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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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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

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).

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.

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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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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