HAIL THE JUDGE
(Hong Kong 1994)
Original Title: Gau Ban Ji ma Goon: Bak Min Bau Ching Tin
Directed by Wong Jing Produced by Wong Jing, Jimmy Heung Action by Poon Kin Kwan
Starring: Stephen Chow Sing Chi, Ng Man Tat, Sharla Cheung Man, Elvis Tsui, Collin Chou (Ngai Sing), Lawrence Ng, John Ching, Wong Yat Fei, Gabriel Wong, Leung Wing Chung, Ku Feng, Teresa Ha Ping, Christy Chung, Ada Choi, Yuen King Tan
Reviewing: Nova Media Korean Blu-ray Release
Genres: Comedy / Historical / Kung-Fu
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: Pao Lung Sing, a descendant of the famous Judge Pao Ching Tien, is a 9th-degree corrupt judge (the lowest degree) who changes his tune when he tries to champion a woman Chi Siu Lin, who is framed for killing her husband. As a result, Pao is forced to flee and through a series of events – most of which are often hilarious – he soon becomes a 1st-degree judge and comes back to wreak havoc and justice on the guilty.
Views: The incredible and hilarious Chow Sing Chi stars as Pao Lung Sing, a low service judge who is also a descendant of the famous Judge Pao – the historic Chinese judge who helped to correct injustices during the Ming dynasty. While not as smart as his ancestor and blinded by his love for money, Pao Lung Sing is repeatedly tricked by a wicked lawyer (Lawrence Ng) who soon convinces the townsfolk that their poor official is the real cause of the town's problems. Along with his assistant, played by the late Ng Man Tat, the pair go into hiding and soon find a new problem in the shape of Panther – a corrupt official and kung-fu master. After some clever trickery, the crazy duo soon captures him and are hailed heroes by the locals. With his newfound popularity, Pao returns to his court with the promise of being a more honest judge. But as a murder case is brought before him involving a beautiful new bride (Cheung Man), Pao finds himself once again under the scrutiny of the twisted lawyer who manages to turn the simple judge, into the accused. His lies and actions have Pao sentenced, but he quickly escapes jail and goes into hiding. Intent on making things right and finding out the truth, Pao makes his way to the Emperor to explain the situation and, after catching him in a brothel, blackmails him to make him a 1st-degree judge so he can deal with the evils in his court!
Although it is jam-packed with Chow and Wong Jing's typical comedic style, Hail The Judge has some very dark moments throughout – most noticeably during the court case of Sharla Cheung Man after she is framed for murder by the evil Collin Chou, who killed everyone in her household and raped her. The lies, corruption, and violence launched upon her are actually pretty shocking, with Cheung Man delivering a powerful performance as she is mentally destroyed and beaten to a pulp with sticks and paddles. It's an incredibly hard scene to watch and completely removes you from the fact that you're watching such a ridiculous comedy. This scene is further strengthened by the fact that both Lawrence Ng and the brilliant Collin Chou, turn in such great performances as evil men you will just love to hate. Of course, it also proves to be the turnaround point for Chow as judge Pao – making him realise just how much damage he actually does by lying...
Hail The Judge may not be on the top of everyone's list when it comes to favourite Chow Sing Chi movies, but it still proves to be a hugely entertaining piece. For me, Chow Sing Chi is perhaps the funniest man in cinema. While many westerners can't seem to handle his crazy mo-lei-tau style of humour, I just adore it. Of course, having someone like Wong Jing behind things just helps elevate this even more. One of my all-time favourite filmmakers, Wong has been behind some of my favourite Hong Kong movies as a director, writer or producer. Kicking off his work in the industry as a writer in the early 70s, Wong Jing made the move into acting and directing with Challenge Of The Gamesters in 1981, his first film of many that combined the elements of Hong Kong action and gambling. With Hail The Judge, both parties deliver a strong and often hilarious film with plenty of broad humour that had me laughing out loud over-and-over. And then of course, there is the wonderful and dearly missed Ng Man Tat – Chow's regular sidekick and co-star who is as much a part of what makes these films just as funny as the main star and director do. Starting in 1975 with a small role in The Running Mob, Ng went on to star in almost 170 films and impressed across the board in many titles winning Best Supporting Actor for his role in Benny Chan's fantastic, A Moment Of Romance. And while he is more known for his comedy roles (and mostly alongside Chow), Ng Man Tat has proven to deliver many great serious performances over the course of his career.
Wong Jing pulls together a great cast to star alongside Chow and Ng Man Tat, with the aforementioned Lawrence Ng as the hateful lawyer, and the young Collin Chou/Ngai Sing as the brutal Shang Wai who displays any amount of violence with some powerful strikes. Super-tall and super-fun Elvis Tsui Kam Kong delights in the role of Panther – the white haired, crazed official who ends up joining Chow in his mission to fix things. I'm a huge fan of Tsui's from his Shaw Brothers days to his modern hits, and always find him a joy to watch. Here, Elvis seemingly brings back his role from Royal Tramp – the hilarious and action-packed film from Wong Jing that saw him star alongside Chow Sing Chi only a couple of years before. The rest of the cast is filled out with many great names such as Ku Feng as Collin Chou's father, Gabriel Wong as the Emperor, Christy Chung and Joey Leung as boat owners, Wong Yat Fei as Pao's boss, the wonderful Lau Shun as Eunuch Lee, and the hilarious Yuen King Tan as a brothel owner. I must also mention the great Teresa Ha Ping, another actress who unfortunately passed in 2019. Actress of over 260 films, Teresa was a wonderful actress with great comic timing and plays Pao's senile mother who brings on some great laughs.
