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. (106 Mins)
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: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy
Rating - 4 / 5
88 Films UK Blu-ray Synopsis: While the mighty Shaw Brothers were dominating the Hong Kong martial arts scene with hard-hitting features like THE CHINESE BOXER and dazzling us with an aesthetic brilliance found in productions such as LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA or THE SHAOLIN DISCIPLES, writer and star JACKIE CHAN and director Chen Chi Hwa were cutting across much of the pomposity associated with many of these types of films and offering something much more akin to parody with HALF A LOAF OF KUNG FU. Accident-prone Jiang (Chan) dreams of learning Kung Fu from a master, but when he takes employment as a bodyguard at a shady mansion, he stumbles upon an evil witch and finds himself in the middle of an uncertain future. Funny, inventive and clever, HALF A LOAF OF KUNG FU provides light-hearted action, some bonkers scenarios and of course, Chan's patented style of fun and fury. (96 Mins)
Eastern Heroes UK DVD Synopsis: Despite the unusual title, 'Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu' was one of Jackie's first experimental films using slap stick comedy with slick choreographed Kung Fu fights. Jackie's fondness towards his silent screen movie heroes like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin is apparent as he plays the bungling oaf who wins through in the end. A miss at the box office when first released, it has only been since his style of comedy action has won him over millions of fans, that today's audience can appreciate the magic and genius of Jackie Chan. (92 Mins)
Trans Global UK 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 he bodyguard is enlisted to protect the priceless 'Evergreen Jade'. (90 Mins)
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 parody of kung-fu cinema that still has me laughing out loud today. 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, but hopefully this newly restored Blu-ray release from 88 Films will help garner the film a brand new audience. The entertaining opening sequence kicks-off the movie perfectly 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 dashing swordsmen, Shaolin monks to Jesus Christ himself, as well as a hilarious attack on a miniature wooden dummy. It's an opening that sets up the tone of what to expect from the film, and must be praised for it's 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 doing whatever he can to find his next meal. After approaching a school for a job, Chang is chased out by a brute-of-a-man and soon gets cornered in a chicken house. Dodging attacks while throwing eggs (and chickens) in self defence, Chang eventually takes the giant down by whacking him on the head with a log in one of the many Looney Tunes-inspired moments seen throughout the film. 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 is Lady Mui who is housed not-too-far from Chang's room and rumoured to be a witch. That night, after stealing some food from the kitchen, Chang sneaks a peek into the room of Lady Mui but is caught by his friend San – who instantly killed by the witch. Frightened for his life, Chang makes a run for it as Mr. Man and his men chase after him, concerned that the young scamp may have overheard their plans on stealing the Evergreen Jade Pieces and Soul Pill – both of which are safely in the hands of Escort Fong. Having been on the run until the following morning, Chang comes across two men fighting, one of which is the murderer Se Tai Chung and the other known as The Whip Hero. As the latter has Chung on his knees begging for mercy, Chang causes a distraction that gives the murderer a chance to attack the hero, with The Whip Hero soon killing-off his opponent only to die straight after due to his injuries. Although he is too late to help the hero, Chang finds a note claiming the bounty for Chung's head and without a second thought, steals 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 whip technique, an old beggar sees through his lies and sets out to keep an eye on the rascal. Escaping for a toilet break – only to be interrupted by Wu Ma in a cameo – Chang is soon approached by a younger beggar with a flatulence problem, who offers to teach Chang a new move called the Concubine (a move I used numerously on my friends and brothers growing up when we were scrapping). He soon bumps into Mr. Man and Lady Mui who quickly give chase. After they catch him, Mr. Man gives Chang a good beating before he is mysteriously killed by some flying darts. As Chang tries to figure out how he was killed, Lady Mui arrives and continues the beating under the impression that her colleague had been killed by the hands of the clumsy hero, but she is soon chased off by the old beggar who reveals a mysterious fighter hiding in the trees. Impressed with the skills of his saviour, Chang asks the old beggar to be his teacher although is coerced do a small job for him first before he agrees. That job is to deliver something to Escort Fong, who he unknowingly meets at an inn, along with his daughter and their bodyguard after he steps-in to break-up some trouble – Chang leaves before they all realise the connection to their old friend. Bumping into the farting beggar once again, the young hero is taught another new move (and the 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 same fighters from the restaurant who were bothering Fong, which gives Chang the chance to try his new moves along with the deadly whip. But Chang finds quickly finds himself abused once again (with hilarious consequences) before getting rescued by Escort Fong who returns their money. Back at the inn, Chang is approached by a tiny lady who turns out to be the sister of the real Whip Hero and learns the truth about her late brother. The following morning, Escort Fong and his men set-off on their journey with Chang but are soon attacked by a bevy of characters which include Lady Mui, Iron Hand Lui, and The Man with a Thousand Faces – all of whom want the Evergreen Jade Pieces and Soul Pill. As the fight begins, Escort Fong is quickly injured in battle leaving everything on Chang's shoulders to find an antidote that will help cure him. While on his mission, Chang comes across the Whip Hero's sister who is being attacked by a strange man. Although he manages to hold his own in battle, Chang is helped once again by the old beggar who reveals that he is actually the master of the farting beggar and 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 actually one of Lady Mui's men and tries to stop him before he steals the jade. After nursing Escort Fong back to health and a little training of the Dragon Fist style, the party continue 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 that offers plenty of great moves and hilarity as Chang finally becomes the fighter and hero he's always wanted to be!
