THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK
Original Title: Long She Xia Ying
Directed by Chen Chi Hwa Produced by Ching Ping Wong Action by Ho Wei Hsiung Starring: Hsu Feng, Yuen Hua, Lo Lieh, Ma Ju Lung, Hu Chi, Kao Ming, Chui Git, Miao Tian, Hsueh Han, Lee Man Tai, Hsiao Yao, Ko Yu Min, Wu Chia Hsiang, Jackie Chan Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama
Rating - 3.7 / 5
Synopsis: Chi Tien Wei has been elected Chief of the Jiang Hu after his three disciples eliminate the most feared fighters in the Jiang Hu, namely: the 'Militant Dragon and Tiger', the 'Devil Stars', and the 'Three Horrid Mice'. However, not everyone is pleased at Wei's appointment as Chief and many anonymous fighters and wizards are sent t upset his household, 'The First Family'. Soon Chi Tien Wei realizes that there is a betrayer within his own house. (93 Mins)
Views: Although often sold as a Jackie Chan film in the west, The Face Behind The Mask is most definitely not. While the mega-star and greatest action hero in the world does appear (albeit, masked) it's nothing more than a bit-part in what was perhaps his final role as an extra before taking his journey with Lo Wei – of which director Chen Chi Hwa would join him on soon after. He is also not the star or the fight-choreographer, which also tends to be highlighted by distributors (although that's not to say he wasn't allowed to look after his own fight scenes possibly). When Chi Tien Wen (Hu Chi) is elected to be the leader of the martial world, he soon finds out that many other families and fighters are against it. As more warriors and assassins descend upon the 'first family', the master's top three disciples must do their best to protect him, no matter what the cost. But soon, they find that there is a betrayer in the Chi house that leads to fingers being pointed and innocent people being framed. As one disciple sets out to uncover the truth, twist and twist unravels that all lead to an exciting finale of good versus evil...
Produced by the short-lived Chung Wai Motion Picture Company, whose only other production was A Massacre Survivor (which I really enjoyed), this late 70s wuxia thriller was scripted by Chang Hsin Yi – the same writer behind The Traitorous, 18 Bronzemen, Kung Fu Wonder Child, Shaolin Vs Lama, and other Chen Chi Hwa films like Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin, and Dance Of Death. While it was a different time that involved most Hong Kong and Taiwanese kung-fu movies working from the same plot-lines, The Face Behind The Mask offers a bit more of a solid story with many twists and reveals that actually all makes sense in the end, proving to be one of Chen's better directorial efforts. Although he had co-directed Jackie in Shaolin Wooden Men the year before, Chi Hwa continued his relationship with the young star by having him appear here before going on to direct him the following year in Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin and Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu – both of which I just love. A few years later and with his newfound stardom behind him, Jackie would return the favour to Chen Chi Hwa by directing the action in 36 Crazy Fists and Dance Of Death with Angela Mao Ying, before bringing him along as an assistant director on many of his modern hits from Young Master onwards!
The film also benefits from a strong cast starting with its 3 main leads with Shaw Brothers legends Lo Lieh and Yueh Hua joined by King Hu favourite, Hsu Feng. They are backed by Taiwanese stars Miao Tian, Hsueh Han, Lin Chao Hsiung, Hsiao Yao, and popular Hong Kong actor Lee Man Tai who played the Devil Monk in Killer Meteors and the old beggar in Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin, as well as starring in many hits such as The Prodigal Son, Last Hero In China, Millionaires Express (Shanghai Express), Magnificent Warriors, and Jackie Chan's fantastic, Miracles. Along with a huge cast of extras, everyone involved gives very good performances that help make The Face Behind The Mask a more solid movie than it is often given credit for. The non-stop kung-fu and swordplay action are handled by Ho Wei Hsiung, bit-part actor of over 150 titles from 8 Dragon Swords to Snuff Bottle Connection, and Kung Fu Emperor to Island Of Fire – with choreographer credits on a lesser amount of titles. While perhaps not the greatest battles of its time, considering what was coming out of Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest by this stage, Ho still manages to keep viewers attention with clean choreography, speedy moves, and neat camera work which was captured by Taiwanese cinematic veteran, Chen Jung Shu – cinematographer on over 130 films including the majority of Jackie Chan's Lo Wei movies, Dragon Lord, Drunken Tai Chi, Butterfly & Sword, and the aforementioned Island Of Fire.
Well directed, neatly shot, and nicely written, The Face Behind The Mask continues to entertain today with its great cast and well-choreographed fights. As I say with most of these classic hits, the chance to see it fully restored and on blu-ray would be refreshing and no doubt gain the film the respect it deserves before it gets completely forgotten about. But until then, it still proves to be worth a watch for fans of the leading stars or anyone who fancies a decent, old-school wuxia thriller...
Overall: Jam-packed with kung-fu and swordplay action, The Face Behind The Mask is a great wuxia thriller with plenty of twists and a great cast!
Directed by John Woo Produced by Terence Chang, Christopher Godsick, Michael Douglas Action by John Woo, Brian Smrz Starring: John Travolta, Nicholas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes, Margaret Cho, Thomas Jane Reviewing: Touchstone Home Video UK DVD Release Genres: Action / Crime / Sci-Fi
Rating - 2.3 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Oscar winning superstar Nicolas Cage (Con Air) and screen icon John Travolta (Pulp Fiction) battle head to head in FACE/OFF... the ultimate cat and mouse thriller directed by the worlds most acclaimed action film director, John Woo (Mission Impossible 2). To avenge the senseless murder of his son, FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) undergoes radical new surgery allowing him to switch faces with the comatose terrorist Castor Troy (Cage) and assume his identity. But when Castor awakes and assumes Sean's identity, the reall Sean is thrust into an unimaginable nightmare, fighting not only for his life but also those of his wife (Joan Allen) and daughter. Briliant performances and mind-numbing visual effects make FACE/OFF the explosive action thriller you've got to see to believe. (138 Mins)
Views: I remember the excitement surrounding Face/Off when it first came out. An explosive thriller with a story so ridiculous, it could prove to be a disaster if not in the hands of the right director. That person of course, was John Woo – a master of action movies that had been entertaining fans like myself with Hong Kong titles such as Last Hurrah For Chivalry, A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Bullet In The Head, and Hard Boiled – which soon saw him gain huge notoriety in Hollywood. Upon making the move, Woo delivered the Van-tastic action-thriller, Hard Target, to the world and quickly became the go-to guy for Hollywood blockbuster action flicks. Following up with the fun but just-as-daft, Broken Arrow and a TV movie remake of his very own Once A Thief, Woo was soon signed-on to bring Face/Off to life – his biggest project to date. The film follows the simple plot of a cop, Sean Archer, who swaps faces with hardened criminal, Castor Troy, so he can solve a case. But when Archer comes face-to-face with himself, he knows things have gotten a little out-of-hand. As families and friends are brought into the situation and their lives endangered, Archer must convince his wife and colleagues that he is the real Sean and stop Troy once and for all, as well as get back his face. How fucking ridiculous!
There are plenty of cringe-worthy moments in Face/Off that would be hailed as utterly ridiculous if they appeared in any other film. But for some reason, because of its director and leading stars, Face/Off seems to get away with it by a lot of reviewers and critics. From god-awful cheesy lines to extreme over-acting, obvious stunt-doubles to bad continuity, and bizarre moments like when random fireworks go off after Cage drives his plane through an air-hanger, to the ultimate gaff of putting a new face on a person with a completely different body shape (and size). It's corny as hell, but for some crazy reason the majority of western cinema goers loved it. Personally, I didn't really see the appeal, with the first major turn-off for me being the casting choices! Face/Off probably has the most uninteresting and unappealing cast of any Hollywood blockbuster film, and I couldn't really care for anyone at all on the screen – let alone its two leading men. Co-star Nick Cassavetes was hugely annoying as Pollux, delivering lines in a soft spoken and condescending fashion that just annoyed the fuck right out of me. Honestly, had this starred anyone else but John Travolta and Ridiculous Cage, I may have been singing a different tune. If there are two Hollywood actors I just can't take seriously, it has got to be these two. And while they may deliver some of their moments in either roles with some degree of competency, both stars go way over the top with some utterly ridiculous 'crazy' performances that make them seem almost comical in their execution. I mean, how these guys are considered as some of Hollywood's finest is beyond me – I just don't get it (especially Cage). I did however, find it interesting to note that the writers had initially intended the roles to go to Michael Douglas and Harrision Ford, which would have been one hell of a movie! But after some consideration, Michael decided that he would help produce the film and unfortunately, the roles went to Cage and Travolta. Of course, the latter had just came off the set from Broken Arrow which was shot the year before and also directed by Woo – and Cage would go on to star in John Woo's epic wartime, action-drama, Windtalkers, 5 years after this...
