the best from the original source. The film is beautifully shot by Jo Young-Jik, allowing for some incredible visuals that are aided by lots of wonderful lighting, often adding more tension to the scene. The score is handled by Dalpalan, a South Korean composer who covered the music on hits such as R-Point, A Bittersweet Life, The Fox Family, and The Good, The Bad & The Weird, to name but a few. As mentioned, for a first-time director, The Call proves to be a highly entertaining experience as well as a very competent production. It's definitely one to watch on a dark night with the lights down low, and a film I look forward to watching once again in the near future...

Just remember to switch it off after the closing graveyard scene!

Overall: Well made and tense, The Call is a more unique modern thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat!

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CALL OF HEROES

(Hong Kong 2016) 

Original Title: Wei Cheng

Directed by Benny Chan Produced by Benny Chan, Alvin Lam Action by Sammo Hung Starring: Sean Lau Ching Wan, Louis Koo, Eddie Peng, Wu Jing, Philip Keung, Sammy Hung, Yolanda Yuen Quan, Maggie Jiang, Liu Kai Chi, Xing Yu, Suen Kau Lung, Edward Ma Reviewing: Cineasia UK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / War

Rating - 4.7 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Blistering, epic-scale action from the director of NEW POLICE STORY and SHAOLIN, with the action director of IP MAN. Call Of Heroes thrills through-out in its tale of skilled martial artists, who take a stand to protect their village against a ruthless army. In 1914, after the collapse of China's Qing dynasty, Yag Kenan (Sean Lau – Mad Detective) is appointed as guardian to defend the rural village of Pucheng. When alone man enters the village and takes innocent lives, Yang makes the decision that he must be sentenced to death. It emerges that this man is Cao Shaolun (Louis Koo – Flash Point), son of a sadistic warlord, and his army demands the son is released, threatening to bring death and destruction. The village soon becomes split between those who want to stand against the warlord, and those who want to set Cao free in a bid for peace. As the odds for peace lessen and the pressure mounts for Yang to release the murderous captive, a stirring tale of heroic resistance unfolds as he and a team of skilled villagers make a last stand against the warlord's vicious army. In the face of insurmountable odds, heroes will rise. (120 Mins)

Views: Set in 1914 after the collapse of the Qing dynasty, Call Of Heroes tells the tale of heroes standing up to evil when a sadistic man's actions threaten the fate of the whole village. After slaughtered some of the villagers for his own entertainment, Cao is caught by the guardian and law-man of Pucheng, Yang Kenan. Once jailed, it is revealed that Cao is the son of a warlord who wants his son freed. Standing strong for justice, Yang keeps his prisoner but soon finds himself caught between those who want the warlord stopped and those who want to free Cao for the sake of their lives...

Call Of Heroes is quite possibly one of the late Benny Chan's greatest ever films. It boasts an incredible cast with the great Lau Ching Wan, Louis Koo, Eddie Peng, Wu Jing, Xing Yu, and Liu Kai Chi who (at the time of writing) unfortunately passed away last week, as well as benefiting from the powerful choreography of the legendary Sammo Hung. It plays like a good old-fashioned kung-fu movie, albeit with a good old-fashioned Spaghetti Western feel, yet still feels fresh in many ways. This is down to Chan's direction along with its high production values, with no lack of detail in the costume department or its incredible riverside village set, completely built from scratch for the production. It's highly impressive and extremely authentic, and no doubt took most of the majority of the film's budget to complete, but with good reason. Most of the film takes place in the village of Pucheng, with each of the main characters making their way to or through it during the course of the story, and Benny Chan certainly makes use of every corner available!

As impressive as Pucheng is, Call Of Heroes benefits most from its fantastic cast. The handsome and brilliant Eddie Peng is the first main character to get introduced, opening the film (after he wakes from a food coma) by beating the hell out of some robbers in a restaurant. I'm a huge fan of Peng's and have long said he is the next big martial-arts-action star of Hong Kong cinema. Eddie plays Ma Feng, sometimes known to the locals as Pigsy or Hero, a traveling swordsman with incredible moves and the one character who brings a little humour to this otherwise, dark tale. Eddie worked under the wing of Sammo in 2012 when he choreographed Tai Chi Zero and its sequel, as well as going up against him a couple of years later on-screen in the incredibly underrated, Rise Of A Legend, where Peng played a much darker Wong Fei Hung. The ever-reliable Lau Ching Wan soon follows as Yang Kenan, guardian to Pucheng, and while he is more often cast as a gun-toting cop or potential love-interest, Lau has gotten to play in some previous martial arts flicks such as All Men Are Brothers: Blood Of The Leopard, and Heroic Trio 2: Executioners for example. Although, much like Chow Yun Fat, he may suit having a gun in his hand more than playing a kung-fu fighter, Lau still manages to deliver some fantastic moves under Sammo's direction and impresses in doing so. This aids his character well as a no-nonsense man of justice, who aims to protect his family and village by all means necessary. I'd love to have seen this made 10 or 20 years ago, with Jackie Chan in the role of Lau and Yuen Biao in Peng's. It would have been an incredibly mature project for them both and quite possibly one of their best, especially with Sammo looking after them. Lau is aided by a host of strong fighters including Sammo's eldest son, the handsome Sammy Hung, and the aforementioned late-actor, Liu Kai Chi. With almost 100 credits to his name, Liu has proven to be a favourite for fans of Hong Kong cinema, starring in films such as Princess Madam, Infernal Affairs 2, New Police Story, SPL, As The Light Goes Out, and pretty much the most of Dante Lam's modern hits since the turn-of-the-century. Here, he plays Liao – one of guardian Yang Kenan's most trusted friends who gets forced into double-crossing at the halfway mark, making for one of the film's most exciting action scenes. In a period where we seem to have lost far too many great cinematic names far-too-soon, I can honestly say that Liu will be a face that I'll miss seeing in future productions.

The brilliant Louis Koo proves to be the scene-stealer in Call Of Heroes, pulling off an incredibly twisted performance as Cao Shaolun, sadistic son of Warlord Cao. No man, woman, or child is safe when he gets going, often putting a bullet in whomever he wants without a second thought. Abusing his namesake and living with the mindset that he is practically invincible, Koo makes the most of his character and leaves a lasting impression for all the right reasons. Louis would go on to star as a family man and cat lover the following year in Benny Chan's family comedy, Meow – which I quite enjoyed. The always impressive Wu Jing stars as Zhang Yi, a servant to Koo's evil Cao, and a force to be reckoned with (as usual). A flashback tells us of a relationship between Wu Jing and Eddie Peng's characters as ex-monks who are now bodyguards for a corrupt official. It's a scene that had shades of Brotherhood Of Blades about it and got me thinking of a prequel based on the two of them that would make for an exciting follow-up. I can but dream I guess! Backing Wu Jing to get Cao out of prison is a literal army of men, one of which is fan favourite Xing Yu from Wrath Of Vajra, and Benny Chan's wonderful Shaolin. Berg Ng, from Election, The Great Magician, and Drug War, joins Jin along with Chinese actor Suen Kau Lung from The Taking Of Tiger Mountain, God Of War, and Dragon Tiger Gate, in a supporting role...

While its extensive cast proves impressive, Call Of Heroes is very much about the action. Benny Chan definitely chose the right man for the job in putting Sammo in charge. In fact, it's something that proves to be so vital to the film that it even gives the legend himself the first opening credit, with Benny Chan (the director) coming up second. It's no secret that Hung has been one of the greatest stars and choreographers of Hong Kong cinema ever, and while age and style have worked their ways on him over the years, he still proves that he is one of the best with his work on Call Of Heroes. While a few moments of wire-work are questionable, Sammo delivers a host of powerhouse fight scenes that allow for some painful-looking stunt work, incredible moves, and gives anyone that can bust-a-move the chance to look good doing it. From Eddie Peng's introductory fight scene in the restaurant to the night-time rescue attempt on Cao, and the deadly attack on the bridge to the grand finale, Sammo directs some intricate stuff that helps make Call Of Heroes a modern-day, martial arts classic! The closing 20 minutes alone is brutally brilliant with Peng taking on Wu Jing in a clash of broad-swords and spear (in a hark back to his own classic film, The Odd Couple), as Lau makes his way for Koo. As a stunning amount of moves are delivered the villagers attack the invading army, while Peng and Jing deliver their final moves on a mountain of old wine jars. As the battle continues, Koo proves even more menacing until Lau delivers a mix of final moves that only a Hong Kong film could do!

With Benny Chan now gone, I can only hope that he got the chance to reap the rewards in knowing what a gem of a film he made with Call Of Heroes. In some ways, this could easily play as a follow-up to Chan's own Shaolin with its similarly set era and range of characters. It's an almost perfect piece and one of my (many) favourite Benny Chan films, and while he had been in the game from the late 1980s, I still feel we never got enough of what the man had to offer, in the grand scheme of things...

Overall: Wonderfully made with powerful martial-arts-action, Call Of Heroes is a brilliant watch with a great cast and more!

DVD Extras: Making Of Documentaries, Trailers, Gallery

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CALL TO ARMS

(Hong Kong 1971) 

Original Title: Dao Bing Fu

Directed by Shen Chiang Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Cheung Yan Starring: Tsung Hua, Hsia Fan, Cheung Ban, Chang Yi, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha, Bolo Yeung, Shum Lo, Hsia Hsu, Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Cheung Yan, Brandy Yuen, Yuen Yat Chor, Danny Chow Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Kung-Fu / Drama / Historic

Rating - 2.3 / 5

Synopsis: The aggressive and dangerous Chin empire occupies the put-upon Chao kingdom while the hero-filled Wei empire is paralysed by an indecisive ruler. (84 Mins)

Views: This early 70s Shaw Brothers film is set during the time of the warring states, a period that you would probably be best knowing much more about before going into Call Of Arms. While not impossible to follow, director Shen Chiang and co-writer Hsu Li Min, certainly don't make it easy as they try to fit such a historic telling into a very short running time. In a nutshell, Call Of Arms tells the story of the Wei people making plans to stop the tyrannical Emperor Chin attacking, who has been busy bringing the neighbouring state of Chao to its knees...

Although it opens with a decent bit of battle and assassination, Call To Arms slows way down for the next 20 minutes as it overloads on lots of political talk and drama. While the character of Zhu Hai seems like he's the main man we should be focused on for the journey, he quickly vanishes – popping in and out for the bigger moments of the film. In fact, with so much going on and a lot of characters coming and going, it's hard to really care about anyone. Thankfully though, and as with most Shaw Brothers kung-fu outings, the film is saved somewhat by the action, courtesy of a young Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan. Although Woo-Ping had been staring in bit-parts for Shaw productions since the early 60s, it would be almost a decade later before he would get the chance to dance when he took up the role of action-choreographer. Cheung Yan had gotten a head-start just a few years earlier, with both going on to work on many classic titles for Shaw Studios before branching out to become the legends of Hong Kong cinema that they are today. While it offers nothing spectacular, fans of the Yuen clan will enjoy watching their early work as well as catching glimpses of other Yuen brothers in the background.

The cast of Shaw's regulars all do as typical a job as always, with Cheung Ban playing swordsman Zhu Hai. Although his career in the industry only lasted a good 5 or 6 years, Cheung managed to star in around 18 films including 14 Amazons, The Water Margin, and Cold Blade. Hong Kong movie veteran Tsung Hua plays Prince Shun Ling, and probably stands out as one of the more recognisable faces in the film. Of course, Hua would star in many classic films for Shaw's such as The Killer, 14 Amazons, and Killer Clans, as well as many independent titles like One-Armed Against Nine Killers, 72 Desperate Rebels, and A Massacre Survivor, that would see him reunited with Yuen Cheung Yan as his action choreographer. The beautiful Hsia Fan, who made an impact even with her small filmography, does a great job as the leading lady, and the great Ching Miao stars as the wicked Emperor Chin. With over 200 credits to his name and having been in the business from 1940, Miao delivered many great roles over the course of his 45-year career before passing away in 1989. As mentioned, keep an eye out for the Yuen clan showing up throughout as well as a young Bolo Yeung, who fights alongside the fantastic Wang Hsieh as General Jin Bi, in the final battle!

I've probably seen more of what Shen Chiang has done as a writer, as opposed to his directorial efforts and while Call To Arms is far from his worst, it's certainly not one of his greatest. With that in mind, rumor has it that had a few problems after superstar Chang Yi defected to Golden Harvest (who were making waves as the hot new young studio in town). Originally in the role of Zhu Hai, the Shaw Brothers shelved the film for a year before re-shooting Chang's scenes with Cheung Ban – which would make for a valid reason as to why the character of Zhu wasn't about as much as he should have been. That, or something was missing in the writing after all...