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, 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 the latter and Shaolin Wooden Men. Excited at the prospects of finally making a kung-fu comedy, Jackie and Chen Chi Hwa set out to poke fun at the typical cliched tale of most kung-fu movies, turning it 'upside down and inside out' and packing it full 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 send-up of kung-fu cinema that presented the legitimate debut of Jackie Chan's comic persona. Unfortunately, Lo Wei didn't think so and stuck the film straight into in the vaults – locked away until the star proved to be a box office smash after being loaned to Seasonal Films for Yuen Woo Ping's Snake In The Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master. But even before they went into production, Lo Wei immediately thrust Jackie back into a serious roll 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 to direct Jackie in Dragon Fist – a serious kung-fu drama that is possibly one of his best from that era. Although all of that happened over a two year period, it would be Lo Wei's actions that stopped Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu from really becoming the very first Jackie Chan comedy – something that 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. I think it's safe to say that Jackie (here) is having a great time, along with all 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 ground-breaking. It must have felt like a breath of fresh air to some degree, with young filmmakers delivering some wild slapstick among the fun kung-fu fights...
Jackie meets a collection of co-stars on 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 (with Shek appearing in 13 roles in 1978 overall) 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 to some degree, with the pair going on to work together for many years on Jackie's own modern hits. The great James Tien stars as the double-crossing bodyguard to Escort Fong, getting to let loose 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 fan's 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 who 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, with some great moves in the final battle. And then of course there is the wonderful Kam Kong, the star of 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, Kam plays the the Man With 1000 Faces who saves the most of what he has on offer, for the big finale.
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 - happy to poke fun at himself and his true fighting skills. Jackie choreographs plenty of fun battles for his co-stars trying to mostly avoid camera trickery and wire-work, in order to keep 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 around. Obviously, the best is saved for last, which sees every main character arrive in the one location to fight it out and get their hands on the Evergreen Jade Pieces and Soul Pill. 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, with Chingmy Yau. Another great moment sees him pulling the pony-tailed wig from the head of Kam Kong before using it in the style of nunchucka'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 it all, but there's no denying this newly restored version has given fans a better look at what Chen and Chan really wanted to offer – not to mention the chance to enjoy the first real Jackie Chan kung-fu comedy in its full glory!
Overall: Lots of fun and packed with enough kung-fu, comedy and charm, Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu is a highly enjoyable classic!
88 Films Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Trailers, TV Spot
Eastern Heroes DVD Extras: Trailers
Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE
(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. (95 Mins)
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 dramatized 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. (145 Mins)
Views: Inspired by Sarah Waters' 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. (97 Mins)
Hong Kong Legends UK DVD Synopsis: From John Woo, the director of Hong Kong movie classics including Bullet In The Head and The Killer, comes The Hand Of Death; his unique take on the period martial arts movie genre. This is probably the first and last time you'll ever hold a DVD of a film directed by John Woo that features kung fu legends Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao! Their foe is none other than the formidable James Tien (Game Of Death) who wants to wipe all Shaolin men from the face of China. Leading the charge is Tan Tao-Liang as Yun Fei in a fascinating movie filled with moments that echo throughout Woo's subsequent career. Packed with extensive fights using varied disciplines it's an early showcase for all the performers (in particular Jackie Chan) and a chance to rediscover an early star of the scene: the super-kicking Tan Tao Liang in a great performance that shows just why his nickname was 'Flash Legs'. In common with the most entertaining Woo films it's the final half-hour showdown that really kicks ass in typically brutal style so watch out! (93 Mins)
MIA UK VHS Synopsis: From the director of 'The Killer', one of the current hottest movies in America, JOHN WOO delivers a fast-paced, marshal arts extravaganza; 'THE HAND OF DEATH' starring the amazing, prolific JACKIE CHAN. From the famous Shaolin Temple, citadel of all Chinese fighting arts, a student sets out to bring a renegade monk to justice and so save the Chung Dynasty from the murderous Manchus. A Kung-Fu classic not to be missed. (98 Mins)
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 protégé 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
(Hong Kong 1972)
Original Title: He Qi Dao (aka) Lady Kung Fu
Directed by Huang Feng Produced by Raymond Chow Action by Sammo Hung Starring: Angela Mao Ying. Carter Wong, Pai Ying, Sammo Hung, Whang In Shik, Ji Han Jae, Yamane Teruo, Chin Ti, Nancy Sit, Bruce Leung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Cory Yuen Kwai, Yuen Wah,Lam Ching Ying, Tony Ching Siu Tung Reviewing: Eureka UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Kung-fu / Drama
Rating - 4.3 / 5
Eureka Blu-ray Synopsis: Angela Mao and director Huang Feng (The Shaolin Plot) were a superstar pairing that produced an incredible series of top tier kung-fu classics including Deadly China Doll, When Taekwondo Strikes, and the two films presented here – Lady Whirlwind and Hapkido. In Hapkido (aka, Lady Kung Fu in the West), a group of martial artists (Mao, Sammo Hung, and Carter Wong) start their own school to teach the Korean martial art, Hapkido, but a rival Japanese academy attempts to crush them- deeming Hapkido inferior to their Japanese fighting style. Similar to the plot of Bruce Lee's Fist Of Fury (a canny decision by the filmmakers, capitalising on Mao often being referred to as a “female Bruce Lee”), Hapkido was a huge hit in the West, even briefly beating Lee's Enter The Dragon at the North American box office. (97 Mins)