With plenty of hilarity and many laugh-out-loud moments, Hail The Judge is perhaps a Chow title that is as worthy of an introduction to the star as much as Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle is. It could also play as a loose sequel to Johnnie To's hilarious Justice, My Foot with many similarities in characters and settings – although offers a little more craziness coming from the pen of Wong Jing. The final 20 minutes offers a wild conclusion with Pao using his 'quarrel-fu' that he learned at the brothel, in order to talk down the lawyer and corrupt officials that often talk over him. With his quick-witted words and ways, Pao is backed by Panther and Man Tat in saving Cheung Man from execution and sentencing the evil Shang Wai to death. It's a crazy closure that delivers some wild comedy, sword swallowing, kung-fu, justice, and a few babies that helps make Hail The Judge a worthwhile watch from one of cinema's greatest comedy actors!
Overall: A tidy production from Wong Jing, with plenty of great comedy moments courtesy of Chow Sing Chi and Ng Man Tat!
Blu-ray Extras: Trailer
HALF A LOAF OF KUNG FU
(Hong Kong 1978)
Original Title: Yi Zhao Ban Shi Chuang Jiang Hu
(aka) Karate Bomber
Directed by Chen Chi Hwa Produced by Lo Wei Action by Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, James Tien, Doris Lung, Kim Jeong Nan, Kam Kong, Lee Hae Ryong, Dean Shek, Miao Tian, Lin Chao Hsiung, Julie Lee, Kao Chiang, Wu Ma
Reviewing: Alpha Film/Trans Global UK VHS Release
Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Comedy
Rating - 4 / 5
VHS Synopsis: Jackie Chan stars in this comedy adventure in which he displays his vast array of martial arts skills, along with his comic talents. He stars in this funny action-packed adventure as Jiane, a happy-go-lucky orphan who is enlisted to the 'Sern Chuan Bodyguard'. The film follows his many adventures as his bodyguard is enlisted to protect the priceless 'Evergreen Jade'.
Views: I love Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu! It was one of the first Jackie Chan films I saw as a kid and rented it on a daily basis along with Armour Of God, Fearless Hyena, and Project A. Although it may not be the ultimate film in terms of Chan's kung fu abilities, Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu proves to be a highly entertaining piece that still has me laughing out loud in parts. Of course, only when I got older and big into my Hong Kong cinema, did I learn from books (and the internet) of the truths behind the production and why it has become a Marmite movie (as such) for different generations of Jackie fans...
The opening sequence kicks off the comedy with a montage of training sequences akin to that of the obligatory 'red room' opening of many kung-fu films around that time. Exchanging red for black, Jackie spoofs a number of characters and situations from Zatoichi to famous swordsmen, Abbots to Jesus, and a hilarious attack on a miniature Wing Chun, wooden-dummy. It's an opening that sets up the tone of what to expect from the film and must be praised for its lampooning of kung-fu movies that came long before the great Stephen Chow Sing Chi made it such a popular genre. The legendary Jackie Chan plays Chang, a smart-talking, carefree guy who is trying to find his next meal. After approaching a school for a job, Chang is chased by a big brute of a man into a chicken house where he dodges his hits and takes the giant down by throwing eggs (and chickens) at him, before whacking him on the head with a log, in just one of the many Looney Tunes-inspired moments seen throughout. Chang soon gets a job at the mansion of Mr. Man, an intimidating master with a grip of iron. One of the guests staying at the mansion is Lady Mui, rumoured to be a witch and housed not too far from Chang's room. Finally getting to rest his head on a proper bed, Chang soon falls asleep and delves straight into a dream of getting into a fight with a gang of men who easily have the advantage over him. After pulling some 'spinach' from the ground, Chang is overcome with a new power that gives him great kung-fu skills to help him win the fight - backed by the ever-popular theme from Popeye. It's a brief moment of insanity, but it is funny!