Overall: Far from the best Shaw Brothers picture, Call To Arms still has its moments but is too talky for its own good!

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CANTONEN IRON KUNG FU

(Hong Kong 1979) 

Original Title: Guangdong Tie Qiao San (aka) Cantonese Iron Kung Fu; Iron Fist of Kwangtung; Iron Fisted Warrior; The Iron Hand Boxer

Directed by Lee Chiu Produced by Yuen Kam Lun, Lau Cheun Fei Action by Lau Chun Fai, Tsang Chiu Yue Starring: Leung Kar Yan, Phillip Ko Fei, Wang Chung, Ting Wa Chung, Wang Hsieh, Lau Chun Fai, Lee Chiu, Tsang Chiu Yue, Pang San, Ma Chin Ku Reviewing: Soulblade/Dragon UK DVD Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama

Rating - 3.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Leung Kar Yan (aka Beardy - “Warriors Two & The Victim”) plays Ah Tung, a coolie who ends up in a brawl with Ah Yu (Lee Chiu) over a misunderstanding. The two become friends but their relationship is cut short when Ah Yu accepts a challenge to fight with several men under the leadership of a ruthless criminal named Black Eagle (Phillip Ko – 2The Loot & Legend Of A Fighter”) who are attempting to bully the townsfolk. (86 Mins)

Views: The ever-lovable and hugely impressive Leung Kar Yan heads up this tale of kung-fu and revenge when his friend and boss are killed by a ruthless criminal who has been hired by a corrupt businessman who wants control of the towns supply routes. There's no denying that Cantonen Iron Kung Fu is a simple tale, told in countless amounts of Hong Kong and Taiwanese films from the same era – and most of which have proven to be mildly entertaining with low production values. Thankfully though, this isn't one of them!

Cantonen Iron Kung Fu is a well-made movie, directed by veteran actor and director Lee Chiu. Starting off as an extra in a host of Shaw Brothers titles, Chiu quickly moved into more prominent roles only a couple of years after, starring in over 100 films over the next 30 years. At the same stage, he began working as a fight choreographer for films like A Tooth For A Tooth, Ways Of Kung Fu, and 18 Jade Arhats. The late 1970s saw him make the move to writer and director, which started with Cantonen Iron Kung Fu. From here, Lee would go on to direct over 50 movies from here such as Chin Kar Lok's Martial Arts Master Wong Fei Hung and Little Hero On The Run, Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave with Billy Chong, Full Metal Ninja, the Street Kids series, and Mission Of Condor with Moon Lee – as well as many more. For his first film as director, it's obvious that Lee Chiu wanted to impress and does so in pulling off a clean production with a decent cast and great kung-fu action. I can only imagine that Lee was keeping a close eye on the action as he directed, but the choreography for Cantonen Iron Kung Fu was left to choreographers Wynn Lau Chun Fai and Tsang Chiu Yue. An actor of over 130 films (including a role here), Lau honed his skills while starring in an incredible amount of Shaw Brothers films as well as the classic Snake In The Eagles Shadow, and Tsui Hark's Butterfly Murders before this. The turn-of-the-century would see him slide into the director's chair with films like My Wife's Bodyguard, Raping Triad, and Muay Thai Girls to name but a few, although I haven't seen any of these to comment. With only two credits to his name, it's likely that Tsang was more of an assistant to Lau on this project, as well as playing a role. Between them, they deliver a hefty amount of kung-fu fighting over the course of the story but definitely save the best for last when Leung Kar Yan and Phillip Ko get to go fist-to-toe in an incredible showdown – one of their many team-ups during their career.

While hardly an A-list cast, Cantonen Iron Kung Fu still carries many recognisable faces throughout, most of which deliver decent performances and moves when it comes to the action. Of course, you can never go wrong with having the amazing Leung Kar Yan star in your film – a legendary star who is one of the best on-screen fighters (among many) that I've ever seen. This is ironic in itself since Leung has never had any formal training in kung-fu – something he himself has mentioned in many interviews – but he has an amazing knack for picking up and replicating moves that make him look like a master. Starting in the mid-1970s with a decent role in Shaolin Martial Arts for Shaw Brothers, Leung completed a few more titles for the studio before moving into independent productions like Five Kung Fu Daredevils, The Iron Monkey, Thundering Mantis, and My Life's On The Line, before striking up a solid relationship with the legendary Sammo Hung that kicked off with the fantastic Enter The Fat Dragon, and his solid performance in Warriors Two. With over 150 titles to his name, and no sign of slowing down (thankfully), Leung Kar Yan has gone on to kick-ass in many amazing titles, as well as work behind the camera with directorial efforts such as Profile In Anger, My Hero, Bogus Cops, and even helping out on Tiger Cage 2 and Mr. Nice Guy.

The prolific Phillip Ko stars as Black Eagle, the big baddie of the show that really doesn't get to show his skills until the last 25 minutes (which are also filled with fight action). With a strong 250 titles to his name, many of which he also directed, Ko never failed to impress with his moves and acting – and more so in films of this period and style. It was a crying shame how his career started to crash fast in the mid-1990s, and a major loss when he passed in March of 2017. Veteran actor Wang Hsieh stars as Leung's master, with Wang Chung, Ting Wa Chung, Ching Kuo Chung, and Pang San rounding off things as his friends. Helping Ko in the bad corner is popular villain of that era, Ma Chin Ku, noticeable from a number of classic titles such as One-Armed Boxer Vs. The Flying Guillotine, Militant Eagle, Ninja In The Dragons Den, and A Fistful Of Talons. Ma would also star briefly in No Retreat, No Surrender 2 as well as serve as an assistant fight-choreographer on the Ng See Yuen production.

While it may slip under the radar of many new fans to Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema, Cantonen Iron Kung Fu may not be considered a true classic of the kung-fu world, but it proves to be a well-made movie that most definitely entertains, closing with an amazing final battle between two of the jaded screen's finest cinematic fighters!

Overall: Packed with great kung-fu and a solid cast, Cantonen Iron Kung Fu is worth a watch with a fantastic final showdown between Leung Kar Yan and Phillip Ko!

DVD Extras: Trailers

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CARRY ON PICKPOCKET

(Hong Kong 1982) 

Original Title: Tai Fong Siu Sau

Directed by Sammo Hung Produced by Frankie Chan, Guy Lai Action by Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying, Billy Chan, Sammo Hung Stunt Team Starring: Sammo Hung, Frankie Chan, Deannie Yip, Richard Ng, Pang Sau Ha, Lau Hak Suen, Peter Chan Lung, Dick Wei, Jamie Luk, Nat Chan, Walter Tso, Billy Chan, Wellson Chin, James Tien, Peter Chan, Yuen Biao, Wu Ma Reviewing: Megastar HK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Comedy

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Two down-at-heel petty crooks, nicknamed Rice Barrel (Sammo Hung) and Chimney (Frankie Chan), are students of the Fagin-esque Master Kim. When the pair become involved in the matter of some stolen diamonds, they find themselves trapped between a local gang boss and the police. With no-where to run, Rice Barrel and Chimney must use their wits and physical skills to save the day. (102 Mins)

Views: It's been quite some time since I last sat down to this fantastically fun Sammo Hung flick, but I do remember watching Carry On Pickpocket at least once a week when I first got it. Opening with a brief training scene, although not in the kung-fu sense, we see pickpockets Rice Barrel (Sammo Hung) and Chimney (Frankie Chan) practicing their moves with some impressive slide-of-hand techniques. The pair have been taught under the wing of old master Kim (Lau Hak Suen), and his buxom daughter Ann – played by Didi Pang Sau Ha in her only role before getting hitched to the one-and-only Yuen Biao. The 10-minute mark takes the pair to a nightclub where Sammo, dressed in a shiny-white Mickey Mouse sweater, tries to impress the wonderful Deannie Yip, when she catches his eye – a relationship that would be revisited many years later when they got together again in Owl Vs Bumbo, and once more in Dragons Forever. Getting lost in his words, the burly hero resorts to entertaining her by recreating the classic Charlie Chaplin scene when he makes his bread rolls dance on the end of his forks. It clearly works, and soon the couple are on the dance floor enjoying each other's company. In the same scene, we are treated to a hilarious cameo by the great Chin Yuet Sang – who can't deliver a bowl of soup to Hung's table without spilling it as he keeps breaking into dance. As the beat picks up and Frankie exchanges a few words with some disco thugs, the first fight of the film kicks off allowing both stars to bust some moves – with Sammo impressing with some impactful hits as he helps his brother in trouble!

The action soon starts to flow as a police stakeout in a local shopping mall gets out of hand. This is all thanks to the brilliant and hilarious Richard Ng, a clumsy cop who is under the leadership of the great James Tien. It's a role that mirrors that of his performance in the Lucky Stars films, although on the right side of the law this time and never tires, as he tries to do his job over the course of the story. While Sammo explores his relationship with Yip, he soon finds out that she is actually a cop (or so we are led to believe), and promises to stop his pickpocketing ways in exchange for her love. On the other side of town, Frankie has been summoned by a gang boss who wants him to sell them all the ID cards he steals. Kindly rejecting the offer, Chan attempts to escape in a great moment that sees him end up with the wallets from all the gangsters around him. And although he is quickly caught, it earns him a bit of respect as well as a few extra quid. Coerced into the deal after Master Kim takes a beating, the pair soon find themselves working overtime for the gangsters all while trying to avoid getting caught by nosey cop, Richard Ng who is determined to bring them down. The pair hide the ID cards in amongst some desserts and soon deliver their order to the gang at a rubbish dump. This leads to a brief but impactful fight that gets the team of pickpockets off the hook in working for the gangster...

To celebrate their win, the pair head out for the night where Sammo finds his new love dancing with another man. That man is Chou Meng Sheng, a big-time gangster played by the brilliant Peter Chan Lung. After a hilarious break-up and make-up scene, Yip reveals that she is working on an undercover case that involves some stolen diamonds and asks for Sammo's help in retrieving them – to which he agrees. After tracking down the gangster, they manage to steal the loot in a scene that leaves Sammo and Chan Lung arrested by Ng, with Chan escaping on his motorbike. On returning home, Hung and Chan find their home ransacked, with Chan Lung and his men waiting for them. This kicks off a closing 25 minutes of hard action starting with a neat fight inside their home and followed by a great chase scene. With the diamonds now missing, they soon learn that they were double-crossed by their own master and, along with Ann, conduct a plan to make him talk. It's actually quite a brutal scene that involves her being tossed down an elevator shaft (in front of her father) by a large white man wearing stockings on his head. Only when Kim himself is dangled over the edge, does he opt to reveal where he has hidden the diamonds – with viewers finally being able to let out a sigh of relief as Ann shouts from below, where she lies comfortably in a large net! Delivering the diamonds to inspector Yip, who quickly swaps the box of jewels with a fake set out-of-sight, the trio are set up to make a final deal with the gangsters on a large, old ship off the bay. With only the fake jewels on hand, the three pickpockets soon realise that they are out of options and in a fight for their lives against the formidable Dick Wei, Chan Lung, Jamie Luk, Ka Lee, and others. It's a brutally choreographed and lengthy closing fight that sees blood spray as hatchets are lodged in bodies, and Frankie Chan sticks a long spike in a man's groin. It's an underrated fight scene of Sammo's filmography in many respects and, for me, actually comes across as a much more violent version of the closing warehouse battle in Winners & Sinners. It's also quite a dark finale to an otherwise comedy-based-action film, but something that went on to become a trademark of Hung's future works – as well as a clear inspiration to Frankie Chan who's directorial efforts would often follow the same pattern of comedy and violence.

It goes without saying that a legend such as Sammo Hung, needs no introduction but I must insist that fans of his modern classics check this out if they haven't already done so. Apart from starring in a lead role, the big man also directs the film and helps choreograph the fantastic action scenes. The irrepressible Frankie Chan, of whom I am a big fan (as mentioned in previous reviews), was just hot-off the set of the amazing Prodigal Son where he starred alongside Sammo and Yuen Biao in an impressive role as the antagonist of the story. Although he had been in the industry a good decade beforehand as a successful composer, Frankie made the move to acting in 1980 in the Jackie Chan produced film, Read Lips, an action-comedy directed by Richard Yeung Kuen., After Prodigal Son followed a year later, Frankie would up his game once more by producing, starring, and composing the music in this before going on to direct his first feature, The Perfect Match, the same year. The wonderful Lau Hak Suen plays Master Kim, a Fagin-like character although on a much more comedic level. With a spectacular 530+ titles to his name, Lau would be most recognisable to fans of Hong Kong cinema as Jackie's old Lieutenant in Project A, which would also prove to be his final role before his death at the start of 1983. The rest of the cast is packed with many great names from the aforementioned love-interest of Deannie Yip to the comedy antics of Richard Ng, Carry On Pickpocket is loaded with cameos from all directions with the likes of Nat Chan, Peter Chan, Wu Ma, Walter Tso, Mai Kei, Paul Wong, Johnny Cheung Wa, Billy Chan, Yuen Biao, and many more.

