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EAGLE CLAW VERSUS THE

BUTTERFLY PALM

(Taiwan 1978) 

Original Title: Shen Ying Fei Yan Hu Die Zhang

Directed by Yu Tien Lung Produced by Shen Chiang, Huang Ye Bai Action by Ma Chin Ku, Yu Tien Lung Starring: Lo Lieh, Chi Kuan Chun, Roc Tien, Sun Chia Lin, Yueh Hua, Yu Tien Lung, Kam Kong, Lee Kwan, Leung Kar Yan Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Wuxia / Drama

Rating - 2.3 / 5

Synopsis: Having wiped out both the Shaolin and Wu Tang, the Butterfly Clan's objective is clearly the destruction of any and all rival factions. A wushu knight, and his rag-tag followers move into challenge their oppressors in a deadly battle. (89 Mins)

Views: The multi-talented Yu Tien Lung delivers kung-fu and thrills in his directorial debut, Eagle Claw Vs The Butterfly Palm. With a great cast behind him, Lung tells the tale of a band of fighters who go up against the Butterfly Clan – an army of evil Mongolian invaders who have wiped out many across China, including those from Shaolin and Wu Tang...

While it's hardly original in terms of plot and a little rough-around-the-edges, Eagle Claw Vs The Butterfly Palm still has some entertaining moments – typical of Taiwanese wuxia flicks of this period. Written and produced by Shen Chiang, director of Call To Arms, Infernal Street, and Five Kung Fu Daredevil Heroes, the story has been told a hundred times before and often a little clearer. But the film wins by boasting a large cast, including a number of big names from kung-fu cinema, and proves to be a competent project for Yu Tien Lung's first time as a director. And while I have to allow for that which is lost in translation, Eagle Claw Vs Butterfly Palm is a fairly substandard affair at the end of the day. Starting life in the industry a decade before as an actor and action-director on Gwan Jing Leung's King's Sword, Lung went on to work on films such as 8 Dragon Swords, Tough Duel, and Ways Of Kung-Fu (as well as many others), and clearly made an impression as he continued in front of, and behind the camera into the 21st Century.

I can only imagine how much he wanted to impress with his first film as director, and in doing so offers some innovative moments and techniques as well as a host of characters. This reminded me of many Taiwanese wuxia films from the mid-late 1970s, and the likes of Jackie Chan's Killer Meteors and To Kill With Intrigue, although not quite as wild. Besides directing and starring in a leading role, Yu Tien Lung also worked on the choreography along with Ma Chin Ku, a well-known face and actor from plenty of old-school classics such as One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine, The Big Rascal, Cantonen Iron Kung Fu, Ninja In The Dragons Den, and many more. Even at that, the fights don't start off as anything special but they do get better as things move along, which all leads to a pretty decent finale with some exciting moves!

Eagle Claw Vs Butterfly Palm may have passed its sell-by date a long time ago, but it's not a complete waste of time. With a score composed by HK actor and director Frankie Chan, the film boasts a cast of great names including Lo Lieh who plays the big villain with Yuen Hua as his right-hand man, fan favourite Lee Kwan, Chung Wa, Chi Kuan Chun, Kam Kong, Leung Kar Yan, and Roc Tien. And until the film gets a restored re-release in its original language (which will never happen), old-school fans may get a bigger kick out of it than a modern audience would. The final 30 minutes make up for a lot though with a big twist that isn't as shocking as it hopes it would be...

Overall: Flawed in many ways, Eagle Claw Vs Butterfly Palm isn't completely terrible and has a pretty fun finale with great moves!

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THE EAGLE FIST

(Hong Kong 1981) 

Original Title: Xue Men Ying Zhao

Directed by Cheng Kei Ying Produced by Cheng Kei Ying, Han Kit Ting Action by Cheng Kei Ying Starring: Chi Kuan Chun, Cheng Kei Ying, Helen Poon, Chung Wing, Ardy Lam, Sham Chin Bo, Cheung Hei, Ma Hon Yuen, Steve Mak, Yuen Tak Reviewing: Amazon Prime UK Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy / Drama

Rating - 3 / 5

Synopsis: Captain Lau Si Chung (Chi Kuan Chun), realises his kung fu isn't that good when he gets beaten by a weird old man (Cheng Kei Ying). He goes off to a temple to learn from the old man. Once he becomes proficient, the old man tells him that his master was killed by a Bandit known as 'The Red Dart'. Lau Si Chung then seeks vengeance & a book on nerve-lock reverses that was also stolen by The Red Dart. (95 Mins)

Views: I remember having The Eagle Fist on VHS way back at the start of my kung-fu obsession. It eventually got chewed up by the video-player and I was unable to find another copy for many years. It did get a cheap label DVD release many moons later, as well as a release on Amazon Prime, which was nice to see. It's probably a good 25 years or more since I last saw The Eagle Fist, but I do remember it being entertaining on its first watch and thankfully, it still holds-up today – albeit with flaws that are much more recognisable to me today, now I've been directing for some time...

The fantastic Chi Kuan Chun plays Lau Si Chung, Captain of a small village police force. While arresting a few rascals one day (one of which is a young Yuen Tak in a fun cameo), Lau gets embarrassed by and beaten by a strange old man who was watching the arrest. Annoyed that his kung-fu wasn't good enough to beat him, Lau sets-out to find the old man in order to learn from him. It doesn't take him too long to find his new master and soon, Lau finds himself being put through some torturous regimes (as well as some daft ones) to prove his worth. As his training pick-ups and he starts to master the Eagle Fist, Lau learns that there's one more final step that even his master doesn't know, due to an old enemy stealing the last pages of his masters book many years ago. In order to retrieve the final pages, Lau must learn the Dying Fist so that he can defeat The Red Dart and take revenge for his masters-master, while becoming a true master of the technique himself!

If only he had Google.

The Eagle Fist is listed as an 1981 production, but in a time when Golden Harvest, Seasonal Films, Goldig Pictures, and even Shaw Brothers were delivering such incredible and modern hits, this independent flick feels like it was a decade behind. Kung-fu actor and choreographer Cheng Kei Ying, made The Eagle Fist as his directorial debut after starring in films such as The Owl, Invincible Killer, The Four Invincibles, The Handcuff, and Clones of Bruce Lee – most of which he also choreographed. While sticking with what he knew I guess, Cheng didn't really offer anything new or overly exciting with his first project as director and went on to make a number of features that never really became known as genuine classics, such as Ninja: American Warrior, Death Code Ninja, Satanic Crystals, and the hard-to-find Cat3 film, Rape In Public Sea with Lam Ching Ying, that also features an appearance from my good friend Mike Leeder. While his directing career slowly kicked-off, Cheng would continue to star in a number of great titles including Kung-Fu Zombie and A Fistful Of Talons with the awesome Billy Chong, Majestic Thunderbolt, Return Of The Bastard Swordsman, and The Man From Holland with Philip Ko. In The Eagle Fist, Cheng writes, directs, produces, choreographs, and stars as Chi Kuan Chun's old master – perhaps taking on just a little too much, although still manages to deliver some great moves and fight scenes along the way.

The wonderful and often forgotten about Chi Kuan Chun does a great job as Captain Lau. Although it's a pretty straight-forward role in a typical old-school story, Chi still delivers working with what he has and shining in the kung-fu sequences. While he had starred in a host of classics prior to this, from his Men In The Monastery debut to Marco Polo, Shaolin Temple, and Showdown In Cotton Mill, The Eagle Fist came in the middle of Chi's career and can easily be over-looked as just another old-school kung-fu flick. It's a shame he never went on to star in many more solid titles throughout his career – with the exception of Drunken Monkey and Seven Swords many years later – as I find him to be a great actor and fantastic martial artist, and would loved to have seen him continue like his Shaw Brothers counterparts Chen Kuan Tai and Leung Kar Yan, into modern Hong Kong action cinema!

Overall: While nothing new for it's time, The Eagle Fist isn't terrible and offers old-school fans some exciting kung-fu, with a well choreographed finale, surprise twist, and cheap production giggles!

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THE EAGLE KING

(Taiwan 1978) 

Original Title: Da Ying Wang (aka) The Ninja King

Directed by Karl Liao Chiang Lin Produced by Si Wai Starring: Tsung Hua, Ko Hsiao Pao, Yeh Hsiao Yee, Su Chen Ping, Liu Li Tsu, Shao Lo Hui, Lee Man Tai, Hou Po Wei, Wu Te Shan Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Wuxia / Comedy / Drama

Rating - 1.3 / 5

Synopsis: A renegade Manchurian monk and master of The Golden Bell guillotine kung-fu sends his deadly disciples to China to attack the Ming Government. The Eagle King learns of the raid and sends his students to meet the onslaught head-on, and stop it. (88 Mins)

Views: This cheap Taiwanese production is so messy on many levels, I found myself fighting to stay awake let-alone care for anything that was going on. It's main story is about a gang of Manchurian monks who make their way to China to kill the king and bring down the Ming government by using their golden bells – a deadly weapon that is based on the flying guillotine. Meanwhile, the Eagle King has heard news of the attack and sends out his best fighters to meet the monks and stop them, amidst a devastating tragedy after a large flood destroyed the local land and nearby towns. It all leads to a crazy showdown where the king's wuxia heroes must defeat the Manchurians before they kill the king!

The washed-out print and terrible English dub of this Ocean Shores release, doesn't help the fact that The Eagle King is already somewhat of a difficult watch. From its oddly annoying child-actor (Yeh Hsiao Yee) who can burrow underground with no effort whatsoever – backed by the infamous score from Jaws, to its bizarre run of characters and confusing storyline, it's hard to find love for this late 70s production. Shaw Brothers actor and Taiwanese wuxia star, Tsung Hua (aka Chung Wah) leads the group of heroes, although really doesn't get as much screen time as expected. Starting his career in Jimmy Wang Yu's awesome, Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman, Tsung went on to star in many classics such as The Killer, 14 Amazons, The Warlord, and A Massacre Survivor, and was a popular lead for many Taiwanese wuxia flicks until his career started to fade in the early 1980s. The always recognisable Su Chen Ping, actor of over 120 films such as One-Armed Boxer, Beach Of The War Gods, Shaolin Invincible Sticks, and Born Invincible, is pretty much wasted here in his role as an beggar that likes to help when he can, and only gets to fight in the last 10 minutes. Liu Li Tsu co-stars as a cross-dressing villain, with the always popular Lee Man Tai muscling in on the action here and there. Chang Fu Chien gets the majority of the fight action alongside child-actor Yeh Hsiao Yee, and is joined by lesser known femme fatales Lin Mei Ling, from 8 Masters and Kung-Fu Executioner, and Tam Yan Mei from films such as Deadly Snail Vs. Kung Fu Killers, The Gold Connection, and Dennis Law's action-packed Bad Blood.

While the last 30 to 40 minutes starts to iron itself out, and offer a bit better action (including a fun array of closing fights), it's still not enough to make The Eagle King a bona-fide classic. The golden bell monks only arrive in for the last 5 minutes in a scene that reminded me of the hilarious Bronzegirls Of Shaolin, but it was hardly worth their time. Director Karl Liao Chiang Lin only ever directed 5 features during his 3 years in the industry, and while they could never compete with what was on offer from the upcoming stars and studios in Hong Kong around the same time, the most of them have seen video and DVD releases around the world at some stage since their release to be fair such as Story In Temple Red Lily, Moonlight Sword & Jade Lion, and Dreaming Fists With Slender Hands...

Overall: A tad messy and a little bonkers, The Eagle King isn't one you need to rush for and one film I don't ever need to see again!

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EAGLES CLAW

(Taiwan 1977) 

Original Title: Ying Zhao Tang Lang (aka) Eagles Fist

Directed by Lee Tso Nam Produced by Wong Fung Action by Tommy Lee, Chan Siu Pang Starring: Chi Kuan Chun, Wong Tao, Chang Yi, Hwa Ling, Yu Sung Chao, Hsiao Yao, Philip Ko, Leung Kar Yan, Ma Chiang, Jimmy Lee Reviewing: Eastern Heroes UK DVD Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: The deadly art of Eagle's Claw is challenged by the master of the Mantis Fist School. Provoking rivalry between the two schools and their students resulting in a death match. Top notch cast including Wong (Drunken Tai Chi) Tao and Leung (Legend Of A Fighter) Ka Yan, better known as 'Beardy', come together in this true late night classic. (86 Mins)

Views: An all-star, old-school cast fill a genuine classic of Taiwanese kung-fu cinema. Eagle's Claw tells the overly familiar tale of rival kung-fu schools, one who are masters of the titular eagle claw and the other, of the mantis fist. This begins when the wicked master of the mantis-fist, Chow Ma Wu, arrives at the eagle school to challenge their teacher, Master Yang. Backed by his best fighters, Chow doesn't waste time in letting the eagle students see how good his kung-fu is before he attacks and badly injures Master Yang. As he lies dying because to his injuries, Yang tells two of his students that they must stop Chow at all costs – based on their history and Chow's evil deeds. He hands his control over to his Number 2 student (Li Chi) which pisses his close friend and Number 1 student-brother, Chen Tien Chun, right-off! Fueled with anger and in a drunken fit-of-rage, Chen shakes the last bit of life out-off his master and escapes from the clutches of his classmates. As tensions rise, word soon gets back to Chow Ma Wu which urges him to bring forward his plan to end the eagle school once and for all. This includes bringing Chen Tien Chun in as a minion, who only agrees to help if Chow teaches him the mantis-fist so he can help bring down his old school and earn his rightful place as leader. After more double-crossings and fights between students, it doesn't take long for the training to begin that lead to a bloody and fantastic finale as eagle takes-on mantis, and Chen's true loyalties are tested!