Hong Kong Legends UK DVD Synopsis: If you thought that every classic kung fu movie was b y now well known to all then brace yourself for the discovery of the little-known but incredible Hapkido! In a plot highly reminiscent of Bruce Lee's Fist Of Fury, this time we see Angela Mao (Enter The Dragon), Carter Wong (The 18 Bronzemen) and a lethally fast Sammo Hung trying to set up their own martial arts school but once again a rival Japanese academy have plans to crush any rival martial arts outfit from setting up. Cue a wild and wonderful series of fights with Angela Mao wiping out a Japanese dojo Bruce Lee style, Sammo in furious form and the wonderful Carter Wong matching them kick for punch. Also keep an eye out for bit-part appearances from Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen and Jackie Chan as Hapkido once again rips up the screen! (93 Mins)
Views: Recently released by Eureka Video as a gorgeously presented 2K restored version alongside Lady Whirlwind – another Huang Feng directed film made the same year as this that also stars Angela Mao Ying and Sammo Hung - Hapkido came from a period when the genre was still trying to figure out just what it could do. This had been kicked-off by the late, great Jimmy Wang Yu only a couple of years earlier with The Chinese Boxer – quickly followed by Lo Wei's Big Boss and hugely successful Fist Of Fury. And while the world had their eyes on Bruce Lee, whose movies were being produced by the newly launched Golden Harvest studios, Raymond Chow was hiring even more new talent to dish out as many cheap and cheerful kung-fu movies as they possibly could (most of which were highly entertaining).This, in essence, was Chow's way of helping to pioneer a new movement in Hong Kong cinema that opened the doors for many new stars and amazing talent. Simply put, directors and choreographers such as Huang Feng and Sammo Hung were refining their styles and reworking their ways after decades of wuxia action, helping to bring something a little different to the screen that would quickly become one of the most loved genres of all time. While many other independent studios were gearing up to produce their own versions and rip-offs of Fist Of Fury, Raymond Chow continued to play with his winning formula a little more, reworking Lo Wei's story of Japanese invaders and martial arts schools into a number of new films. One of these films, of course, is Hapkido – a genuine kung-fu classic that tells the tale of 3 Chinese kung-fu students who have returned home from Korea after learning the fighting style of the titular style. But after opening a new school in their town, the friends are quickly threatened by a local gang under the influence of the Japanese and soon must fight for their lives, and the freedom of their people!
Probably more recognised internationally as Bruce Lee's tough little sister in Enter The Dragon, Taiwanese born Mao Ying began her martial life in the Chinese Opera, as many stars of that era would have done. After a brief role in Gwan Jing Leung's Eight Robbers in 1968, Mao was signed on with a new Hong Kong movie studio called Golden Harvest where she would star in a host of classics for directors such as Lo Wei, Huang Feng, and King Hu with films such as The Angry River, Lady Whirlwind, When Taekwondo Strikes, The Fate Of Lee Khan, and many more with Mao Ying going on to star in a total of 45 titles through to the early 80s before retiring from the screen – although she would make an appearance in James Wu's Mr. Vampire in 1990 (no, not the Ricky Lau original) and Mark Long's Witch Edited in 1992 before leaving the film business altogether. Mao would then move to the US in a bid to devote herself to her family and open a number of restaurants. Of course, Hapkido was one such film that helped propel her to stardom and quite often appears in film fans lists of Angela Mao's top ten. The great Carter Wong stars as one of her kung-fu friends and absolutely impresses in his debut role. I've always been a huge fan of Wong's and its odd to think that prior to his infamous 18 Bronzemen role, he had already starred in a good 30 films beforehand for studios like Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, as well as many Joseph Kuo productions including films like this, When Taekwondo Strikes, The Skyhawk, Dragon Gate, The Dragon Tamers, Shaolin Kids, Marco Polo, The Blazing Temple, and The Traitorous, had already earned him a large following. When his star started to fade in the early 80s, Wong headed to the bright lights of Hollywood where he got the chance to star in the incredibly fun John Carpenter movie Big Trouble In Little China as Thunder, and worked behind the scenes on the action for Rambo 3. The poorly received Hardcase & Fist soon followed before he returned to Hong Kong for appearances in films like The Transmigration Romance, Way Of The Lady Kickboxers, and High Voltage with Donnie Yen – but it was nothing compared to that of his heyday and soon, Wong returned to the States winning a role in Jalal Merhi's Tiger Claws 3. Completing the trio of friends is the legendary Sammo Hung who would also double-up as the martial arts director – a dual role he would carry in many Huang Feng directed films. I really enjoyed the young star in Hapkido and mainly because he got to play a good guy for a change as, more often than not, around this period Sammo would usually be cast as a bad-guy in a bit-part role. Thankfully though, Hapkido allows him to show just what he can do with a much slimmer Sammo dishing out some incredible moves that almost seem that he was letting Bruce Lee know that he was just as impressive! It must have worked though because – and I'm only assuming that – Bruce must have became a fan of Hapkido as he would personally request the services of both Sammo and Angela only a few years later for his classic, Enter The Dragon. Of course, as many old school fans would know, the trio of stars were actually sent to Korea (before production on Hapkido started) to be put through the correct training of the titular martial art which allowed fight choreographer, Sammo Hung, to utilise the skills of hapkido with other kung-fu forms and deliver non-stop fight action that never disappoints...