While the fight-action isn't as often as one would hope in Carry On Pickpocket, there's still enough to keep fans happy. Powerful and well-choreographed, this is looked after by Sammo himself, Lam Ching Ying, Billy Chan, and the amazing Yuen Biao – who would also appear as a stuntman and double for many actors throughout, and most notably for Dick Wei's trickier kicks and moves in the end battle. Between them, the choreographers crank things up with some strong martial arts that make an impact. Although most of these are short until the closing fight sequences, each action scene totally delivers as both stars get to show their moves. Of course, being Sammo's show, he certainly gets to shine a bit more than Frankie does – and ultimately, is the better martial artist overall. The final showdown between him and Dick Wei is just brilliant, and why it doesn't come up on more people's radars as one of his finest fight scenes, is beyond me. It was certainly an interesting project for them to follow-up with after the incredible work on Prodigal Son, where both Yuen Biao and Lam Chin Ying were as much the stars as Hung and Chan were – but having their talents behind the camera is just as noticeable, and a welcome addition regardless. I can only wonder, had Jackie Chan not been in the states making Cannonball Run after The Big Brawl, would he possibly have been cast in the character of Chimney instead of Frankie?

Carry On Pickpocket is a lot of fun! It oozes a Winners And Sinners type feel about it (although pre-dating it by a year) and is packed with a great cast, plenty of hilarious moments, and some great fight action. While often missed by later fans of Hung's and Hong Kong cinema respectively, this 1982 production is well worth the watch for many great reasons. Although he had appeared in smaller roles in many modern-day set films before this, such as bit-parts in A Man From Hong Kong, Double Crossers, and Game Of Death, for example, Carry On Pickpocket would be Sammo Hung's first full non-traditional kung-fu production – squeezed in between Prodigal Son, and The Dead & The Deadly. Of course, this would launch a whole new style of film-making for Sammo with the likes of Winners & Sinners, Project A, and Wheels On Meals soon following, with a solid decade of hits from there on in. Here's hoping we get a gorgeously restored Blu-ray release in the near future, that introduces Carry On Pickpocket to a new audience and lets fans see this Sammo Hung classic as it should be!

Overall: A brilliant martial-arts-action-comedy that pre-dates Winners & Sinners by a year and offers just as much entertainment!

DVD Extras: Trailers

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CASINO

(Hong Kong 1998) 

Original Title: Ho Kong Fung Wan

Directed by Billy Tang Produced by Henry Fong Action by Ma Yuk Sing Starring: Simon Yam, Alex Fong, Kent Cheng, Kwok Hoh Ying, Frankie Ng, Moses Chan, Ben Ng, Michael Lam, Raven Choi, John Ching, Ada Choi, Michael Chan Wai Man, Teresa Ha Ping, Henry Fong, Vincent Sze Reviewing: Mei Ah HK DVD Release Genres: Triad / Action / Drama

Rating - 3.3 / 5

DVD Synopsis: It was the summer of 1991, Macau was in violent atmosphere. The two major triad gangs, separately headed by Giant and Bing were fighting for the control of the local casinos, with heavy casualties on both sides. The citizens live in fear. However Bing did not regard Giant as a rival. To establish his own reputation, Giant challenged Bing to an open battle which allowed their fellow attacking each other for a period of seven days to see who will be defeated. With the support of an affiliated gang headed by Lee, Giant won the battle and made his mark in the triad world. Bing plotted a revenge against Giant that he bribed the police officer to put Giant on the wanted list. Although Giant was in a critical condition he planned a counter attack against Bing which caused a series of street fighting in Macau. (92 Mins)

Views: Billy Tang's Casino tells the tale of a gangster called Giant and his rise in the criminal underworld as he enters a turf war with a rival gang over the ownership of Macau's casinos. While it is said that Giant is loosely based on a real-life gang boss who just so happened to fund and produce the production, it's safe to say that viewers may take what they are seeing with a pinch of salt. That said, it still provides for an entertaining watch with plenty of gang fights, gritty violence, and decent performances from all involved. Although stamped with the infamous Cat.3 symbol on the DVD, Casino is a far cry from the other extreme works of Billy Tang such as Run & Kill, Red To Kill, and Brother Of Darkness – to name but a few. Still, the film proves to be stylishly made blending the styles of Ringo Lam and Johnnie To throughout, although without ever bettering their own works respectively. Casino offers up some neat cinematography courtesy of DOP Tony Miu who worked with Tang on a number of his productions as well as films such as Dr. Lamb, The Magic Crane, The Final Judgement, Underground Banker, Eternal Evil Of Asia, and A Chinese Torture Chamber Story, before going on to lens more modern titles like Flash Point, The Warlords, The Monkey King, Naked Soldier, and more. Henry Lai presents a decent score that compliments the mood of the film, and has since made quite the name for himself working on many hits such as Dragon Squad, 14 Blades, Operation Mekong, Beast Stalker, The Stool Pigeon, Dragon Blade, and Time Raiders. While the action involved focuses less on martial arts and more on brutal attacks, it fits the bill and was handled by actor/choreographer Ma Yuk Sing who worked on many great films including Sunshine Cops, Tracing Shadow, Butterfly & Sword, Enter The Phoenix, An Empress & The Warriors, City Under Siege, and Billy Tang's Sharp Guns (which also starred Alex Fong)!

The brilliant Simon Yam Tat Wah leads the way as Giant, the gang boss that tries to keep his cool when other bosses are losing it under pressure. His cocky attitude and good luck make him a target for a lot of his rivals which soon leads to many assassination attempts, but it also allows Yam to toy about with his enemies and look great doing it. Of course, this wouldn't be the first time that one of Simon's films had been slapped with a Cat.3 rating having starred in classics such as Gigolo & Whore 1 & 2, Naked Killer, Friday Gigolo, Raped By An Angel, The Final Judgement, A Day Without Policemen, and Billy Tang's Run & Kill along with co-star Kent Cheng – here, returning to play the role of Inspector To, a cop who forges an understanding with Giant to keep the peace. Both stars do a great job in their roles and clearly share the screen well together, having starred in many films with each other over the years. As one of the hardest working men in show business, Yam's career in the late 90s often saw him dishing out around 5 or 6 titles a year. 1998 saw him star in a host of fun titles including Stephen Tung Wei's Hitman alongside Jet Li, Expect The Unexpected with Lau Ching Wan, Ringo Lam's The Suspect, and Operation Billionaires that saw him play a master criminal involved in a major kidnapping. Kent, on the other hand, had only starred in Mad Stylist the previous year with Casino being his only film role in 98 until he returned to the big screen a few years later to lead the Laurence Ma thriller, Body Puzzle. Both are joined by the great Alex Fong who plays Giant's sidekick and best friend Liu. This would also be a strong year for Fong with no less than 8 titles under his belt after starring in Johnnie To's Lifeline and Teddy Chen's Downtown Torpedoes the year before. From Portland Street Blues to A True Mob Story, and Storm Riders to Cheap Killers, Alex was showing no signs of slowing down even though his career started to look a little shaky just a few years before. Renowned actor/gangster Michael Chan Wai Man appears as the godfather of Macau, while regular Hong Kong film heavies Frankie Ng Chi Hung and John Ching Tung star as Yam's rival gang bosses. The lovely Teresa Ha Ping appears as Giant's mother, and Moses Chan, Michael Lam, and Raven Choi as his henchmen. It's also worth noting that producer Henry Fong Ping cameos as a gambler in 1 or his 7 roles that year. Having made his debut as an actor in the late 1950s, Henry turned to producing almost 3 decades later with The Story Of Hay Bo, which co-starred Alex Fong. From there, he went on to produce many fun titles including the little seen and underrated Jet Li/Chow Sing Chi vehicle Dragon Fight, Sleazy Dizzy, One Nite In Mongkok, 2 Young, Drink Drank Drunk, Heavenly Mission, Overheard, and more...

It's not that Casino is a bad film at all, but it just doesn't offer anything overly exciting to make it another must-see film of Hong Kong cinema. I can only think that Tang possibly wanted to take this down a similar route like Johnnie To's Election series, as it certainly leaves itself open for more stories with its characters, but that wasn't to be the case unfortunately. Regardless, I cannot deny that it is a well made film that kept me entertained for the majority of its running time and would say that it'd be worth the watch at least once.

Overall: While it offers nothing new, Casino still proves to be entertaining with a neat twist, some gritty violence, and decent performances from all involved!

DVD Extras: Trailers

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CASINO RAIDERS

(Hong Kong 1989) 

Original Title: Ho Kong Fung Wan

Directed by Wong Jing, Jimmy Heung Produced by Jimmy Heung, Wallace Cheung Action by Billy Chan, Chin Yuet Sang, King Lee Starring: Andy Lau, Alan Tam, Ida Chan, Rosamund Kwan, Lung Fong, Charles Heung, Hagiwara Kenzo, Kirk Wong, Shum Wai, Eddy Ko, Ronald Wong, Robin Shou, Bruce Fontaine, Wayne Archer, Mike Abbott Reviewing: Vicol Entertainment HK DVD Release Genres: Gambling / Action / Drama

Rating - 3.7 / 5

DVD Synopsis: This is story about the friendship between Asia's King Of Gamblers, Law, and the Magic Hand, Chan. Law meets a girl Tung, who is willing to go straight with her father's help. Meanwhile, Chan tricked the Japanese Yakuza leader a large sum of money and resulted with the death of himself and his lover, Po-po. In order to take revenge, Law finally fights a life and death card game with the Yakuza... (125 Mins)

Views: Crab and Sam are long time friends who both happen to be master gamblers. After his release from, where he was serving time because of a gambling scam, Crab reunites with his old partner to find that he has now become the best gambler in Asia. Regardless, the pair continue their gambling efforts and are soon hired by a casino boss to come to Vegas in a bid to expose some fraudsters. It's a job that soon puts them in the firing line of some feared Yakuza members from Japan, made only more difficult when Sam falls for Tong – the daughter of a Hong Kong socialite, to whom he eventually marries with the promise of going straight. But as Sam plays happy families and climbs the corporate ladder of his father-in-laws business, Crab finds himself getting into more bother as he continues his gambling journey alone – not least when the Yakuza manage to track the pair down for revenge. It all boils down to blackjack and bullets as Sam and Crab fight back to save themselves, as well as the women they love!

While Wong Jing had been entertaining Hong Kong audiences with gambling movies since his directorial debut Challenge Of The Gamesters in 1981, the writer/director/producer/star went onto reinvent it less than a decade later with both Casino Raiders and the cult classic, God Of Gamblers. Although both were made in 1989, it would be this flick that hit the screens first allowing Wong to see what actually worked for his audiences back then, and refining things which possibly helped God Of Gamblers be the more superior film. It's not that Casino Raiders is a bad film by any means, but it maybe just runs a little too long for its own good which sees its first half getting bogged-down by overly dramatic moments and a number of scenes that don't really add to the story. Saying that, the direction is still pretty slick and the film is well-made, with a nice mix of locations including Hong Kong, Lake Tahoe in California, and Tokyo, beautifully captured by DOP Joe Chan who had worked as a cinematographer on King Hu's Raining In The Mountain and Legend Of The Mountain, as well as films such as Esprit D'amour, Aces Go Places 3, Golden Swallow, Crazy Companies, and Jet Li's The Master before going on to shoot Dances With Dragon, Royal Tramp, and Handsome Siblings. He is joined by cinematographer Gigo Lee, a man who similarly worked with Wong Jing and Andy Lau over the years shooting films such as Lee Rock 1 & 2, Fight Back To School 3, Holy Weapon, Crocodile Hunter, Casino Tycoon 1 & 2, City Hunter, and much more. Wong Jing is joined by the popular Heung brothers, with Charles co-starring and Jimmy co-writing, co-producing, and co-directing with him. Of course, the film was made under their own Win's Movie Productions company, with the trio already proving to be a winning team for well over a decade by this stage since Charles played the lead in Wong Jing's first film as writer – The Big Showdown.