The interesting thing about Eagle's Claw, is that it often comes across as more of a Joseph Kuo movie than than Lee Tso Nam's. Director of over 50 titles, Lee has brought many classic kung-fu movies to fans such as The Hot, The Cool & The Vicious, Shaolin Invincible Sticks, A Life Of Ninja, and Beauty Investigator with Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima. Written by Chang Hsin Yi, director of John Liu's Incredible Kung Fu Mission, Struggle Through Death, and Lady Constables, the very same man penned over 60 films like Snake And Crane Arts Of Shaolin, Dance Of Death, Thundering Mantis, and a host of Lee Tso Nam titles. With Eagle's Claw, he provides a well developed plot and some interesting character development, cutting out the usual splatters of comedy that are typical of productions from this era. The fantastic fight scenes are handled by the wonderful Tommy Lee Gam Ming, a man of many talents both in front of and behind the camera including titles like The Secret Rivals, Shaolin Red Master, Butcher Wing, Shaolin Wooden Men, and many more. Lee opts to keep 99% of the action pretty grounded, allowing for some kick-ass choreography and fantastic display of styles. Although the film has a strong story and keeps a focus on it's characters, Eagle's Claw is far from short of fight scenes, each of which are all well-choreographed and lead to a fantastic end battle with plenty of great moves.

Of course, this is helped with having such an amazing cast on-board! The always impressive Don Wong Tao plays Li Chi, the second student that becomes the head of the eagle school after his masters death with the awesome Chi Kuan Chun starring as the troubled, Chen Tien Chun. Both stars are always a pleasure to watch on-screen, both in performance and in action and Eagle's Claw allows both of them to shine in their roles. Shaw Brothers star and around classic kung-fu star Chang Yi, plays mantis-fist leader Chow Ma Wu, and dons the long white wig once again for his role. Although this film came a good decade after his first role in The Thundering Sword, Chang Yi had already starred in over 70 titles – rarely disappointing fans whether he was fighting for good or bad. Wong and Chi are supported in the eagle school by Jimmy Lee (Lung Fong), a recognisable face to many fans of Hong Kong cinema who starred in films such as The Rebellious Reign, Big Boss Of Shanghai, Casino Raiders, and of course, the God Of Gamblers series. Joining him is Hwa Ling, a Taiwanese actress who starred only in a handful of films including Shaolin Iron Claws the following year with most of the same cast, and Fatal Needles Vs. Fatal Fists that reunited the team once again. The mantis school fared much better in my opinion with the always incredible Leung Kar Yan as Chang Yi's right-hand-man, as well as the equally impressive Philip Ko Fei who gets to show some amazing work in the grand finale, and an actress called Wong Gwai Sang who seemed to disappear for almost 10 years before starring in her second and final role. While a collective of regular Taiwanese actors show up throughout, it's really these guys that carry the show and makes Eagle's Claw well worth the watch.

Overall: Classic kung-fu with great production values and a fantastic cast, Eagle's Claw may be a by-the-book old-school film, but it stands strong on many levels!

DVD Extras: Trailer

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EAGLE SHADOW FIST

(Hong Kong 1973) 

Original Title: Ding Tian Li Di (aka) Not Scared To Die; Fist Of Anger

Directed by Chu Mu Produced by Hoi Ling Action by Yuen Cheung Yan Starring: Jackie Chan, Wong Ching, Yuen Qiu, Alex Lung Ji Fei, Chiang Nan, Chu Mu, Yam Ho, Lee Man Tai, Brandy Yuen, Tino Wong, Yuen Yat Chor, Yen Shi Kwan, Yuen Cheung Yan, Fung Hak On, Yuen Shun Yi Reviewing: Optimum Asia UK DVD Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / War / Drama

Rating - 2 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Set during the Chinese occupancy of Northern China in WWII Eagle Shadow Fist is the compelling story of the opera actor Bruce Li and his troop as the try to defend theirland from the violent and bloody occupiers.

Trans Global UK VHS: During World War 2, not all battles were fought by the armies and navies of the great powers, Jackie Chan plays a famous actor of the Chinese theatre, who becomes a legendary resistance fighter against the Japanese. One day, while performing in front of a large group, Japanese soldiers arrive to arrest Jackie, whom they accuse of teaching subversive tactics to the audience. It was a mistake the soldiers should never have made. Jackie begins a deadly game of cat and mouse with the oppressors, who are trapped into using conventional tactics against a very unconventional fighter. In a war, even an actor can win - providing that actor is Jackie Chan.

Views: Often sold as one of the Lo Wei movies in multiple VHS collections and early DVD releases, the artwork of Eagle Shadow Fist is usually graced with photos and shots from more successful Jackie Chan movies, promoting him as the lead actor. Of course, it is neither a Lo Wei or Jackie Chan movie at all. But given the fast rise of Jackie's star only a few years later, it would be inevitable that distributors would do whatever they could to sell more Chan to the fans. I mean, look at how mad the 'bruceplotation' genre went (and is still going today)! Eagle Shadow Fist, also known as Not Scared To Die, tells the story of Tang Jing Fong (Wong Ching) the leader of an opera troupe who finds himself in trouble with some Japanese occupiers. Rather than send in the army, a Japanese official sends in two soldiers who are experts in karate, to infiltrate the troupe and kill Tang and the opera leads. As matters get worse, Tang and his young protégé Shi (Jackie Chan) start to fight back, willing to lay their life on the line. With some town members behind them, the pair soon find themselves betrayed and in the middle of a deadly ambush!

Although he was only around 18 or 19 in this production, a young Jackie Chan had already been in the film business for a good decade. Working his way up from a child actor, the legend soon became a stuntman and bit-player in early classics such as The Blade Spares None, Fist Of Fury, Hapkido, and more. 1973 proved to be a busy year for him and no doubt boasted his confidence in some respect, as he gained a role in no less than 10 productions including a reunion with Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon. Even while continuing his bit-parts, Jackie started to push forward with a more prominent role in Police Woman (aka The Heroine, aka Rumble In Hong Kong, aka The Young Tiger) also for director Chu Mu, and took on his first leading role in The Cub Tiger From Kwangtung. While I don't know the exact pattern of this years productions, it would still be another couple of years after before Jackie would get the chance to take things to the next level when he began his working relationship with Lo Lei in New Fist Of Fury. In Eagle Shadow Fist, we get glimpses of the Jackie Chan we all know and love today – although hardly enough to warrant it a top recommendation from the clown-prince of kung-fu. That said, he still gives a credible performance as the young protégé, putting his all into the role and getting in on a number of fights that allow him to incorporate some neat acrobatics and moves. Veteran actor and regular Shaw Brothers villain, Wong Ching, plays the lead of the film and head of the opera troupe, Tang Jing Fong. Starting in the business in 1967, Wong had mainly been an extra and bit-player for the most part, eventually starting to come out of the shadows in movies like Boxer From Shantung, King Boxer, and Four Riders, to name but a few. Eagle Shadow Fist would really be his first leading role and while it was nothing ground-breaking in any sense, Wong still does a decent enough job. With over 130 films to his name, the man with the biggest smile in HK cinema would go on to star in many classic films such as Shaolin Temple, Magnificent Bodyguards, Heroes Two, and Shanghai 13. While this film would never find itself among any Hong Kong film fans Top 100 list, I found it interesting how Eagle Shadow Fist stared such a great cast – albeit with many of it's greatest names only starting out in the business as stuntmen or bit-players. These include the wonderful Yuen Qiu in only her second role – more globally recognised as the Landlady in Kung Fu Hustle – Alex Lung Ji Fei in his first role, popular character actors Chiang Nan, Hao Li Jen, and Lee Man Tai, director Chu Mu as a Japanese officer, and upcoming stars like Lau Kar Wing, Fung Hak On, Ho Kei Cheong, Tino Wong, Brandy Yuen, Yuen Shun Yi, Yuen Yat Chor, Yen Shi Kwan, and Yuen Cheung Yan – who was also behind the action.

By this stage of the game, Yuen Cheung Chan already had over 60 acting credits to his name with roles as an extra or bit-player in classics such as Trail Of The Broken Blade, One-Armed Swordsman, Golden Swallow, and The Prodigal Boxer – as well as a number of credits as martial-arts-director on films like Have Sword, Will Travel, King Eagle, and The Killer for Shaw Brothers. As it would be a number of years after before Yuen (and his brothers) would amaze the cinematic world with their more innovative choreography and unique style, the fights in Eagle Shadow Fist are delivered in a much more realistic and chop-socky fashion. While you can see power behind the hits, movements seem raw – as if the opposition doesn't really know what is coming – and often seems like an old Jimmy Wang Yu flick at times. In fact, this closing fight reminded me quite a bit of his final fight in 10 Fingers Of Steel (aka The Screaming Tiger, and King Of Boxers). This leads to a lengthy and brutal finale where children are violently killed and smashed-off rocks before Wong Ching arrives and beats the life out of the enemy. The fight moves up and down hills, over rocks, and even into a lake, with many lengthy takes that must have been exhausting for the actors. It actually proves to be a harshly entertaining battle, ending with Wong Ching ripping the eyes out of the karate expert which then sends him over a cliff-edge!

Director Chu Mu had been acting for a good decade before directing his first film in 1967 with Feng Yang Flower Drum. Chu already had a taste of directing a few years before-hand, working as an assistant director on a number of films he was starring in. While he would continue to act into the mid-1990s, Chu Mu directed his last film in 1981 with The Third Hand, a sex-comedy with a touch of horror. While he was never the greatest director in the world, Chu was competent enough in working with what was available and delivered a few watchable titles. A number of those would also star a young Jackie Chan, although none of which would never be hailed as a 'real' Jackie Chan movie. While Eagle Shadow Fist would be the first, this was quickly followed by The Heroine – also known as The Young Tiger, Rumble In Hong Kong, and Police Woman – where Jackie plays a thug who goes up against My Lucky Stars co-star, Charlie Chin. The infamous adult-comedy, All In The Family, followed – you know that one that appears in countless YouTube videos that claim Jackie was a porn star before he became an action legend. This claim was a load of nonsense of course, which I talk about more in my review for the film. The last title Jackie would appear in for Chu Mu was No End Of Surprises, another comedy-drama for Golden Harvest with more sex and adult humour (something it seems, Chu Mu enjoyed making).

The trouble with Eagle Shadow Fist is that it comes across as a cheap movie. Overall production values seem very low, though I can't help but feel that seeing the film in it's original widescreen format may help that. Any DVD copy I've seen or even my old VHS copy, doesn't really do the film any justice with a badly cropped and washed-out presentation that means we're losing quite a bit in terms of it's visuals. That said, I can't ever imagine the film getting a 4K restoration anytime soon, regardless of how many fans Chan has around the world. It certainly isn't the worst movie in the world by any means, but it does fall into a large category of (what other critics like to call) 'basher films', outshone by many other titles that offer the same story with bigger production values and better fights. Still, Eagle Shadow Fist is a watchable old-school flick that offers a dark and violent tale, with a much stronger second half...

Overall: Old-school violence with a better second-half, Eagle Shadow Fist is not completely unwatchable!

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THE EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES

(Hong Kong 1993) 

Original Title: Se Diu Ying Hung: Dung Sing Sai Jau 射鵰英雄傳之東成西就

 

Directed by Jeffrey Lau Produced by Wong Kar Wai Action by Sammo Hung Starring: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Jacky Cheung, Kenny Bee, Brigitte Lin, Joey Wong, Maggie Cheung, Carina Lau, Veronica Yip Reviewing: Artificial Eye UK DVD Genres: Martial-arts / Comedy / New Wave

Rating - 4 / 5

Artificial Eye DVD Synopsis: In the early '90s, cult filmmaker Wong Kar Wai and fellow Hong Kong director Jeff Lau established Jet Tone Films, an independent production company responsible for some of the most remarkable films to have emerged from the region. Jeff Lau's film 'The Eagle Shooting Heroes' is based upon the same famous Louis Cha novel as Wong's own 'Ashes of Time', which was shot concurrently and shares much of the same star-studded cast. A complete subversion of the Wu Xia Pian martial arts genre,Lau's film is a wickedly funny parody which piles on love triangles, bizarre musical numbers and entertaining action sequences choreographed by Sammo Hung (Enter The Dragon) to create one of Hong Kong cinema's most beloved cult classics. (100 Mins)

 

Views: Legend has it that The Eagle Shooting Heroes was made in under a month as a side project to Wong Kar Wai's highly revered art-house piece, Ashes Of Time. With the main production running out of time and money, Wong's investors started putting the pressure on forcing the director and his creative team to come up with the answer. Luckily, Wong Kar Wai had famed comedy director Jeff Lau on-board as a producer and, along with all of the Ashes Of Time cast members involved, the pair got to work in creating a spoof of the very masterpiece they were currently working shooting – lampooning the Louis Cha novel that both films were based on; The Legend Of The Condor Heroes. With that, The Eagle Shooting Heroes tells the tale of the Queen of Golden Wheel Kingdom and an affair with her cousin West Poison. With plans to take over the Kingdom, their ploy is soon discovered by the 3rd Princess who flees after being defeated by West Poison, and seeks help from her master who tells her about a secret martial arts manual, hidden deep in the mountains. But the 3rd Princess is beaten to it by West Poison, and soon needs to gather an team of highly skilled fighters to challenge her foe and his new found skills!

 

I just love this movie! Next to Wong Kar Wai's very own Ashes Of Time, this is like a breath of fresh air and I honestly don't think I've ever seen another production where it looks like every cast member (and no doubt even those behind the scenes) is having an amazingly fun time. And I mean, why not? Ashes Of Time was such a serious piece and everyone involved was probably just happy for the chance to let loose with this side project; no doubt underestimating just how well-received it would go on to be. Joining forces to create Jet Tone Productions, Wong Kar Wai and Jeff Lau set things in motion with this 'quick-and-dirty' film with the former taking on the role as producer, and the latter as the main writer and director of the piece. While Ashes Of Time would only be the fourth directional effort of Wong Kar Wai's – after the amazing As Tears Go By, Days Of Being Wild, and Chungking Express – Jeff Lau had a strong 10 or 11 titles already behind him as a director from Haunted Cop Shop 1 & 2 to Operation Pink Squad 1 & 2, All For The Winner, Saviour Of The Soul and more. With The Eagle Shooting Heroes, Jeff does a wonderful job in presenting some of his craziest mo lei tau comedy to date, completely ignoring anything and everything that should make sense with cartoon-like characters, crazy musical numbers, insane wire-fu action, and plenty of exaggerated injuries. Clearly it won't be for everyone – but I think it's brilliant.