One of the main baddies of the piece is played by the wonderful Pai Ying who made his feature film debut in King Hu's classic Dragon Inn. Over the years he would work with many of his co-stars and director Huang Feng in titles such as The Invincible Eight, The Angry River, Bandits From Shantung etc, and much like Chang Yi, Pai had starred in a good 20 productions before Hapkido and Lady Whirlwind before that. 1972 would see him star in no less than 10 films, with Pai going on to be one of the most recognisable and sought after stars of Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema from there on in. This included starring in a number of King Hu classics before moving into the Shaw Brothers studios, as well as stealing the scenes in a number of independent flicks such as Militant Eagle, 72 Desperate Rebels, and A Fistful Of Talons. Working right through until the turn-of-the-century, Pai Ying also showed up in many modern Hong Kong hits including Royal Warriors, Braveful Police, Dragon From Russia, and Born Wild with Louis Koo and Daniel Wu. The fantastic Whang In Shik, who would gain much more notoriety as the main villain of Jackie Chan's Young Master and Dragon Lord, cameos as one of the head-students at the hapkido school. Although we get to see him put the main stars through their paces in the earlier part of the film, the super-kicker shows up just in time for the big showdown where he gets to let loose with some impressive moves against Toyoda, the Black Bear boss of the Japanese. The gang is joined by Korean hapkido instructor Ji Han Jae, who went onto appear in films such as Fist Of Unicorn, The Dragon Tamers, and Game Of Death as one of the Pagoda fighters, popular actors Nancy Sit, Sun Lan, and Chin Ti, and it was fun to see the great Bruce Leung pop up as one of the Black Bear students who liked to cause a bit of trouble alongside Yeung Wai. The prolific Paul Wei stars (again) as a traitorous creep and secretary to the Japanese, and eagle eyed fans should have no problem spotting a young Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen Kwai, Billy Chan, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Wah, and many other future stars, as they deliver multiple roles of henchmen, students and background extras.
I really enjoyed watching Hapkido once again, and especially in its 2K restoration which has made it look the best it ever has! Although he only directed 14 in all, Huang Feng has certainly delivered a number of classic titles over the years, and many of which saw the participation of Sammo Hung and Angela Mao Ying in one way or another. From The Angry River to Lady Whirlwind, and When Taekwondo Strikes to The Tournament, it's hard to deny that any of Huang's films don't offer something wonderful or entertaining in their running time. It's safe to say that Hapkido is a genuine classic of kung-fu cinema and of Angela Mao Ying's career, which still proves to be as exciting today as it did upon release!
Overall: Packed full of non-stop and highly impressive kung-fu battles, Hapkido is one of Angela Mao Ying's finest films and is worth watching!
Eureka Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng & Michael Worth, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng & Bobby Samuels, Interview with Angela Mao Ying, Archival Interviews with Angela Mao Ying, Sammo Hung & Carter Wong, Original Vintage Featurette, Alternate English Credits, Stills Gallery, Trailers, TV Spot
Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Interview with Hapkido Instructor Tammy Parlour, Hapkido Examined with Tammy Parlour, Trailer
Watch my unboxing video of the Eureka Video release HERE
(Hong Kong 1997)
Original Title: Ma Yong Zhen
Directed by Corey Yuen Kwai Produced by Mona Fong Action by Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Tak Starring: Yuen Biao, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Yuen Wah, Yuen Tak, Corey Yuen Kwai, Jessica Hester, Valerie Chow, Guo Jian Yong Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama / Action
Rating - 4 / 5
88 Films Blu-ray Synopsis: From director and co-writer Corey Yuen (Righting Wrongs, Red Cliff, The Transporter) comes this high-octane tale of criminal gangs, betrayal and greed. Fleeing their impoverished homeland, brothers Ma Wing-Jing (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Ma Tai-Cheung (Yuen Wah) arrive in Shanghai to seek their fortune but become embroiled in the seedy world of big-city triads where Wing-Jing's once-insignificant life becomes an arrogant lust for power. This fabulous remake of Chang Cheh's classic The Boxer From Shantung (1972) from the legendary Shaw Brothers studios is given a makeover chock-full with stunts, fights and awe-inspiring action sequences. A must for collectors of martial arts cinema. (92 Mins)
Metrodome UK DVD Synopsis: After a severe drought, Ma Wing Jing (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Tai Cheung (Yuen Wah) leave Shantung for Shanghai. They are forced to work as coolies. Ma – a fierce fighter – saves the life of crime boss Tam See (Yuen Biao), thereby earning the hatred of Tam's rival, Yang Shuang (Yuen Tak). Ma takes control of a club run by Yam Yueng Tien (Valerie Chow) and soon becomes a famous underworld figure. His swift rise to power leaves him ill-prepared to deal with Yang's cunning and he must pay a bloody price for his success. This gripping martial arts thriller combines state-of-the-art combat sequences with powerful characters and plot. (90 Mins)
Views: The gorgeous Takeshi Kaneshiro plays the legendary Ma Wing Jing in this Shaw Brothers remake of their 1972 hit film, The Boxer From Shantung starring Chen Kuan Tai. After arriving in Shanghai with his brother Ma Tai Cheung, the young fighter makes it his mission to become a big name in the criminal underworld. While working as a coolie, Ma Wing Jing has a run-in with local gang boss Tam See who is highly impressed with his guts and skills. Tam takes the Ma brothers under his wing as a mentor, eventually placing Wing Jing in charge of his biggest nightclub after the hero saves him from an attack by the infamous axe-gang. But as Ma Wing Jing quickly climbs the ranks, he gains the attention of a powerful rival who goes out of his way to bring the heroic new gangster down!