The wonderful Andy Lau and Alan Tam lead the way and this, for many, is another one of the downfall's of Casino Raiders. When stood next to a film like God Of Gamblers, it's clear to see that Alan is no Chow Yun Fat – lacking that suave coolness and incredible on-screen charm that the latter so naturally oozes. But I've always enjoyed Alan over the years, from comedy roles in films such as Armour Of God and Esprit D'amour, and hard action roles in The Last Blood, Dragon Family, and Pantyhose Hero – although if I'm to be honest, I'd have preferred to see Andy Lau in his role as Sam and someone like Jacky Cheung in Lau's role as Crab. Regardless, Tam still does a fine enough job right through to the big twist at the end, and returned to star with Lau for the official (although unrelated) sequel No Risk, No Gain the following year. Of course, this wasn't the first time the pair of pop-stars had starred together having appeared in Taylor Wong's underrated Rich & Famous (also with Chow Yun Fat), Lucky Stars Go Places, The Romancing Star 2, and The Dragon Family – going on to share the screen many more times over the years. The gorgeous Andy Lau Tak Wah had been dominating the 80s on the big-screen with over 30 feature film roles by the time Casino Raiders came about, delivering some memorable roles in films such as The Boat People, Shanghai 13, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Magic Crystal, Rich & Famous 1 & 2, As Tears Go By, Bloody Brotherhood, and so much more. As Crab, Lau plays a more mature version of his character (Knife) from God Of Gamblers and while he does return for the unrelated sequels, meets his unfortunate end in the second half of the film – but delivers it in true melodramatic Andy Lau form. 1989 was a shocking year for the actor, having starred in no less than 15 films from Bloody Brotherhood to Proud & Confident, and The First Time Is The Last Time to Stars & Roses, with the following few years seeing him dish out just as many time and time again. The pair are joined by the beautiful Rosamund Kwan and Ida Chan, with the former starring in a throw-away role that sees her play Lau's assistant/girlfriend Bo Bo and Ida starring as Tam's new love, Tong. Kirk Wong, director of Jackie Chan's Crime Story, Gunmen, and Rock N' Roll Cop, stars as an unlikely cop that brings a bit of humour to the show, and the brilliant Eddy Ko appears as a crime boss with a grudge. As mentioned, Charles Heung co-stars – this time as Casino boss Lon who helps his new friends when they get in a spot of bother. It's a little different to his bodyguard role in God Of Gamblers, but it works. In fact, Heung is joined by a host of actors who went on to star in the latter including Jimmy Lee in another evil role, Ronald Wong who cameos as an informer for Andy Lau (a partnership that foreshadows their friendship in GOG perhaps), and Luk Chuen who plays an assistant to Yakuza boss, Mr. Kung. The film also boasts a very multi-cultured cast that sees cameos from westerners such as Mike Abbott, Bruce Fontaine, Wayne Archer, and Louis Roth, along with a host of supporting Hong Kong stars and extras including Shum Wai, Luk Chuen, Wong Chi Keung, Robin Shou, Chin Yuet Sang, Tony Tam, and Lam Kai Wing.

All-in-all, Casino Raiders is a pretty enjoyable flick and is definitely worth the watch – if not for its faster, darker, and more action-packed second half. Wong and Heung do a fine job between them and while it isn't the best of their gambling movies, it's certainly far from the worst. Interestingly enough, this and God Of Gamblers were followed by No Risk, No Gain: Casino Raiders The Sequel just a year later, a film that mentions Chow Yun Fat's character as the God Of Gamblers which kind of sets the Casino Raiders movies in the same world to some degree. But this is a far stretch of course, as the most of the films all share many of the same cast members that play different roles in every film. A third sequel, Casino Raiders 2, would then follow in 1991 – this time directed by Johnnie To!

Overall: While it still has its flaws, Casino Raiders proves to be a highly entertaining flick and a decent warm-up for what was to come with God Of Gamblers!

DVD Extras: Trailer

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CASINO RAIDERS 2

(Hong Kong 1991) 

Original Title: Ji Juen Mo Seung 2: Wing Ba Tin Ha

Directed by Johnnie To Produced by Jimmy Heung Action by Tony Ching Siu Tung Starring: Andy Lau, Dave Wang, Jacklyn Wu Chien Lien, Monica Chan, Kelvin Wong, Anthony Wong, Chan Cheuk Yan, Lau Siu Ming, Lee Siu Kay, Peter Yang Kwan, Tien Feng, Lui Siu Ming, James Ha Reviewing: Vicol Entertainment Hong Kong DVD Release Genres: Gambling / Action / Drama

Rating - 3.7 / 5

DVD Synopsis: A legend was going around that one of the two golden coins given out by God Of Gamblers was in the hand of Old Fan (Lau Siu Ming). Old Fan had 3 followers Tommy, Kit (Wang Jie) and Chicken Wing (Andy Lau), however Old Fan was betrayed by Tommy and Kit was put in jail. Old Fan was forced to commit suicide by Tommy before the day of Kit's release. Though persuaded by Chicken Wing, Kit refused to involve in gambling again. But Tommy kept on harassing them... Kit could no longer refrain from taking revenge. (92 Mins)

Views: With Wong Jing stepping away from this project altogether, no doubt busy with his own run of films including the more successful God Of Gamblers 2 & 3, Tricky Brains, The Last Blood, and more, producer Jimmy Heung handed the reigns over to the wonderful Johnnie To for this oddly named third chapter of the series. Casino Raiders 2 was shot a year after No Risk, No Gain: Casino Raiders The Sequel, although none of them relate to each other in any way except for the title, and tells the story of Chicken Feet – a small-time gambler who has been training under the great Uncle Fan and Kit, his close friend who has just been released from prison. Along with his girlfriend Lin, Chicken Feet helps Fan run a casino from their boat that soon attracts the attention of a couple of crooks in the shape of Pao and Mr. James – the latter of which was an ex-student of Uncle Fan's who holds a hatred towards his old master. The dastardly duo show up on Fan's boat in search of a special piece of jade, said to hold the powers of the God Of Gamblers that will give them the winning hand in any gambling match once in their possession. But as brutal as Pao and Mr. James try to be, Uncle Fan refuses to hand it over and commits suicide before they can stop him. After Chicken Feet and Lin find their masters body, they begin to uncover clues as to where he had hidden the jade. But Pao and Mr. James keep close behind them, and start bringing more pain and torture to the friends and their loved ones, maiming each of them and killing Lin in a brutal attack. Together, Chicken Feet and Kit must take on their nemesis in a deadly game of cards – putting their lives on the line as the ultimate prize!

Much like with the trilogy of A Moment Of Romance movies, director Johnnie To takes the final chapter of Casino Raiders down a much different path than previous offerings. While it may be a bit of a mixed bag at times, To makes it work and presents a dark, yet very enjoyable piece. After he made his directorial debut in 1980 with The Enigmatic Case, Johnnie returned 7 years later with the aptly named Seven Years Itch – a romantic comedy produced by and starring Raymond Wong, although he had been keeping himself busy in between as the 2nd unit director on titles such as It's A Drink! It's A Bomb! as well as Michelle Yeoh's Royal Warriors and Magnificent Warriors, and gained the credit of executive director on Raymond's Happy Ghost 3. Over the next few years To would flit between genres with films such as The Eighth Happiness, The Big Heat, All About Ah Long, and The Royal Scoundrel which also starred Jacklyn Wu Chien Lien. After Casino Raiders 2, Johnnie To would go on to direct a host of very memorable titles including Chow Sing Chi's Justice My Foot and The Mad Monk, the wonderful action-fantasy Heroic Trio and its sequel Executioners, Aaron Kwok's stunning Bare-Footed Kid and much more including the firefighter drama Lifeline, which is when I believe To started to reinvent himself as a director. From there, To would deliver some of his most talked about titles such as A Hero Never Dies, The Mission, Running Out Of Time, and plenty of other crime-drama's through the turn-of-the-century (as well as continuing to direct a wide range of romantic comedies in-between). Prior to Casino Raiders 2, I'd say that The Big Heat was definitely his darkest film to date – although co-directed with Andrew Kam – but he definitely takes things to another level here. In fact, it would be fair to say that there are plenty of emotional moments in Casino Raiders 2 when compared to the other two films in the series. The brutal attack on Lin is an example of one such scene that sees her pushed into the waters of a fish farm, and pushed down with poles by the gangsters who continue to beat her around the head and face until she drowns! It's a heavy scene that's made even more dramatic when Chicken Feet violently tries to revive her – beating on her chest as the dock explodes behind them (and all in glorious slow-motion). Another is when Kit finds his daughter (Yan) chained up like a dog at his cousins, mentally distraught and filthy since she was abandoned by her mother who is now partnered with Kit's enemy Pao. Yan is played with conviction by Chan Cheuk Yan, a child actress who starred in 13 films over 5 years from Bless This House and Yuen Biao's On The Run, to Wild Search and The Killers Blues. She was also the poor child who was dangled from the car by her ponytail in Moon Lee's Fatal Termination, which was one hell of a stunt for such a young child. As always though, Chan proves to be an incredible little actress and does a great job here in her role, going on to work with Johnnie To a couple of years later as the young Anita Mui in Heroic Trio.

The same can be said for superstar Andy Lau who gives a dramatic performance as Chicken Feet, the hero of the tale that stands up for his friends and loses the love of his life which pushes him over the edge. While he provides a lot less humour than he does in the previous chapters, I was very happy to watch the lengthy scene of Andy Lau parading about in the rain at night while wearing nothing but a pair of briefs. It was definitely one of my favourite scenes of the film thanks to his fantastic ass. As per usual around this period, Lau's role here was only 1 of 13 that he would star in that year as well as Tricky Brains, The Last Blood, The Tigers, Zodiac Killers, Saviour Of The Soul, and more. He is joined, once again, by Jacklyn Wu Chien Lien who plays Lin – the feisty other half of their abusive relationship. Wu made her feature film debut only a year before in the Johnnie To produced, Benny Chan directed classic A Moment Of Romance alongside Andy Lau – a role she would repeat for two sequels as well as starring in films such as The Bare-Footed Kid, Treasure Hunt, To Live And Die In Tsim Sha Tsui, Eat Man Drink Woman, God Of Gamblers Returns, Peace Hotel, and again with Andy Lau in Ringo Lam's hugely underrated The Adventurers. Given the fact that she only starred in To's comedy The Royal Scoundrel between her debut and this, I was pretty impressed with Wu's performance as Lin and genuinely did feel for her in with the amount of abuse she had to put up with. In a role possibly written for Alan Tam's return to the series, Kit is played by Dave Wong Kit – a star who began as a child actor, most noticeably for his role as the young Wen Ding in Lau Kar Leung's classic Executioners From Shaolin. After a role in Soul Of The Sword in 1978, Wong stepped out of the film world for a good decade before returning to star in Tian Cia Xiao Bing and Sea Wolves 1 & 2 for Kevin Chu Yen Ping, before landing his role in Casino Raiders 2. Impressing in the role of Kit, Wong next led the way in Blacky Ko's Invincible before going on to star in films such as The Legend Of The Flying Swordsman, A War Named Desire, Heat Team, and Jackie Chan's New Police Story. The delightful Anthony Wong returns after his twisted role in No Risk, No Gain for another villainous stint as Pao, and the late Kelvin Wong stars as Mr. James – the main antagonist of the film. Having made his debut in Peter Wang's 1986 film A Great Wall, Kelvin went onto make some memorable performances in films such as Runaway Blues, Triads The Inside Story, Police Story 3: Supercop, Moon Warriors, Lord Of The East China Sea 1 & 2, High Risk, and more before retiring from the scene in the mid 90s – eventually passing in 2004. Prolific actor Lau Siu Ming stars as Uncle Fan, along with appearances from stars such as Peter Yang Kwan, Tien Feng, Lee Siu Kay, Lau Kong, and Wong Yat Fei...

While I enjoyed what Billy Chan and company offered-up in the original Casino Raiders, and more-so what Paul Wong delivered in No Risk, No Gain, I have to say that the action here in this third chapter is probably the best of the bunch. That's down to talents of the wonderful Tony Ching Siu Tung – already a highly praised actor in his own right by this stage of his career, as well as an incredible kung-fu actor and sought-after choreographer. Of course, it would be the latter that he would be hired for here delivering some violent moments throughout, with some madcap action that left my mouth hanging open. While he never really focuses on the martial arts as such, Ching brings a grittiness to the film as well as a host of stunts that definitely impressed. The great Horace Wong delivers the gorgeous cinematography on offer and was responsible for doing the same on films such as the A Better Tomorrow Trilogy, Hard Boiled, The Bare-Footed Kid, Peace Hotel, Accidental Spy, Reign Of Assassins, Kung Fu Jungle, Bullet In The Head, and much more, with Wiiliam Wu handling the score and Andy Lau providing some of the great soundtrack available. All-in-all, Casino Raiders 2 is definitely worth checking out and offers some great moments – it just should have been made as it's own stand-alone movie!

Overall: A much more stylish and dramatic entry to the series, Casino Raiders 2 is well worth the watch and very entertaining!