 

The wonderful cast – obviously the majority of which came from Ashes Of Time – come in the shape of both Tony Leung's, Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Joey Wong, Brigitte Lin, Carina Lau, Kenny Bee, Maggie Cheung, and Veronica Yip, with each of them injecting tons of energy into their performances with some great comedy timing. Of course, this was a crazy busy year for all the stars involved with Leslie Cheung and Brigitte Lin also sharing the screen in Ronny Yu's Bride With White Hair 1 & 2, with Lin also starring alongside Joey Wong in Swordsman 3: The East Is Red and with Tony Leung Ka Fai in The Black Panther Warriors and Boys Are Easy, which also co-starred Jacky Cheung and Maggie Cheung. Of course, 1993 would also see Joey Wong and Maggie Cheung star alongside each other in Tsui Hark's Green Snake, with the latter starring in 12 films that year including the hilarious Flying Daggers – again with Jacky Cheung and Tony Leung Ka Fai co-starring. At the same time, Tony Leung Chiu Wai starred alongside Joey Wong in the brilliant Butterfly & Sword with the two Tony's sharing the screen in the hilarious comedies Tom, Dick & Hairy and He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father! The latter would also star Carina Lau who, incidentally, would share the screen once again with Jacky Cheung in the action-thriller, No More Love, No More Death. And while there are many other productions to add to the list, it goes without saying that 1993 was an incredibly busy year for all involved...

 

The legendary Sammo Hung choreographs the wild action, shifting the tone of serious swordplay from Ashes Of Time to insane under-cranked martial-arts that sees everyone bounce off walls and trees like they're in a pinball machine, apart from one hilarious scene that sees Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong deliver their moves in – what can only be described as – self-inflicted slow motion. That said, there are still a few moments of greatness that allow those involved to show off some incredible moves and enough to please fans of wire-fu action. This was an interesting period for Sammo as an action-director with similar styles offered in his other outings that same year such as Blade Of Fury and Kung Fu Cult Master – although its fair to say that he does goes overboard on this due to the cartoon-like tone of the film. With its colourful sets and lavish Persian costumes, fans of Jeff Lau's very own Chinese Odyssey films starring Stephen Chow Sing Chi, Flying Daggers with Jacky Cheung and Tony Leung, or any amount of over-the-top Wong Jing wuxia comedies, will have a great time with The Eagle Shooting Heroes. A genuine classic of early 90s canto-comedy, this is definitely one of those films that is best seen to be believed and is a wonderful example of how a last minute, improvised, and fun creative project can actually turn out to be a true gem!

 

Overall: Unhinged, colourful, hilarious, and highly entertaining, The Eagle Shooting Heroes is a wild ride that never fails to make me laugh!

 

Artificial Eye DVD Extras: Trailer

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EAGLE VS SILVER FOX

(South Korea/Hong Kong 1980)

Original Title: Bicheongwon 비천권 (aka) Dragoneer 12: The Crucial; Flying Martial Arts; Duel Of Fists

 

Directed by Godfrey Ho, Park Yun-Gyo Produced by Joseph Lai, Tomas Tang Action by Hwang Jang Lee Starring: Hwang Jang Lee, Gwak Mu-Seong, Sarah Sit Chi-Lin, Nam Chung-Il, Chiu Chun, Kim Yu Haeng, Pok Chung-Sit, Choe Mu-Ung, Kim Gi-Jong Reviewing: VPD UK VHS Release Genres: Kung Fu / Adventure / Drama

Rating - 3 / 5

VPD VHS Synopsis: The Manchu Dynasty is overthrown but a conspiracy to restore prevails among those ex-officials still alive. Yi-Kwai, nicknamed the Silver Fox, pays big dividends to gather around him the best fighters from various schools. They assassinate those who participated in the revolution. The Kung-Fu schools are shocked. They nominate Chow Fung, the Eagle, to lead them in face-to-face combat with the Silver Fox and his incredible army of warriors. (83 Mins)

 

Views: Although this IFD, Godfrey Ho directed film has given much of its audience a laugh due to its horrendous dubbing, it should be made clear that Eagle Vs Silver Fox has nothing to with The Secret Rivals movies, or Hwang Jang Lee's character of the same name. In fact, this kung-fu flick started life as a South Korean production originally called Bicheongwon from director Park Yun Gyo – the same man that went on to co-direct Hitman In The Hand Of Buddha with Hwang the following year. As with most kung-fu films of this era, Eagle Vs Silver Fox is a tale of revenge; this time one that tells of a young man's vengeance against the martial-arts master who murdered his father. The brilliant Gwak Mu-Seong – credited here as Mario Chan – does a fantastic job as Lee So; the young man out for revenge. Although he had only starred in 17 titles in under a decade, including classics such as Lone Shaolin Avenger, Four Iron Men, Dynamo, Killer Of Snake Fox Of Shaolin, and Warriors Of Kung Fu, Gwak proves to have the acting chops, the looks, and the moves of any decent kung-fu star. He certainly holds his own here up against the legendary Hwang Jang Lee, and most definitely should have been a much bigger star than he was – ending his short time in the industry with a leading role in Mantis Under Falcon Claws proving to be his last!

 

Although dubbed by Skeletor, former Taekwondo instructor of the Korean Army, Hwang Jang Lee, doubles-up his duties in Eagle Vs Silver Fox as star and action-director; delivering his usual menacing kick-ass performance and a host of excitingly choreographed kung-fu battles. Having already starred in over 30 productions by this stage of his career – many of which had confirmed his status as one of the most feared villains of Hong Kong cinema with roles in films such as The Secret Rivals 1 & 2, Invincible Amour, Snake In The Eagles Shadow, Drunken Master, 36 Deadly Styles, Dance Of The Drunk Mantis, and many more. 1980 was a pretty busy year for the guy with a further 9 or 10 films on the go including Tiger Over The Wall, Challenge Of The Tiger, Lackey & The Lady Tiger, Buddha Assassinator, and the infamous Game Of Death 2: Tower Of Death, and its fair to say that he doesn't disappoint in any of them – even when they are a little daft like this one. Of course, with a film like this it's all about the kung-fu action and Hwang provides plenty of it, complete with a number of his legendary kicks that always prove to be a highlight. From bookend battles to obligatory training sequences, and teahouse showdowns to villainous beatings, fans of old-school kung-fu movies will enjoy what Eagle Vs Silver Fox has to offer – including the vast amount of unintentional humour available.

 

The film also stars Sarah Sit Chi Lin, an actress who I've only ever seen before in Gordon Liu's Raiders Of Buddhist Kung-Fu – who impresses with her martial-arts moves – and a host of recognisable faces from this period of Korean/IFD hybrids such as Nam Chung-Il who appeared in a number of the aforementioned titles with Gwak Mu-Seong, Golden Dragon Silver Snake and Dragon Lee Fights Again with Dragon Lee, and The Secret Rivals alongside co-star Hwang Jang Lee. The bald headed Chiu Chun stars as one of Hwang's fighters and is probably one of the more noticeable faces next to the super-kicker having starred alongside Sammo Hung in classics such as Hand Of Death, The Shaolin Plot, and The Iron Fisted Monk, as well as Jackie Chan's Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin and with Hwang once again in Secret Executioners. While it may have been seen as just another kung-fu comedy, that were clearly a dime-a-dozen during this era of martial-arts cinema, Eagle Vs Silver Fox isn't a complete waste of time and makes for a fun 85 minutes if you're just looking for some brainless entertainment with exciting kung-fu action, and an enjoyable grand finale...

 

Overall: Packed with plenty of kung-fu cliches, kick-ass fight scenes, and hilariously dubbed lines, Eagle Vs Silver Fox is a fun ride and doesn't disappoint!

 

VPD VHS Trailers: My Lucky Stars; Black Cobra; Apocalypse Mercenaries; Wheels On Meals

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EASTERN CONDORS

(Hong Kong 1987)

Original Title: Dung Fong Tuk Ying 東方禿鷹 (aka) Condors Commando; Operation Eastern Condors

Directed by Sammo Hung Produced by Leonard Ho Action by Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Lam Ching Ying Starring: Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Joyce Godenzi, Lam Ching Ying, Charlie Chin, Cheung Kwok Keung, Billy Lau, Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Wah, Billy Chow, Yasuaki Kurata, Philip Ko, Dick Wei, Wu Ma, Dr. Haing S. Ngor, Melvin Wong, Corey Yuen Kwai, Peter Chan, Hsiao Ho, Chin Kar Lok Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / War

Rating - 5 / 5

Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Quite possibly Sammo's best film, this high-kicking tribute to The Dirty Dozen sees ten convicts offered amnesty if they undertake a deadly mission behind enemy lines in Vietnam to destroy a top-secret munitions dump. Featuring numerous references to Western war movies, such as The Deer Hunter and Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Eastern Condors is an action masterpiece like no other, filled with incredibly dangerous stunt sequences and full-contact fight scenes that left its cast bloody and bruised. Presented here fully uncut for the first time ever in the UK, and from a brand new 2K restoration, this film is an absolute must-see! (98 Mins)

 

Nameless German Blu-ray Synopsis: They come from hell hell in Saigon and kill as the dregs of society. Trained by the Army's best instructors, these losers were their last hope. From these volunteers, the Pentagon forges a sworn team for the forthcoming suicide squad. Your assignment: blow up an underground US missile base, 300 miles behind the barren lines! (98 Mins)

 

Hong Kong Legends UK DVD Synopsis: Featuring an all-star line-up of some of Hong Kong Cinema's most prolific action stars, 'Eastern Condors' is regarded by many enthusiasts as one of the crowning achievements of Sammo Hung's celebrated career. In a powerful high-energy tribute to 'The Dirty Dozen', ten soldiers condemned to life-term prison sentences are offered an amnesty if they go behind enemy lines in Vietnam to destroy a top-secret munitions dump. Action-legend Sammo Hung took preparations for this movie more seriously than any other, and hired personal trainer 'Eddie Mayer' to slim him down so he could more easily perform some of the incredible acrobatic kicking combinations which he had devised for the project with his stunt team. Showcasing some of the most amazing fight and stunt sequences you will ever seem, 'Eastern Condors' is an awesome tribute to the physical genius of Sammo Hung. In a bid to capture a level of realism seldom seen on celluloid, most of the sequences in this movie were filmed for real, with the actors actually making full physical contact during the fight scenes. Now restored and digitally re-mastered for it's UK premiere DVD release, and featuring a frank and revealing interview with director/star Sammo Hung on the making of the film, 'Eastern Condors: Special Edition' is one of the most exciting, raw-edged DVD packages you will ever experience!! (93 Mins)

 

Made In Hong Kong UK VHS Synopsis: Legendary Hong Kong actor/director Sammo Hung leads a ragged troop of mercenaries on a desperate search-and-destroy mission into the heart of darkness. Killers and gangsters to a man, hand-picked from top security jails by US military intelligence, the squad members are offered money and freedom as a reward for their suicide mission in Vietnam. Abandoned deep in hostile territory, this Oriental dirty half-dozen find their lives under threat from the ruthless Vietcong enemy and a hidden traitor in their midst. Widely hailed as Sammo Hung's finest achievement, 'Eastern Condors' is a truly devastating blockbuster, a matchless collision of high octane gunplay and breathtaking martial arts action culminating in an explosive climax of extraordinary power. Savage, relentless and graced with Hung's trademark choreographic brilliance, 'Eastern Condors' stands unchallenged as the ultimate Hong Kong war movie. (93 Mins)

 

Views: The first time I'd ever had the pleasure of catching any scenes from Eastern Condors was via the incredible docu-film, The Best Of The Martial Arts (Movies) – also known as The Deadliest Art – which offered a number of incredible action scenes from the film which were the highlights of the show for me. As a young teen, I had often dreamed of seeing the movie as a whole, yet was never lucky enough to find it as an ex-rental in my days of searching video stores across the country. From the powerhouse martial-arts action to the memorable score by Sherman Chow, these few scenes had been engraved in my head and I needed to see more! I managed to track down a bootleg copy that I had ordered from a private collector, as advertised in the (now defunct) back of Impact Movie Magazine, but it was pretty crap quality and only just fulfilled my needs. Thankfully, in the mid-late 90s, Eastern Condors was given a new release on VHS by the amazing UK label, Made In Hong Kong. I was in my element and once I had grabbed myself a copy from my local Virgin Megastore, went onto have this incredible action flick in my player every other night. While it had proven to be somewhat of a flop on its initial release in Hong Kong, Eastern Condors has since went on to become one of the most revered and treasured martial-arts films of Hong Kong cinema – and rightly so. The film is also highly regarded by many fans as one of Sammo Hung's best (if not his actual best) as a director and star; and it's easy to see why. Set just a year after the Vietnam War, a team of Asian-American prisoners are selected to go to Vietnam on a mission to destroy a top-secret munitions dump. Led by one of the army generals, the unlikely squad find themselves up against a host of spies, skilled fighters, deadly female guerillas, and the Vietcong. As the untrained soldiers get taken down one-by-one, the remaining few must fight for their lives in a blistering showdown that will secure their freedom – should they survive the battle!

If Eastern Condors would have been made today, it may have been an epic 3 hour piece given the content of what the original movie has and by elaborating on the elements of the story it proposed. The first of these missing stories is that of Team A; the band of serious soldiers who are sat facing Sammo's troop before they ship-out under the orders of the wonderful Melvin Wong. While Sammo's squad (led by Lam Ching Ying) were considered to be an ragtag bunch of expendables, Wong's team definitely gave the impression that they were a bit more clued-in and consisted of some very familiar faces of whom I'd loved to have seen more of. This included the handsome Max Mok, Michael Miu, Chung Fat, Kent Tong, Danny Poon, and Jackie Chan Stunt Team members Kenny Ho, Chris Lee, and the kick-ass Ben Lam. In fact, I'm surprised that Jackie himself didn't show up here in a cameo; although he was busy shooting Project A 2 (which was quite obviously missing Hung and Biao), not to mention the fact that his working relationship with his two brothers was already getting flaky. Of course, the following year would see that all come to an end with the amazing, although ironically titled, Dragons Forever! While we know that Wong and his team were killed in an (off-screen) explosion, a little more focus on them could have been so much more meaningful. Then there were all those deleted scenes that featured in the original 4 minute trailer – scenes that saw more background stories with our heroes in prison, including a lively basketball game which broke out in a fight, a prison riot, training scenes, and other fights (I mean, this stuff has already been filmed and never released!!). And finally, I think that a background story of the female guerillas would have helped extend that even more, among many other scenes – but I'm just speculating of course and more than happy with this Hong Kong classic...