That night, after stealing some food from the kitchen, Chang sneaks a peek into the room of Lady Mui but is caught by his new friend San – who instantly killed by the witch. As Mr. Man and his staff chase after him, Chang quickly escapes leaving the former to discuss plans with Lady Mui on stealing the Evergreen Jade Pieces and Soul Pill, that is safely in the hands of Escort Fong Having been on the run until the following morning, Chang comes across two men fighting, murderer Se Tai Chung and a kung fu hero known as The Whip Hero. As the latter wins the battle and leaves Chung on his knees begging for mercy, Chang makes a noise that gives the murderer a chance to attack the hero. Firing a hidden dart into his chest, the two continue to battle with The Whip Hero soon killing off his opponent only to die straight after due to his injuries. Chang makes his way over to help the hero but is too late. He soon finds a note that claims a bounty for Chung's head, and without a second thought, claims the identity of The Whip Hero in order to collect his reward. As he is praised by the locals who are convinced he is the real master of the whipping technique, an old beggar knows the truth and sets out to keep an eye on him. Escaping for a toilet break – only to be interrupted by Wu Ma in a cameo – Chang is soon approached by another beggar, who has a flatulence problem and offers to teach Chang a new move called the Concubine (a move a used numerously on my friends and brothers growing up when we were scrapping). Chang soon bumps into Mr. Man and Lady Mui who recognise him instantly. They give chase and soon catch up to him, with Mr. Man giving Chang a good beating before he is mysteriously killed by some flying darts. As he tries to figure out what happened Lady Mui arrives and continues the beating, thinking that Mr. Man had been killed by the hands of the clumsy Chang. She is soon chased off by the old beggar who helps him and reveals a mysterious fighter hiding in the trees at the same time. Impressed, Chang asks the old beggar to be his teacher but must do a small job for him first before he agrees to do so and deliver something to Escort Fong. He unknowingly meets Fong, his daughter, and their bodyguard at an inn where he steps into break-up some trouble started by a couple of passing fighters. After a double-crossing pickpocket trick, Chang leaves before they all realise that he is connected to their old beggar friend. Bumping into the farting beggar once again, the young hero soon learns another new move (and my second favourite strike in my childhood battles), the Steel Finger along with the hilarious move, Bow To The King! After his lesson, Chang is attacked by the two fighters from the restaurant, out to punish him for stealing their wallets. Putting his new moves to use as well as his deadly whip, Chang finds himself once again being abused (with hilarious consequences) before getting rescued by Escort Fong who beats the men and returns their money.
Back at the inn, Chang is soon approached by a tiny lady who turns out to be the sister of the real Whip Hero and soon learns the truth about her late brother. Taking the whip from Chang, she soon leaves only to be replaced by the farting beggar who gets an earful from the wannabe hero before he hands over a small book of moves, guaranteed to make him a fighter. The following morning, Escort Fong and his men continue their journey with Chang but are soon attacked by a collection of characters including Lady Mui, Iron Hand Lui, and The Man with a Thousand Faces – all of whom want the Evergreen Jade Pieces and Soul Pill. Escort Fong is injured during battle, and it soon falls on Chang's shoulders to find an antidote that will help rescue him. While on his mission, Chang comes across the Whip Hero's sister once again, who is being attacked by a strange man. Holding his own in battle, Chang is helped by the old beggar who reveals that the farting beggar is actually his best student. He gives the troubled hero the much-needed medicine, as well as the Dragon Fist book so that he can learn a proper technique. Meanwhile, Escort Fong's daughter finds out that their bodyguard is one of Lady Mui's men and tries to stop him before he steals the jade, aided by Chang on his return. After nursing Escort Fong back to health and a little training of the Dragon Fist style, the party continues on their journey only to be met by the three clans that want the Evergreen Jade Pieces and Soul Pill. It all leads to a fight-filled final 20 minutes with plenty of great moves and hilarity as Chang finally becomes the fighter and hero he's always wanted to be, aided by his newfound farting friend and fighting femme fatales!
Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu may be the kind of early Chan vehicle that is more acceptable to older Jackie Chan fans, than those who joined the club after Rush Hour came out! Disgusted with the less than successful box-office returns of his previous Jackie Chan titles, such as New Fist Of Fury, Shaolin Wooden Men, To Kill With Intrigue, Killer Meteors, and the fantastic Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin, Lo Wei gave the star a little more freedom to deliver what he wanted – joined once again by friend and director, Chen Chi Hwa, the man behind Shaolin Wooden Men and Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin (who went on to work with Jackie on a number of hit films over the decades). Excited at the prospects of finally making a kung-fu comedy, Jackie Chan and Chen Chi Hwa set out to turn the typical kung-fu movie tale of revenge, 'upside down and inside out', something they most definitely achieved. Packed with incredibly broad humour and cartoon-like comedy, the young pair of film-makers worked off the backbone of a basic storyline, adding skits and minor subplots along the way which, although flawed at times, still managed to deliver a very imaginative and inventive parody of kung-fu cinema that presented the legitimate debut of Jackie's comic persona. Unfortunately, Lo Wei didn't think so and stuck the film in the vaults – locked away until the star proved to be a box office smash after being loaned to Seasonal Films for Snake In The Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master. But even before that magic happened, Lo Wei immediately thrust Jackie back into a serious role with kung-fu cinema's first 3D film, The Magnificent Bodyguards, before writing his own comedy for the star with Spiritual Kung Fu. With both proving to be as mundane at the box office as the rest, Lo Wei pulled out all the stops and directed Jackie in Dragon Fist – a serious kung-fu drama that is possibly one of his best from those years – before Willie Chan and Ng See Yuen made plans to help save Jackie's career with the aforementioned hits.
Although all of the above happened over a two-year period, Lo Wei's actions stopped Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu from really becoming the very first Jackie Chan comedy – something that seemingly still gets awarded to the success of Snake In The Eagles Shadow. Yes, it may come across as cheap-looking and somewhat rushed in its production, but Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu is still quite an entertaining piece and something I would really love to see get the 4K restoration treatment from 88 Films like all of Lo Wei's other Jackie Chan titles have had. I think it's safe to say that Jackie (here) is having a ball, along with the other cast members who were no doubt glad to work on something a little different with this 'so-called' star whose films weren't exactly groundbreaking. It must have felt like a breath of fresh air to some degree, with young friends Chen and Chan delivering some wild slapstick among the fun kung-fu fights...