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CASINO TYCOON

(Hong Kong 1992) 

Original Title: Do Sing Dai Hang San Goh Chuen Kei

Directed by Wong Jing Produced by Wong Jing Action by Yuen Bun, Wong Chi Ming Starring: Andy Lau, Chingmy Yau, Joey Wong, Alex Man, Wilson Lam, Paul Chun, Kwan Hoi San, Lau Siu Ming, Maria Tung, Wong Yat Fei Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Gambling / Drama / Action

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: Mega star actor Andy Lau (Infernal Affairs / A Moment Of Romance) teamed up with his God Of Gamblers muse – director Wong Jing for another classic tale of casino corruption and money making ambition in colonial Macau with 1992's Casino Tycoon. An instant hit in its native Hong Kong, this slick and suave period thriller, set during World War 2, is a tense adventure into the shady Macanese underworld and should appeal to any buff of the golden age of Cantonese crime shockers! Also starring the stunning Hong Kong cinema legend Chingmy Yau – who became an overnight sensation in the West thanks to 1992's torrid actioner Naked Killer – Casino Tycoon is another ace in the sleeve of 88 Films' ever expanding and acclaimed Asian cinema collection! (133 Mins)

 

Views: Inspired by the life stories of Hong Kong/Macau business tycoons Stanley Ho, Henry Fok, and Yip Hon, Casino Tycoon tells the tale of a young graduate called Benny who flees Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion of World War II, and settles down in the gambling haven of Macau. Starting his new life as a lowly coolie, Benny soon wins the attention of a local business man and is taken under his wing where he slowly climbs the ranks. Although Benny quickly learns that his new employer has a place in Macau's criminal underworld, he starts to climb the ranks – competing in life and business with his newfound enemies and college rival – but soon finds that his success comes at a great cost!

 

As a director, the ever-prolific Wong Jing had already delivered a strong 30 titles by the time Casino Tycoon came about; from his debut in 1981 with Challenge Of The Gamesters, the portly and multi-talented filmmaker has been behind some of Hong Kong's most exciting films – many of which starred the handsome and wonderful Andy Lau. These include the brilliant Magic Crystal, The Romancing Star 2, Crazy Companies 1 & 2, Casino Raiders, Crocodile Hunter, God Of Gamblers, Tricky Brains, The Last Blood, and Dances With Dragon to name but a few. Wong kept himself busy in 1992 directing Casino Tycoon and its sequel, comedy Truant Hero, and Chow Sing Chi's utterly-wild Royal Tramp 1 & 2. The same year saw him also write the screenplays for Wizard's Curse, She Starts The Fire, and the infamous Naked Killer – most of which he also produced along with Deadly Dream Women and To Miss With Love for director Kevin Chu Yen Ping. I've long championed the works of Wong Jing and, as a filmmaker myself, have always been inspired by the energy and delivery of content by the man. Obviously, not all of his titles are perfect – but you're undoubtedly guaranteed one or two memorable moments in his films. With Casino Tycoon, Wong continues his love for the gambling genre, although plays it pretty safe this time by focusing on the story-driven drama without ever getting carried away with wacky comedy or over-the-top action...

 

A decade after Andy Lau bounced into the film industry with Once Upon A Rainbow and Ann Hui's Boat People, the actor/pop-star/entertainer had starred in well over 60 films – many of which were box-office gold from Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars to As Tears Go By, and A Moment Of Romance to Saviour Of The Soul among many, many others. It looked like there was no stopping this superstar (who is still going as strong today of course), and 1992 proved to be yet another busy year for him with a total of 12 films on the go – similar to the few years before that which saw Lau star in 10 in 1988, 15 in 1989, 12 in 1990, and 13 in 1991. Thankfully, the man seemed to have seen sense soon after, slowing things down quite a bit and starring in only 3 or 4 per year from there on in. In Casino Tycoon, Lau plays Benny Ho – a character loosely based on the aforementioned businessman Stanley Ho; a billionaire who owned almost 20 casinos in Macau until his passing in 2020 at the ripe old age of 98. As always, Andy Lau does a stellar job in his role and impresses once again as Benny Ho, delivering a decent mix of drama, comedy and action in the role. The beautiful Chingmy Yau stars as Lau's wife, Mei – a character based on Stanley Ho's much loved first wife, Clementina Leitao, who was also known as 'the most beautiful woman in Macau'. Popular with fans of Hong Kong cinema for her role in the awesome Naked Killer, Yau gained as much a name for herself as the girlfriend of Wong Jing who helped launch her film career which started with his comedy The Crazy Companies and its sequel. From there, Chingmy starred in a host of fun titles including They Came To Rob Hong Kong, Ghost Busting, My Neighbours Are Phantoms, Tricky Brains, and Lee Rock 1 & 2 – many of which were alongside her co-star Andy Lau. Much like Lau, Chingmy was kept busy in 1992 and starred in 8 Wong Jing films that year, with the aforementioned Naked Killer boosting her popularity and pushing her forward as an action starlet. This led to more exciting action-roles in (Wong Jing) films such as City Hunter, Future Cops, Kung Fu Cult Master, New Legend Of Shaolin, God Of Gamblers Returns, High Risk, and more until she retired from the industry a decade later after marrying fashion designer, Sham Kar Wai – soon becoming a mother to three daughters. As Mei, Chingmy does a stellar job in delivering the drama and cuteness in what would be, one of her more subdued roles of the year.

 

Alex Man stars as Kwok Ying Nam, a comic-relief character based on Hong Kong businessman Henry Fok and best friend of Lau's character 'Benny Ho'. This would be one of his few roles that year alongside Casino Tycoon 2, The Thief Of Time, The Mighty Gambler, as well as the totally bonkers Super Lady Cop with Cynthia Khan. I've long been a huge fan of Alex Man Chi Leung's, from his early appearances in Shaw Brothers flicks such as Buddha's Palm, Bastard Swordsman and its sequel, Journey Of The Doomed and modern hits like Brotherhood, Long Arm Of The Law 2, Devil Hunters, and so much more. Over the years, Man had shared the screen with Andy Lau a number times in films such as Rich & Famous, Tragic Hero, As Tears Go By, Crocodile Hunter, China White, Gangland Odyssey, and others. As Kwok, Alex does a great job as Lau's best friend – often bringing While he would disappear from the film industry around the turn-of-the-century, Alex would make his return almost a decade later in films such as The Jade & The Pearl and Bruce Lee, My Brother – and has continued to act in Hong Kong features till this day. And the ever-popular Joey Wong plays Vivian, Andy Lau's college sweetheart in Hong Kong – later showing up as the wife of his long-time rival Fu Chia Chin, played by Wilson Lam (who I've never really been a huge fan of). With over 50 films behind her by the time she starred in Casino Tycoon, from Where's Officer Tuba to A Chinese Ghost Story and The Legend Of Wisely to God Of Gamblers, Wong had proven herself time and time again to be a favourite of the Hong Kong audience. Much like her other co-stars, Joey starred alongside Andy in a host of titles over the years with Casino Tycoon (and a cameo in part 2) and The Prince Of Temple Street being their last projects together. To be honest, she doesn't really offer too much here which allows Chingmy Yau to shine as the leading lady of the show without ever being over-shadowed by Joey's popularity. The rest of the cast is filled out with plenty of stars such as David Chiang and Derek Yee's half-brother Paul Chun who stars as a double-crossing gangster to Boss Cha; who is played by prolific actor Kwan Hoi San. This was a great role for Chun, allowing him to deliver a sleazy performance as one of the main villains of the piece. Lau Siu Ming appears as the boss of a gambling den and aid to Benny Ho, and Lucky Stars Go Places actress Maria Tung Ling stars as Mei's wicked sister, Lucita – a hateful bitch who is so jealous of Benny's infatuation of Mei, she attempts to have her sister raped and killed as she watches!

 

Running for over 2 hours in length and delivered with a soft-dreamy filter, Casino Tycoon may have its flaws but it still proves to be a highly entertaining dramatic-thriller – typically blending drama, comedy and action in a way that may seem uneven to those not used to watching Hong Kong cinema. While it was made under the Shaw Brothers banner, there isn't too much obvious influence from the studio who were more focused on their television projects during this era; producing only a handful of productions throughout the 90s including Chow Sing Chi's hilarious Look Out, Officer! and Yuen Biao's underrated Hero (also released on the 88 Films label). Martial arts directors Yuen Bun and Wong Chi Ming handle the films action sequences, from gang battles to gunfights and the odd one-on-one scuffle, they're hardly anything to write home about – although still entertain. And while the film isn't as energetic as most other Wong Jing & Andy Lau projects, it definitely makes for a good watch and entertains for the most part. Of course, the majority of those involved would return for Casino Tycoon 2 which was shot back-to-back, and released later the same year!

 

Overall: Neatly shot and nicely acted, Casino Tycoon is worth the watch and entertains!

 

Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary by Bey Logan

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CASSHERN

(Japan 2004) 

Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya Produced by Hideji Miyajima, Toshiharu Ozawa, Toshiaki Wakabayashi Action by Yuta Morokaji, Shinji Higuchi Starring: Yusuke Iseya, Kumiko Aso, Toshiaki Karasawa, Mayumi Sada, Jun Kaname,Susumu Terajima, Akira Terao, Tatsuya Mihashi, Hidetoshi Nishijima Reviewing: Momentum Asia UK Steelbook DVD Release Genres: Sci-fi / Action / Live-action Anime

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: It is late in the 21st Century. After 50 years of devastating war between Europa and the Eastern Federation, the latter has emerged victorious, and the new federation of Eurasia is formed. There can be no glorious peace, however, as the planet has been ravaged by chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons and the the entire human race is dispirited and exhausted by half a century of war. The only hope for long term survival lies with geneticist Dr. Azuma and his breakthrough 'neo-cell' treatment that can rejuvenate the body and could regenerate humankind. But when his experiments go wrong, a race of mutant androids is unleashed and only Azuma's dead son, reincarnated as the legendary hero Casshern, has the power to lead the war against the super robots. (142 Mins)

 

Views: Based on the 1973 anime of the same name, Casshern is set after a fifty-year war between Europa and the Eastern Federation comes to a close; with the latter taking control of the continent of Eurasia. As the war was coming to an end, skilled geneticist Dr. Azuma saw success with his neo-cell experiments, creating a treatment that could regenerate the full body of any human. After bringing his son back from the brink of death, Dr. Azuma's experiments start taking a turn for the worst and see the rise of an army of mutant androids that are intent on wreaking havoc across the country. Only his son, who moonlights as the superhero known as Casshern, has the power to bring them down – along with the army of deadly super-robots that are destroying everything in their path! Based on the1973 anime of the same name, the stunning live-action adaptation of Casshern was only one of a few films of its time – along with Hollywood films Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow and Sin City – that was produced entirely on a green-screen set. Thankfully, it keeps the anime feel throughout with its camera techniques and comic-book angles, speed lines, slick direction, and visually stunning backgrounds!

 

The handsome Yusuke Iseya stars as the titular hero, and does a great job delivering some strong melodramatic moments as well as looking great while in action. After starting his career in 1998's After Life, Iseya starred in films such as Distance and Dead End Run before landing the role here in Casshern. Since then, he has went on to star in a host of great movies including Memories Of Matsuko, Sukiyaki Western Django, 13 Assassins, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond Is Unbreakable Chapter 1, and a few of the Rurouni Kenshin films. Singer, musician and actor Akira Terao stars as hi father, Professor Kotaro Azuma, with Kanako Higuchi playing his unfortunate wife and mother to the hero. Interestingly enough, Kanako would also provide the voice of Tilda Swinton's character, The Ancient One, in the Japanese dub of both Doctor Strange and Avengers: Endgame. Prolific actor Toshiaki Karasawa leaves quite the impression as Burai, the leader of the reborn android army with the beautiful Kumiko Aso – who also starred in Ring 0, Red Shadow, Pulse, Samurai Resurrection, and Zebraman – starring as Casshern's love interest. The extremely handsome Jun Kaname, popular actor of the television and movie world, stars as the troublesome and determined Barashin – going on to star in director Kazuaki's follow up FX hit, Goemon in 2009. Having made quite the impression with his debut as the Kamen Rider in the 2001 television series and films, Jun went on to star in films such as Parallel, the live-action adaptation of Blood: The Last Vampire, and the epic historical action-fantasy Kingdom – which was yet another adaptation of a popular manga...