Leading up to the filming of Eastern Condors, the burly Sammo Hung – who also worked his magic as one of the fight choreographers and overall director of the piece – trained intensively with the late Eddie Maher in a bid to slim down for his role. Put on a strict diet of chicken and rice in between sessions, it's fair to say that Sammo looked the best he ever did in Eastern Condors since his teenage years. And while it is said that his new appearance was one of the reasons that the movie flopped in Hong Kong, I believe that it benefited him massively and allowed him to deliver even more powerful and exciting moves during the fight scenes. I honestly feel that this is one of Sammo's greatest roles, if not his absolute greatest role in a modern film, and I never tire of seeing him kicking-ass as the self-appointed leader of the pack – he's an absolute powerhouse in this! This was a pretty crazy time for Hung , both as a star and director, having just wrapped up another epic film in Millionaires Express, as well as delivering two other exciting roles in Lucky Stars Go Places and Where's Officer Tuba? But it's clear that Eastern Condors had the majority of his attention in 1987, with Sammo only opting to play a few smaller roles the same year in his self-produced titles To Err Is Humane, Mr. Vampire 3, and Lai Shi: Last Eunuch In China – each of which featured many of his co-stars from this action epic. Sammo has delivered many amazing titles as a director during his career, but Eastern Condors really shows just how incredible he was at the job. And while it pays homage to many of the great war films that came before it, from The Dirty Dozen to The Deer Hunter, this late 80s action-epic should never be seen a film of lesser quality. The wonderful Yuen Biao steals the show as the super-cool and kick-ass Chieh Man Yeh (aka Rat, depending which version you're watching). Sporting his 'Flock Of Seagulls' haircut, Biao serves the local villages as a smuggler of U.S. Goods; often slipping the Vietcong soldiers some free chocolate and cigarettes to turn a blind eye. I absolutely love him in this role – perhaps one of my favourite from his filmography – which allows him to deliver the perfect blend of comedy, incredible stunt work, and amazing martial-arts moves. Much like his big brother, Biao had just come off a busy year with Millionaires Express, Rosa, Mr. Vampire 2, and the equally incredible Righting Wrongs (of which he also served as a producer and choreographer), making Eastern Condor his main focus of 1987. He also plays the nephew of Yeung Lung; a man on the teams' list who needs extracted, played wonderfully by the Oscar winning Haing S. Ngor. The team is initially led by the aforementioned and very missed Lam Ching Ying; a Hong Kong legend more widely known for his role in the Sammo Hung produced Mr. Vampire and many of its sequels (and spin-offs) that followed. Interestingly enough, Lam made his on-screen debut in the Shaw Brothers produced, Lo Wei directed film Brothers Five, which also saw Sammo briefly appear as well as double-up as the choreographer. Although they hailed from different Peking Opera Schools, the pair had long been close friends and went onto star together in many films from the early 1970s through to Lam's unfortunate passing in the mid-90s.

 

The rest of the good guys are played by a very familiar bunch of Hong Kong names, many of whom were definitely an odd choice on many levels. I'm talking about the award-wining and globally known Yuen Woo Ping, the equally talented Corey Yuen Kwai, amazing Chin Kar Lok, Hsiao Ho, Peter Chan, Billy Lau, Charlie Chin, K.K. Cheung, and Ka Lee, respectively. Most of these guys are known as martial arts powerhouses, yet are restrained from actually busting a move and seemingly cast for their (often comedic) performances only – which sees the latter killed-off in a darkly funny way just as the mission starts. While these were non-action roles to a degree for the most of them, albeit for some gun-play and war games, I was always a little confused as to why Sammo cast such skilled fighters such as Woo Ping, Yuen Kwai, Kar Lok and Hsiao Ho, rather than use some of the other stars from Melvin Wong's team (such as more straight-laced actors like Max Mok, Michael Mui,and Kent Tong). I'm sure he had his reasons, and it's far from a negative point as I thoroughly enjoy watching everyone involved, but what a different movie Eastern Condors would have been had the whole team been fighters. Instead, Sammo brings in a little extra help in by introducing 3 female Cambodian guerrillas in the shape of the little known Chiu Man Yan, the hardcore Ha Chi Chun, and the wonderful Joyce Godenzi who, of course, would go on to marry Hung a few years later. I really love the addition of this trio and was often in awe when watching their introductory scene in the aforementioned Golden Harvest doco-film. Although short, their dramatic and brutal attack on the enemy camp will forever be one of my favourite scenes in this movie, and they continue to impress with their performances throughout the rest of the film's running time – both in the drama and action department respectively. Unfortunately, Godenzi would retire from the scene only a few years later to focus on family life, but only after continuing to prove herself as an incredible action-actress in the Sammo Hung directed Spooky, Spooky as well as his produced titles She Shoots Straight and License To Steal, not forgetting her notable roles alongside him in Paper Marriage, The Raid, and Slickers Vs Killers, of course. While I haven't seen much more of actress Chui Man Yan, it's worth mentioning that I have enjoyed catching Ha Chi Chun kicking ass in titles such as Satanic Crystals, Angel Enforcers, Aces Go Places 5, Angels Mission, Brave Young Girls, Erotic Ghost Story, and more.

Equally though, in the bad corner, the cast is just as impressive with the awesome Yuen Wah leading the way as the main villain of the piece. That said, he really doesn't show up until the third act, but the wait is absolutely worth it! Although he had appeared in many films as a stuntman, extra, bit-player, or side character in many Shaw Brothers and early Golden Harvest kung-fu classics, as well as delivering many fun roles in Sammo's hit films My Lucky Stars, Heart Of The Dragon, Millionaires Express, and more – while not forgetting his role as the main vampire in the classic Mr. Vampire; it's fair to say that Eastern Condors was his breakout role and a role he would pay homage to (to some degree) in the legendary Dragons Forever. Wah is backed by a host of villain-favourites from Hong Kong cinema including the incredible Dick Wei, Philip Ko Fei, Yasuaki Kurata, and Billy Chow – all of whom get to show off their amazing fighting skills and prove to be deadly adversaries for each of our heroes. For me, these guys are four of the greatest bad-guys ever to appear on-screen and, once again, they don't disappoint when it comes to the action department. Legendary Japanese action-star,Yasuaki Kurata, also known as Shoji Kurata and David Kurata among many others, made quite the impression in his first Sammo Hung production, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, as the parachute assassin who later faces off against Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung with the deadly sai before coming ear-to-ear with the wrath of Sammo's tennis rackets. His brilliant role in as a ninja in the big man's epic Millionaires Express would follow just after this, although it would be some time later before the pair would star in the same movie again, with roles in Wong Jing's brilliant gangster film The Last Tycoon and Gordon Chan's God Of War, 15-20 years later. While they certainly weren't close to what the legends had dished-out in their 80s films, it was still nice to see them share a title once again. It's also worth noting that 1987 was a breakout year for Billy Chow who was taken under Sammo's wing and cast in this, Dragons Forever and Paper Marriage which really helped put him on the map. Of course, soon after that, Chow would keep his star lit with brilliant roles in Sammo Hung films such as the incredible Pedicab Driver, Blonde Fury, License To Steal, Magic Cop, and many more that would secure his position as one of Hong Kong's cinemas finest. The incredible Philip Ko Fei, whose amazing filmography highlights over 250 titles from his debut in Chang Cheh's Heroic Ones in 1970 through to 2006, has shared the screen a number of times with Hung Kam Bo and is absolutely one of my favourite stars who I feel was robbed of appreciation due to his later self-directed titles. And then, of course, there's the formidable Dick Wei – quite possibly the toughest bad guy in martial arts who, like Ko Fei before him, starred in a host of Shaw Brothers hits from The Brave Archer to The Killer Constable, before getting on-board with Sammo. This started with a role in The Prodigal Son in 1981 and saw Wei appear in most Hung titles (including those he produced) throughout the 80s. The late great Wu Ma provides an enjoyable role as a fussy Vietnamese corporal who forces his way into the home of Haing S. Ngor in order to use his toilet, and the great James Tien also cameos in a memorable role as an angry customer that sees him witness, first-hand, the fury and acrobatics of Yuen Biao when he threaten him with a couple of heavies.

In a nutshell, Eastern Condors is as amazing as everyone says it is! Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Wah, and others provide some of the finest action ever seen on film with incredible stunt-work and full-contact hits that make you squirm in pain. These include moments that see stuntmen take a full-force kick to the head from Sammo, or Yuen Biao's foot to the face after a gorgeous spinning-back kick. Another sees Yuen Biao get thrown from his ox-drawn cart and hitting the ground in such shape that would see most regular human beings snap in half – it's painfully amazing and you can't help but reach for the rewind button on many occasions. While the majority of the fight scenes involve Sammo and/or Yuen Biao taking on the Vietcong in jungle environments or their camp, which is pretty brutal, the grand finale allows for an incredible display of showdowns that push their choreography to the limit. Of course, this results in final bout between our two heroes and Yuen Wah which has long been a favourite of many Hong Kong film fans. If you haven't already gotten your hands on a copy of Eastern Condors by now, then get out there and find the best restored Blu-ray you can – you won't be disappointed!

Overall: One of my all-time favourites and a genuine classic of Hong Kong cinema, Eastern Condors shows Sammo at his best and well worth seeing!

Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Export Version (95 Mins), Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Interviews with Sammo Hung & Yuen Wah, Original Opening & Closing Credits, Eastern Condors Live Show, Trailers

Nameless German Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Export Version (95 Mins), Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Interviews with Sammo Hung & Yuen Wah, Original Opening & Closing Credits, Trailers

Hong Kong Legends UK DVD Extras: Biography Showcase, Interviews with Sammo Hung, Trailers

Made In Hong Kong UK VHS Trailers: A Better Tomorrow 2, God Of Gamblers, Saviour Of The Soul, Tiger On The Beat, Moon Warriors, Drunken Master

Watch my unboxing of the Nameless Blu-ray release HERE

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EASTERN HEROES

(Hong Kong 1991)

Original Title: Gwang Tin Lung 轟天龍 (aka) Fury In Red

Directed by Chong Lei/Lai Wen Hsing Produced by Philip Ko Action by Hung San Nam, Tony Tam Starring: Conan Lee, Ben Ng, Robin Shou, Jo Jo Ngan, Newton Lai, Ngai Suet, Lee Chun Wa, Mark Houghton, Vincent Lyn, James Ha, Yau Gwok Keung Reviewing: Best German DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts ./ Action / Thriller

Rating - 3 / 5

DVD Synopsis: A Vietnamese gang of gangsters fulfills an order for a wealthy industrialist in Hong Kong. They kidnapped another businessman. But when the gang doesn't get paid, the venture ends in a bloodbath and a series of retaliatory attacks. The police are able to eliminate a large part of the gang, but since cop Steve shoots the boss of the Vietnamese criminals, his brother Hawk swears merciless revenge. Steve's brother Roy, police officer for a US special unit, doesn't sit idly by and tries to end the revenge campaign together with the FBI, which is also after the gang. (85 Mins)

 

Views: When I started collecting Hong Kong movies in the early 1990s, Fury In Red always seemed like a title that was destined never to be found. Mind you, trying to locate these movies in Northern Ireland before the widespread use of the internet proved to be very problematic and provided many adventures when travelling to video stores across the country in search of something new. That said, I'm a very patient man and it only took a good 30 years for me to finally find this particular film, now named Eastern Heroes, on DVD courtesy of a German distribution company. The artwork provided was what really grabbed my attention at first, although I was disappointed to find that this release only gave me the option of the German soundtrack – no English subtitles, unfortunately. The film opens in L.A. where it introduces the characters of Vietnamese criminal Night Monster (who has just been released from prison) and police detective Ray before heading to Hong Kong for an action-packed introduction to Sergeant Mak; brother-in-law to Detective Ray. At the same time, in Hong Kong, Night Monster's gang of Vietnamese brothers are causing trouble with a kidnapping case (handled by Mak) that leads to a number of their members being killed during the rescue mission. But after word gets back to their boss in the States, both cops find out that trouble is on the cards as the Night Monster sets out for revenge in the most brutal of ways; slaughtering Ray's partner and raping Mak's wife, which sends both cops on their own trail of vengeance!

It's fair to say that Eastern Heroes/Fury In Red doesn't get the attention it deserves. I'm not saying that it's one of the finest movies to come out of Hong Kong by any means (hailing a typical plot we've seen time-and-time again) but negative reviews in the past have definitely made fans steer clear of this enjoyable action-thriller. Some state that the director of the piece is a certain Chong Lei – a man whose only other credit is the 1999 triad-drama Outburst starring Michael Chan Wai Man – while the DVD and IMDB claim it to be directors Lai Wen Hsing and John Ni; with this film being the only credit for the latter. Lai, however, is a cinematographer-turned-director who started work in the industry during the mid-70s capturing kung-fu films such as Superdragon Vs. Superman, Invincible Devil, The True Game Of Death, Wolf Boxer, and others including The Guy With Secret Kung Fu. He made his directional debut in 1985 with Thunder Cat Woman, a fun female-led martial arts thriller that was later edited into Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho's Golden Ninja Warrior for IFD Films who would do the same thing with his next film, Fierce Lady, which was then edited into Ninja Knight Thunder Fox. Lai would continue his female led action-thrillers with Stormy City Girl in 1990, making Fury In Red his first action film with male leads. This was probably encouraged more-so by Philip Ko Fei who helped produce the movie – although I'm quite surprised that he didn't take a role as he could have easily adapted to either of the characters on offer. Interestingly enough, this particular version I own credits Ko Fei as the director (which is still possible) and its star; although fails to mention the real lead of the movie. The multi-talented filmmaker had previously just came off Cyprus Tigers with Conan Lee and Robin Shou (of which he had also starred in, produced and directed) and was working similar roles on the fun Phantom War alongside Alex Man and a young Ben Ng around the same period as this...