Jackie meets a collection of co-stars during his journey from rascal to hero, both on the side of good and evil. One of those is the brilliant Dean Shek, a name and face that needs no introduction to fans of kung-fu cinema. Having already been in the business for a good decade before this, Dean had starred in many comedy roles over the years while sharing the screen with many big stars like Jimmy Wang Yu, Angela Mao Ying, Michael Hui, and a host of other Shaw Brothers stars. He even starred in a few films prior to this with a younger Jackie Chan playing bit-parts in the likes of The Golden Lotus, All In The Family, and No End Of Surprises. Of course, this would be followed up with a role in Spiritual Kung Fu and over-shadowed by his roles in Snake In The Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master (in fact, Shek would appear in 13 roles in 1978) of course, before he would return with Jackie to Lo Wei productions as the hilarious undertaker in Fearless Hyena. His turn as the farting beggar is hardly one of his best, but it does prove memorable and makes for a few good laughs. Veteran actor Lee Man Tai stars as the old beggar and teacher to both Chan and Shek. Starting in the business around the same time as the latter, Lee starred in a host of movies as well as the aforementioned early films with Jackie and starring as the Devil Monk in Killer Meteors, a fighter in To Kill With Intrigue, a monk in Spiritual Kung Fu, an abbot in Magnificent Bodyguards, and an old beggar in Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin. Of course, this production led right off that one with stars and director all sticking around for the fun. Obviously, director Chen Chi Hwa took a liking to the actor and had him appear in his other titles such as The Face Behind The Mask, 36 Crazy Fists, and Dance Of Death – all of which Jackie had a hand in some respect!
The great James Tien stars as the double-crossing bodyguard to Escort Fong, who gets to let lose a few times and pretty much followed a similar path to that of Lee Man Tai and Dean Shek, as well as getting to co-star with Bruce Lee in The Big Boss and Fist Of Fury. Lee Hae Ryong stars as Escort Fong, more popularly known to Chan fans as the blind abbot in Spiritual Kung Fu, and the wonderful Doris Lung Chun Erh stars as his daughter. Having starred a couple of years before with Jackie in Shaolin Wooden Men, it was nice to see her return for a more fun role and get to kick some ass at the same time – although she probably didn't have as much fun as her time spent on the hilarious 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin which was also made the same year. Aside from Julie Lee Chi Lun playing Lady Mui, Korean actress and tiny super-kicker Kim Jeong Nan, who had just appeared alongside Chan in Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin – completes the trio of starlets whom each bring their own thing to the film. Jeong Nan plays the sister to the real Whip Hero, and gets to show off her fighting skills a few times and shows off some great moves in the final battle. And then of course there is the wonderful Kam Kong – a fantastic star of kung-fu cinema with memorable appearances in many classic titles such as The Blazing Temple, One-Armed Boxer Vs. The Flying Guillotine, The Flash Legs, Iron Monkey, and 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin (with Doris Lung), as well as Shaolin Wooden Men and Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin with Jackie and Chen Chi Hwa. Here, he plays the Man With 1000 Faces who saves the most of what he has for the end battle.
While Jackie himself doesn't get to show some real kung-fu abilities until the extensive end battle, he still takes part in a number of humorous fights throughout his journey. And while happy to poke fun at himself and his true fighting skills, Jackie continues to choreograph plenty of fun battles for everyone else – avoiding the camera trickery and wire-work to make his fighters leap through the air, keeping the majority of the combat very grounded. In fact, one of his jokes relates exactly to that and sees him flapping like a chicken every time he jumps or leaps about. Obviously, the best is saved for last, which sees pretty much every main character turn up at the same point to fight it out and get their hands on the Evergreen Jade Pieces and Soul Pill – something that turns out to be something of a fluff in the end. Part of that fight includes Jackie using Doris as a weapon – a trick he would improve on and recreate in Wong Jing's City Hunter when he spins Chingmy Yau around him. Another great moment sees him pulling the pony-tailed wig from the head of Kam Kong before using it in the style of nunchuck's, which always gets me going. Jackie's last 5 minutes in battle consists of him reading the scattered pages of a kung-fu manual completely in the wrong order while trying to dodge strikes by Kong and deliver the moves on the page. It's a hilarious addition to the final bout and has Jackie written all over it.
Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu may not be the best film ever made or offer the greatest of martial arts action, but it is an important piece of Jackie Chan's filmography and offers a lot of fun moments as well as proving to be an entertaining kung-fu comedy overall. Perhaps for me, there's a massive amount of nostalgia attached to that, but here's hoping we get to see a restored version soon enough that may give fans a better look at what Chen and Chan really wanted to offer – and the chance to enjoy the first real Jackie Chan comedy that seems to have been long forgotten about...
Overall: A lot of fun and packed with enough kung-fu, comedy, and Jackie Chan charm to keep his true fans happy!