 

The film is directed by Kazuaki Kiriya, a photographer and designer-turned music video director, who made his feature film debut with Casshern – and what a hell of a debut it was! While the film does have it's flaws, there's no denying the massive under-taking of such a project with Kazuaki doing an amazing job for his first feature (also working as the director of photography), refusing to walk before he can run and going all-out. It would be a good five years though, before he would return with his second movie project – the gorgeous historical fantasy, Goemon. As with Casshern, this was also shot on a digital backlot and proved to be just as entertaining (if not more so) than this. To date, Kazuaki has still only made 3 features with his latest also being his Hollywood debut that saw him bag the legendary Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen for Last Knights. While the film received a limited release and very mixed reviews, Kazuaki's Westernised adaptation of the 47 ronin still has its moments. While there are really only 3 major action sequences in Casshern, courtesy of Shinji Higuchi and Yuta Morokaji, they are all incredibly spectacular and definitely one of the biggest draws of the movie. Working as the action director on hit films such as Red Shadow, When The Last Sword Is Drawn, Battle Royale 2, and Azumi, Yuta mixes blistering swordplay with fast hand-to-hand combat, with Casshern taking on armies of giant robots (in one of the greatest superhero sequences ever filmed), android soldiers with super-strength and more. Legendary anime director and the man behind the helm of films such as The Sinking Of Japan, The Last Princess, Shin Godzilla, and the two live-action adaptations of Attack On Titan, Shinji Higuchi, lends his talents as the 'action scenes supervisor' which were more than likely used for the more anime-inspired moments on show. While there certainly wasn't enough action going on in the grand scheme of things, viewers will still get a massive kick from what's on offer and no doubt be reaching for the rewind button once their eyes have managed to keep up.

 

I think it's safe to say that the epic sci-fi adventure of Casshern is not for everyone. With its sprawling and long-drawn story, heavy melodramatics, and lengthy running time, you really need to be a fan of the original source material, anime, or epic sci-fi movies to make it through this – although it does offer up many questions that would make the majority of the human race really step back and think about! With more melodrama and flashbacks than your average Japanese animated show, Casshern offers a gorgeously haunting score as well as a sumptuous collection of visuals which are delivered in many ways, blending heavy CGI with slick animations, with an array of bold colours that burst after minutes of black and white, and explosive action that is further enhanced by speed lines and fast edits. It can all be a bit much for the untrained eye, and while some scenes haven't aged too well (and come across like a late 90s computer game), the majority of Casshern still manages to impress to some degree and is definitely worth watching!

 

Overall: Long-winded at times but visually enthralling, Casshern is a hugely impressive film for many reasons and leaves an impression!

 

DVD Extras: Deleted Scenes with Optional (Subtitled) Directors Audio Commentary, 13 Minutes of Extra Footage with Optional (Subtitled) Directors Audio Commentary, Cast & Crew Interviews, Trailers

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CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS

(Hong Kong 1976) 

Original Title: Liu A-Cai Yu Huang Fei-Hong

Directed by Lau Kar Leung Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Lau Kar Leung Starring: Chen Kuan Tai, Gordon Liu, Chiang Yang, Lau Kar Leung, Lau Kar Wing, Lily Lee, Ricky Hui, Cheng Kang Yeh, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak On, Wong Yu, Wilson Tong, Shih Chung Tien, Shum Lo Reviewing: Arrow Video UK Shaw Scope Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy

Rating - 3.7 / 5

Arrow Video Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): The streets of Guangdong are being decorated for a fire-cracker competition, the highlight of a traditional festival, which calls for the demonstration of kung-fu techniques. Wong Fei Hung, the 17 year old son of famous kung-fu master Wong Kei Ying, is frustrated because his father won't teach him martial arts. Constable Yuan Zheng, also a kung-fu master, comes to Lu A Cai, Wong Kei Ying's master, in search of a robber, Zhen Er Hu. Seeing Fei Hung before his residence , Yuan is much impressed by the young man and recommends Lu to teach him kung-fu. In spite of his friends advice that he is not ready, Fei Hung joins the fire-cracker contest. Being nimble, he succeeds in grabbing a cracker, but can't get away with it when surrounded and fought by the disciples of Peng Yu Gang, another kung-fu master. Finally, he is rescued by his friend Lin Jiang, who is badly injured while doing so. Despite his performance in the contest, Lu sees Fei Hung's potential and decides to adopt him as his disciple, taking him to the countryside for training. Meanwhile, Yuan Zheng spots Zhen Er Hu in a teahouse and accepts his challenge to a duel. During the match, Yuan is killed by Zhen's hidden weapon. After completing his training, Fei Hung challenges Zhen Er Hu to a duel, and beats him after a vicious fight. The robber is then handed over to the police. In another cracker competition, Peng arms his men with secret weapons to counter Fei Hung's contestants. But Fei-Hung and his comrades win an overwhelming victory, in spite of stiff resistance from Peng's men. In an ensuing fight, Fei Hung knocks down the ringleader of his rival team, but bearing in mind his masters teaching of winning an opponent's heart, he spares his life. Deeply moved, Peng repents over his misbehaviour and openly apologizes to Fei Hung's father. (97 Mins)

DVD Synopsis: Wong Fei Hung (Gordon Liu, THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN) tries to gain entry into his father's martial arts school, but is deemed too immature to handle it. Eventually, a revered master (Chen Kuan Tai, HEROES TWO) agrees to train him. After hearing of a friend's murder, Fei Hung kicks his training into high gear in order to take on the killer (director Liu Chia Liang, DRUNKEN MASTER 2). Along with director Liu's extraordinary choreography, CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS boasts a moral depth rarely seen in kung fu movies of the time. Fei Hung takes both a physical and spiritual journey, finding strength, maturity and even compassion on his path to vengeance. (96 Mins)

Views: Prolific writer Ni Kuang, who had already written well over 100 movies for Shaw Brothers since his debut with the classic One-Armed Swordsman, pens the second film for Lau Kar Leung after his directorial debut, Spiritual Boxer. Due to the success of that film and thanks to many years of dedication to the studio, Sir Run Run Shaw gave Kar Leung a little more freedom for his next project (and seemingly from there on in) which is quite evident when watching Challenge Of The Masters. Having been under the constraints of powerhouse director Chang Cheh for many years, you can almost feel the relief on-screen with what Lau delivers – even though he had already made an impression as the co-director of Breakout From Oppression as well as the aforementioned Spiritual Boxer. It's as if Lau had been waiting for his time as a director to unleash so many big ideas and only went from strength to strength from here on in, with Executioners From Shaolin following the year after, before he knocked things up a gear with no less than 3 directed features in 1978 and a further 3 in 1979 – all of which were massive hits for him. By the mid-80s though, the love for traditional kung-fu movies was fading and after directing Jet Li in Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts Of Shaolin, Lau turned his talents to more modern action flicks such as Tiger On The Beat 1 & 2, and Aces Go Places 5 as well as working as the action-director on films such as The Dragon Family, The Barefooted Kid, Evil Cat, Operation Scorpio/The Scorpion King, and New Kids In Town with Moon Lee. Lau's return to kung fu would come courtesy of Jackie Chan's fantastic Drunken Master 2, but when things didn't go so well on that project – with creative differences cited as the reason for his departure – Lau set out to make his own sequel of the tale, released as Drunken Master 3 (and a pretty unofficial entry in regards to Jackie Chan's titles). Although it had some star power with Andy Lau, Simon Yam, Gordon Liu, Adam Cheng, and Lau himself, Drunken Master 3 was somewhat of a rushed mess – panned by critics and fans alike, and was most likely the main reason as to why Lau Kar Leung stepped down as a director for almost another decade. In 2003, he bounced back with the fun Drunken Monkey, the film that helped launch Wu Jing's career, before going-on to star in and work the action-choreography for Tsui Hark's underrated Seven Swords. Lau pretty much retired from the industry soon after and passed in 2013 due to cancer, leaving behind a solid piece of cinema history by starring in over 200 features, directing 25, and lending his martial arts talents to just as many as a choreographer...

In Challenge Of The Masters, Lau tells the tale of a young Wong Fei Hung – a character more often-than-not, portrayed by an older actor such as Kwan Tak Hing or even Ku Feng, who played the him in The Master Of Kung Fu just a few years earlier. The teenage Wong wants nothing more than to learn kung-fu and be accepted by his brothers, although is constantly pressured by the refusal of his father and mocking of those around him. After showing his determination in the town fire-cracker contest, Wong catches the eye of Officer Yuan Ching – a law man who is in search of kung-fu killer and robber Ho Fu, who is in hiding with Master Pang and his school of bullies. Yuan introduces Wong to Master Lu, who has a history with Wong's father, and convinces him to take on the young man as a new pupil. That same night, Officer Yuan faces-off against Ho in a deadly duel that sees him killed when the villain uses a secret weapon. It doesn't take long for Wong Fei Hung to learn of his new friends murder, and quickly finds the inspiration needed to take his kung-fu training seriously so that he can take revenge. But when that time comes about, Wong surprises his enemy with a new level of maturity – offering compassion after displaying his physical skills, and making new friends of old enemies!

While Challenge Of The Masters may not be bursting at the seams with fight scenes, there are plenty of sparring sequences and kung-fu training to keep viewers happy, not to mention a couple of energetic sporting events such as the 'grabbing of the fire-cracker' akin to the gaming moments in Jackie Chan's Dragon Lord (which were much more exciting in my opinion). With Lau Kar Leung (and Kar Wing) handling the fight choreography, the film boasts two serious fights such as the grand finale that sees Gordon Liu take-on Lau Kar Leung, and the exciting battle between the latter and his younger brother (Lau Kar Wing) which stands as one of my favourite fight scenes of any Lau Kar Leung film. Armed with his broad-sword, Kar Wing faces-off against Kar Leung and his deadly spear – as well as some steel toe-caps on the tips of his boots – in a blisteringly fast and beautifully executed piece of choreography that would rival the final battle of most kung-fu movies that came before it. I'd actually like to think that this was the scene that possibly inspired Lau Kar Wing to direct the wonderful Odd Couple, where he starred alongside Sammo Hung with each using the spear and broad-sword during their battles. The final stand-off between Liu and Lau in the forest, while still great, isn't quite as exciting as the one between the brothers and lasts with Wong showing compassion to his enemy after destroying his leg. It reminded me of the moment when Jet Li's Wong Fei Hung took pity on Hung Yan Yan's Clubfoot character in Once Upon A Time In China 3 – and may have a similar connection, even though each character is named differently. I found it interesting that Lau decided to end Challenge Of The Masters on a rematch of the fire-cracker championships, in a lengthy scene that sees his team make amends with Master Pang's lot, complete with a lesson in good morals and the house of Wong winning over his students. While the ending is nice and finishes it well, I probably would have shifted the forest fight with Lau after the game myself – then ending on the lesson in Wong's home.

It's safe to say that Lau manages to pull together an amazing cast for his second film – although that statement possibly sits stronger today than in 1976, since we now appreciate the talent and successes of those involved more-so. Aside from the aforementioned Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing co-starring, Challenges Of The Masters would be the first film to star Gordon Liu in a leading role – and that of the young Wong Fei Hung. Over the 3 years prior, Liu starred as an extra or bit-player in films such as The Hero Of Chiu Chow, Breakout From Oppression (of which he also co-directed), Shaolin Martial Arts, Five Shaolin Masters, The Monk, Marco Polo, Boxer Rebellion, and Seven Man Army. The wonderful Chen Kuan Tai, who had been acting since 1969, ages-up for his role as kung-fu master Lu Ah Tsai and does a great job in doing so. Chen starred in over 40 titles by this stage and made quite the impact with titles such as The Boxer From Shantung, The Water Margin, Four Riders, Heroes Two, The Tea House, The Flying Guillotine, and so much more. Prolific actor Chiang Yang stars as Fei Hung's father, Wong Kay Ying, and kung-fu starlet Lily Lee stars as one of the very few matriarchal characters of the story. Having first made her debut with the Shaw Brothers studio in The Last Woman Of Shang over a decade before, Lee quickly became a popular Hong Kong actress who shared the screen with some of her co-stars in many titles and made quite the impression as a kung-fu performer. Popular actor Cheng Kang Yeh joins the fight for good, as does a young Ricky Hui, and the talented Wong Yu – returning to work with Lau Kar Leung after the hugely successful Spiritual Boxer (although this time playing more of a co-starring role). Aside from the director playing the role of the villain, the rest of the bad guys (as such) are played by the brilliant Fung Hak On, Chiang Tao (Kong Do), and Shih Chung Tien who stars as Master Pang. While Wilson Tong and Eric Tsang also appearances, eagle-eyed viewers can also keep an eye out for future stars like Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying, Peter Chan, Billy Chan, Chin Yuet Sang, Danny Chow, Huang Hua, Mang Hoi, Hsiao Hou, and others...

There's no doubt that Challenge Of The Masters was a very personal project for the Lau brothers, given that both of them were descendants of the real Wong Fei Hung. Of course, I mean in the sense of kung-fu students with the infamous Master Wong teaching butcher Lam Sai Wing - as made famous by Yuen Woo Ping and Sammo Hung in The Magnificent Butcher. Wing went on to teach Lau Jan, father and master to his sons Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing, thus closing the connection from elder master to students. From its fantastic choreography to its strong morals and fresh approach, Challenge Of The Masters may not be perfect, but it still entertains and shifts the Shaw Brothers studios (of the late 70s) into a whole new direction. Released on Blu-ray as part of the extensive Shaw Scope Vol.1 box set from Arrow Video!