Of course, the very same Ben Ng stars as Sergeant Mak here in Eastern Heroes, and while Conan Lee and Robin Shou are often promoted as the leads to help sell the movie to fans like myself, it's pretty clear that Ng is the main star of the show. Although he had a brief appearance in David Lai's Midnight Girls in 1986, Ben's first starring role was as another young detective in Norman Law's highly enjoyable action-thriller, Family Honour. The aforementioned Phantom War and this production would follow less than a year later, with also Ng returning to work under Norman Law once again in Scheming Wonders alongside his co-star, Conan Lee. While he wasn't a huge star in the early 90s, Ng does a great job here as Mak – both in the action and drama department – and is still going strong today with almost 100 titles to his name including Daughter Of Darkness 2, Red To Kill, The Adventurers, Sex & Zen 2, To Be Number One, and many more. The unfortunate Conan Lee (whose real name is Lloyd Hutchinson) does another fine job as the US cop who comes back to Hong Kong. Interestingly enough, Lee was born in Hong Kong although moved to the States as a child and grew up in Queens, New York. As any true Asian movie fan will know, Conan Lee made an incredible debut when he starred alongside the great Hiroyuki Sanada in Corey Yuen Kwai's amazing, Ninja In The Dragons Den – practically becoming the next Jackie Chan almost instantly. But, accordingly to legend, the new star was sent back West and followed up his groundbreaking role with memorable appearances in American films Gymkata, Eliminators, and Armed Response, as well as a blink-and-you'll miss him role in the legendary Big Trouble In Little China. In the late 80s, Lee would return to Hong Kong for another shot at the Asian market and landed a great role in Lau Kar Leung's fantastic Tiger On The Beat alongside Chow Yun Fat. A number of titles would follow including Aces Go Places 5, Tiger On The Beat 2 (which left him hospitalised for some time), Killer's Romance, Prince Of The Sun,the aforementioned Cyprus Tigers and Scheming Wonders, King Of The Sea, Dragon Killer, Fury In Red and – apparently – he even had a cameo in Jackie Chan's First Strike. Although the reasons are unclear as to why his star never did shine for too long, causing his departure from Hong Kong cinema (based on a mix of rumours that his attitude was unruly and cocky, or that he returned to the States to look after his sick mother), it's a damn shame that things didn't really work out for the better as I always enjoy seeing him in action. Of course, here in Eastern Heroes, he entertains once again and looks great during the fight scenes – even though he is only a supporting character. Actor Newton Lai Hon Chi, recognisable from films such as Heroic Defenders, City Kids 1989, Queen's High, Casino Tycoon 2, and Future Cops, stars as Ben Ng's commanding officer, and I was happy to see the wonderful Mark Houghton star as a good guy for once – even if he was a bit of a dick to his colleagues at times. I've long been a fan of this amazing Brit-kicker and always enjoy seeing him on-screen. A student of the late and legendary Lau Kar Leung, Mark has appeared in many great Hong Kong titles over the years including Angel Enforcers, Killer Angels, City Cops, Princess Madam, Tiger On The Beat 2, Outlaw Brothers, Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon, Final Run, Angel Terminators, Shaolin Popeye, and Drunken Master 2 among many, many more. In 2018, Mark produced his bio-doc, I am the White Tiger, which was an interesting insight to his life in the Hong Kong film industry (which I recommend you check out) and the problems that came with it. As the FBI agent on Ray and Mak's case, Mark does a great job and delivers some nice moves a number of times throughout – including one of the most memorable kills of the movie that sees him make use of a bamboo pole in the most brutal of ways.

In the bad corner is an equally enjoyable cast led by the wonderful Robin Shou – another underrated star who made the move to the States as a child, much like his co-star Conan Lee. Shou made his Hong Kong film debut in the 1987 action-comedy, The Big Brother, alongside Alex Man, Simon Yam, and Michael Miu, before making a more memorable appearance in Andrew Kam and Johnnie To's amazing thriller, The Big Heat. Supporting roles in City War and In The Line Of Duty 3: Force Of The Dragon would quickly follow the same year, before the star would win his first leading role in Robert Tai's fun Death Cage – also known as Bloodfight 2. Over the next few years, Robin would continue his career of bad guy roles in films such as Burning Ambition, Tiger Cage 2, In The Line Of Duty 6: Forbidden Arsenal, Hard To Kill and more, although still had the chance to fight on the side of good in a number of films including the two Godfrey Ho directed, Cynthia Rothrock movies Undefeatable and Honour & Glory; or Bloody Mary Killer and Angel The Kickboxer depending on which version you are watching. Of course, none would be more memorable than that of his role as Liu Kang in Mortal Kombat – his big Hollywood debut that saw him go on to star in other tinsel town films such as it's sequel, Beverley Hills Ninja, DOA: Dead Or Alive, Death Race 1-3, and more. Here though, in Eastern Heroes, Shou steals the show for me as the insane Night Monster as he delivers a crazed performance and some kick-ass moments of action. Robin is supported by another Hong Kong-born American actor, George Cheung, one of the most popular Asian actors in Hollywood who has over 200 credits to his name with appearances in films such as Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Big Trouble In Little China, Robocop 2, Under Siege, Lethal Weapon 4, Rush Hour, and a host of U.S. Television shows as well as Hong Kong productions including The Amsterdam Kill and Ringo Lam's The Adventurers. Much like the other stars of Eastern Heroes, Cheung has shared the screen a number of times over the years with each of them, and although his role as a criminal boss here isn't massive in any sense, it was still great to see him appear. The brilliant Lee Chun Wa stars as one of the Night Monster's Vietnamese brothers, and makes for a fun character here as Buffalo. Lee started life in the Hong Kong film industry with a small role in 1975s Death Of Bruce Lee before going onto appear in many kung-fu classics including Drunken Master, Two Wondrous Tigers, Tigress Of Shaolin, Killer Constable, Game Of Death 2: Tower Of Death, Dreadnaught, and others including We're Going To Eat You, Dragon Family, Angel Enforcers, Princess Madam, Fatal Termination, and many more. And then, of course, there is the handsome Vincent Lyn – who doesn't really have a huge role here, although it still proves to be a prominent one. While this would be Lyn's final year working in the Hong Kong film industry; shooting Armour Of God 2: Operation Condor, Retreat Of The Godfather, and Robotrix alongside it (which would probably explain his smaller role here), this popular Western bad guy had already impressed with his appearances in films such as Tiger Cage, Blonde Fury, King Of The Kickboxers, Outlaw Brothers, and more..

While Eastern Heroes/Fury In Red could be easily passed as just another Hong Kong action movie that were a dime-a-dozen in this era, I still feel that it has enough going for it to warrant it a watch. Aside from the fun cast mentioned (among others), there's a decent amount of fight scenes, hard-hitting action, and painful stunt-work that should keep any true fan happy. From the opening chase sequence and fight scene that introduces Ben Ng's character and sees an action-packed cameo from Tu Kuei Hua and Jack Suen Kwok Ming, to the gritty and stunt-filled shoot-out on the building site about 30 minutes in that sees Vincent Lyn in action, this fast and brutal style was typical of this era of Hong Kong cinema and continues throughout courtesy of choreographers Hung San Nam and Tony Tam Chun To; two former Shaw Brothers actors who have plenty of experience between them. Starting out in the famed studio in 1980, Hung went onto appear in over 100 films including over 30 Shaw titles before starring in modern hits like Project A, Yes Madam, A Better Tomorrow, Legacy Of Rage, The Iceman Cometh, Angry Ranger, and many more. The late 80s saw him turn his hand to action-choreography on films such as Vampire Vs Sorcerer 1 & 2, City Warriors, Bloody Brotherhood, Stars & Roses, Escape From The Brothel and this, many of which were alongside his colleague. Although he started in the Shaw Brothers studio just a few years before Hung, Tony Tam racked up as many titles during his time there and also appeared in films such as Miracle Fighters, The Prodigal Son, Shaolin Drunkard, Champions, Tiger On The Beat, Dragon Family, Burning Ambition, Crystal Hunt, Queen's High, The Bare-Footed Kid, Forbidden City Cop, and so much more. Similarly, started directing action in the late 80s on many of the same titles as Hung as well as titles such as Holy Robe Of Shaolin Temple, The Black Sheep Affair, The White Dragon, Black Ransom, and Donnie Yen films including Dragon Tiger Gate, Legend Of The Fist, Wu Xia, The Lost Bladesman, and Monkey King. Together, Hung and Tam deliver a number of exciting moments in Eastern Heroes and make good use of their cast involved from hard-hitting fight action to bloody shoot-outs and crazy stunts – especially in the action-packed final 20 minutes that sees Houghton, Shou and Ng let loose. In a nutshell, Eastern Heroes may not have an original plot, sharp direction, or an A-list cast, but it's still a neatly made action-thriller that has enough to entertain and plenty of great action to recommend!

Overall: While it may not be perfect, Eastern Heroes is far from terrible and offers enough gritty action, stunts, and fight scenes to keep old-school fans happy!

DVD Extras: Trailer

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ENTER THE FAT DRAGON

(Hong Kong 2020) 

Original Title: Fei Lung Gwoh Gong (aka) Tokyo Mission

Directed by Kenji Tanigaki Produced by Wong Jing, Donnie Yen Action by Donnie Yen's Action Team Starring: Donnie Yen, Niki Chow, Teresa Mo, Wong Jing, Louis Cheng, Jessica Jann, Takenaka Naoto, Chaney Lin, Jerry Lamb, Philip Ng, Anthony Chan, Steven Fung, Joey Iwanaga Reviewing: Well Go USA Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Comedy

Rating - 4 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: Enter The Fat Dragon is a hilarious chronicle of the events that transformed super-fit super-cop Fallon Zhu(martial arts phenomenon Donnie Yen) into a glorified records clerk with a major snack cake habit. After a desperate request from an old colleague, Zhu teams up with a wily, wok-wielding restaurateur to solve a mysterious murder – and take his one last shot at regaining both his job and his fiancée. (97 Mins)

Views: Superstar Donnie Yen stars as Fallon Zhu, a dedicated super-cop that gets the job done no matter what it takes. But these actions usually result in his co-workers and friends being left endangered or disappointed, and none more-so than his fiancée Chloe – a small time actress who can't wait to marry her man. But on the day of their wedding photos, Zhu opts for stopping a robbery that sees him miss the big event and destroy half the police station. With Chloe now gone after their big argument and a demotion in place, Zhu tries to continue to enjoy his life, but a bike accident the following day leaves him with a badly broken leg that sees him lose his position as the top cop on the force. Depressed and demoted, Fallon spends the next six months watching Bruce Lee movies, guarding the evidence room and keeping the vending machine in business as he snacks all day long out of boredom. As obesity sets in, Fallon is given a new lease of life when he is assigned the job of escorting a wanted criminal back to Japan – an assignment that soon sees him up against the Japanese Yakuza and back in a familiar position with his former fiancée!

I really enjoyed Enter The Fat Dragon! It took me a couple of years to finally see it, but I certainly wasn't disappointed with the outcome. While it could have been better to some degree, the film still offered enough amazing action, a bit of heart, and big laughs to make it another enjoyable slice of action cinema with plenty of moments that harked back to the Hong Kong cinema from the early 90s. I remember seeing a pillow commercial that Donnie had starred in a number of years back, where he raced a fatter version of himself downstairs – pulling off some cool moves along the way – and I can't help but wonder if that was the seed that spawned the idea for this particular movie. Produced by Donnie Yen and Wong Jing, with the latter penning the script alongside Philip Lui and Ronald Chan, the film was directed by the very talented Kenji Tanigaki; a Japanese-born actor and choreographer who joined a stunt team in the 1980s that got him started on a host of Japanese television shows. Kenji made the move to Hong Kong in the early 90s and appeared in films such as Ghost Lantern, Once Upon A Time In China 4, Fist Of Legend, Legendary Couple, and others such as Once Upon A Time In Triad Society that would also mark his first job as an assistant martial arts director (along with its sequel the same year). While he would continue this role on films such as Moonlight Express and Tokyo Raiders, Kenji would soon join forces with Donnie Yen on Legend Of The Wolf – Yen's underrated directorial debut. From there, the pair would work together on a host of titles including Ballistic Kiss, Shanghai Affairs, The Twins Effect, and modern hits such as SPL, Flashpoint, Bodyguards & Assassins, Legend Of The Fist: The Return Of Chen Zhen, Wu Xia, Special ID, Big Brother, and Raging Fire – as well as lending his talents to many other Hong Kong titles including Silver Hawk, So Close, Fatal Contact, The Liquidator, Shinjuku Incident, and more including the awesome Rurouni Kenshi series. For his directorial debut, Tanigaki does a great job with Enter The Fat Dragon and delivers plenty of fun moments that allow for repeated viewings – which is never a bad thing – and a host of amazing action sequences choreographed by himself, Donnie, and their action team. It was also fun to see them use clips from Flashpoint and SPL in regards to Donnie's super-cop image, using the real footage from both but having the wonderful Philip Ng double Wu Jing for a comedic take on the latter.

Ten or twenty years ago, this would have been an amazing project for Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung who, incidentally, was originally planned to play the role of Thor. But that idea was soon scrapped and producer Wong Jing stepped into the role himself, which wasn't disappointing by any means. I'm a huge fan of the director/producer/writer/actor and thoroughly enjoyed his portrayal of the portly restaurant owner and sidekick to Yen. And while I say it would have been great to see Chan in the role, I can't deny the fact that Donnie does comedy so well. Since the amazing Drunken Tai Chi and brilliant Mismatched Couples, we've rarely seen Donnie Yen get the chance to flex his comedic muscles – which is a damn shame, because he does it so well when given the chance. Of course, as the producer, writer and co-star of Enter The Fat Dragon the film is crammed with typical Wong Jing humour although its certainly not as wild and crass as many of his other efforts that often seem to put western audiences off. Personally - I find his works hilarious! Donnie does a great job as Fallon Zhu (as always) and seems to be having a great time in the role as he delivers plenty of fantastic moves throughout. The lovely Teresa Mo (who looks like she hasn't aged a day) stars as Wong Jing's wife, which works a treat. I've always been a huge fan of hers since she entertained me in titles such as Legend Of The Dragon, Magnificent Scoundrels, Hard Boiled, All's Well Ends Well '92, and more recently in An Inspector Calls alongside Eric Tsang – and it's always a treat to see her on-screen. The young Chaney Lin Qiu Nan returns for his second Donnie Yen title after impressing in the superb Big Brother (although only gets the chance to show his moves in one short fight scene) and Niki Chow from Naked Ambition, Heavenly Mission, and Chasing The Dragon stars as Donnie's fiancée. Louis Cheung, from David Lam's 'Storm Series' co-stars as one of his cop friends and new actress Jessica Jann, who starred with Teresa Mo in An Inspector Calls, plays a translator who has found a new job with crooked Japanese cop played by the wonderful Takenaka Naoto – a prolific actor who appeared in Jackie Chan's Shinjuku Incident and John Woo's Manhunt, as well as Japanese titles such as The Waterboys, Red Shadow, Samurai Marathon, 20th Century Boys, and so much more. The gorgeous Joey Iwanaga (aka Joey Tee) stars as the main antagonist of the film, and gets to give Donnie a run for his money when the action kicks-off. Joey has impressed over the last decade in films such as Crows Explode, Tokyo Tribe, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, High & Low: The Movie 2 & 3, Samurai Marathon, and Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, and does a great job here as the Yakuza grandson with a chip on his shoulder. Long time Hong Kong film fans can also keep an eye out for cameos from actors such as Anthony Chan, Jerry Lamb, Wong Cho Lam, Yan Hua, and the aforementioned Philip Ng among many others and a strong Japanese cast.