If I'm to be honest, I've never really figured out where I sit with Hero. While I'm such a huge fan of Chang Cheh's classic and the story it tells, I've often found this adaptation to be a little disjointed in some respect. Although it was produced (once again) by the powerhouse that is the Shaw Brothers studio, Hero fails to represent everything that made us fall in love with their finest films from yesteryear. Maybe it's the lack of polished studio-sets that were often bursting with vibrant colours and fine detail, or perhaps it's because the film is just typical of a 90's Corey Yuen Kwai flick; highly enjoyable in all respects while still a little rough-around-the edges. Although the film performed well at the box-office upon release, Hero often feels more like a TV movie than a big screen affair, often looking cheap and as if it was just thrown together. This could well have been due to the fact that the Shaw Brothers studio had been putting all their focus into television shows over the decade leading up to it – although it does boast some nice cinematography and a great score. Regardless, this new Blu-ray release from 88 Films has helped win me over and reminded me of just how much wonderful martial-arts-action is on offer. I've always been a huge fan of Corey Yuen Kwai, from his early days as a kung-fu star and choreographer to his awesome directorial debut with Ninja In The Dragons Den and onwards. It would be around 1990 when I started to notice a change of direction in his work – a period when he had started collaborating with writer/director Jeff Lau, a man known mainly for his wild comedies and outrageous action flicks. As the pair of them teamed up to write the script for Hero, it''s probably worth knowing what films Kwai directed in the period leading up it to help reason why the film ended up as uneven and comedic as it did. From All For The Winner to Saviour Of The Soul, Fong Sai Yuk to My Father Is A Hero, Corey Yuen was renowned for delivering exciting action-comedies throughout the nineties. The same year as he made Hero, the director joined forces with Lau a couple more times to make the underrated Mahjong Dragon and hilarious Black Rose 2 (which genuinely had me howling with laughter). So perhaps in all reality, a remake of a violently serious film such as The Boxer From Shantung was probably not the right project to follow up with, respectively. I guess, in essence, the comedic elements in Hero are often funny such as the scene when Ma Wing Jing (Kaneshiro) awakens on the boat after nearly being beaten to death. In a bid to remove any hatred left in him for what had happened – with the hope that they can make him forget about those he was fighting. This involves the lie that he was in a coma for 6 months, his mentor has become a teacher, his double-crossing girlfriend a sword-wielding nun, and his mortal enemy has now turned a new leaf as an award winning flamboyant singer. Other moments include seeing Yuen Wah in a kilt, and Corey Yuen joining Takeshi in a drum-off as their foot-tapping beats get the crowd dancing. Thankfully though, it never really distracts from the great action on offer and often helps break-up the lengthy melodrama when it comes about.
As Ma Wing Jing, Takeshi Kaneshiro does a great job and looks absolutely gorgeous at the same time. Sure, it's a far cry from Chen Kuan Tai's performance as the original character, but you can't help but fall for Kaneshiro's charm and energy as he grows from country bumpkin to feared gangster. Since his debut of Hong Kong cinema in Johnnie To's Executioners – the dark fantasy sequel to Heroic Trio – the heartthrob went on to make quite the impression in films such as Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, Sammo Hung's Don't Give A Damn (also with Yuen Biao), Jet Li's Doctor Wai & The Scripture With No Words, and others such as China Dragon, Downtown Torpedoes, House Of Flying Daggers, The Warlords, Red Cliff 1 & 2, and Japanese films like The Returner and K20: The Fiend With 20 Faces. The ever wonderful Yuen Wah stars as his brother, Ma Tai Cheung, although it must be said that he was criminally underused as the comedy sidekick, given the crazy amount of talent the man has as a fighter. This was a pretty rough time for the star as his film career started taking somewhat of a dive in the mid-90s, with roles in lesser known films such as Drug Fighters and Leopard Hunting alongside Yukari Oshima, a non-action role in Vincent Kok's Only Fool's Fall In Love with Lau Ching Wan, and the entertaining Tough Beauty & The Sloppy Slop with his brother and Hero co-star Yuen Biao – an extremely low-budget remake of Police Story 3: Supercop that basically replaced Michelle Yeoh with Cynthia Khan, respectively. Thankfully, Yuen Wah and his fans would rejoice in 2004 (thanks to Stephen Chow Sing Chi) as the awesome Kung Fu Hustle reignited his star, allowing Wah to bag many great roles and cameos in films such as the Kung Fu Mahjong Trilogy, My Kung Fu Sweetheart, Dragon Tiger Gate, Twins Mission, City Under Siege, Kung Fu Wing Chun, Monk Comes Down The Mountain, Detective Chinatown 2, and a highly memorable role in Marvel's very own Shang Chi & The Legend Of The Ten Rings. Much like his aforementioned school brother, the mid-90s were also a bit of a bitch to the legendary Yuen Biao. Although he starred alongside Kaneshiro and Sammo in Don't Give A Damn, other titles such as Circus Kids, Hero Of Swallow, Dragon In Shaolin, and Tough Beauty & The Sloppy Slop were produced so cheaply that they hardly even made a dent at the box office. While it seemed that Biao's light in the cinematic world was also dimming, his performance as Tam See in Hero somewhat helped bring that back from the brink. The same year, Biao starred in Ricky Lau's action-thriller The Hunted Hunter (which I actually quite enjoyed) but once again, the low budget production values left somewhat of a sour taste in the mouths of his fans. Thankfully though, the star didn't pack it in and has went on to appear in films such as A Man Called Hero, Avenging Fist, No Problem 2, Rob-B-Hood, The Legend Is Born – Ip Man, My Kingdom, Tai Chi Hero, Sifu Vs Vampire and more. And last but not least, fellow school brother Yuen Tak joins the proceedings as the wicked Yang Shuang; the man who sets out to destroy both Ma Wing Ching and Tam See in the most dastardly of ways. Having worked with Yuen Kwai as an extra and fight-choreographer on Mahjong Dragon earlier in the year, Tak upped his screen presence for Hero as well as helping the director in the action department once again...