I have to say that, when John Woo made the move to Hollywood I found that his films very quickly started to lose that Hong Kong magic that made him such a respected and much loved action-director of Asian cinema – much like that of any Hong Kong director who has tried to make the move. With US guidelines and restrictions set in place, his Hollywood titles very quickly exchanged the gritty realism of his Hong Kong set-pieces for polished action scenes. Those typical John Woo trademarks that we all loved to watch in the likes of A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hardboiled, soon became eye-rolling moments that were very over-used in every aspect. On top of that, Woo was lacking some decent actors that could deliver a role that oozed the coolness and charm of Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung, or Simon Yam. In fact, had this film been used as the launching pad for Chow Yun Fat and Simon Yam's Hollywood debut, I reckon Face/Off would be considered as much of a classic for John Woo as one of his Hong Kong titles are today. On a positive note, there are some nice action scenes that are neatly placed throughout its 133 minute running time (or longer in some other territories). While they are nothing in comparison to the aforementioned Hong Kong titles, they obviously did the job in entertaining Hollywood executives and action fans alike. But as a long-time fan of HK cinema, I honestly wasn't seeing anything spectacular. Perhaps Face/Off, both in its story, style, and action, is a product of its time – a time that I wasn't too fussed about, especially when it came to American movies and television shows. While I always try to re-watch films like this or Broken Arrow (or even Joss Whedon's cut of Justice League) with the hope that they will get better or perhaps prove to be a little more entertaining than before – it just never seems to be the case, and always leaves me feeling a tad disappointed or bored. Apart from offering an exciting instalment to the franchise of Mission Impossible with the first of its sequels, and a memorable piece with Windtalkers, John Woo's light in Hollywood soon began to fade and within a decade of making Face/Off would return to the motherland to produce and direct a number of epics such as Red Cliff, Warriors Of The Rainbow, Reign Of Assassins, and The Crossing. We'll not say too much about Manhunt though!
Overall: A ridiculous script with questionable performances that dilute what decent action is there, and help render Face/Off as just another Hollywood action flick!
DVD Extras: Trailers, Action Overload (Short edit of action scenes), Cast Bio's
FAIRY TALE KILLER
(Hong Kong 2012)
Original Title: Zui Xiong (aka) Perfect Fairy Tale
Directed by Danny Pang Produced by Danny Pang, Alvin Lam Starring: Sean Lau Ching Wan, Wang Ban Qiang, Elanne Kong, Joey man Yee man, Ken Lo, Lam Suet, James Ho, Fu Ka Lei Reviewing: Terracotta UK DVD Release Genres: Thriller / Crime / Mystery
Rating - 2 / 5
DVD Synopsis: Once upon a time there lived a hard-nosed detective with a gruesome case to solve. A seemingly disturbed man confesses to a brutal murder. After the alleged victim is discovered alive and well, the perpetrator is released. Days later the victim is found dead, with his stomach cut open and stuffed with rocks. This is just the first chapter in a series of sadistic killings inspired by Cinderella, The Red Shoes and Hansel & Gretel. Can the detective solve the Grimm riddles, catch the killer and live happily ever after? (90 Mins)
Views: Danny Pang's Fairy Tale Killer opens with quite an intriguing scene as we see the mentally challenged Wu handcuffed to a chair in a police station. With his face caked in make-up, Wu is questioned by a number of cops, led by Inspector Wong, who listen to his claims that he has killed a man called Cheung Fai. The team quickly check on his named victim, who they find alive and well at his home. Inspector Wong releases Wu, blaming his illness for the wasting of police time and thinks nothing more of it. That evening, Inspector Wong returns home to his autistic son and estranged wife – a setting that leaves him angry and distant, void of any love for his family in not knowing how to deal with his child's behavioral issues. At the same time, Wu has actually taken Cheung Fai prisoner and murders him in a bizarre fashion that leaves the deceased with rocks in his stomach. After finding the body, Inspector Wong knows exactly who he is looking for and sends his team on a mission to bring Wu back into custody! As the chase begins and the bodies begin to pile up, with each of the deaths relating in some respect to fairy tales, Inspector Wong starts to feel the pressure while stepping even further away from his family. It all leads to a brutal showdown that blends thrillers like Se7en and Saw with tales from the Brothers Grimm, as Wong tries to put a stop to Wu and save those most important to him!
The Pang brothers have delivered a mix of films both as a team and as single directors. The Eye was a highly enjoyable horror that gained a Hollywood remake, and movies such as Leave Me Alone, The Detective, The Storm Warriors, and Ab-Normal Beauty, definitely had their moments. But there really hasn't been too much more that has stood-out for me and, in-turn, I've never been one to rush out to see anything they have been behind. So I was quite late in getting to see Fairy Tale Killer to be honest, even though it has one of my favourite Hong Kong actors as the lead and offered up an interesting take on the serial killer genre. And while it's far from the worst movie in the Pang's filmography, it's equally as far from their best. As with most of his films, Danny Pang seems to shift a lot of his focus on the visual aspects of his storytelling, while often losing track of the overall direction – something that helps Fairy Tale Killer offer up perhaps just too many yawn inducing moments than one would have hoped for. Written by Pang and 3 other writers, the script doesn't really deliver anything overly exciting and saves anything worth getting excited about, for the last 30 minutes. One of these writers was Szeto Kam Yuen, a Johnnie To preferred scribe who has penned many great titles such as The Longest Nite, A Hero Never Dies, SPL, Exiled, Accident, and much more. Regardless, I have to admit that at the end of the film, I was a left with my mouth hanging open after the reveal of why Wu had became the killer he was and what it all meant. Talk about going around the world for a shortcut!!
I have to say though, Lau Ching Wan does a great job as Inspector Wong, the troubled family man who will do what he can to gain the next promotion. While he can only work with what he's got, the best of Lau is saved for the finale when he must save his team and family from the clutches of crazed serial killer, Wu – played wonderfully by the fantastic Wang Bao Qiang. It was nice to see Ken Lo play a more subdued role as a cop on Wong's team, rather than another OTT thug or pointless gangster. Fan favourite, Lam Suet, cameos as Wu's first victim Cheung Fai, and Elanne Kong does a great job as the artistic mute who is a major part of the killers logic. Joey Man plays Lau Ching Wan's wife, in what would be her last role to date and the rest of the supporting cast really doesn't leave any kind of an impression at all to be honest. In a nutshell, Fairy Tale Killer should have been much better than it ends-up being, although it still makes for an interesting watch if you run out of options...
Overall: With nothing overly-new or exciting on offer, Fairy Tale Killer fails to deliver on many levels, but is worthy of one watch at the very least!
DVD Extras: Making Of Documentary, Interview With Lau Ching Wan, Trailers
Directed by Ernie Barabash Produced by Ernst Etchie Stroh, Shahar Stroh Action by Larnell Stovall Starring: Michael Jai White, Neal McDonough, Jimmy Navarro, Millie Ruperto, Lateef Crowder, Masashi Odate, Hazuki Kato, Laila Ali Reviewing: Amazon Prime UK Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Thriller
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Synopsis: Chapman is an ex-marine living in the slums of Brazil. After his sister is attacked and left for dead by a local yakuza outfit, Chapman sets out for revenge and puts his tactical training to full use in order to find her attackers. (103 Mins)
Views: Ernie Barabash, the same director behind horror titles Cube Zero, Stir Of Echoes: The Homecoming, and They Wait, as well as mildly entertaining martial-arts-action flicks like Assassination Games, 6 Bullets, and Pound Of Flesh – brings us another generic tale that could fall into the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, or even (dare I say it) Steven Seagal. This time, fan favourite Michael Jai White takes the lead as ex-marine John Chapman, a PTSD suffering veteran who lives in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. Refusing to take his medication, Chapman often toys with putting a bullet in his brain after downing a bottle of whiskey. Not long after his sister comes to visit, she is found washed up on the rocky shoreline badly beaten and left for dead by a local yakuza outfit. With the help of some local police, the Falcon sets-out on a mission to find his sisters attackers and, at the same time, break a child-prostitution racket – resulting in plenty of martial-arts-action and bloodied violence!