While I had only wished they had done a bit more with the 'fat look' in regards to comedy elements, and made it obvious just what part of Bruce Lee they were spoofing – instead of just playing re-treads of Bruce Lee movie scores - I still have to give Enter The Fat Dragon the thumbs-up for being such an entertaining film. And although it's completely on the other end-of-the-scale compared to Sammo Hung's classic film of the same name (and not a remake as many would think), it has it's own charm and makes for a great watch. Perhaps it would have suited the title of Way Of The Fat Dragon a little better...

Overall: Action-packed and funny, Enter The Fat Dragon is an exciting piece of martial arts cinema that has enough good going on to hide it's flaws!

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this WellgoUSA release HERE

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EROTIC GHOST STORY

(Hong Kong 1990) 

Original Title: Liu Jai Yim Taam

Directed by Lam Nai Choi Produced by Chua Lam, Johnathan Chow Action by Philip Kwok Starring: Amy Yip, Man Siu, Kudo Hitomi, Tan Lap Man, Ha Chi Chun, Manfred Wong, Kamimura Kiyoko, Lam Chung, Kong Long Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Adult / Fantasy / Comedy

Rating - 4 / 5

88 Films Blu-ray Synopsis: A trio of saucy spirits with nothing better to do deceive unwary and horny men; that's until all three of them get the hots for a hunky scholar, settling down to show him the pleasures of the flesh. Except the path of true lust does not run smooth. From the director of the legendary bonkers The Story Of Ricky comes an altogether more lubricious slice of adults-only action, the one that more than lives up to its title, branded with Hong Kong's infamous Category III rating for its commitment to carnality and starring amply endowed icon of Sino sex cinema Amy Yip (Sex and Zen). (90 Mins)

Kam & Ronson HK DVD Synopsis: Once upon a time, there were three sisters who happen to be vixens. So So, Fi Fi and Fa Fa have been doing everything good and assumed the shapes of girls. They're to become immortal deities if they keep on doing the right thing. Unfortunately, they fall in love with a young handsome scholar one by one. But they finally find out that he is notorious devil of lust Wutung. Sex keeps Wutung young, at the expense of his bed partners, though. So the three girls discover fox hair has come back to their bodies. Luckily, a demigod come to help them out. The vixens are told to behave. They still have a claim to immortality. (86 Mins)

Views: Lam Nai Choi's infamous period sex comedy tells the tale of three fox spirits who must resist the temptations of the flesh, in order to become immortal. Over the course of 36 days, the sisters must stay faithful so they can leave their animal forms behind but are hounded by many horny men around them - including the God of Desire, Wu Tung, who must sleep with them so that he can stay young and refrain from turning into the three-headed-demon that he really is. Cue lots of crazy shenanigans, sensual love making, swordplay and kung-fu, group sex, and hilarious comedy as The Witches Of Eastwick meet A Chinese Ghost Story in this highly entertaining Golden Harvest production!

Erotic Ghost Story is the first of a trilogy that headlined the Cat. 3 genre of Hong Kong cinema in the early 1990s, pre-dating the more infamous Sex & Zen by just a year and packed with just as much nudity and sex (if not more). The film was produced by Chua Lam, who brought us lots of fun titles such as this film's sequels, The Seventh Curse, The Peacock King 1 & 2, Vampire Vs Vampire, Robotrix, Crime Story, City Hunter, and Mr. Nice Guy. He also presented Story Of Ricky, the infamous live-action manga starring Fan Siu Wong and Yukari Oshima that would see him join forces once again with Lam Nai Choi – who must have been his favourite director at the time. Lam started life in the Hong Kong film industry as a cinematographer in the mid 70s, helming titles such as Carry On Con Men, The Drug Connection, Avenging Eagle, The Kid With A Tattoo, and Rendezvous With Death. As his directorial career kicked off in 1981 with One Way Only, Lam would continue to shoot many of his own films with Erotic Ghost Story being one of his last. I have to say, it is a pretty gorgeous film – enhanced even more by this wonderful Blu-ray print from 88 Films – with every shot beautifully framed and bursting with stunning colours. It is quite possibly one of my favourite Lam Nai Choi movies...

After starring in the Chua Lam presented adult-comedy Jail House Eros for Golden Harvest just a year before, Amy Yip returned for Erotic Ghost Story and quickly became known as the queen of Cat. 3 films upon its release. She is joined by Man Siu who went onto star in the sequel as well as appearing in films like Bullet To Survive, Hong Kong Gigolo, and Legend Of The Drunken Tiger – and Japanese actresses Kudo Hitomi and Kamimura Kiyoko, with the latter finding herself lucky enough to be strung up naked and eaten to death by a three-headed demon. That demon in question is played by the handsome Tan Lap Man, who stars as Scholar Ming and the God of carnal desire, Wu Tung. Tan started off with smaller roles in films like Carry On Hotel, Operation Pink Squad, and The Iceman Cometh, with Erotic Ghost Story definitely putting him on the map. From there he would go on to star in film such as Queen Of Underworld with Amy Yip, Dances With Dragon, Demon Wet Nurse, Fire Dragon, and played the hilarious character of Rocky in Jackie Chan and Wong Jing's City Hunter. Prolific actor Lam Chung, who also appeared as the mad scientist who put his mind into Billy Chow's body in the super-fun Robotrix, appears as the heroic Taoist monk – a character very similar to that of Wu Ma's in A Chinese Ghost Story. And the talented actor/writer and director Manfred Wong, stars as the unlucky neighbour to the 3 beauties who is constantly harassed by his jealous wife, played by the wonderful Ha Chi Chun - known more famously as the double-crossing guerilla in Sammo Hung's classic, Eastern Condors.

While the majority of the horror element in Erotic Ghost Story is saved for the big finale, I still enjoyed what was on offer. Yes the effects are a little crass at times, but they are all practical – albeit for some animations to enhance things – and often reminded me of the old zombie classics by Lucio Fulci. I'm not to sure who was behind them, but if you have seen Lam Nai Choi's Story Of Ricky or The Peacock King, then you know what to expect. The action isn't as often as what I had hoped for, but it's very neatly done when it does come about. This is all down to Shaw Brothers star and action choreographer, the great Philip Kwok who also worked on (and starred in) Lam's previously mentioned titles, as well as The Cat alongside Gloria Yip and Waise Lee – in what would be the final feature film to date, of Lam Nai Choi. I really liked Erotic Ghost Story. It's a beautiful film that does exactly what it says on the tin and makes for an entertaining watch. As with many of the other critics whose reviews have complaints about the blunt ending to the film, I can totally understand that it may have seemed somewhat rushed and sudden, but it hardly ruined the experience and definitely helped the film go out with a bang!

On another note – the special feature 'Celebrity Talk Show' on the 88 Films Blu-ray release is quite a fascinating watch as actor/writer/composer James Wong, prolific screenwriter (and actor) Ni Kuang, and producer Chua Lam sit on a garish looking couch on the set of Erotic Ghost Story and talk candidly about the filmmaking process. As they sip on their drinks and smoke their cigarettes, things quickly move onto breasts, nipples, breastfeeding, and being naked as the beautiful Amy Yip joins them on the couch – along with co-stars Kudo Hitomi and Kamimura Kiyoko. Dressed in their characters costumes, the 3 men try hard not to stare at the amount of flesh on offer as they excitedly fly through the aforementioned subject matters, digging their own graves deeper and deeper as if they've forgotten the cameras were even on – and totally unconcerned as to what the ladies in front of them might actually be thinking. It's hilarious to some degree and actually makes me want to see more episodes of the show after watching it...

Overall: A highly enjoyable romp packed full of colour, sex, and kung-fu, Erotic Ghost Story is beautifully made and never boring!

Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, Audio Commentary with Sam Deighan, Episode of Celebrity Talk Show on the set of Erotic Ghost Story, Trailers.

Kam & Ronson HK DVD Extras: Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE

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EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN

(Hong Kong 1977) 

Original Title: Hong Xi Guan (aka) Executioners of Death; Shaolin Executioners

Directed by Lau Kar Leung Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Lau Kar Leung Starring: Chen Kuan Tai, Lily Li, Lo Lieh, Wong Yu, Gordon Liu, Cheng Kang Yeh, Chiang Tao, John Cheung, Lee Hoi Sang, Dave Wong Kit, Shum Lo, Fung Hak On, Wilson Tong, Stephen Tung Wai, Hsiao Ho Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama / Comedy

Rating - 4.5 / 5

Arrow Video Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): The Manchu troops, tipped off by the treacherous White Browed Hermit, burn down the Shaolin Temple, which houses the patriotic Chinese. In the midst of the conflagration, the Rev. Zhishan is killed by the White-Browed Hermit in a terrible duel. The inmates of Shaolin Temple, including Hong Xiguan, Tong Qianjin, and Xiaohu, break out from the burning temple, pursued by the Qing soldiers, led by Gao Jinzhong. (100 Mins)

Dragon Dynasty US DVD Synopsis: The film that made Liu Chia Liang famous, Executioners From Shaolin is the first to feature the infamous white-haired priest Pai Mei who would later appear in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill 2. To avenge his teacher, a student of Shaolin and then his son must use Tiger and Crane style to defeat the evil white-haired priest. Expertly directed, the is á groudnbreaking classic with excellent kung fu and choreography' (Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Movies). (101 Mins)

Views: While many fans see this as an accompanying piece to Chang Cheh's Heroes Two, Men From The Monastery, Five Shaolin Masters, and Shaolin Temple respectively, Executioners From Shaolin is Lau Kar Leung's own take on what happened after the burning of the Shaolin Temple. Interestingly enough, the great Chen Kuan Tai does play the same character but this time, doesn't escape with Fong Sai Yuk. Fleeing with a few other friends, Hung (Chen) and company travel around China on the operatic ''red boats'' that sees them put on political plays across the land, often getting into bother with their disruptive tales. Hung soon meets performer Yong and her father, and it doesn't take too long for the pair to marry. As time passes, they lead a fairly ordinary life and gain a new son called Wending. One day, Hung decides to take revenge on the deadly White Brow eunuch, Pai Mei, who led the Qing army to destroy his temple. But during their battle, Hung underestimates the hermit and just about escapes with his life – going on to train in the Tiger style for another 10 years. At the same time, Wending has become a skilled martial artist himself, learning his mothers Crane style almost to perfection. Believing he has trained enough to beat Pai Mei, Hung returns to challenge him one more time, but after a lengthy battle between the masters, Hung loses to Pai Mei and is killed. Of course, it is now up to his son Wending to take revenge which sees him combine the Tiger and Crane style to take down the deadly eunuch in a battle to the death!

This was the third directorial piece from Lau Kar Leung (or 4th if you count his co-directing role on Breakout From Oppression with Gordon Liu), and I have to say that I enjoyed it a bit more than Challenge Of The Masters. While it may lack the stronger morals and drama of his second title, Lau returns to a sub-genre he knows all too well having choreographed many of the aforementioned titles from Chang Cheh's Shaolin cycle of films. For me, it just proves to be a much more entertaining film overall – larger to some degree, and with many more fights on offer. To be honest, I must admit that the title of Executioners From Shaolin definitely doesn't suit the film itself, with Challenge Of The Masters being a better option given the storyline, or even its original Cantonese title of Hung Hei Goon - named after Chen Kuan Tai's heroic character (much like that of Wong Fei Hung). 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 third film for Lau Kar Leung after his directorial debut, Spiritual Boxer and Challenge Of The Masters. Due to the success of those films 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 upon viewing. 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 – getting more and more expressive with each of his self-directed pieces. 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. Just a year after this, Lau knocked it 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 (albeit 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 a decade. In 2003, Lau 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 Kar Leung 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...

While I do love Executioners Of Shaolin, I have to admit that it does have a couple of moments throughout that raises an eyebrow. The film opens with a fantastic battle between Pai Mei and Shaolin master Zhi Shan that introduces the formers retracting groin skills. This is delivered similar to the 'red room' scene of many kung-fu movies from this era which is often done to highlight the actors particular skills, or specific styles, that will later appear throughout the main story. This is followed by a scene that harks back to Lau's days with Chang Cheh, as Hung and his friends escape the burning temple only to get trapped by the Qing soldiers. Suddenly, another friend appears to help – played by Gordon Liu in a cameo similar to that of his one in Chang Cheh's Five Shaolin Masters – who takes on the small army to help the other disciples escape. While Hung and his friends run off, Liu beats down as many Qing soldiers as possible while he gets shot at with arrows and eventually killed. It's a pretty bloody and serious scene to open with considering the amount of broad humour that comes into play straight after it, but I must admit it probably gives Liu a better fight scene than his grand finale in Challenge Of The Masters did. It's from here that the film continues on with a blend of kung-fu, drama, and broad comedy reminiscent of Lau's later productions like Return To The 36th Chamber for example, but at the same time it breathes a bit of fresh air into a typical Chang Cheh-style film. As the choreographer, Lau provides a wide range of fun fights from the aforementioned scenes that open the movie to Hung's epic challenges against Pai Mei, or the Peking Opera-inspired fight scene to a friendly match between Hung and his wife, and so much more which includes an exciting showdown between Wending and Pai Mei in the grand finale. It's definitely a step-up from Lau's previous film, even with the training scenes proving to be a little more exciting. These includes the use of a wonderful bronze statue that reveals iron marbles marked as Pai Mei's meridian points, with the final death blow only achievable at the right time of day!