While flawed, it's fair to say that Hero offers up some pretty damn exciting fight scenes – all of which are evenly spread throughout the films running time, and handled by the hugely talented Corey Yuen Kwai and Yuen Tak. The first of these battles puts Takeshi Kaneshiro up against Yuen Biao in a friendly showdown of sorts, with a silver watch offered up as a prize. This is a great fight as the pair duke it out on a fast-moving horse and carriage – sometimes shifting onto the actual horse which often offers-up some unintentional comedy as each close-up shot reveals a blatantly fake horse. Regardless, it still makes for a fun watch with both stars delivering some fantastic moves – even though Kaneshiro is artfully doubled for most of the acrobatics. Another is when Biao tries to make his escape from the axe gang, which results in some brutal attacks and great kicks as he quickly finds himself outnumbered. Caught up in their chains and about to face his final breath, Biao is saved by Kaneshiro who enters the scene in glorious slow-motion and guns blazing. And while there is more in between, the best is definitely saved for last with the grand finale kicking off with a massive shootout – including a hugely memorable moment that sees Biao exit a coffin fitted with 10 shotguns. Once the bullets run dry, Biao and Kaneshiro go up against the psychotic Tak in a brutal and well-choreographed battle with some major fatalities! It's all very similar to the works of Corey Yuen Kwai from that era with plenty of exaggerated moves, random moments of wirework, and quick-fire editing that asks the audience to suspend their disbelief once again.
The ladies of the hour are played by Jessica Hester Hsuan and Valerie Chow, with the latter having starred in Chungking Express only a few years before alongside Takeshi Kaneshiro. Jessica, who starred in films such as Flirting Scholar, The Tigers: Legend Of Canton, and Mr. Mumble before this, plays the daughter of Corey Yuen's band composer and the love interest of Kaneshiro's hero. She would also star alongside Yuen Biao in the aforementioned thriller The Hunted Hunter the same year, and has appeared in a couple of David Lam's popular Storm series since. Valerie Chow stars as Yam Yeung Tien, the double-crossing gangsters moll who plays all the men of the story and ends up the scarred victim with nothing. Over the course of her decade in the film industry, Chow starred in 20 productions altogether from her debut in He Ain't Heavy He's My Father to Ghostly Bus, and High Risk to The Blade. Both actresses do a fine job in their roles, respectively and make for some entertaining moments. As flawed as it is, Hero definitely has its moments and also benefits from some gorgeous cinematography and a great soundtrack with music by Lincoln Lo, Raymond Wong, and William Wu – as well as songs from Josie Ho and a closing track by the wonderful Anita Mui. To me, this was probably the last greatest performance from Yuen Biao and for that reason alone, is a worthy enough reason to watch it!
Overall: Action-packed and funny, Hero isn't perfect but it does entertain!
88 Films Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Alternate Shots from Taiwanese Version, Trailers
Metrodome DVD Extras: Trailer, Photo Gallery, Cast Bio's
Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE
HEROES OF THE EAST
(Hong Kong 1978)
Original Title: Jung Wa Jeung Fu (aka) Shaolin Challenges Ninja; Challenge Of The Ninja; Chinese Heroes
Directed by Lau Kar Leung Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Lau Kar Leung Starring: Gordon Liu, Yasuaki Kurata, Yuka Mizuno, Ching Miao, Lau Kar Leung, Norman Tsui Siu Keung, Simon Yuen, Chang Kang Yeh, Kato Naozo, Sumi Tetsu, Shirai Manabu, Nakazaki Yasutaka, Lee Hoi Sang Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Comedy
Rating - 4.5 / 5
Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): Ho Tao marries a Japanese girl, Yumiko, in a marriage arranged by his father, a merchant based in Japan, who wishes to cement his business relations with the girls father, Kar Tin. Ho Tao is a scholar and a martial artist who practices Chinese martial arts. Ho Tao knew Yumiko in his youth in Japan, but after he was sent back to China for further studies, he forgot about her until his father brought her to China to arrange their marriage. Ho's neighbours thinks he beats his wife, making her cry out every morning. Ho is surprised by the rumours and one morning, he wakes up early and follows her. He finds her practising karate and judo and realises that the cries she makes as she practices is what the neighbours have heard. Ho wants his wife to practice Chinese kung fu instead of Japanese martial arts, but she refuses, leading to constant arguments between the couple. One day, Yumiko discovers a martial arts practice room filled with Chinese weapons. She places all her martial arts instruments in the room and puts aside her husbands weapons. When Ho returns home and sees what his wife has done, he is furious and challenges her to a martial arts competition, Japanese-style versus Chinese-style. After their battle, Yumiko returns to Japan, making Ho's father annoyed and her own father angry. At home in Japan, she practices her Japanese martial arts with a handsome Japanese martial artist, Takeno. Ho's father returns to China to scold his son and insists that he brings Yumiko back to China. Ho's servant advises him that Yumiko may return if he writes her a letter, challenging her to another martial arts competition. However, this letter arouses the national feeling of the Japan Martial Arts Association and it sends a representative of each of the Japanese fighting styles, kendo, karate, judo, etc, to China to take part in the challenge and defend the perceived slight on Japan's martial arts tradition. Ho Tao takes up the mantle of Chinese martial arts and goes up against each of the Japanese fighters, showing his skill and bravery in a series of one-on-one fights. (104 Mins)