While generic in many ways and formulaic in plot, Falcon Rising may actually be one of Ernie's better films as a director. It's neatly shot and directed, with decent production values and a much more colourful look overall – which makes a change from the typical eastern-European setting he often likes to use. But a big part of what makes this a better film, is Michael Jai White and his strong supporting cast. Although he's been in the business for over 3 decades now, this kick-ass action star still isn't getting the recognition he deserves as a martial artist and action hero. As well as portraying the first live-action adaptation of Spawn, Michael has went on to star in many great action flicks such as Silver Hawk with Michelle Yeoh, Black Dynamite, Blood & Bone, Accident Man, and Triple Threat – as well as giving a memorable turn as the Bronze Tiger in the CW's Arrow. Incidentally his Falcon Rising co-star, the always wonderful Neal McDonough, was a huge part of the very same show – so it was nice to same them share the screen together again, with Neal playing a cop who helps the Falcon on his case. It was also great to see Lateef Crowder turn in a role as a Brazilian cop. Lateef impressed many moons ago as the Capoeira fighter who gave Tony Jaa a hard time in Tom Yum Goong (aka Warrior King, aka The Protector), and has since appeared in many films such as Tekken and Undisputed 3, as well as having worked in the stunt department on many bigger films like the disastrous Dragonball Evolution, The Expendables, Wonder Woman, and The Mandalorian. I enjoyed seeing him back on-screen in a solid role that gave him the chance to show some great moves and a decent performance as one of the Brazilian cops.
This was supposed to be the first of a series of 'Falcon' movies starring Michael Jai White as the titular character, and to be honest, I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more. While it's hardly the greatest thing ever written and offers a few good moments of cheesiness, there certainly isn't anything that's as off-putting or ridiculous as many of Ernie Barabash's other films – or the majority of straight-to-video Van Damme or Seagal movies from the last 20 years. I often wonder if the great Billy Blanks had not stepped away from the film-scene to focus on his Tae-Bo phenomenon at the turn-of-the-century, would we have gotten to see the teaming-up of these two amazing martial arts stars at some point?! Maybe it's still not too late. But until that happens, there's always Falcon Rising – a highly enjoyable martial-arts-action-thriller that gives Michael Jai White the chance to shine and kick-ass in the most entertaining of ways...
Overall: Great fun, neatly directed, with plenty of hard action, Falcon Rising is worth the watch and totally entertains!
(Hong Kong 1990)
Original Title: Wu Ming Jia Zu
Directed by Norman Law Produced by Barry Wong, Norman Law Action by Tong Leung Siu Hung Starring: Wilson Lam, Dick Wei, Joey Wong, Shing Fui On, Max Mok, Richard Ng, Michael Miu, Ben Ng, Blacky Ko, Lo Lieh, Barry Wong, Lam Kai Wing, Dion Lam, Ka Lee, Ronald Wong, Lisa Chiao, Meg Lam Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Thriller / Drama
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: Tao is a ruthless loan shark, whose brother (Fu Sai Hang) is the captain of the police. When Tao gets killed by some local gangsters Fu sets-out for revenge, aided by his girlfriend (Hor Yee) to bring down the gangsters and get justice for Tao! (98 Mins)
Views: Norman Law's 1990 action-thriller is a film similar in vein to many Hong Kong films of this time, such as The Dragon Family with Alan Tam and Andy Lau, or Frankie Chan's brilliant Burning Ambition, made just the year before. The fantastic Shing Fui On plays Tao, a loud mouthed loan shark who finds himself in trouble with some local gangsters – as well as the cops. As it happens, his brother Fu just happens to be a captain in the police force, something that often causes rifts in their family life. As Fu tries to grow his new found relationship with Hor Yee, their love is pushed to brink when Tao's antics start to involve his potential in-laws. A corrupt officer (Koo) who has it in for Tao, abuses his power to make Fu's life a nightmare, from harassing his informants to fighting with him outside of work. After one of Fu's gangster suspects escapes custody, Koo takes it upon himself to interrogate Fu and land him in a lot of trouble – setting him up to get at his brother, Tao. As things snowball out of control fast, Fu soon learns that his escaped suspect (Wei) is the same man who murdered both his informant Chung and brother, and sets-out for revenge along with his girlfriend and family members in a fantastic and lengthy showdown at the docks!
While the late Norman Law Man isn't always the first directors name you would think of when talking about Hong Kong cinema, it would probably surprise most fans in knowing what he has been behind. Starting life in the film industry as a make-up artist in Shaw Brothers, Law ran a 4 year stint as the assistant director to Yuen Woo Ping with Seasonal Films on classics such as Secret Rivals 2, Invincible Armour, Drunken Master, and more. After working on Tower Of Death (Game Of Death 2) in 1980, Law stepped up to deliver his directorial debut with Lackey And The Lady Tiger, produced by Ng See Yuen and starring the wonderful Hwang Jang Lee along with Mars in the leading role. From there, Law would follow with a string of great films including A Hearty Response with Chow Yun Fat, Walk On Fire with Andy Lau, (Ninja) Vampire Buster with Jacky Cheung, Kung Fu Scholar with Aaron Kwok, and many more, as well as working as a planner on most of Wong Kar Wai's mid-90s titles...
Aside from being neatly directed and well-written, Family Honour boasts a great cast with Wilson Lam playing Officer Fu, the unfortunate brother to Shing's loan shark, Tao. Although he gets to kick things off as a light-hearted character of sorts, Fu's story soon takes a dark turn giving Lam the chance to flex his acting chops between comedy and drama. While I've never been the biggest fan of Wilson Lam's, I can't say he really does a bad job – and especially here. From The Fortune Code to Magic Cop, Angel Force to Kickboxers Tears, it's fair to say that Lam can be a decent actor when called for, even getting in on the action where possible. Shing Fui On, who I miss dearly, adds a little more depth to the usual thug-like character he is most often known for, flitting between violence and funny without a problem. Although he died in 2009 and starred in over 230 movies, I do miss seeing him pop up in more modern Hong Kong movies. Michael Miu Kiu Wai plays Officer Koo, the pain-in-the-ass detective who seems to cause everyone trouble and thrives in playing a darker role than he would more normally be known for. The awesome Dick Wei stars as the main villain of the piece, although flits in and out until the finale where he gets to proves to be a force to be reckoned with. The handsome Max Mok gets an interesting extended cameo as Chung, an informant friend to Fu whose cover has been blown and meets his end after a violent death by the hands of Wei. A wonderful supporting cast help strengthen the film even more with the hilarious Richard Ng, Meg Lam, and wonderful Lisa Chaio Chiao playing family members. Lo Lieh cameos as a triad boss, with Ronald Wong and Laung Sap Yat as Tao's sidekicks. Script writer and producer of Family Honour, Barry Wong, cameos as an ICAC Officer, and popular comedic character-actor Kay Lee (aka Curry Lau) also appears. And I can't forget the gorgeous Joey Wong of course, who plays Lam's girlfriend Hor Yee. While mainly by his side for more dramatic scenes, Wong gets in on the action in the grand finale and continues to look good doing it.
The brilliant Tony Leung Siu Hung looks after the action, providing a nice mix of violence and martial arts in that late 80s/early 90s way we all love. From rooftop scuffles to alleyway battles, gangster beatings to car-park fights, Leung keeps action fans happy with some pretty sweet choreography. It all leads to a massive closing battle with some incredible gun-play, lots of explosions, fire stunts, martial arts, and stunt work, that leaves action-fans extremely happy and closes Family Honour with a finale worth talking about! Brother to the legendary Bruce Leung Siu Hung, Tony has been behind the action of some of my favourite Hong Kong movies as a director or action choreographer, with titles such as Guns Of Dragon, In The Line of Duty 3, Magic Crystal, Angel, The Tigers, and even Ip Man – as well as appearing in many classics like Enter The Fat Dragon, 36 Crazy Fists, Five Superfighters, The Master Strikes, Ip Man 1 & 3, and much more. Family Honour is a worthy addition to his filmography, and a fantastic film overall...
Overall: Hard hitting Hong Kong action-thriller that is neatly directed and well worth checking out!
FIST OF THE CONDOR
Original Title: El Puno Del Condor
Directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza Produced by Diego Moral, Nicolas Ibieta Action by Wernher Schurmann, Marko Zaror Starring: Marko Zaror, Gina Aguad, Eyal Meyer, Man Soo Yoon, Jose Manuel, Francisco Castro, Fernanda Urrejola Reviewing: Dazzler Media (Private Screener) Genres: Martial Arts / Adventure / Drama
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Synopsis: Upon the empire's fall to invading conquistadors, the 16th century Incas quickly concealed a sacred manual containing the secrets behind their deadly fighting technique. But after centuries of careful safeguarding, the manual is again at risk of falling into the wrong hands, leaving its rightful guardian to battle the world's greatest assassins to protect the ancient secrets within. (80 Mins)
Views: This 2023 martial arts production from Chile makes its UK Blu-ray debut on October 2nd, courtesy of Dazzler Media. Packed with some great martial-arts action, Fist Of The Condor takes its cue from the kung fu classics of yesteryear, as it follows a group of deadly martial artists from around the globe in their search for a sacred Inca manual that contains the ancient secrets of how to surpass the limits of the human body. But to do so, they have to defeat its guardian who is sworn to protect the book at all costs – even if it means spilling the blood of his own brother!