(Hong Kong 1979)
Original Title: Shou Kou
(aka) Hand Cuffs
Directed by Wu Ma Produced by Michael Chan Wai Man Action by Michael Chan Wai Man, Cheng Kei Ying
Starring: Michael Chan Wai Man, Nora Miao, Pauline Wong, Philip Chan, Cheng Kei Ying, Lo Lieh, Bill Lake, Ga Lun, To Siu Ming, Cheng Kang Yeh, Luk Chuen, Kao Chiang, Wu Ma
Reviewing: YouTube Release
Genres: Action / Triad / Drama
Rating - 3.7 / 5
Synopsis: Handcuff is a biographical film about the life of Hong Kong gangster, Chan Wai-Man. In the film, Chan wants to quit the triads and retire to Europe, but his bosses have other ideas.
Views: The great Michael Chan Wai Man plays Ah Chang, a master assassin and martial arts expert known in the underworld as The Green Dragon. Chang works for Boss Chow Kwan – a Triad Godfather with an unforgiving reputation. While on a mission to kill another victim, a woman named Mung witnesses his actions. Determined to escape, Chang attacks her and quickly leaves, assuming she is dead from the head injury he gave her. The following day, Ah Chang finds out that she survived and heads to the hospital to finish off Mung in order to protect his identity. Unfortunately for him, the police catch him in the act and he is arrested on the spot. At the station, Chang is greeted by a familiar face – his old friend Inspector Chan. We soon learn that these mainlanders arrived together in Hong Kong many years ago, avoiding capture by the police and focusing on different ways to hide their illegal status. Inspector Chan assures Chang that he has nothing to worry about and removes his cuffs to ease the situation. Soon after though, The Green Dragon finds himself in a police line-up with Mung standing in front of him, starring blankly into his eyes. Worried that he is about to find himself in prison, Chang gets a shock when Mung keeps her silence and denies that any of the men in line were involved. Now a free man, Ah Chang takes this chance to retire as The Green Dragon with plans to marry his girlfriend Mabel, a club singer with a bitchy reputation. Boss Chow gives Chang his blessings to move on, with the ex-assassin soon finding work on a construction site. As fate would have it, Ah Chang soon finds that he can't escape a life of crime and violence as situations arise between his cheating girlfriend and some local thugs that quickly pull Chang right back into what he was trying to escape. It all leads to an action-packed finale and some brutal violence that tells the tale of an infamous Hong Kong gangster!
The Handcuff tells the supposedly true story of its very own star, Michael Chan Wai Man, a popular triad-turned actor that has made quite the name for himself in Hong Kong cinema over the years – although its final scene does make you wonder just how true it is. And while some of it may be overly dramatised for the film (or perhaps even toned down based on some of his real-life crimes), the story tries to sell Chan Wai Man as some sort of hero when, ultimately, he's a stone-faced brutal killer who is pretty much giving a full confession to the world of the stuff he got up to. Regardless, the man rarely fails to entertain in a role and gives an entertaining piece here as he portrays, well, himself. Written and produced by Chan, The Handcuff has a slower first half, building up its story and characters – although not completely dry of any excitement from its Godfather inspired opening montage of assassinations to his attack on his girlfriend's lover (played by Cheng Kang Yeh), that sees him cut off his penis after catching him in the act. But by the halfway mark, things really take off as the story picks up, fights and stunt work become more frequent, and things get exciting making you wonder just what is fact and what is fiction in Chan Wai Man's biopic...
The wonderful Wu Ma returns to the director's chair to look after the story of Chan. Although more popular for his roles in many hit movies, starring in over 290 films before his death in 2014, Wu Ma was actually the director of over 40 titles during the course of his career. The first would be Wrath Of The Sword, a decent swordplay drama that featured the likes of Shek Kin, Tang Ching, and a young Sammo Hung. By the time The Handcuff came about, Wu was well used to being behind the camera and I actually think it's one of his better offerings. Besides some strong direction, The Handcuff boasts a strong cast with the addition of Chia Lun as Inspector Chan – his first time staring alongside Chan Wai Man since 1976s fantastic, Jumping Ash. The lovely Nora Miao stars as Mung, the witness who later helps Chan after an injury. While she doesn't really have too much to do, it's always nice to see Miao on screen and she was no doubt cast due to her huge popularity at the time. Pauline Wong Yuk Wan plays Mabel, his cheating girlfriend who winds up getting smothered by the hands of Michael. Although rarely talked about by many Western fans of Hong Kong films, Wong has starred in many hits playing a sorceress in Mr. Vampire 3, a prostitute in Millionaires Express, a club hostess in Dragons Forever, and further roles in Mr. Vampire 4, Slickers Vs Killers, and Miracles. Kung fu stars Cheng Kei Ying and Lo Lieh appear in bit-parts, with each getting an extensive fight scene against Chan. The man with the biggest sideburns in the business gets to throw down in a dojo, with Cheng Kei Ying delivering some cool moves and proving to be a bit of a problem for the gangster, and Shaw Brothers legend Lo Lieh goes up against The Green Dragon in a rooftop battle that gets a little brutal towards the end of the film. A few other familiar faces pop up throughout such as the great Philip Chan, Yasuhiro Shikamura, Tang Ching, and more. Both Chan Wai Man and Cheng Kei Ying handle the fight choreography – evident more so in their dojo fight – with both providing enough exciting and gritty battles to keep kung-fu fans happy. While there are a few bouts of action throughout the first half of the film, the majority of the fights and stunts are kept for the second half with some impressive moments including Chan Wai Man's leaps from balcony's and bridges, a car chase through the city, and plenty of martial arts action. There's a pretty gruesome moment that sees Chan cut a bullet from his leg using a chopping knife before stitching it up with a needle and thread – most likely doubled with a piece of animal flesh, but very well done nonetheless.