Warner Home Video UK VHS Synopsis: Ho Tao, a Chinese is married to a Japanese girl Kun Tse. It is a stormy marriage for Ho Tao insists upon practising Chinese Martial Arts whereas Kun Tse stubbornly continues to practise in the Japanese style. Eventually Kun Tse returns to Japan where she meets a handsome Japanese Martial Artist. Ho is persuaded by his father to win back the favours of his wife and this leaves for Japan. The stage is set for a terrifying confrontation where only the most skilled exponents of the Martial Arts can survive: Shaolin Challenges Ninja in a fight to the death. (97 Mins)
Views: I first saw this film at the age of 14 when I bought it on VHS under the title of Shaolin Challenges Ninja, and I loved it. I had just discovered Gordon Liu (and Lau Kar Leung unknowingly) when I picked up Return To The 36th Chamber about a year previous, and although he had hair for this role (or a wig I should say) I could tell it was him. Now, about 30 years later, Heroes Of The East makes its UK debut on glorious Blu-ray as part of the Arrow Video Shaw Scope Vol.1 – complete with a 2K restoration, and it has never looked better! As with many other Shaw Brothers films of this period, the story jumps right into it and misses out on showing us a backstory on how Ho Tao (Gordon Liu) met his future wife as kids while growing up in Japan. Throughout the film, the story jumps through time here-and-there without any sign that days, months, or years have passed by. This is something I've noticed quite a bit with Shaw Brothers movies and can often be lost to viewers unless pointed out. Once again, the film was written by prolific writer Ni Kuang who made his screenwriting debut just over a decade before with Chang Cheh's One-Armed Swordsman – although he has been delivering stories for other screenwriters since the early 60s. 1978 proved to be one hell of a year for his penmanship, with no less than 20 productions bringing his work to life including 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Shaolin Hand Lock, The Brave Archer 2, Avenging Eagle, The Five Venoms, Crippled Avengers, Sammo Hung's classic Enter The Fat Dragon, and this of course. Set in the 1930s, Ni Kuang delivers a martial arts rom-com that tells the tale of a young married couple who are constantly at loggerheads because of the styles they practice. I'd like to say it's a little bit of West Side Story meets Mr & Mrs Smith – but maybe that's too much of a stretch!
As a director, the legendary Lau Kar Leung gives fans his third production of the year alongside the ever-popular 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and Shaolin Mantis, and much like with Executioners Of Shaolin from the year before, Kar Leung makes a fun cameo in Heroes Of The East just to let viewers know that he can still bust a move. Lau appears as Drunken Beggar So to give Ho Tao a quick demonstration of the infamous Drunken Fist, along with a little help from his friend Chun Keung (Norman Tsui Siu Keung) who volunteers to get beat up by him so that his friend can see the beggars moves. Interestingly enough, Ho Tao is sent to find Beggar So by the original drunken master himself, Simon Yuen, who cameos as a kung-fu instructor throughout the film – hot off the success from his son's Snake In The Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master with Jackie Chan. Interestingly enough, Lau Kar Leung would serve as the martial arts consultant (alongside Chin Yuet Sang) on Gordon Liu's cheap-but-fun Shaolin Drunken Monk just a few years later before returning to work with the same style of kung-fu over a decade later on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2, as well as his own Drunken Master 3 and Drunken Monkey yet another decade on...
Of course, it's not like he was busy enough handling both the direction and the fight choreography, delivering a hefty 17 fights in all with the help of kung-fu superstar and choreographer Wilson Tong, who had also assisted Kar Leung that same year on 36th Chamber Of Shaolin – as well as appearing in supporting roles in both films. Tong launched his acting career with the Shaw Brothers studio in the late 60s, soon moving into the role of martial arts director and eventually a director in 1979 with the classic Kung Fu Genius. Between them both, kung-fu fans are spoilt with a host of fun fight scenes from the get-go, with the majority of battles of the first half that pits husband against wife before the latter heads back to Japan in a huff. It's only after Ho sends his wife a letter that offers a little friendly competition, do we get a fresh range of fighters led by the amazing Yasuaki Kurata – leader of the Japanese Martial Arts Association and Ho's love rival who is determined to steal his wife by proving he is the better fighter. It would be fair to say that Ho's challenge against the Japanese fighters is a lengthy grand-finale that gives viewers a great tour of the Shaw Brothers set at Clearwater Bay, before splitting his battle against Kurata in two - with the second part taking the stars out of the studio altogether in a scene that looks like it was spliced from another film altogether. This time dressed as farmers, Ho and Kurata cross paths once final time - which I felt was a little kooky but completely let it fly over my head once they started fighting. It's definitely one of the most memorable fights in the film and introduced me to the awesome Crab Fist, which I often used on my younger brothers as we were growing up. I must mention that I did laugh at Cheng Kang Yeh oiling-up during the judo match earlier on, which was a nice throwback to the same stunt he pulled in Challenge Of The Masters just a couple of years previous. I have to admit though, I watched this cut a second time with Jonathan Clements' commentary and although I did enjoy it for the most part, I did start to get a little bothered with the fact that he was taking it all a little too seriously by the second half – comparing fake styles and fantastical moments of the film with real-life, that came across as if he was feeling let down by what he was watching. Even after watching well over 4,000 Asian films in my time (many of which are kung-fu based), I have never taken any of them as historical fact or been disappointed in the styles on display.