The first time I ever saw Marko Zaror in action was in Undisputed 3: Redemption where he impressed with his moves in a spectacular showdown against Scott Adkins. His role in Robert Rodriguez's fun Machete Kills was pretty exciting, and equally his rematch against Scott a few years later in Jesse Johnson's fantastic, Savage Dog. And although his Hollywood appearances in the awesome Alita: Battle Angel and John Wick 4 were great and hugely impressive in the latter, I've still never really had this Chilean martial artist on my radar like I do with many others – until now that is. With Fist Of The Condor, it's hard to deny what a presence and martial-arts powerhouse Marko really is, and although he has starred in many before this, it's probably fair to say that this locally produced fight-flick may be the one that really lets film fans see what the man can deliver...
Coming in at 85 minutes, Fist Of The Condor is clearly influenced by the kung-fu classics of the late 60s and 70s, and no doubt – dare I say – the earlier works of Bruce Lee; the martial arts legend that inspired Zaror to take up martial-arts at an early age. While I'm certainly not claiming that he is the next Bruce Lee of the cinematic world, I can't deny just how amazing of a martial-artist Marko Zaror actually is, with Fist Of The Condor allowing him to work that to his full potential and in dual roles. Although made on a modest budget, there's still something impressive about this independent production from its gorgeous cinematography and stunning locations, to the many wonderfully choreographed fight scenes that are sure to keep any true fan of martial-arts cinema very happy – although there was maybe a little too many shots of air-spinning moves which, in all honesty, is starting to get a little tiring in movies.
Director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, who worked with Marko on films such as Mirageman, Kiltro, and Redeemer, does a great job in keeping Latin action cinema alive with their pairing mirroring that of Scott Adkins and Jesse Johnson or Isaac Florentine – and long may it continue. While its not without its flaws, Ernesto does a fine job with Fist Of The Condor delivering a well paced film that should please fans of old-school kung-fu cinema with its search for a secret book, stylised fight scenes, and bad wigs. In fact, it's only fair to say that all the fighters involved move extremely well and add plenty of impact and style to their moves, from its opening battle that really sets the tone for what's to come, to the bar fight that wouldn't look out of place in a Jason Statham movie, and the grand finale which puts two top martial arts performers up against each other in a fight for the book, honour, and the right to use the fist of the condor!
Overall: A great throw-back to the kung-fu classics of yesteryear, Fist Of The Condor doesn't disappoint and is sure to keep fight fans happy with its impressive martial arts battles!
FIVE SHAOLIN MASTERS
(Hong Kong 1974)
Original Title: Shao Lin Wu Zu (aka) Five Masters of Death
Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Lau Kar Leung, Lau Kar Wing Starring: Ti Lung, David Chaing, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun, Mang Fei, Leung Kar Yan, Fong Hak On, Tsai Hung, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Chiang Tao, Gordon Liu, Jamie Luk, Lau Kar Wing Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama
Rating - 4 / 5
Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): The Qing Emperor fears the martial artists from the Shaolin monastery, and so he gives the orders to burn it down. Most of the inmates who resisted the Manchus are either killed or dispersed. The lucky ones who escape included Hung Xiguan, in addition to five men, who flee to central China. They are Cai Dezhong, Ma Chaoxing, Fang Dahong, Li Shikai, and Hu Dedi. These five heroes try to join forces with other anit-Qing elements in central China. Among the Shaolin men in Ma Fuyi, a traitor, who in league with the Manchu henchman, Chen Wenyao, plots to destroy the Shaolin heroes once and for all. Ma Chaoxing is captured by the traitor, but he refuses to reveal anything. Meanwhile, Hu Dedi, with the help of Chieftain Kao, and the chieftain's followers, rush to the help of Ma Chaoxing. A fierce battle ensues, and Ma is freed, but the brave chieftain dies. The anti-Qing patriots begin to realize that in order to lick the Manchu lackeys, led by Chen Wenyao, Bao Yulong, and others, they must improve their kung-fu skill, because their opponents are also experts in martial arts. Then the patriots return to the gutted monastery, where they spend more than a year perfecting still more kung-fu techniques, such as the 'Crossed Fists', 'Triple Jointed Stick', 'Rolling Technique', 'Tiger Stork Technique', and 'Pole Technique'. The decisive battle is fought, resulting in the complete routing of the Manchu gangsters. But Fang and Li also die martyrs to liberty. The anti-Qing forces are further reinforced by the arrival of fresh troops from admiral Zheng Chenggong of Taiwan. More bitter struggles against the Manchu tyrants follow... (119 Mins)
Dragon Dynasty US DVD Synopsis: Directed by the legendary Chang Cheh (Five Deadly Venoms) and featuring an all-star cast, Five Shaolin Masters is ''one of Chang's best Shaolin films” (Kung FU Cinema). Five students who escape the destruction of the Shaolin Temple must organize a rebellion and train to fight their deadliest opponents. The relentless action, choreographed by Liu Chia Liang (36th Chamber Of Shaolin), shows off many different authentic Shaolin kung fu styles and unique weaponry, making this one of the best cinematic displays of martial arts ever. (116 Mins)
Views: Under orders from the Qing Emperor, the Shaolin Temple is destroyed and set alight by a small army of Manchu villains. A small group of disciples manage to escape the slaughter and spread out across the land to settle in peace, although many are caught and killed by the enemy. But five strong minded and highly skilled Shaolin disciples are determined to make a change, and soon set out to find their brothers in a bid to stop their enemy and save their country. As they begin to roll out their plan and start training, it soon becomes apparent that the disciples had a traitor in their midst all along. Now, they must do what they can to stop the evil Manchu fighters and bring their traitorous brother to justice before he gives away all of their secrets – even if it means fighting to the death. So the heroes return to the ruins of their old home where they study a host of new techniques for over a year, before they set out of revenge against the Manchu thugs!
Widely known as part of Chang Cheh's Shaolin cycle, Five Shaolin Masters plays like a sequel of sorts (or companion piece I should say) to Chang Cheh's Heroes Two, using the same shots of the burning temple and a brief narrative that mentions the characters of that film (where Fu Sheng played Fong Sai Yuk even though he returns here as a new character). It also comes in as a sequel to Cheh's own Shaolin Temple (that was actually made a couple of years later) and continues the tale of how these characters got to this point. This time we follow the story of five Shaolin escapee's – although we know that there are more scattered throughout the story, one of which is a traitor, and many other heroes who give their lives to let the heroes continue their journey. This set-up leads to a slightly uneven first hour that sees the team split up and get into fights, most of whom barely have any real chance to flesh-out their story except for Fu Sheng's character of Ma Chao Xing. It's also an hour that could possibly have been tightened to make things run a little smoother (respectively), before the brothers get back together with the understanding that 'united they stand, divided they fall'. It's at this point that Five Shaolin Masters picks-up and becomes a lot more enjoyable in it's second half. After some extensive training which takes place over a year, the five young masters eventually come face-to-face with the enemy, resulting in a lengthy end battle that's pretty damn enjoyable. To help make the action last, Cheh has the team split-up which allows for each star to have their own finale in reality. This sees some impressive battles with Mang Fei vs Leung Kar Yan, Ti Lung vs Tsai Hung, David Chaing vs Chiang Tao, Fu Sheng vs Wang Lung Wei, and Chi Kuan Chun vs Fong Hak On. Of course, not everyone survives their battle and we get treated to some pretty cruel final blows – most notably when Ti Lung takes the top of Tsai Hung's skull off with his pole. But that kind of violence is just typical of a Chang Cheh flick from this period – as was the homo-eroticism portrayed on-screen with bands of topless, handsome young men, bonding through brotherhood and flexing their muscles.