Overall: While not the greatest title of Lau Kar Leung's filmography, Challenge Of The Masters still entertains on many levels!

Arrow Video Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Tony Rayns on Lau Kar Leung, Interview with Gordon Liu and Chen Kuan Tai, Textless Opening, Trailers, Image Gallery

DVD Extras: Interview with Chen Kuan Tai, Photo Gallery, Textless Opening, Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

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CHINATOWN KID

(Hong Kong 1977) 

Original Title: Tang Ren Jie Xiao Zi

Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Lee Ka Ting, Robert Tai Starring: Alexander Fu Sheng, Sun Chien, Philip Kwok, Lo Meng, Jenny Tseng, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Tsai Hung, Chiang Sheng, Dick Wei, Robert Tai, Lu Feng, Kara Hui, Lee Ka Ting, Jamie Luk, Susan Shaw Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): Tam Tung, who had escaped to Hong Kong from Mainland China at the age of 18 or 19, helps his grandfather to run the orange-squash stall. One day, a triad called Tsui Ho and some friends of his, discover that Tam is a skilful martial artist, and so Tsui Ho challenges Tam to a kung fu contest. Tam accepts the challenge and wins, and Tsui's wife then asks Tam to rescue her cousin from the triad members' custody, promising to give him a quartz digital watch as a reward. Tam risks his life to rescue the girl from the rogues, but this incident leads to ill-feeling between Tsui Ho and Tam Tung, which culminates in a fight during which Tsui is injured at Tam's hands. Tam arranges to stow away on a ship bound for San Francisco, USA. Once there, Tam gets a job in Chan Fu's restaurant in Chinatown, San Francisco, where he meets a young fellow worker, Yang Jianwen, from Taiwan. Yang, a hard-working student, who earns his pocket money in his leisure by waiting on tables, is also a skilled martial artist like Tam. The Green Tigers Club, led by Wong Fu, rivals with the White Dragon Club, led by Siu Bak Lung, for control of a Chinatown extortion racket; both leaders are martial artists and immigrants from Hong Kong. Soon, Tsui Ho comes to San Francisco, where he conveys a secret message from his boss to Wong, urging him to expand his influence quickly in order to control the whole Chinatown area. One day, Tam thrashes several gangsters from the Green Tiger Club. This incident delights Siu Bak Lung, who later learns many things about Tam from his mistress. Later, Tam is sacked by his employer for having gone to the defence of Yang against threatening triad members of the Green Dragon Club. Siu Bak Lung then tries to win over the unemployed Tam by giving him food and shelter. A fierce battle breaks out between the Green Tiger Club and the White Dragon Club, resulting in the defeat of the Green Tigers and the death of Tsui Ho at the hands of Tam. After this victory, Tam lives in style in the company of sexy Sinwa, who was Wong's former mistress. Before long, Yang is shocked by the death of Tam, following a police raid on the Chinatown triad societies. (115 Mins) (Alternate 90 Mins)

Warner Home Video UK VHS Synopsis: In this frenetic kung fu feast we follow the misfortunes of Tan Tung, a young martial arts expert. From Hong Kong to San Francisco Tan risks his life fighting against the corruption of the infamous deadly triads. When the triads try to expand their operations in San Francisco Tan becomes involved in a vicious gang war between the Green Tigers and the White Dragons- a fight that can only end one way... (108 Mins)

Views: After getting into trouble with some local gangsters led by Tsui Ho, Tam Tung flees Hong Kong for San Francisco where he finds work in a restaurant and meets a new friend in Yang Jianwen – a student and taekwondo expert. Soon after, Tam finds himself in the middle of a turf war between two warring Chinatown gangs and is forced to pick a side. This new friendship drags him further into the underground, but at the same time, edges him away from the restaurant and Yang. Enticed by the riches he had always dreamed off, and quickly climbing the ranks, Tam soon has enough money to buy whatever he wants and send some back to his grandfather back home. When Tsui Ho and his gangsters arrive in San Fran's Chinatown a few weeks later, Fu Sheng finds himself in trouble once again and as things get worse, he must fight for his life with the help of his good friend Yang!

While far from my favourite Fu Sheng or Chang Cheh movie, Chinatown Kid still has enough enjoyable moments throughout to warrant a watch. I don't know what it is, but as much as I want to love it, Chinatown Kid has never really done it for me. Even seeing it here on Blu-ray, restored in 2K as part of Arrow Video's Shaw Scope Vol.1 box-set (which wasn't as clean and perfect as I had hoped for), and in two different versions including the lengthy International Cut at 115 minutes and the 90 minute Alternate Version, I still wouldn't rush back to it. To be honest though, Chinatown Kid does get better as it moves along after its shoddy first 30 minutes and if I'm to take anything positive from the film, I'd have to admit that it does have some fantastic fights on offer as well as a great cast. The story was written by Chang Cheh himself, along with James Wong Jim - an actor who has appeared in many great titles such as Royal Warriors, Tiger On The Beat 1 & 2, Diary Of A Big Man, Twin Dragons, and composed music for titles like Shanghai Blues, Casino Raiders, Dragons Forever, Hard Boiled, Moon Warriors, and My Father Is A Hero – and by prolific writer Ni Kuang, the man who practically penned every major title for the Shaw Brothers studio since his debut with the One-Armed Swordsman in the late 60s including the most of (if not all of) Chang Cheh's films from there on in. But still, regardless of the names behind it there are still (plenty of) moments throughout that almost seem like this was written by a complete amateur who had no real understanding of natural interaction – not to mention some laughable decision making and silly dialogue such as the planting of drugs on Tam by Tsui Ho, or the luring of Yang into becoming a drug addict...

Chinatown Kid is still held by many as Alexander Fu Sheng's signature role, and it's easy to see why. While he wasn't the most handsome man around town, the actor was undeniably charming and a bit more athletic here than usual, delivering a memorable performance as the gangsters lackey who loses his soul for some easy riches. While he has often been referred to as the original 'clown prince of kung-fu' before Jackie Chan owned that title, I more often than not just found him to be irritating and annoying as opposed to funny – something that Jackie could deliver naturally for the most part. Still, I can't deny that over the last year or two with more and more Shaw Brothers titles hitting Blu-ray in a restored-original cut, I am growing to like Fu Sheng more and more each day. Although this had started shooting a year or two before, Cheh has put things on pause to direct films such as Shaolin Temple, The Naval Commandos, Magnificent Wanderers, and The Brave Archer – all of which starred Fu Sheng of course! Fu is joined by the wonderful Sun Chien who makes his feature film debut here, as student Yang Jian Wen. I have to say, for his first role the man does a great job and looks incredibly handsome in his thick-rimmed glasses, complete with bulging rock-hard muscles and slick moves. He soon followed this with a role in The Brave Archer 2 that would see him star alongside Fu Sheng once more, but it would be his 3rd role in Chang Cheh's infamous Five Venoms that would really take Sun to the next level. As the Scorpion Venom, Chien secured his place in kung-fu cinema and with the Shaw Brothers studio that would see him go on to star in a host of classics such as Crippled Avengers, The Daredevils, Kid With The Golden Arm, House Of Traps, Bastard Swordsman, and so much more. By the mid-80s, Sun would make a move into low budget ninja movies and martial-arts adventure films that saw his career take a bit of a dive, eventually retiring from the scene after a small role in the fun Jackie Chan produced Angry Ranger - of which he also co-directed alongside one of his Chinatown Kid co-stars, Johnny Wang Lung Wei. As one of Hong Kong cinema and Shaw's most popular villains, Wei plays the role of Tsui Ho with ease. Interestingly enough, he had only been on the scene for a few years since making his debut in 1974's Shaolin Martial Arts with Chang Cheh – going on to star in a bunch of classic titles through to Chinatown Kid. Wei would stay with Shaw Brothers for a good decade before moving on with other studios, as well as making his own directorial debut in 1985 with The Man Is Dangerous, which was quickly followed by Hong Kong Godfather and the brilliant Innocent Interloper, while starring in many great titles like Millionaires Express, Project A 2, Tiger Cage, Twin Dragons, New Legend Of Shaolin, and then some. The majority of Sun Chien's Five Venom co-stars help flesh things out such as the brilliant Philip Kwok Chun Fung who plays the White Dragon. The equally cool Lo Meng stars as his nemesis, the Green Dragon, with Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng playing fighters for each of them respectively alongside the likes of Dick Wei, Robert Tai, Wang Ching Liang, Jamie Luk, Lee Ka Ting, Lam Fai Wong, and others. The lovely Kara Hui cameos in her 4th role (non-action), along with the wonderful Susan Ýam Yam' Shaw, Shirley Yu, Teresa Ha Ping, and famous singer Jenny Tseng who went on to marry Fu Sheng.

The fight-action is choreographed by Robert Tai and Lee Ka Ting, both of who co-star as gang thugs as mentioned. While Tai had been acting since 1970, this particular year would allow him to progress and turn his hand to action-direction on Chang Cheh's three films of the year such as The Naval Commandos, The Brave Archer, and this. Of course, Robert Tai would goon to become a famed director in his own right with Alexander Lo Rei classics such as Devil Killer, Shaolin Vs Ninja, Ninja Vs Shaolin Guards, Ninja The Final Duel, and many more. Lee Ka Ting had started just a few years before Tai, and began his work as a martial arts director in the early 70s with Tang Sheng's Cruel Killer and joined his co-director in the aforementioned Chang Cheh films the same year. Between the two of them, viewers are treated to some pretty exciting fight scenes that actually get better as they move along and also give Fu Sheng the chance to show a bit more physicality than usual. The final battle that pulls in all the talents of the famed Venom Mob is clearly the best of the lot, and makes for a great finale with plenty of incredible moves on offer. Although there is some social commentary from Chang installed in his tale, the story of Chinatown Kid has been told in many different ways over the years – both before and after the film was made – and regardless of its flaws, it definitely has plenty of moments to enjoy throughout. While there is definitely much more to say about it, I'd suggest listening to Terry Brady's audio commentary on the film as part of the Shaw Scope Vol.1 box set which gives listeners an amazing insight to Fu Sheng's life, notes on the production, and more!

Overall: While it may not be the best of the Shaw Brothers catalogue, Chinatown Kid still manages to entertain and has plenty of great fight scenes of offer!

Arrow Video Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restored International Version (115 mins), 1080p HD Alternate Version of International Cut (90 mins), Audio Commentary by Terrence J. Brady, Scene Select Commentary by Susan Shaw, Featurette on Fu Sheng, Trailers, TV Spots, Image Gallery

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

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CRIPPLED AVENGERS

(Hong Kong 1978) 

Original Title: Can Que (aka) Mortal Combat; Return Of The Five Deadly Venoms; Avengers Handicapped

Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Lu Feng, Robert Tai, Chiang Sheng Starring: Chen Kuan Tai, Philip Kwok, Lo Meng, Sun Chien, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Yang Hsiung, Dick Wei, Jamie Luk, Helen Poon Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Adventure

Rating - 4.5 / 5

Synopsis: The character of Du Tiandao, a great martial artist, changes greatly from kind into cruel and cold-hearted after his wife is brutally murdered by an awful society, the Three Tigers of the South. The Tigers also chop off the arms of his beloved son, Du Chang, in the same attack. Since then, Du Tiandao has hated everyone he comes across and, together with his son who he has fitted with two metal arms, cruelly abuses anyone who offends them. One day, as Du Tiandao and Du Chang have a meal in a restaurant, they hear someone making a speech nearby. As they approach, the speech-maker Wei Datie luckily manages to escape. But a hawker standing nearby, Chen Shun, who had applauded the speech, attracts the attention of Du Tiandao who gouges out his two eyes. When they return home, Du Tiandao orders his servants to bring Wei Datie to him. When Wei arrives, Du Tiandao forces him to drink a cup of poison and then claps his hands hard over his ears,leaving Wei deaf and dumb. As Chen is blind and unable to make a living, Wei lets him stay in his metal shop. Soon after, disaster befalls another young man, Hu Agui. As he quarrels with his boss,he shouts that as long as he has his hands, he would not die of starvation. But, Du Chang overhears him and, thinking that Hu is mocking his armless state, chops the man's legs off with his powerful metal arms. Later, Hu is also given shelter by Wei Datie. Finding out that his crippled victims are staying at Wei's, Du Tiandao sends his servants to attack Wei's metal shop. He also warns the local peasants to isolate the three crippled men. One day, a young warm-hearted martial artist, Wang Yi, visits the town. When he discovers what has happened to the three men, he promises to avenge them. However, Du Tiandao and his son defeat Wang, forcing him to wear a special vice-like crown which leaves him brain damaged. By chance, the three other victims learn that Wang Yi is a disciple of Li Zhengying, a highly renowned martial artist. Wei Datie, Hu Agui and Chen Shun accompany Wang Yi to see Li Zhengying, who promises to teach them martial arts so that they can take revenge on Du Tiandao and Du Chang. After practising for three years, Li finally decides that the four men are ready to deal with the Du family. The four abused and crippled men return to the village and wreak their revenge on the vicious Du and his son. (106 Mins)

Views: Chang Cheh's Crippled Avengers wastes no time at all in getting stuck into the nitty gritty, with the Three Tigers attacking Black Tiger's home only to cut off his wife's legs and his young sons arms. Although his wife passes, Black Tiger assures his son that he will make him metal arms once his wounds heal. 10 years later, Black Tiger has kept his word and after teaching his son the Tiger Fist style, makes him take revenge on the Three Tigers sons – leaving them crippled or badly injured out of spite. Still angered and riddled with hate since losing his wife, Black Tiger lives his life as a tyrant who puts fear into those around him, from the quietest villager to the strongest fighter. Backed by his metal-armed son and right-hand-man, Keeper Wan, the Tiger Style master soon destroys the lives of a group of men that leaves each of them with a severe disability for standing up to him. Now, with something in common, the strangers join forces to maximise their strength and take revenge on the Black Tiger clan, which leads to a brutal duel to the death and an incredible display of kung-fu action!