Although probably not as polished or talked about as Kirk Wong's classic, The Club, Wu Ma's film is certainly a solid piece of entertainment with decent performances from all involved and plenty of exciting action. While Michael Chan may not be to everyone's taste, he provides yet another great film and performance – even if it is a vanity project as such. The Handcuff is definitely worth the watch and one I would like to see restored and released on Blu-ray sometime in the near future!
Overall: Gritty and well made, The Handcuff is a martial arts thriller worth a watch!
(South Korea 2016)
Original Title: Ah Ga Ssi
Directed by Park Chan Wook Produced by Park Chan Wook, Syd Lim
Starring: Kim Tae Ri, Lee Yong Nyeo, Yoo Min Chae, Kim Min Hee, Lee Dong Hwi, Kim Hae Sook, Ha Jung Woo, Cho Jin Woong
Reviewing: Netflix UK Release
Genres: Drama / Thriller / Romance
Rating - 5 / 5
Synopsis: A woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her.
Views: Inspired by Sarah Waters's novel, 'Fingersmith', the great Park Chan Wook's dark drama exchanges Victorian London for 1930s Korea, the period of its Japanese occupancy. A young Korean woman (Sook-Hee) wins the job of being a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress (Hideko) who lives a very secluded life at her country estate. Hideko shares a home with her domineering uncle, who is rumoured to be after her hand in marriage if only to be one step closer to her fortune – but he's not the only one. Before leaving for her job, professional pickpocket Sook-Hee was trained by her boss and taught of a plan to rob the heiress. Posing as a Japanese Count, the king swindler hatches a plan to also elope with Hideko in order to rob her of her fortune, and with Sook Hee's help, send her to the madhouse. With things set in motion, the plan seems to be going well until Sook-Hee and Hideko soon start falling for each other and the twists of their fates are revealed...
There's no denying that The Handmaiden is an impeccable piece of filmmaking. But then what else would you expect from the creative mind of Park Chan Wook, the very same man behind incredible titles such as Joint Security Area, Thirst, I'm A Cyborg, and of course, the amazing Vengeance Trilogy! With an amazing 66 wins (including 1 BAFTA Film Award) and over 100 nominations, The Handmaiden is a gorgeous film filled with wonderful dialogue, clever humour, and some gripping drama that highlights once again that South Korean filmmakers are currently the best in the industry. There isn't really a lot more I can say that would be any different or possibly convince you in other way, that thousands of other critics haven't already said or been able to do, to make you watch The Handmaiden. Even at two and a half hours long, you can't take your eyes from the screen as every frame holds your attention with its beauty, its twists, and its performances!
The beautiful Kim Tae Ri plays the titular handmaiden, Sook-Hee in her debut feature film role (after starring in a handful of short films), and has since gone on to impress with roles in 1987, the incredible Mr. Sunshine television series, and as Captain Jang in the super-fun Space Sweepers which I just loved. Her performance here is nothing short of exceptional, blending some great humour with such a dramatic role that called for dedication in regards to her romantic encounters with Hideko. Kim Min-Hee plays Lady Hideko, the unfortunate heiress who had a pretty rough life under the command of her eccentric and abusive uncle. Starting her career in the late 90s with a role in K-drama, School, Min-Hee quickly made a name for herself in a host of television drama's as well as feature films such as The Sword With No Name, Moby Dick, No Tears For The Dead, and of course, this. Her uncle is played Cho Jin Woong, made to look a bit older than he actually is. Having only been acting for less than 20 years, the Busan born actor began life in the film business in the little-known crime thriller, Running Wild, and quickly climbed the ranks starring in television and film projects such as The Guard Post, A Man Called God, The Front Line, and Assassination. The final piece of the puzzle is played by the wonderful Ha Jung Woo, one of my favourite South Korean actors. From She's On Duty to The Fox Family, The Chaser to The Yellow Sea, Jung Woo has appeared in a vast amount of great titles. One of the latest would-be Along With The Gods 1 & 2, two incredible films that see him play a grim reaper and get in on some amazing action. His role here as the fake Japanese Count who toys with the lives of two young women, only adds to his repertoire as one of Korea's leading men.