Also, as with most of Chang's productions from the 1970s, viewers are graced with an incredible cast of stars and Five Shaolin Masters is no exception. Of course, there are the five main heroes of the show played by the wonderful Ti Lung (who is probably my favourite of the lot) had already starred in over 25 Shaw Brothers productions by this stage and had only cemented his place as a leading man just a few years earlier – many of which were alongside his Five Shaolin Masters co-star and good friend, David Chiang, who already had close-to two decades of experience in the film industry before Lung had joined the studio. The third star would be Alexander Fu Sheng, whose character seems to get a little more focus than the rest as well as bringing a little humour to the film. Fu Sheng had only been in the business a couple of years when this film came about, but had a good 10 or 11 titles under his belt for Shaw Brothers including Heroes Two, Men From The Monastery, Shaolin Martial Arts, and the so-so Na Cha The Great. The often forgotten and superb Chi Kuan Chun joins the team in what would only be his third role after Men From The Monastery and Shaolin Martial Arts – all of which were made the same year by director Chang Cheh. And last but not least, the handsome Mang Fei completes the team in his 7th role and first for the Shaw Brothers studios. The infamous Gordon Liu pops up for a brief cameo as an imprisoned Shaolin disciple who, after getting rescued by one of the heroes, sacrifices himself to help them escape. This was still an early role for Liu having played an extra in The Hero Of Chiu Chow, as well as making more of a debut in Breakout From Oppression the year before, and giving a memorable performance in Shaolin Martial Arts which would have been his first for the studio just before this. Of course, only a few years later, Liu would become a huge star in his own right with roles in films such as Challenge Of The Masters and 36th Chamber Of Shaolin. While a host of other recognisable faces show up throughout, including a young Eric Tsang, Jamie Luk, Lau Kar Wing, Chui Fat, and Bruce Tong, the list of baddies is just as impressive as the main stars. Prolific Taiwanese actor Chiang Tao (often known as Kong Do) plays General Chen, the man with the whip-like ponytail who leads the Manchus against the Shaolin heroes. He is backed by the amazing Leung Kar Yan and Fung Hak On. This was only Beardy's (Leung's) second role in the film industry right after his debut in Shaolin Martial Arts for Cheh and, once again, he doesn't fail to impress. For a kung-fu legend that had never learnt any real martial arts, the man comes across as genuine as any true star and steals most of the scenes he appears in. Much like David Chiang, the late Fung Hak On had been acting since the early 50s and quickly grew to become of the most skilled and recognisable kung-fu actors in the business. After many years as an extra or bit-player for the Shaw Brothers studios, Fung's career took a turn for the better in 1973 with more serious roles that even then, saw him star alongside a young Jackie Chan in Chu Mu's Not Scared To Die/ Eagle Shadow Fist. By the time Five Shaolin Masters came about, Fung had worked on many of the studios biggest titles and rarely failed to entertain. Shaw Brothers powerhouse and one of my all time favourite villains, Johnny Wang Lung Wei makes quite the impression as traitor Ma in what would only be his second role after Shaolin Martial Arts much like Leung Kar Yan. Of course, Wang would go on to become a fan favourite of kung-fu fans as well as a successful director in his own right with films such as Hong Kong Godfather, The Innocent Interloper (which I just love), Fury, Angry Ranger, and the infamous Cat.3 flick Escape From The Brothel. And the great Tsai Hung, who went onto star in over 130 films, joins the Manchus as a deadly fighter with a bladed rope. This kung-fu actor had already appeared in almost 50 titles over the course of 4 years before starring in this, including many of Jimmy Wang Yu films such as One-Armed Boxer, Knight Errant, Seaman No.7, and Beach Of The War Gods.
While Wu Yueh Ling assists Chang Cheh with the directing, famed brothers Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing handle the action. While the former had been in the business as an actor a good decade before his younger brother, the pair quickly made a name for themselves in the film world from acting to directing – and obviously as action-choreographers. And what else would you expect as direct descendants of the legendary Wong Fei Hung? As any well-versed fan of Hong Kong cinema would know, Wong Fei Hung (as most famously portrayed by Jackie Chan and Jet Li) was the teacher of Lam Sai Wing (as portrayed by Sammo Hung in The Magnificent Butcher). Butcher Wing would then go on to teach kung-fu to Lau Jan – the father of Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing, who would have then taught his sons the ways of the martial arts, respectively. Regardless, the pair manage to produce a bevy of fun fight scenes in Five Shaolin Masters that are spread across its lengthy running time and makes use of their highly skilled cast members, as well as delivering some finely choreographed moves that mixes weapons work with hand-to-hand combat.
While it does have some flaws here-and-there, Five Shaolin Masters still makes for a highly entertaining watch and is still one of the Shaw Brothers best kung-fu movies (and there are a lot). With a memorable score, that is heavily borrowed from many Italian movies of the late 60s/early 70s, the film doesn't exactly offer anything exhilarating and is typically Chang Cheh in many ways – but it does the job in giving fans of old-school kung-fu flicks, plenty to care about. Aside from the Dragon Dynasty DVD release of Five Shaolin Masters, the version of the film I reviewed was released as part of Arrow Video's Blu-ray box-set called Shaw Scope Vol.1, and I have to say that it's never looked better...
Overall: A lot of fun thanks to a great cast and some exciting fight scenes, Five Shaolin Masters is a Shaw Brothers classic that is well worth the watch!
Arrow Video Blu-ray Extras: Appreciation Film of Chang Cheh by Tony Rayns, Interview with Kong Do, Featurettes on David Chiang and Ti Lung, Alternate Opening Credits, Trailers, Image Gallery
DVD Extras: Trailers
Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE
THE FIVE VENOMS
(Hong Kong 1978)
Original Title: Wu Du (aka) Five Deadly Venoms
Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Leung Ting, Lu Feng, Robert Tai Starring: Chiang Sheng, Philip Kwok, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, Lo Meng, Wei Pei, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Dick Wei, Ku Feng Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Thriller
Rating - 5 / 5
Arrow Video Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): The School of Five Venoms is notorious among martial artists for the evil deeds of its disciples. The master of the school Huang Yen has retired from the martial world for years. Before he dies, he feels so guilty about all the evils associated with the name of their school that he orders his youngest disciple Yang Te to go and stop the other disciples from carrying on with their wicked ways, eliminating them if necessary. There are five disciples of the Five Venoms active in the martial world, each of them excelling in a special kind of kung fu named after a venomous animal. These five disciples are Tang,who represents the Centipede, Hung the Snake, Ma the Scorpion, He the Lizard, and Li the Toad. These five disciples from the same school never show their real identities and they do not all know each other. And Yang De, whose mission is first of all to find the five of them, has never even met them or known their real name. Yang De was told by the master before his death that he could find these other disciples through Yuan, a former classmate of the master who is hoarding some treasures that belong to the school. And the master predicted that those five disciples would be after Yuan and the treasure. Two of the disciples, Ma and Ha, have become constables, and another disciple Hung is a rich celebrity in town. Hong joins the first disciple Tang in forcing Yuan to hand over the treasures. When Yuan refuses to do so, they kill him and his whole family. When Ma arrives at the scene, he accidentally finds the map which shows where the treasure is hidden. When Yang De arrives in town, he picks up clues suggesting that Tang might be the killer of Yuan's case,and reports it to He at the Yamen. With the help of Ma's friend Li, the two constables Ma and He arrest Tang. Through their kung fu styles, Yang recognises Tang as the first disciple the Centipede, and Li the fifth disciple The Toad. Ma is actually in league with Hong and Tang to rob Yuan of the hidden treasure. So Ma and Hong bribe the judge and the trial for Tang is put off. Meanwhile, they try to frame Li up as the real murderer. Li resists when Ma tries to arrest him, so that Ma has to use his secret weapon 'the Scorpion darts' thus exposing his identity as the third disciple of the School Of The Five Venoms. The observant Yang De by this time realises that Tang, Hong, Ma, He and Li are the other five disciples he is looking for. Since Li is dead, and He is the only righteous one among the four left, Yang teams up with He and eventually gets rid of Tang, Hong and Ma, thereby accomplishing his mission. (102 Mins)
Views: While not as jam-packed with kung-fu action like most of Chang Cheh's other films would have been, The Five Venoms still stands strong today as one of his finest projects and a genuine classic of Hong Kong cinema. Having returned to Hong Kong from Taiwan just a year or so before, Cheh had brought an end to his own production house – the Shaw Brothers financed, Chang's Film Co – and signed a new 5 year contract with the studio. But even though The Five Venoms had been such a huge hit, along with many of the titles that followed starring the 'Venom Mob' as they became known, Chang's contract was never renewed and by 1983, the legendary director made his last movie for Shaw Brothers with The Weird Man which proved to be a box-office bomb upon release. Not to be put down by his exiting of the studio that he had been the king of for so long, Cheh set-up another company with Hong Kong Chang He Film Co. and with the support of his Taiwanese talent, set out to make Attack Of The Joyful Goddess (which actually proved to do a bit better than his previous title). The fantastic Shanghai 13 would follow that saw him re-team with Jimmy Wang Yu after many years apart, but it seemed like Chang's magic touch was running dry and by 1993 he decided to call it a day with Ninja In Ancient China. The last decade of his career had proved to be an incredibly tough one, but as the director of almost 100 films and over 40 years in the business, it would be safe to say that Chang Cheh gave fans of Hong Kong cinema some of its most treasured titles!