With the success of The Five Venoms, it was inevitable that Cheh would be quick to fire-out a follow-up film starring his new team of performers. While often known as Return Of The Five Deadly Venoms in some territories, Crippled Avengers is most definitely not a sequel to the latter – which is obvious for many reasons. Of course, it was made the same year and starred the majority of the same cast – except for Wei Pei who had to step-out of the film world briefly due to his suffering of Tourette's syndrome. He did return for Invincible Shaolin (also made in 1978), as well as Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung and The Kid With The Golden Arm before departing Chang Cheh's legion and the Shaw studios for Golden Harvest. I would have to say that The Five Venoms was definitely much tighter in story and script compared to Crippled Avengers, even though it was written once again by Chang and prolific screen-writer Ni Kuang. Making his debut in 1967 with the Chang Cheh directed classic, One-Armed Swordsman, Kuang had written well over 100 films by this stage – most of which were for the Shaw Brothers studio and director Chang Cheh. Crippled Masters would actually only be 1 of 20 scripts he had penned in 1978 (or at least, put into production) alongside Shaolin Invincible Guys, 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Enter The Fat Dragon, Avenging Eagle, Heroes Of The East, and The Five Venoms of course. As well as a few small roles in Hong Kong movies over the years, Ni Kuang has proven to be one of the industries most successful writers with over 300 published novels and 400 films scripts completed over a few decades, and has delivered the scripts for some of the greatest Hong Kong movies since the late 60s. That said, there are moments at the start of Crippled Avengers that could have been handled better, such as the jump in time of Black Tiger's armless son to adulthood, the character development of the Venom Mob – some of whom were attacked for the stupidest reasons, and most of whom accepted their brutal maiming with no issues at all. While these tiny gripes happen early enough in the film, there is still plenty of violence, kung-fu, and training to entertain, but I'd have to admit that things really turned around for the better on the halfway mark – delivering a much stronger second half with non-stop martial arts action and a faster pace.

Although some of them had appeared a year or two before in titles such as Chang Cheh's Shaolin Temple, Magnificent Wanderers, The Brave Archer, and Chinatown Kid, The Five Venoms and Cripple Masters allowed each of the Venoms to light-up the screen without being over-shadowed by the likes of Alexander Fu Sheng, David Chaing, or Ti Lung. Here, they are joined by the brilliant Chen Kuan Tai, one of the Shaw Brothers first real martial-arts trained actors. Chen started of as a bit-player before getting his big break with the fantastic Boxer From Shantung. Around the same time, he tried his hand as both a producer and fight choreographer on films like The Crazy Instructor, Cold Blade, The Chase, and Invincible Iron Palm, and as the roles came flooding in after the success of Boxer From Shantung, Chen soon got round to making his directorial debut with The Simple Minded Fellow – a comedy starring James Yi Lui and Dean Shek. But it would be his second film as a director that would anger the bosses back at Shaw Brothers, with Iron Monkey proving to be quite the hit. Chen's next directional effort was Invincible Monkey Fist, that saw him star alongside the brilliant Billy Chong as well as starring in Tough Guy – a loose sequel to Iron Monkey which is also known as Iron Monkey Strikes Back. To settle things with his old bosses, Chen agreed to return to the studios for a role here and would continue to jump between his independent titles and Shaw Brothers to deliver films such as the brilliant Shaolin Kingboxer (aka Iron Fists), Killer Constable, The Master, Big Boss From Shanghai, and many more. To date, Kuan Tai has starred in over 160 features – including modern hits such as Derek Kwok's Gallants, 14 Blades, Dragon Tiger Gate, 7 Assassins, Once Upon A Time In Shanghai, and more. The ever-popular Johnny Wang Lung Wei, who stars as the Black Tiger's right-hand man Keeper Wan, gets to make up for his lack of action in The Five Venoms by trading moves with the majority of the crew. This was Wang's 20th role since his debut with Shaolin Martial Arts having fast become a regular fixture of Chang Cheh's movies, and impresses once again with his villainous persona and strong moves.

The stern-faced Lu Feng stars as Dao Chang – Black Tiger's poor son who gets his arms cut-off by the Three Tigers who are played by the wonderful Dick Wei, Jamie Luk, and Stewart Tam. As an adult, Dao gets fitted with a pair of deadly iron arms and lives his life in anger, snapping at anyone who looks at him the wrong way. After starring in his first real prominent role in The Five Venoms, Lu gets to up his game as the villain-by-default and makes for an interesting character. Although he went onto star in many of Chang Cheh's films from there on in, Feng tried to find some direction after Cheh's departure from the studio in films like Attack Of The Joyful Goddess, The Demons, and Shanghai 13 – going on to appear in some fun roles in films like Fight Among The Supers, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death, Death Ring, Ninja Condors, and a cameo in Cheh's Ninja In Ancient China before retiring from the scene in the mid-late 90s. The wonderful Philip Kwok leads the way as Chen Shuen, the man who loses his eyes to Feng's metal fingers. Probably the most popular and successful of all the Venoms, Kwok started his film career with roles in Chang Cheh's The Fantastic Magic Baby, Marco Polo, Boxer Rebellion, and Seven Man Army, also appearing in outside titles such as One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine, Hand Of Death, and The Traitorous. 1976 was a crazy busy year for Kwok, appearing in 10 titles in all including Cheh's New Shaolin Boxers and Shaolin Temple, going on to follow his friend and co-star Chiang Sheng with the same run of titles (for the most part) over the next few years. After co-directing, choreographing, and starring in Ninja In The Deadly Trap with some of his Venom brothers, Kwok spread his wings when it came to the end of Chang Cheh's contract and appeared in other Shaw studio titles such as Holy Flame Of The Martial World, Demon Of The Lute, and Crazy Shaolin Disciples. As the late 80s crept in, Kwok moved into modern action with memorable roles in The Big Heat, The Peacock King, Seven Warriors, In The Line Of Duty 6: Forbidden Arsenal, Story of Ricky, and the epic Hard Boiled – as well as many others. Of course, Philip had also been keeping himself busy over the years doubling-up as a martial-arts director and action-choreographer which began in the late 70s with Chang Cheh's Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung, The Daredevils, Magnificent Ruffians, and others, before going on to handle the action in many modern hits such as A Chinese Ghost Story with Tony Ching Siu Tung, The Peacock King, Erotic Ghost Story, Tiger Cage 2, Zen Of Sword, The Bride With White Hair 1 & 2, Hard Boiled, and worked with Michelle Yeoh on her international breakthrough role in Tomorrow Never Dies as well as her self-produced adventure, The Touch. Super-kicker Sun Chien stars in 1 of his 4 roles from 1978, as Hu Ah Kue, the villager that loses his legs by Feng's hands for no major reason. After making a splash with his debut performance in Chinatown Kid, Sun secured his place in kung-fu cinema (and Shaw Brothers) with The Five Venoms that would see him go on to star in a host of classics such as this, The Daredevils, Kid With The Golden Arm, House Of Traps, Bastard Swordsman, and so much more. By the mid-80s, Sun would make a move into low budget ninja movies and martial-arts adventure films that saw his career take a bit of a dive, eventually retiring from the scene after a small role in the fun Jackie Chan produced Angry Ranger - of which he also co-directed alongside one of his co-stars, Johnny Wang Lung Wei. The brilliant Lo Meng stars as the Blacksmith known as Wei Jia Jie, and is one of the more exciting characters in my eyes. This accountant-turned-actor joined the Chang Cheh train in Shaolin Temple after he watched introduced to the director by one of the Shaw brothers. Meng followed the same path as the rest, eventually starring in many other titles for Shaw's such as Hex Vs Witchcraft, Lion Vs Lion, Human Lanterns, and Bastard Swordsman. In the mid-80s, he would start appearing in more modern works such as Michelle Yeoh's Magnificent Warriors, Hard Boiled, Return To A Better Tomorrow, Ebola Syndrome, Sex & Zen 3, and the fun Anna In Kung Fu Land – eventually finding a resurgence of sorts in the film world when he was cast as Master Law in Donnie Yen's Ip Man 2, followed by Gallants, The Grandmaster, Vampire Clean-up Department, and returning as Master Law for Ip Man 3 & 4. And finally, Cutie Pie himself (more widely known as Chiang Sheng) plays Wang Yi – the swordsman who sets out to stop Black Tiger's evil ways after seeing what he has done to the crew. Starting life at the Fu Sheng Drama School in Taiwan, Chiang soon got into the film industry when Chang Cheh founded his own production company under the Shaw Brothers banner. After many supporting roles and appearances as an extra in titles such as Wild Tiger, 18 Shaolin Disciples, The Condemned, Hand Of Death, and New Shaolin Boxers, Chiang got his first real prominent role in Cheh's epic Shaolin Temple that kick-started a strong career at Shaw's from there on. After starring in titles like The Naval Commandos, Magnificent Wanderers, The Brave Archer, and Chinatown Kid, Chiang added a notch to his belt by doubling as the assistant director on The Brave Archer 2 before moving onto The Five Venoms and this. The year after, Chiang would continue to star and help Cheh with directing as well as turning his hand to that of a martial-arts director – much like the rest of his co-stars would do eventually. Leaving the Shaw Brothers studio with Chang Cheh in the mid 80s, Chiang went onto star in a number of fun titles for a few more years including Attack Of The Joyful Goddess, Five Fighters From Shaolin, Shanghai 13, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death (a personal favourite), Ninja USA, and Exciting Dragon, eventually retiring from the screen by '89. Although his career and skills were highly praised and loved by kung-fu fans the world over, Chiang's life in the film industry came to an abrupt halt when his wife forced him to give it up – only to divorce a year later. Chiang soon sank into a world of alcohol and depression, sadly passing at the age 40 in 1991 with a broken heart. His body was found by his friend and co-star Ricky Cheng after lying alone for 3 days.

It's interesting to note that elsewhere in the studio the same year, the ever-popular Lau Kar Leung was scoring big box-office points with 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Shaolin Mantis, and Heroes From The East, as was Chor Yuen, Sun Chung, and other directors with their movies – not to mention what was on offer from young directors like Sammo Hung, Yuen Woo Ping, etc. And while it was quite different to the other 3 productions Chang made the very same year, Crippled Avengers still managed to offer up something a bit different than everyone else, and has long been revered as one of Cheh's best and a true classic of Hong Kong cinema – going-on to inspire RZA and Eli Roth for their well received Hollywood flick, The Man With The Iron Fists (along with many other Shaw Brothers titles). With more amazing choreography once again from Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng, and Robert Tai, kung-fu fans should never tire of what's on offer – especially with it's highly impressive and highly enjoyable 15 minute finale that allows the Venom mob to show off some of their finest moves. While I would love to have seen a sequel of these characters, it would be typical of Cheh – except for The Brave Archer films – to often move quickly onto the next project before his latest film would have even reached the big screen. Released in a 2K restoration as part of Arrow Videos Shaw Scope Vol.1, Chang Cheh's Crippled Masters has never looked better and is well worth the watch!

Overall: As with many of Chang Cheh's Venom mob movies, Crippled Avengers is packed with amazing kung-fu battles, violence, and charm that comes highly recommended!

Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Interview with Lo Meng, Featurette on Chang Cheh, Trailers, Image Gallery

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

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