Apart from its amazing cast and wonderful story, two other things really stood out for me in making The Handmaiden an incredible watch. The first is the cinematography – gorgeously captured by Chung Chung Hoon, a DOP who has worked with Park on many of his titles including Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Thirst, I'm A Cyborg, and even his Hollywood debut, Stoker. Of course, his talents don't stop there having also delivered the cinematography for many other Korean projects and Hollywood hits such as IT: Chapter One, Zombieland: Double Tap, and the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney Plus. As with all of his work, Chung delivers a stunning collection of visuals under the direction of Park, proving to be a winning team in understanding the importance of making every frame count. The second would have to be the score, wonderfully composed by Jo Yeong Wook who began enchanting the industry with The Quiet Family (later remade by Takashi Miike as Happiness Of The Katakuri's) in 1998. From there, Jo would be the maestro behind many great titles such as Tell Me Something, Public Enemy, Oldboy, Blood Rain, I'm A Cyborg, New World, A Taxi Driver, and many more. All in all, both help make The Handmaiden a hugely entertaining film that stands strong as one of Park Chan Wook's finest and very much deserved of its many wins.
Definitely one of my new favourites and a masterpiece of modern cinema!
Overall: Thrilling, funny, and gorgeous on many levels, The Handmaiden is a film that should be seen by any true fan of cinema!
HAND OF DEATH
(Hong Kong 1976)
Original Title: Shao Lin Men
(aka) Countdown in Kung Fu; Strike Of Death
Directed by John Woo Produced by Raymond Chow, Hwang Yeong Sil Action by Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Tan Tao Liang, Sammo Hung, James Tien, John Woo, Yeung Wai, Yuen Wah, Yuen Biao, Philip Ko, Wilson Tong, Kim Ki Duk, Kao Chiang
Reviewing: Eureka UK Blu-ray Release
Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Drama
Rating - 4 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: In Hand Of Death, a young Shaolin monk must train to defeat a dangerous Manchu warlord (James Tien) who is intent on wiping out the Shaolin once and for all. Featuring early performances from Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung (both also handled the film's stunts, along with third 'brother' Yuen Biao), Hand Of Death is an exquisitely stylish example of old school Kung Fu filmmaking.
Views: John Woo's Hand Of Death opens with an attack on the Shaolin Temple by the Manchurians, who massacre a host of disciples as well as hang their abbot from the temple walls. Jumping forward a decade, we are introduced to Yung Fei (Tan Tao Liang) a student at another temple who is demonstrating a host of kung-fu styles and a wonderful array of kicking techniques. Sent out by his master to take revenge for his Shaolin brothers, Yung is told of a meeting of allies who can help him seek vengeance against the Manchurian warlord, Commander Shih (James Tien). Before he enters the city, Yung Fei meets woodsman, Little Tan (Jackie Chan), and after an exchange in glances – in what some have claimed to be a homoerotic moment - Yung hitches a ride on Little Tan's cart and soon continues on his journey. This moment of homo-eroticism is akin to any Chang Cheh movie from the Shaw Brothers studio, and after spending many years under him as an assistant and protege of sorts, it's no surprise to see John Woo bring some of those influences along with him. As he enters the town, Yung Fei soon finds his allies in the shape of a mysterious swordsman known as The Wanderer (Yeung Wai), scholar Zhang Yi (a young John Woo in a small role), and Little Tan who soon returns to join them driven with his own story of vengeance. Together they take on the Manchu soldiers before going up against Commander Shih and his top fighter Du Qing (Sammo Hung), in a deadly showdown of kung-fu that showcases some incredible moves, impressive weapons displays, and painful-looking stunt-work!
Hand Of Death was another one of the first Jackie Chan movies I had ever seen and one of the first videos I ever owned way back in the early 90s. Of course, now that I'm a big boy I have long caught on to the fact that this really isn't a Jackie Chan movie at all and more about the wonderful Dorian Tan Tao Liang, in what was only his 6th or 7th role. The Korean super-kicker launched into the industry only a few years earlier in Wong Sing Loy's, Hero Of Chiu Chow, and with only a couple of films to follow, Tan would soon find he was a little more in demand in 1976 when he starred in no less than 8 feature films – most of which were leading roles in films such as The Hot, The Cool, And The Vicious, Story In Temple Red Lily, The Himalayan, General Stone, and Hand Of Death. While it would seem that the man starred in pretty much every kung-fu classic that came out of Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema, Tan Tao Liang actually just appeared in over 40 productions until he retired from the screen in the mid-80s after writing/producing/starring in Last Breath – an action-war movie that was re-released in the West as Jungle Heat, and featured new footage featuring Flash Gordon himself, Sam Jones, and Wong Kar Wai's famed cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. In Hand Of Death, Tan looks and moves fantastically as the Shaolin student out to stop the Manchurians and delivers an amazing array of kicks that confirms why he was known to most as Flash Legs – a nickname that stuck after his role in the 1977 film of the same name. While he was initially hired for stunt work under big brother Sammo Hung, John Woo felt it was a good move to upgrade Jackie Chan to an acting role after a Korean performer proved to lack the moves needed when it came to the fight scenes. Although he already had a good decade or more appearing as an extra in many films like The Blade Spares None, Fist Of Fury, Hapkido, and Enter The Dragon, and even had starring roles in films like Cub Tiger From Kwangtung and Eagle Shadow Fist, it seems that Jackie's role in Hand Of Death was the one that caught the attention of a certain Lo Wei who took him under his wing the very same year to be the new Bruce Lee and leading man in, New Fist Of Fury. Although he only appears briefly in the beginning – to give Tan Tao Liang a ride on his cart and set fire to a random body hanging in a tree – Jackie does come back later in the story to help rescue Tan (in quite a funny moment) before sticking around to make the team new weapons and learn a bit of kung-fu. Of course, his highlight comes closer to the end when Jackie takes on the Manchu's in a great fight scene that allows him to impress with the spear, all while delivering some deadly blows and slick moves. It's a terrific fight scene that showcases Jackie's skills as a traditional kung-fu fighter, and perhaps the one scene he got to choreograph himself. I did notice though, upon watching Hand Of Death over the years, that there were a number of odd cuts following Jackie around when it came to him falling or attempting a stunt that had him hitting the ground from a height. This was all down to an unfortunate accident that left Chan unconscious after getting caught in a wire and was seemingly bad enough for Sammo to cut his shots for fear of causing further risk to his younger brother.