Of course, The Five Venoms is one of those titles and it was also the film that really gave its main actors the boost they needed to become bigger stars. Although some of them had appeared a year or two before in titles such as Chang Cheh's Shaolin Temple, Magnificent Wanderers, The Brave Archer, and Chinatown Kid, The Five Venoms allowed each of them to light-up the screen without being over-shadowed by the likes of Alexander Fu Sheng, David Chaing, or Ti Lung. Even the ever-popular Johnny Wang Lung Wei, who stars as the courtroom official Justice Wang, holds back from busting a move to allow for Cheh's new stars to lead the way. Cutie Pie himself, more widely known as Chiang Sheng, plays Yang De – the apprentice sent out by his dying master to put a stop to the five venoms evil ways. Starting life at the Fu Sheng Drama School in Taiwan, Chiang soon got into the film industry when Chang Cheh founded his own production company under the Shaw Brothers banner. After many supporting roles and appearances as an extra in titles such as Wild Tiger, 18 Shaolin Disciples, The Condemned, Hand Of Death, and New Shaolin Boxers, Chiang got his first real prominent role in Cheh's epic Shaolin Temple that kick-started a strong career at Shaw's from there on. After starring in titles like The Naval Commandos, Magnificent Wanderers, The Brave Archer, and Chinatown Kid, Chiang added a notch to his belt by doubling as the assistant director on The Brave Archer 2 before moving onto The Five Venoms alongside Chan Yau Man (who went on to work as an assistant director on many of Chang Cheh's films afterwards). The year after, Chiang would continue to star and help Cheh with directing as well as turning his hand to that of a martial-arts director – much like the rest of his co-stars would do eventually. Leaving the Shaw Brothers studio with Chang Cheh in the mid 80s, Chiang went onto star in a number of fun titles for a few more years including Attack Of The Joyful Goddess, Five Fighters From Shaolin, Shanghai 13, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death (a personal favourite), Ninja USA, and Exciting Dragon, eventually retiring from the screen by '89. Although his career and skills were highly praised and loved by kung-fu fans the world over, Chiang's life in the film industry came to an abrupt halt when his wife forced him to give it up. After their divorce a year later, Chiang soon sank into a world of alcohol and depression, sadly passing at the age 40 in 1991 with a broken heart. His body was found by his friend and co-star Ricky Cheng after lying alone for 3 days. Yang De's dying master is played by the brilliant Dick Wei was, ironically, two years younger than Sheng. This was only Dick's 6th role over 4 years since his debut in The Assignment from Tyrone Hsu in 1974. A few years later he would sign with the Shaw Brothers studio that saw him land roles in The Brave Archer 1 & 2, Chinatown Kid, and Shaolin Hand Lock. In just 3 years, Wei would appear in over 20 titles for the studio before joining Sammo Hung for the amazing Prodigal Son in 1981, going-on to become on of Hong Kong cinemas most treasured bad guys and martial arts stars. Over the years, Dick even tried his hand as an action-choreographer and director on titles such as Visa To Hell, A Killing Order, and the ghost-comedy Xin Gui Da Gui in 2016 alongside Chen Kuan Tai, which has been his final film to date. The wonderful Philip Kwok leads the way as Constable He Yu, also known as the Lizard Venom. Probably the most popular and successful of all the Venoms, Kwok started his film career with roles in Chang Cheh's The Fantastic Magic Baby, Marco Polo, Boxer Rebellion, and Seven Man Army, also appearing in outside titles such as One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine, Hand Of Death, and The Traitorous. 1976 was a crazy busy year for Kwok, appearing in 10 titles in all including Cheh's own New Shaolin Boxers and Shaolin Temple, going on to follow his friend and co-star Chiang Sheng with the same run of titles (for the most part) over the next few years. After co-directing, choreographing, and starring in Ninja In The Deadly Trap with some of his Venom brothers, Kwok spread his wings when it came to the end of Chang Cheh's contract and appeared in other Shaw studio titles such as Holy Flame Of The Martial World, Demon Of The Lute, and Crazy Shaolin Disciples. As the late 80s crept in, Kwok moved into modern action with memorable roles in The Big Heat, The Peacock King, Seven Warriors, In The Line Of Duty 6: Forbidden Arsenal, Story of Ricky, and the epic Hard Boiled – as well as many others. Of course, Philip had also been keeping himself busy over the years doubling-up as a martial-arts director and action-choreographer which began in the late 70s with Chang Cheh's Ten Tigers Of Kwangtung, The Daredevils, Magnificent Ruffians, and others, before going on to handle the action in many modern hits such as A Chinese Ghost Story with Tony Ching Siu Tung, The Peacock King, Erotic Ghost Story, Tiger Cage 2, Zen Of Sword, The Bride With White Hair 1 & 2, Hard Boiled, and worked with Michelle Yeoh on her international breakthrough role in Tomorrow Never Dies as well as her self-produced adventure, The Touch. Super-kicker Sun Chien stars in only his 3rd role as Chief Constable Ma, the deadly Scorpion Venom which secured his place in kung-fu cinema and with the Shaw Brothers studio that would see him go on to star in a host of classics such as Crippled Avengers, The Daredevils, Kid With The Golden Arm, House Of Traps, Bastard Swordsman, and so much more. By the mid-80s, Sun would make a move into low budget ninja movies and martial-arts adventure films that saw his career take a bit of a dive, eventually retiring from the scene after a small role in the fun Jackie Chan produced Angry Ranger - of which he also co-directed alongside one of his co-stars, Johnny Wang Lung Wei. Philip Kwok lookalike Lu Feng, stars as the villainous Centipede Venom in what would have been his first real prominent role after starring alongside his brothers in many of the aforementioned titles. While he tried to find some direction after Shanghai 13 and Cheh's departure from the studio, Feng appeared in some fun roles in films like Fight Among The Supers, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death, The Demons, Death Ring, Ninja Condors, and a cameo in Cheh's Ninja In Ancient China before retiring from the scene in the mid-late 90s. The brilliant Lo Meng stars as the Toad Venom, and is one of the more exciting performers in my eyes. This accountant-turned-actor joined the Chang Cheh train in Shaolin Temple after he watched introduced to the director by one of the Shaw brothers. Meng followed the same path as the rest, eventually starring in many other titles for Shaw's such as Hex Vs Witchcraft, Lion Vs Lion, Human Lanterns, and Bastard Swordsman. In the mid-80s, he would start appearing in more modern works such as Michelle Yeoh's Magnificent Warriors, Hard Boiled, Return To A Better Tomorrow, Ebola Syndrome, Sex & Zen 3, and the fun Anna In Kung Fu Land – eventually finding a resurgence of sorts in the film world when he was cast as Master Law in Donnie Yen's Ip Man 2, followed by Gallants, The Grandmaster, Vampire Clean-up Department, and returning as Master Law for Ip Man 3 & 4. And finally, popular actor Wei Pei (aka Wai Pak) stars as the Snake Venom. Having been the more experienced actor of the team, starting in 1973 with a role in Pao Hsueh Li's Heroes Of The Underground, Wei would continue to work with his Venom team for another few years until leaving Shaw Brothers for Golden Harvest where he would deliver some memorable roles in films like Last Hurrah For Chivalry, The Magnificent Butcher, Young Master, Cheeky Chap, and The Prodigal Son which would be his final role in film until a brief appearance in 1988. It's clear that Chang Cheh wanted these guys to be the stars, with very few regular Shaw studio names beside them such as the aforementioned Johnny Wang Lung Wei and fan-favourite Ku Feng reduced to more of a supporting player. But of course, I mustn't forget about another new kid on the block – Lau Fong Sai – who went on to star in over 90 productions including many of Chang Cheh's own titles through to Duel To The Death, Project A, Police Story, Magnificent Warriors, Mr. Vampire 3, Gunmen, Triad Story, and Frankie Chan's insane Oh! Yes Sir!!! of which he was also an action-choreographer for, as well as on Iron Angels 3, Black Panther, Legacy Of Rage, and A Better Tomorrow 3...