The wonderful Chen Kuan Tai, who had been acting since 1969, does a great job in his role as kung-fu master Hung Hei Goon/Hung Xi Guan – the creator of the Hung Family Tiger Fist. As one of the Shaw Brothers first real, true martial-arts trained actors, Chen started of as a bit-player before getting his big break with The 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. As the roles came flooding in after the success of The 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 his Iron Monkey feature also known as Iron Monkey Strikes Back. To settle things with his old bosses, Chen agreed to return to the studios for a role in Crippled Avengers and continued to jump between his independent titles and Shaw Brothers to deliver films such as the fantastic Shaolin Kingboxer (aka Iron Fists), Killer Constable, The Master, his aforementioned Big Boss From Shanghai, and many more. To date, Kuan Tai has starred in over 160 features – even appearing in modern hits such as Derek Kwok's Gallants, 14 Blades, Dragon Tiger Gate, 7 Assassins, Once Upon A Time In Shanghai, and more. The wonderful Alan Cheng Kang Yeh, who is probably more recognisable to fans of Hong Kong cinema for his roles in Jackie Chan's Young Master and Dragon Lord, once again stars as Ma's best friend and loyal man-at-arms. Cheng made his debut with Shaw Brothers in The Dancing Millionairess in1964, before going onto have a lengthy career appearing in many of their greatest titles – and quite a few that were alongside Chen Kuan Tai. The wonderful Lily Li (Lily Lee) stars as Chen's wife Yong, and gets the chance to show-off some moves which is always a treat. After making her debut in 1964, Li went onto become one of the most popular actresses of her time and starred in classics such as Come Drink With Me, The Heroic Ones, Six Assassins, Four Riders, Iron Bodyguard, Oily Maniac, Web Of Death, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, Dreadnought, Challenge Of The Masters and Jackie Chan's fantastic Young Master. Wong Yu returns to star in his third consecutive Lau Kar Leung directed piece, after playing the lead role in Spiritual Boxer and co-starring in Challenge Of The Masters. I found it odd that Lau would have him make way for the young Gordon Liu in the latter, yet oddly switch the roles back again here as he places Wong as a lead character and reduces Liu to more of an extended cameo. Wong actually made his feature film debut alongside Chen Kuan Tai in The Bloody Fists in 1972, a production directed by Ng See Yuen. For the next 5 years, until Executioners Of Shaolin, the pair would star together in a number of films including The Tea House, The Flying Guillotine, Big Brother Cheng, Spiritual Boxer, and Challenge Of The Masters. While I've never been amazed by Wong Yu, it's fair to say that he is a very talented performer and seems to be having fun in the role of Wending, the mummy's boy who takes revenge for his fathers murder. The choice to dress Wending in more feminine outfits and wear his hair in 2 buns, was somewhat of a mystery to me – or perhaps I was just missing something that was lost in translation. Dave Wong Kit stars as 10 year old Wending in what would only be his 3rd role, and would go onto star in films such as Casino Raiders 2, A War Named Desire, Heat Team, and New Police Story with Jackie Chan. The wonderful Lee Hoi Sang cameos as monk Zhi Shan who fights Pai Mei in the opening sequence, and favourite villain Chiang Tao (Kong Do) stars once again as an evil Qing general, this time with Lee Chiu as his bodyguard. And wile there are plenty of appearances from future talents such as Fung Hak On, John Cheung, Stephen Tung Wai, Wilson Tong, Hsiao Ho, Chin Yuet Sang, Peter Chan, Eric Tsang, Mang Hoi, Johnny Cheung, Lam Ching Ying, and Billy Chan, it has to be Lo Lieh that steals the show as the White Brow eunuch, Pai Mei.

Born in Indonesia to Cantonese parents, the great Lo Lieh started life in the film industry when he joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1964. After a bit part in The Dancing Millionairess, Lo quickly climbed the ladder as an actor appearing in films such as Temple Of The Red Lotus, The Twin Swords, The Sword & The Lute, Tiger Boy, Magnificent Trio, and Golden Swallow – all alongside Jimmy Wang Yu – as well as roles in King Cat, The Thundering Sword, Dragon Swamp, and Brothers Five for director Lo Wei (which also featured choreography by Sammo Hung). More prominent roles in the aforementioned Valley Of The Fangs and The Chinese Boxer (again with Wang Yu) took him through to a busy year in 1971 where he would star in no less than 10 feature films, right through to the production of the hugely popular King Boxer in '72. From there, Lo Lieh went on to star (and appear) in hundreds of fantastic titles right through to the turn-of-the-century, just before his death at the end of 2002. Respectively, Lo made his own directional debut in 1973 with Devil & Angel – a martial arts crime-thriller also starring Wu Ma and Chan Wai Man, produced by his own film company, Lo's Film. Lieh went onto direct a further 8 films including Black Magic With Buddha, Zen Master 6, and the highly regarded Clan Of The White Lotus – a remake of Executioners Of Shaolin that would see him return to the role of Pai Mei, only this time with Gordon Liu in the leading role. It was rare enough that Shaw Brothers would ever remake one of their titles, but to do so after just 3 years was just unheard of. Regardless, the film was a great success and actually saw original director Lau Kar Leung step in as the fight choreographer to lend his support. Of course, the character of Pai Mei would inspire a host of other films over the years, but it would be Tarintino's Kill Bill Vol. 2 that would bring him into the modern world with Gordon Liu now portraying the character due to Lo Lieh's untimely death. Of course, I mustn't forget about director Lau Kar Leung's very own cameo when he appears as one of Pai Mei's guards on the temple steps. Although brief, Lau gets to challenge Hung while using a three-section-staff and could easily be missed as he blends in with a hundred other fighters...

But still, Executioners Of Shaolin is a fantastic kung-fu flick and a great progression for Lau as a director. Backed by a strong cast and some memorable fight scenes, this is one title that deserves to be in every fans collection. It's Blu-ray release in the UK,as part of the box set known as Shaw Scope Vol.1 from Arrow Video, is one of its finest releases to date and makes the film even more exciting to watch. Lau Kar Leung re-invents the unarmed combat and traditional kung-fu flick, and at the same time was possibly showing Chang Cheh what 'could-have-been' had he given Lau a bit more freedom!

Overall: A kung-fu classic with plenty to love, Executioners From Shaolin is Lau Kar Leung's answer to many Chang Cheh epics, but with better kung-fu!

Arrow Video Blu-ray Extras: Appreciation Film by Tony Rayns, Interviews with Gordon Liu and Chen Kuan Tai, Alternate English Credits, Trailers, Image Gallery

DVD Extras: Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

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EXILED

(Hong Kong 2006) 

Original Title: Fong Juk

Directed by Johnnie To Produced by Johnnie To Action by Wong Chi Wai, Ling Chun Pong Starring: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Nick Cheung, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet, Richie Jen, Josie Ho, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam, Eddie Cheung, Hiu Siu Hung, Tam Bing Man, Wong Chi Wai, Jimmy Wong, Ellen Chan Reviewing: Chameleon Films Australian Blu-ray Release Genres: Bullet Ballet / Drama / Triad

Rating - 5 / 5

Chameleon Films Australian Blu-ray Synopsis: Wo (Nick Cheung) unwisely returns to Macau where Boss Fei (Simon Yam) has put a price of his head. His childhood buddy Blaze (Anthony Wong) is given the contract, while another lifelong friend, Tai (Francis Ng) is sworn to defend him. The scene is set for the kind of simmering confrontations that fans of Johnnie To prize so much. As characters loom out of the darkness, the tension is so thick you could pick it up with a pair of chopsticks. Exiled is undoubtedly the high point of To's work in the gangster genre. It seizes on elements central to the Hong Kong action film, such as the conflict between loyalty and self-preservation, and the way that male bonding is certainly stronger than death, and maybe even stronger than automatic weapons. It succeeds brilliantly in making these genre elements fresh through Johnnie To's enormous talent and passion for filmmaking. The film is full of memorable set-pieces where taut confrontation is savoured in the moments before it explodes, and where inventive wide-screen compositions and crisply edited action provide a feast for any cinephile. (109 Mins)

 

Megastar Hong Kong DVD Synopsis: The time is 1998. The setting is Macau. Every loving soul jumps at every chance to make quick money before the Portuguese colony ushers in a new era under the Chinese rule. For the jaded hit men, they wonder where this journey will end. Against this background of fin-de-si cle malaise come two hit men from Hong Kong sent to take out a renegade member trying to turn over a new leaf with his wife and newborn baby. They soon find themselves in the throes of a dilemma when two of their former associates also show up, intent on thwarting them at every cost. (109 Mins)

 

Views: After retiring to Macau with his wife and baby, retired hitman Wo returns home to find that an old triad boss has now put a price on his head. There to take him down is an old friend, Blaze, assisted by his sidekick Fat Bor. At the same time, his best friend Tai has arrived to defend him, along with his sidekick Cat. But when a respectful shoot-out ends without any fatalities, the five old acquaintances agree to go after their old boss, Fei, to put a stop to him and gain some last rewards in the final hours of Macau's time under Portuguese rule – although not without their own losses!

 

For me, Exiled is nothing short of perfection in terms of a Johnnie To film. It also highlights just how incredible of a director he truly is, knocking the likes of John Woo off his out-dated pedestal (something I've also said that Dante Lam has achieved for many years now). While I'm certainly not knocking the handful of incredible titles Woo has delivered over the years; namely with A Better Tomorrow 1 & 2, The Killer, Bullet In The Head, and Hard Boiled, I firmly believe that Johnnie To has been a lot more consistent in his career. This is especially evident with his works from 1997 onwards that would see him deliver an incredible amount of titles across a wide range of genres from triad-dramas to heroic bloodshed, and romantic-comedies to police thrillers, To Kei Fung just seemed to have the magic touch and rarely failed to deliver something that didn't entertain in one way or another. Exiled plays like a sequel of sorts to The Mission; Johnnie To's 1999 film that saw most of the same actors play most of the same characters (to some degree). But aside from the terrific performances from all involved, To layers the film with a wonderful score and plenty of gorgeous cinematography – all of which elevate the beautifully directed action-scenes on offer that are the definition of the term, bullet-ballet...

 

Although there is a simplicity to Exiled and it tells a tale that we've seen many times throughout Hong Kong cinema, Johnnie To still manages to reinvent the genre in certain ways and keep things fresh. In fact, it was such a privilege to see it in glorious HD courtesy of this stunning Blu-ray release from Australian label Chameleon Films. Produced by To and his Milkyway studios, the film is wonderfully captured by DOP Cheung Siu Keung and cinematographer To Hung Mo. The man behind the lens of most Johnnie To films – as well as many other hits such as Fight back To School 1 & 2, Satan Returns, Thunderbolt, and Ip Man 4 – Cheung Siu Keung delivers yet another stunning film aided by some great lighting that just makes his cinematography pop. It's also worth noting that the same man directed both In The Line Of Duty 6: Forbidden Arsenal and In The Line Of Duty 7: Sea Wolves, as well as the Once Upon A Time In China inspired film, White Lotus Cult – the first of the Sam The Iron Bridge Trilogy. In fact, To Hung Mo has accompanied Cheung on many of the Milkyway productions as a cinematographer, as well as a wide range of other Hong Kong titles over the years. Actor and director Law Wing Cheong; the man behind Johnnie To's Running Out Of Time 2, PTU sequels Tactical Unit: The Code and Tactical Unit: Comrades In Arms, Wrath Of Vajra, and Donnie Yen's box-office flop Iceman 3D – gains the credit of Executive Director once again; a role he has held on many of To's movies including The Mission, Fulltime Killer, Breaking News, PTU, Running On Karma, Throwdown, Election, and more. Here, he is assisted by Jeff Cheung – a popular assistant director on titles such as Extreme Challenge, Infernal Affairs 2, Anna In Kung Fu Land, That Demon Within, and Cold War – and also cameos here as one of Boss Fei's henchmen.

 

Anthony Wong and Francis Ng headline the show, with both delivering fantastic performances along with their co-stars. Having already been in the business for almost 2 decades by the time the role of Blaze in Exiled came about, Wong quickly won his legion of fans usually by portraying a sleazy, nasty, unlikeable character – many of which won him a host of awards over the years. From brutal Cat.3 films to action-comedies, wuxia fantasy to drama-based thrillers, and more, there isn't too much Wong hasn't turned his hand to; even going on to impress in the action department with roles in films such as House Of Fury, Ip Man: The Final Fight, and The Four Trilogy. Throughout the 200+ films of his career so far, Anthony has shared the screen with the equally prolific Francis Ng many times over the years; here playing the role of Tai. Starting off his career in the Hong Kong film industry just a year after his co-star, Francis followed a similar path of roles throughout his career and has long impressed fans and critics alike with his wide choice of roles. Both have also worked with Johnnie To many times over the years, and while they rarely disappoint, I'd say that their roles here in Exiled stand as some of their most enjoyable. Johnnie To regular and all round fan favourite, Lam Suet, stars as Wong's sidekick Fat Bor – offering a little comic relief as always, and holding his own against his co-stars. Although he made his feature film debut a few years after the aforementioned stars, as a terrorist in 1989's Andy Lau flick Proud & Confident, Lam has went on to star in over 260 films to date; some of which were main roles and some as fun cameos. He is matched by the great Roy Cheung, an actor who has often been underrated over the years yet has equally delivered some great roles during his 3 decades in the business. Having co-starred with Wong, Ng and Suet many times over the years, it was great to see him back in style as Ng's sidekick Cat -one of his last five films to date. The four of them are joined by the brilliant Nick Cheung who stars as Wo, the unfortunate old associate who is destined to be taken out. Interestingly enough, in real-life, Nick left the Royal Hong Kong Police Force after 5 years of service to become an actor, going on to star in almost 90 films including Against All, The Tricky Master, The Duel, The Conmen In Vegas, the Election Trilogy, Breaking News, Beast Stalker, White Storm, Line Walker, and many more. In 2014, Cheung made his directorial debut with Hungry Ghost Ritual of which he followed with Keeper Of Darkness just a year later, and the The Trough in 2018. He is partnered with the wonderful Hiu Siu Hung, a very recognisable face and prolific actor of Hong Kong cinema since the early 70s. With over 170 films to his name, including Games Gamblers Play, Royal Warriors, A Bite Of Love, Running Out Of Time 1 & 2, Bio-Cops, Anna In Kung-Fu Land, Heat Team, Fatal Move, 12 Golden Ducks, and Line Walker (with Cheung), as well as many more, Hui has always been a welcome addition to any film and does a fantastic job in the role of Inspector Hoi.