Of course, the legendary Sammo Hung gets a bit more out of the film starring as the right-hand man to James Tien's, Manchu warlord – complete with a shiny set of buck teeth and some mannerisms that often prove to be quite comical at times. As the fight choreographer, Sammo delivers a non-stop collection of fantastic kung-fu fights – starting off a little rigid and chop-socky at times, but quickly getting better with each of them offering many great moves, stunts, and shapes. There are many highlights throughout from Tan Tao Liang's magnificent kicking abilities to Jackie's aforementioned spear fight against the bodyguards. And then, of course, there's the big end battle – a lengthy exchange of moves that sees Tan take on the Smiling Tiger, James Tien, and Sammo himself in a beach fight that shows each of them in top form. Sammo takes his stunt-work a step further by taking a hit that knocks him through a number of large clay pots, which looked pretty painful, to be honest. At this stage of the game, the burly fighter had already appeared and starred in over 70 films with memorable roles in the likes of The Invincible Eight, A Touch Of Zen, Hapkido, Lady Whirlwind, End Of The Wicked Tigers, The Skyhawk, The Man From Hong Kong, and the ever-popular Enter The Dragon that saw him get to face-off against Bruce Lee. With Hand Of Death, and a number of titles from a couple of years previous, Hung had really refined his skills as a choreographer and director and went on to deliver a host of classics over the next few years that boosted his own career with The Iron Fisted Monk, Broken Oath, Enter The Fat Dragon, Warriors Two, Knockabout, and The Odd Couple to name but a few. He really saves Hand Of Death from becoming just another average kung-fu movie and provides more than a few scene-stealing moments when in action.
Given the number of times Yuen Biao appears during the running time - either as a repeated background fighter, stuntman, and at least once in a more prominent role – you could say that John Woo gave the world the first-ever (Golden Harvest) film to star the infamous Three Dragons (and not counting their child roles in the 60s of course) well before Winners & Sinners and Project A. Of course, the young Mr.Woo had no idea how big these guys were going to become – even to the point of being total box office competition against his later works – but I'm sure Hand of Death was one project he often looked back on just a decade later, in knowing that he had these guys in his grasp. It would also be around this time that Tan had been teaching Yuen Biao some new kicking techniques, something that soon became a highlight of the younger brother's own film career. It was great to see the amazing Yuen Wah also pop up throughout, doubling Tan Tao Liang for his more acrobatic moves and getting to impress with the spear as one of James Tien's soldiers (and definitely more than once). Tien himself was never a trained fighter and often hired for his acting abilities and on-screen presence – obviously having impressed John Woo enough after starring in his film The Dragon Tamers. Of course, he had been on the scene for some time with strong roles in The Big Boss, Fist Of Fury, and many of the titles mentioned previously with a young Sammo Hung. Still, and under Hung Kam Bo's direction, Tien manages to pull-off some decent kung-fu in his role as Commander Shih, getting better and better as the fights move on. The great Wilson Tong pops up briefly at the start of the film, playing a Shaolin disciple who first takes on the Manchu's and goes fist to toe with Sammo himself. Tong had worked with Sammo over the years on many early Golden Harvest titles – most of which starred Angela Mao Ying – and after jumping into a few Shaw Brothers productions after Hand Of Death, traded kicks once again with Sammo in the awesome kung-fu comedy, The Victim in 1980.
While solidly directed and packed with great kung-fu action, Hand Of Death is hardly spectacular although it is gorgeously shot, putting its Korean scenery to good use. Its run-of-the-mill storyline doesn't try to offer anything new, but the cast does a fine job of delivering their roles which helps make it a very watchable film. I've seen it countless times over the decades and have yet to tire of it yet, with this Eureka blu-ray release giving it a whole new 'lick of paint' so-to-speak, which made it even better than previous viewings. The young John Woo does a fine job in delivering a very watchable movie and although it's a period of his career many fans often forget about, he still manages to provide a classic slice of kung-fu cinema – backed by a very memorable and awesome score by the wonderful, Joseph Koo, composer of over 150 movies from The Skyhawk to A Better Tomorrow 2, and A Terracotta Warrior to Fist Of Legend...
Overall: A well-made classic of kung-fu cinema, with many great fight scenes and the chance to see a young Chan, Hung, and Biao together in action!
Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary With Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, John Woo Interview, Trailer
Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Audio Commentary with Bey Logan