The Centipede himself, Lu Feng, doubles-up as one of the films fight-directors alongside Leung Ting – director of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Kung Fu World!!! - and the popular Robert Tai Chi Hsien, who started working with Cheh as an actor and action-choreographer the year before on The Naval Commandos, The Brave Archer, and Chinatown Kid (although he had been an extra and bit-player in many of his earlier titles also). Between the three of them, and no doubt with a little more input from the main actors involved, they deliver a collection of exciting and highly intricate fight scenes – with the final battle proving to be the highlight of the show as these mysterious anti-heroes battle it out. The film is neatly captured by cinematographers Cho Wai Kei and Kung Mu To, with the former starting his career in the early 70s on titles like The Lady Hermit, The Long Chase, and Ambush. Cho would stick with the Shaw Brothers right through to the mid-80s on titles such as The Flying Guillotine, Mighty Peking Man, Black Magic 1 & 2, and most of the Venom Mob movies with Cheh. After leaving the studio, Cho would become the cinematographer for the likes of Mr. Vampire 2, Armour Of God, Prison On Fire, As Tears Go By, and John Woo's Just Heroes which was made to aid Chang Cheh's retirement. Japanese-born Kung Mu To, whose real name was Yukio Miyaki, started with the Shaw Brothers in the late 1960s with Furukawa Takumi's Black Falcon that was soon followed by 5 titles in 1969 such as The Singing Thief, Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman, The Invincible Fist, Dead End, and Have Sword, Will Travel - all of which were directed by Chang Cheh.
Although he had done it many times before, Chang had the challenge of presenting yet another film to his audience featuring a cast of relatively unknown actors, but at the same time set the bar of what was to come with this new collaboration alongside the Venoms. With Lau Kar Leung knocking it out of the park elsewhere in the studio, Chang's whole presentation and style needed to change and working with these guys definitely gave him the right opportunity to do so. Written by Cheh and the prolific Ni Kuang once again, The Five Venoms delivers a mix of gothic horror and mystery wrapped-up in a strong martial-arts thriller with some great performances from everyone involved – the most of whom got straight to work on Cheh's Crippled Avengers the very same year. While a little different from the majority of Venom films that followed, The Five Venoms is a highly memorable piece that has long been revered by fans of kung-fu cinema around the world. Presented in a 2K restoration as part of Arrow Videos Shaw Scope Vol.1 box set, the film has never looked better and still entertains as much today as it did many decades ago upon release!
Overall: A genuine classic of Hong Kong cinema, The Five Venoms is one of Chang Cheh's finest films and still highly entertains after all these years!
Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary by Simon Abrams, Interview with Lo Meng, Featurette on Chang Cheh, Trailers, Image Gallery
Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE
(Hong Kong 1972)
Original Title: Si Qi Shi (aka) Hellfighters Of The East; Strike 4 Revenge
Directed by Chang Cheh Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Tong Kai, Lau Kar Leung Starring: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Wang Chung, Lily Li, Yasuaki Kurata, Ching Li, Andre Marquis, Lau Kar Wing, Wong Ching, San Kuai, Yuen Woo Ping, Yen Shi Kwan, Fung Hak On, Fu Sheng Reviewing: Black Hill Pictures/Koch Media German Blu-ray Release Genres: Action / Drama / Martial Arts
Rating - 4 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: A new dynamic feature film from master director Chang Cheh. Four class fighters in a furious fight. After the hardships at the front, Captain Feng Sia and his friends head to the capital, Seoul, to have fun. He is looking for variety and relaxation in a club whose seductive geishas and hot cocktails promise a lot. But the temple of joy turns out to be the headquarters of the drug mafia; prostitution, blackmail and murder are their business. Captain Feng Sia witnesses the murder of an American GI and becomes a suspect himself. Together with his friends he faces a challenge. (109 Mins)
Views: Shot between Hong Kong and South Korea, Chang Cheh's Four Riders is something of a departure from the directors usual fare with the exception of The Anonymous Heroes from the year before. Set after the Korean war, the story brings together four Chinese soldiers – a kung-fu master, a combat instructor, an explosives expert, and a missile specialist – who come together to take on a drug gang run by a Japanese crime lord. In a sense, there's no real reason to share these descriptions with you, as they never really explore their army skills once they've left; albeit for the fighting styles they've learned of course. Set in 1953, just as the war has come to an end, Cheh slowly brings us in with a few minutes of meandering shots that capture a bleak, snowy Korean winter. As time passes and spring creeps in, we are introduced to Ti Lung who is keen to get out of camp – ripping his stripes off and starting a scuffle with his superior and fellow soldiers. Stealing his general's jeep, Ti heads off towards the city and picks up Wang Chung along the way, another soldier who is going to Seoul to see an injured friend at the hospital (Chen Kuan Tai). At the same time, young soldier David Chiang has become something of a barfly who spends his time at a classy joint called Hello John, where he is looked after by call-girl Lily Lee but can't stop himself from getting into bother when he's had too much to drink. Of course, one thing leads to another and soon the four of them join forces to go up against a deadly drug smuggling ring, ran by Japanese crime boss Yasuaki Kurata and American gangster Andre Marquis – both of whom operate from Hello John!
Although you'd think that Four Riders was really a drama that tells the tale of four young soldiers returning to civilian life, it manages to shake itself up here-and-there with some great action and the dirty dealings of its villains. It also has a few silly moments strewn throughout, but these are mainly down to directorial choices, editing, and the actions of the characters involved. That said, it all flows rather well and keeps its narrative simple enough with Cheh and writer Ni Kuang hoping that viewers will get that connection that the four heroes are portraying the 'four horsemen of the apocalypse' to some degree – but it's never really tapped on that much. Cheh is joined by two young assistant directors who need no introduction – Godfrey Ho and John Woo – famed by their own works as directors later on in life, although on very opposite ends of the scale respectively. Fight directors Lau Kar Leung and Tong Kai return in one of many of the Chang Cheh productions they had worked on this year which included Chen Kuan Tai's incredible breakout film with The Boxer From Shantung, The Water Margin, and Delightful Forest. Although they deliver a scattering of fun scuffles throughout, its got to be the blistering 20 minute finale that is the standout moment for all involved. While Chiang holds his own at the nightclub, where he faces off against a small number of bad guys after receiving a bullet to the chest; the wonderful Ti Lung, Wang Chung, and Chen Kuan Tai take on Yasuaki Kurata and his small army at a public gym which allows for some violent and fun choreography. It's an exciting an exciting battle that ends in typical Chang Cheh fashion, but each of the stars get to show off some great moves – even David Chiang proves to impress after his so-so martial abilities in their previous production, The Angry Guest. Interestingly enough, Kurata had made his Hong Kong/Shaw Brothers debut in that film alongside Chiang and Ti Lung, and in between productions over the course of a year had went onto appear in 4 other titles including Tiger, The King Of Boxers, The Prodigal Boxer, and The Good & The Bad alongside Chen Sing from his debut film. As expected, there are a host of recognisable faces grace the screen throughout the films running time such as Alexander Fu Sheng who cameos as a young solider dancing by the jukebox in the nightclub. It would be another year or two before he actually got his big break under the watchful eye of Chang Cheh, and is actually easy to miss here unless you know where to look. The great Lau Kar Wing appears as one of Kurata's henchmen along with Wong Ching, San Kuai, Chan Chuen, Yen Shi Kwan, Yuen Woo Ping, Fung Hak On, Wang Kung Yu, Chui Fat, Yuen Shun Yi, and many others. The lovely Lily Li stars in a non-action role, while American actor Andre Marquis does a great job, in what was only his second role, as the gangster Boss Hawke...
While it's quite obvious to viewers when certain scenes jump from the streets of Seoul to the backlot of the Shaw Brothers studio, Four Riders still looks great and benefits from having Japanese DOP Kung Mu To (Yukio Miyaki) behind the cinematography. Having started with Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers in the late 60s, Kung went onto capture over 50 films through to the mid-80s – most of which were for Cheh up until his departure from the studio, and Hong Kong actor/director Frankie Chan looks after the enjoyable score. While it could have been a lot more epic in many ways, Four Riders still manages to outshine its flaws and prove to be another entertaining martial arts romp from the 'Iron Triangle' that was Cheh, Chiang, and Lung (who still shines as the greatest of them all). Definitely worth a watch if you're tired of Chang Cheh's production line of swordplay dramas and Shaolin historical pieces!
Overall: Neatly made and exciting to watch, Four Riders is a different martial arts story from Cheh, but one worth seeing!