 

The five leading men are joined by a great supporting cast, starting with the great Simon Yam who stars as the triad boss Fei. I really enjoyed Yam in this role who, like many of his co-stars, had just come off the set of Johnnie To's other triad film, Election 2, which was made the same year. Of course, Simon had been yet another regular of the directors work for many years and has shared the screen numerously with the most of them at some stage throughout his 240+ filmography. Gordon Lam, who has become more prolific since the turn-of-the-century, stars as Boss Keung and quickly finds himself caught up in the action. I've was never a huge fan of Lam's in the beginning, but have actually grown to enjoy him in many films over the years. The popular Eddie Cheung plays the double-crossing fixer Jeff, and is a regular face of many Johnnie To titles including The Bare-Footed Kid, Running On Karma, Throwdown, Election 1 & 2, Breaking News, Vengeance, and more, and has appeared in many other great hits over the years for directors such as Dennis Law, David Lam, and Roy Chow. It was nice to see Hui Siu Hung appear, although time in a much smaller role than that of his role in Johnnie's Breaking News and others. Hui has been a very recognisable face and prolific actor of Hong Kong cinema since the early 1970s and has over 170 films to his name including Games Gamblers Play, Royal Warriors, A Bite Of Love, Running Out Of Time 1 & 2, Bio-Cops, Anna In Kung-Fu Land, Heat Team, Fatal Move, 12 Golden Ducks, and Line Walker, as well as many more, Hui has always been a welcome addition to any film and offers up some funny moments in the role of Sergeant Shan. Playing another Sergeant – although one of a security firm this time – is Richie Jen who we first meet as he takes-on a gang that are trying to rob him. Aided by the team of friends, Jen is then persuaded to split the gold between them and join them on their escape. Richie Jen is an actor I have learned to love more since I first saw him in Gorgeous, Silver Hawk, and Seoul Raiders. Of course, there's no denying that he has went on to impress over the years with roles in Breaking News, Lady Cop & Papa Crook, Accident, Life Without Principle, Legendary Amazons, and more. One of the ladies of the hour is played by the wonderful Josie Ho, daughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho and lead-singer of a rock band called Josie & The Uni Boys. Ho plays Cheung's unfortunate wife, who delivers some powerfully dramatic moments and gets the chance to join in on the action also. I think the first thing I ever saw Josie star in was Teddy Chen's Purple Storm, quickly followed by For Bad Boys Only and the fun Jackie Chan-produced Twins Effect soon after. I enjoyed her role in House Of Fury, where she would star alongside her Exiled co-star Anthony Wong, although I haven't seen too much more of her films since. That said, Ho has obviously made a name for herself in the Hong Kong film world and has went on to star in over 50 films since the mid-90s, as well as some television shows, earning her multiple awards and critical acclaim. And finally, the beautiful Ellen Chan, who I always had a crush on since I first saw her in the brilliant Top Squad/Inspector Wears Skirts many moons ago, plays the conniving hooker who plays everyone involved her own way in a bid to get rich quick and dispose of those in her way. Since her early roles from the mid-to-late 80s to today, it seems that the face of Ellen Chen has changed enough for me not to recognise her any more. That feisty young girl from the aforementioned Jackie Chan-produced film, Aces Go Places 5, and Tiger On The Beat 2, has transformed into a stunning woman who now stars in less films per year since the turn-of-the-century. Recent works include a mix of roles in films such as this, The Underdog Knight, and Marco Mak's Naked Soldier, to name but a few.

 

Johnnie To utilises the stunning, Portuguese-inspired architecture of Macau to help give Exiled the film a more exotic, Mediterranean feel, and pays homage to the classic Westerns of Sergio Leone on many levels which just works beautifully. America composer Dave Klotz creates an incredible score that compliments every second of frame on screen, and went on to score the Johnnie To produced Eye In The Sky as well as Triangle, which was directed by To, Tsui Hark, and the late Ringo Lam. The action in Exiled – all of which is highly stylised gun-play – was handled by Wong Chi Wai and Ling Chun Pong, with the former also starring as one of Simon Yam's heavies; a role he has often played since making his debut as an extra in the 1978 flick, Gambler's Delight. Since then, Wong has went on to star in over 70 films including classics such as 36 Deadly Styles, The Victim, Lion Vs Lion, Kid From Kwantung, Owl Vs Bumbo, The Killer, Swordsman, Crime Story, and so much more including To's very own Fulltime Killer, PTU, Running On Karma, Breaking News, and others. Between them both, Wong and Ling deliver some incredibly stunning gun fights that are neatly done and so beautifully captured, that they help make Exiled one of the greatest modern-Westerns of the 21st Century – and that's quite an achievement!

 

Overall: Wonderfully acted, gorgeously captured, and brilliantly directed, Exiled is one of my favourite Johnnie To movies and a modern classic of Hong Kong cinema!

 

Chameleon Films Blu-ray Extras: Two Audio Commentaries with Frank Djeng, Video Essay on Exiled, Interview with Composer David Klotz, Exiled Dreams: The Career of Josie Ho, Making Of Documentary, Behind The Scenes, Photo Gallery, Trailers

 

Megastar DVD Extras: Making Of Documentary, Behind The Scenes, Photo Gallery, Trailers

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EXPECT NO MERCY

(Canada 1995) 

(aka) Virtual Kickboxing

Directed by Zale Dalen Produced by Jalal Merhi, Kevin Ward, J. Stephen Maunder Action by Billy Blanks, Anthony De Longis, Jalal Merhi Starring: Billy Blanks, Jalal Merhi, Wolf Larson,Laurie Holden, Anthony De Longis, Michael Blanks, Gary Chow, Real Andrews, Gary Foo, Sam Moses Reviewing: Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Sci-fi

Rating - 3.7 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: Justin Vanier (Billy Blanks) is a highly trained and deadly agent for an elite police force known as the Federal Security Bureau. After a fellow undercover agent turns up dead, Justin is recruited to infiltrate a high-tech martial arts training facility known as the Virtual Arts Academy, where students are trained in combat situations using virtual reality. Once inside the facility, Justin is to make contact with another undercover agent named Eric (Jalal Merhi) who believes that the academy is really a front for a team of hired assassins run by their power hungry leader, Warbeck. With fear of their covers getting blown, Justin and Eric must face off with computer generated opponents in a series of simulated fights that have real-life consequences. Featuring state-of-the-art computer graphics for the time, Expect No Mercy puts a unique spin on the virtual reality films that were popular in the 90s. Featuring no-holds-barred martial arts action and solid performances from Billy Blanks (TC 2000), Jalal Merhi (Tiger Claws), and the lovely Laurie Holden (TV's The Walking Dead), Vinegar Syndrome Archive is proud to present this truly one-of-a-kind martial arts experience on Blu-ray and restored in 4K from its 35mm original camera negative. (91 Mins)

 

Views: Jalal Merhi's Expect No Mercy is a mid-90s sci-fi martial arts film that took the idea of virtual reality down a different road from all the other movies toying with the same gimmick around this time. Special agent Justin Vanier is assigned to infiltrate a martial arts-academy and find another undercover agent on the inside, where they then must team-up together to bring down the power-hungry Warbeck – a madman who has been using the school as a front to hire out his team of deadly assassins. But once inside, their cover is blown and both agents must fight for their lives; both in the real world and in Warbeck's virtual reality!

 

I remember having this fun little flick on VHS back when it first came out. Back then, I wrote it off as just another North American action film with laughable graphics and some fun fight scenes and never even entertained the cheap-ass DVD version that I bought years later. Mind you, I wasn't the only one! Most of Jalal Merhi's films were met with the same attitude such as TC 2000, Talons Of The Eagle, Fearless Tiger, and others. Videotape quality and 4:3 televisions didn't really show these kind of films in the right light, but now – thanks to Vinegar Syndrome – the best of Merhi's films have been 4K restored and released on Blu-ray, and Expect No Mercy proudly joins the likes of his Tiger Claws Trilogy, TC 2000, and Talons Of The Eagle to give fans the chance to experience his films the way they were meant to be seen. Now, watching Expect No Mercy in its full glory on Blu-ray, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and felt like I was seeing a brand new film for the first time. Yes the cheesy dialogue was still there, as were a few questionable moments of actions and costume choices, but overall I have to say that this was one of Jalal's more solid pictures with everyone giving a pretty decent performance and plenty of exciting martial arts action to keep action fans happy. I guess, for me, the only negatives would be the exaggerated villain in Warbeck and the computer graphics used when the fighters where in the virtual reality world (as well as a few of the chosen opponents like a clown and dominatrix). But I have to remind myself that this was the mid-1990s – a period where SFX hadn't quite been mastered, men with long-hair were always cast as the bad guys, and I didn't really cared much for this era; often disregarding movies (like this) because of it. But since having this Vinegar Syndrome release in my collection, I've already watched Expect No Mercy twice over two days with one of those times spent listening to Jalal Merhi's commentary, which was actually quite interesting.

 

French action star, Olivier Gruner; star of Albert Pyun's fantastic Nemesis, Angel Town, and Merhi's very own collection of The Circuit movies and television show – was originally cast as special agent Justin Vanier due to a demand by Merhi's new distributors, Alliance. But as he wanted to be the hero of a one-man show and had been over-worked on his previous projects, Gruner opted to step out of the role which allowed Billy Blanks to jump back in there – Jalal's initial choice and my preferred star out of them both. While he had been playing supporting roles since the late 80s, real-life martial artist Billy Blanks came to the attention of martial arts movie fans when he starred as Khan in Ng See Yuen's King Of The Kickboxers alongside Loren Avedon. While some smaller appearances would follow over the next couple of years in films like Timebomb, The Last Boy Scout, and The Master with Jet Li, Billy would start his film journey with his old friend Jalal Merhi in the fun Talons Of The Eagle in 1992. The pair would continue with TC 2000 before going on to do their own projects, only to re-join for Expect No Mercy a couple of years later. Of course, at the same time Billy was taking the world by storm with his self-made workout program, Tae-Bo, that took him on a whole new journey and often saw him appearing as himself in many shows and movies that followed. In 2021, Billy starred in an episode of Jalal Merhi's television adaptation of The Circuit which has been their only project together since this film. Born in Brazil to Lebanese parents, Jalal Merhi emigrated to Canada as a young adult to study and continue the family jewellery business. While he stuck with his love for competitive martial-arts, Jalal soon formed his production company, Film One, where he would begin his journey as a writer, producer, director, and star of many independent movies and television shows. One of his first big hits was with the brilliant Tiger Claws, that saw him star alongside Cynthia Rothrock and Bolo Yeung. Fearless Tiger, Talons Of The Eagle, and TC 2000 would follow but 1994 would see him make his directorial debut with Operation Golden Phoenix. With over 20 films as a producer and a host of television shows behind him, Jalal Merhi has proven to be one of Canada and independent cinema's most busiest and successful film journeymen who is still going strong today. I've always enjoyed seeing the pair of them together on screen, and while it may seem that they have done it many times over the years, Blanks and Merhi have actually only shared the screen in 3 movies altogether.

 

Here, the pair are joined by the beautiful Laurie Holden – star of The X Files, The Shield, The Walking Dead, and The Boys – who looks great as one of the academy staff that finds themselves choosing which side to fight for, and all round hunky German-Canadian actor Wolf Larson replaces (Jalal's choice of) Gary Daniels in the role of the power-hungry Warbeck. While he had been appearing in some television shows since the mid-80s, Wolf got his big break when he was cast as the small screen version of Tarzan in the early 90s show of the same name. After 75 episodes, and somewhat of a household name to many, Larson would replace Daniels in another move by Alliance in a bid to help sell Expect No Mercy to a wider audience. Did it work? Who knows – but he does a fine job in the role and delivers enough smarmy cheese to make him a fun bad guy and big boss to a number of fine fighters including Anthony De Longis; an actor, choreographer and weapons expert who has done countless work with many games designers as well as appearing in films such as Circle Of Iron, Jaguar Lives, The Sword & The Sorcerer, Masters Of The Universe, and Fearless with Jet Li, since making his acting debut in the early 60s. He stars alongside the talented Michael Blanks – brother of Billy – along with Canadian veteran actor and stuntman Real Andrews, and recognisable character actor Sam Moses from films such as Ghostbusters, Adventures In Babysitting, Short Circuit 2 and more...

 

The film is directed by TV director Zale Dalen, a man who made his directorial debut with the film Skip Tracer followed by Hounds Of Notre Dame before going on to television shows such as Airwolf, Friday The 13th: The Series, 21 Jump Street, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and more. I have to say that there certainly wasn't anything overly exciting about his approach, but he still does a great job in keeping things smooth and tight. The martial-arts action is handled by Billy Blanks, Jalal Merhi, and Anthony De Longis respectively and is actually quite enjoyable for the most part. Jalal had gained the support of many martial-arts schools from the Ontario region to give the academy the same scope as Enter The Dragon, with hundreds of young fighters spread far and wide across the campus practising their moves. Aside from the virtual reality training, Expect No Mercy definitely delivers on action and will surely please any fans of 90s fight flicks that are looking for a good time. As mentioned, I really enjoyed going back to watch it – and more so thanks to its new restoration which really won me over. While it still has its flaws (obviously), Expect No Mercy is a worthy piece from Merhi's collection and a film I would happily go back to watch again!

 

Overall: Action packed and full of 90s cheese, Expect No Mercy is a fun film with plenty of martial arts action!

 

Blu-ray Extras: 4K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Jalal Merhi, Audio Commentary with Zale Dalen, Interview with Billy Blanks & Jalal Merhi, Interview with Zale Dalen, Interview with Anthony De Longis, Original Video Trailer, Expect No Mercy The Game: Trailer, Intro & Play-through of the game based on the movie

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