Blu-ray Extras: Alternate German Cinema Release (86 Mins), Trailers, Photo Gallery with Rare Material
Watch my unboxing video of this Koch Media release HERE
FROM BEIJING WITH LOVE
(Hong Kong 1994)
Original Title: Gwok Chaan Ling Ling Chat
Directed by Stephen Chow Sing Chi, Lee Lik Chi Produced by Charles Heung, Jimmy Heung Action by Poon Kin Kwan Starring: Stephen Chow Sing Chi, Anita Yuen, Law Kar Ying, Pauline Chan, Joe Cheng, Wong Kam Kong, Lee Lik Chi, Yu Rong Guang, Wong Yat Fei, Yip Chun Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Comedy / Action / Parody
Rating - 4.5 / 5
Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Hong Kong's King of Comedy Stephen Chow(Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) directs and stars in this hilarious spoof of the James Bond franchise. Martini swilling butcher (and disgraced former spy) Ling Ling Chat is dispatched to recover a stolen dinosaur skull from a golden-gun wielding supervillain. Equipped with the latest gadgets,our hero dons his tuxedo and swaggers into a world of danger, beautiful women and metal-mouthed assassins. Sound familiar? One of Stephen Chow's funniest films, Eureka Classics is proud to present From Beijing With Love on Blu-ray in its UK debut. (83 Mins)
Nova Media Korean Blu-ray Synopsis: NA (83 Mins)
Views: Written and directed by both Stephen Chow Sing Chi and Lee Lik Chi, with the former also starring as the leading man and the latter cameoing in a comedic role as blind prisoner who has been arrested for peeking at confidential documents (think about it), From Beijing With Love proudly delivers itself as a very direct spoof of the James Bond films – predating Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery by a few years and, in many ways, is a much more superior parody. The film tells the tale of Chinese secret-agent 007 who is sent to Hong Kong to recover the skull of a T-rex; China's only dinosaur fossil that has been stolen by the man with the golden gun. Partnered with Hong Kong agent Lee, who has been ordered to delay his investigation and, ultimately, finish him off – 007 takes on a host of wild and whacky villains while dodging bullets, blades, and baddies, backed by his trusty butchers blade and collection of insane gadgets!
Known in Cantonese as Gwok Chaan Ling Ling Chat – which literally means 'The Locally Produced 007', From Beijing With Love went on to gross $37.5 million in Hong Kong with Chow Sing Chi gaining a nomination for Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1995. Although he had been active in the television and film and industry from the early 80s, the hilarious Stephen Chow Sing Chi really shot to superstardom around 1990 when films such as Curry & Pepper, Look Out Officer, All For The Winner, and God Of Gamblers 2 allowed him to really put his comedic talents to use. Of course, between then and From Beijing With Love, the Hong Kong film-maker practically delivered hit after hit, lighting up the box office with films such as Tricky Brains, Fight Back To School, Royal Tramp, Flirting Scholar, Love On Delivery, A Chinese Odyssey 1 & 2 and many more, proving to be a genuine comic genius and working with directors such as Vincent Kok, Jeff Lau, Gordon Chan, Danny Lee, and the prolific Wong Jing. Of course, the whole world now knows who Stephen Chow is after the successful Hollywood release of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, both of which I highly recommend. So why, at the height of his global recognition, did Chow soon step away from leading roles? Soon after starring in and directing his fun family comedy CJ7, and aside from a brief role in China's Beginning Of The Great Revival, Hong Kong's king of comedy soon faded from sight with at least 5 years passing before he announced his next project. Some say it was due to the lack of success and embarrassment of Dragonball Evolution; his first major Hollywood film as a producer that was torn to shreds by fans and critics for its complete inability to represent anything Akira Toriyama's epic manga/anime stood for. So, after becoming a member of the CCP as well as a major shareholder of the Bingo Group LTD production company in China, Chow returned in 2013 as the director of Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons – a hilarious re-imagining of the Monkey King story. But a decade has since passed and we still haven't seen Chow star in another feature, although he has been keeping us happy with his directorial efforts The Mermaid and The New King Of Comedy, as well as producing his Monkey King sequel Journey To The West: Demon Chapter (this time directed by Tsui Hark), and we may never see him star again – but that's why restored versions of his earlier works, such as From Beijing With Love, are vitally important to fans of his work.
Also gaining a nomination the same year, this time for Best Supporting Actor, was Law Kar Ying, another regular face of Chow's film projects with From Beijing With Love being their first which saw the star play an insane version of the James Bond gadget inventor, Q. A prolific actor in his own right, with over 160 credits to his name, Law has appeared alongside some of Hong Kong's biggest stars including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Tony Leung, racking up almost 170 film credits over the last 3 decades. Oddly enough, his role here as Tat Man Si was only his fourth or fifth role since making his feature debut alongside Jackie Chan in Crime Story, just the year before. Here, the pair are joined by the wonderful Anita Yuen who does an amazing job as Chow's partner/assassinator, Agent Lee. Yuen had only been in the film business for about 2 years, making her big screen debut in Days Of Being Dumb alongside Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung, and Eric Tsang. A wild mix of films would follow such as Handome Siblings, Last Hero In China, Prince Of Portland Street, Cést La Vie Mon Cheri (of which she pays homage to in a scene here), Crystal Fortune Run, and A Taste Of Killing & Romance, and it was clear that the young actress was making an impact as From Beijing With Love would be only one of 13 titles she would star in that year. The characteristic Wong Kam Kong stars as Chow's double-crossing commander and the main villain of the piece, Golden-Gun. Although he didn't star in many films over his 15 year career – when you look at the output from most Hong Kong actors of the time – Wong became a recognisable face to many and often gave great performances no matter how big the role. Prior to this, Wong starred in martial arts movies such as Sammo Hung's Blade Of Fury and Cheng Siu Keung's forgotten Sam The Iron Bridge Trilogy, as well as Ringo Lam's hugely underrated Burning Paradise where he played the sadistic prison warden. But it's also worth pointing out his roles in modern action films such as The Tigers, Gunmen, Wonder Seven, Tiger Cage 3, Bodyguard From Beijing, and Alfred Cheung's Manhattan Midnight, which would also be his last. The lovely Pauline Chan stars in one of her less Cat.3 based roles as an assassin for Golden-Gun, complete with a machine gun bra and barrels that represent some lengthy nipples, with Joe Cheng joining her as Metal Mouth – a clear spoof of the James Bond villain known as Jaws. This would only be Joe's second time starring alongside Chow, with his first (and debut role) being in the hilarious Love On Delivery as the judo master for fights Chow for a girl. Clearly a favourite of the star and director, Cheng would go onto star with Chow in Sixty Million Dollar Man, The Lucky Guy, and King Of Comedy. And I mustn't forget about the wonderful Yu Rong Guang who makes a cameo appearance as the true, kick ass secret agent known as 002...
Up to this point, Chow had often spoofed scenes from Hollywood blockbusters and western pop culture, as well as Bruce Lee's films Fist Of Fury and Enter The Dragon – with the star often citing the Little Dragon as his ultimate hero – but From Beijing With Love would be the first full parody of a popular film or series that would get his full attention. Interestingly though, he would also pay homage to the hits of Wong Kar Wai and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in particular spooking his coffee drinking scene from Chungking Express by swapping it for a dry Martini, and another from Days Of Being Wild that sees Chow admiring himself in the mirror while combing his hair after the camera pans across his room – even going as far as to use the same music as heard in Wong's movie. And then there's his co-director, Lee Lik Chi. Much like Stephen Chow, co-writer and director Lee was no stranger to the mo lai tau comedy genre of Hong Kong cinema. The pair first joined forces in 1991 on the hilarious Magnificent Scoundrels with Lee going on to appear alongside and direct Chow in titles such as Flirting Scholar, Love On Delivery, God Of Cookery, The Lucky Guy, King Of Comedy, and of course, From Beijing With Love – most of which have proven to be some of Chow Sing Chi's bigger hits. While much of the audience in the west still find it quite difficult to pick up on his style of nonsensical humour, I have personally relished in his work for the last few decades, often laughing the loudest in the room and usually at the small, intricate details that easily pass the general audience.
As one would expect, due to the nature of its portrayal of the Chinese government and communist party, From Beijing With Love was never released in China – and while it was not uncommon for Hong Kong movies of this time to make fun of the political corruption and widely criticised bureaucracy of its neighbours leading up the 1997 handover, it's clear we may never see this kind of comedy come out of Hong Kong cinema ever again. Coming in at an undemanding 83 minutes, the film sits as one of Chow's shortest, yet still offers the complete package with plenty of laughs, brutal violence, and over the top insanity that helped make From Beijing With Love a hit and a successful directorial debut for its leading man!
Overall: Hilarious and wonderfully conceived, From Beijing With Love is one of Chow Sing Chi's finest moments and never fails to make me laugh!
Eureka Video Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Interview with Wong Kam Kong, Archival Interview with Lee Lik Chi, In Conversation with Wong Kam Kong, Trailer
Nova Media Blu-ray Extras: Trailer
Get your copy HERE
Watch my unboxing video for this Eureka Video Blu-ray Release HERE