The great Gordon Liu shines (as best he can in a wig) as Ho Tao, the young martial artist and scholar that just wants his wife to practise Chinese kung-fu. After training with Lau Kar Leung's father, Lau Cham (who himself was taught be Wong Fei Hung's infamous student Butcher Wing), Gordon was soon adopted into the family and moved into the film industry with the rest of the Lau brothers. Moving up from stuntman and extra, Liu made enough of an impression in Breakout From Oppression to bag himself a role in Chang Cheh's Shaolin Martial Arts and Five Shaolin Masters before landing his first leading role with Lau Kar Leung as a young Wong Fei Hung in Challenge Of The Masters. The pair quickly followed up with Executioners From Shaolin, but it would be Lau's classic 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (just prior to this) that would really project Gordon Liu to leading man status. Now, in high demand, Liu would go on to star in over 100 films (not including television shows), moving into modern-day action films in the late 80s with films like Tiger On The Beat 1 & 2, A Bloody Fight, Killer Angels, Cheetah On Fire, Last Hero In China, and hitting Hollywood hard with his roles in Kill Bill 1 & 2, as well as The Man With The Iron Fists in 2012. But it would be after this, that Gordon would suffer from a stroke and a bad fall that has since seen him step out of the industry for the last decade unfortunately – quite possibly destined never to return to the screen.
The lovely Mizuno Yuka stars as Liu's wife, in her second role for Shaw Brothers after appearing in The Deadly Angels alongside Evelyn Kraft. While she totally gets to show her stuff in the first half of the movie – both as an actress and martial artist, it's fair to say that Yuka gets much less screen time in the second half with the arrival of her Japanese counterparts. As mentioned, these are led by the legendary Yasuaki Kurata who had already appeared in over 30 Hong Kong/Taiwanese productions by this stage since his debut in Chang Cheh's The Angry Guest, in 1971. Of course, with his great acting ability and incredible martial arts skills, Kurata fast gained a following all with fans all over and went onto star in many classic titles including Legend Of A Fighter, A Book Of Heroes, Millionaires Express, Eastern Condors, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, Fist Of Legend, and many more. He is joined by Japanese actors and martial artists Kato Naozo as their master, Harada Riki as the kendo master, Sumi Tetsu as the karate master, Shirai Manabu as the nunchaku master – who looks more than a little like Bruce Lee when in action – Yana Nobuo as the spear master, Nakazaki Yasutaka as the hilarious master of the sai, and Omae Hitoshi as the judo master. The great Norman Tsui Siu Keung, who had also starred (or co-starred) in over 30 productions at this point of his career, plays a smaller role than expected to allow Liu to shine – although does get the chance to trade moves with Lau Kar Leung's drunken fist as mentioned. And eagled-eyed viewers can also keep an eye out for the young faces of Lee Hoi Sang, Peter Chan Lung, Hsiao Ho, Yeung Wah, Teresa Ha Ping, and others...
The film is neatly shot by actor and cinematographer Arthur Wong, who also shot Kar Leung's 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and Shaolin Mantis for him that same year. Wong would continue to work with Lau on Spiritual Boxer 2, Dirty Ho, and Mad Monkey Kung Fu before going on to lens some of Hong Kong cinemas most memorable films including Aces Go Places 1 & 2, Wheels On Meals, My Lucky Stars, Once Upon A Time In China, Crime Story, Iron Monkey, and more modern flicks such as Bodyguards & Assassins, The Warlords, Painted Skin, and League Of Gods with Jet Li. It's also worth noting that apart from his work behind the camera and appearances in films like Viva Erotica, Beast Cops, Infernal Affairs 2, and Gangster Payday, Wong also directed The Fool Escape starring Lau Kar Wing in 1980, Cynthia Khan's In The Line Of Duty 3: Force Of The Dragon in '88, and Ulterior Motive in 2015 with Gordon Lam and Simon Yam. All in all, Heroes From The East is an absolute joy to watch – especially uncut and restored in such amazing quality. And while it may have its flaws here-and-there, I don't think I could ever bore of watching this classic from the Shaw Brothers studio!
Overall: Yet another kung-fu hit from Lau Kar Leung, Heroes From The East is a lot of fun and well worth the watch!
Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary by Jonathan Clements, Appreciation Film by Tony Rayns, Interview with Yasuaki Kurata, Alternate Opening of International Version, Trailers, TV Spot, Image Gallery
Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE
Original Title: Ex-Baghdad (aka) S.N.A.F.U; Project X; Project X-traction; The Furious Sandstorm
Directed by Scott Waugh Produced by Hans Canosa, Esmond Ren Action by Jackie Chan Stunt Team, Paul Andreovski, Max Huang, Bruce Law Starring: Jackie Chan, John Cena, Pilou Asbaek, Rachael Holoway, Chunrui Ma, Rima Zeidan, Wang Zhen Wei, Max Huang, Tim Man, Lee Huang, Amadeus Serafini Reviewing: Netflix Release Genres: Action / Martial Arts / Comedy
Rating - 3.3 / 5
Synopsis: Two ex-special forces soldiers must escort a group of civilians along Baghdad's “Highway of Death” to the safety of the Green Zone. (103 Mins)
Views: During the extraction of scientists and civilians along Baghdad's ominous 'Highway of Death', a team of ex-special forces soldiers find themselves attacked by a gang of deadly mercenaries amidst a huge sandstorm. But when one of their most important passengers is kidnapped, Luo Feng sets out to rescue her – eventually running into Chris Van Horne; an ex-mercenary who had been hired for one last mission in what is, essentially, a get-rich-quick-scheme. That same mission saw his brother killed and his teammates turn on him, which sends Chris on his own mission of vengeance with the two ex-soldiers joining forces to bring down an even bigger threat; putting both their lives on the line in a fight to the death!
It's crazy to think that an action-comedy this big, with two of the world's most popular action stars leading the way, started production in 2018 and is only just hitting our screens now! Saying that, I literally mean our television screens, because clearly Hidden Strike starring Jackie Chan and John Cena was not big enough to gain a cinematic release. Mind you, neither was Jackie Chan's incredible film The Foreigner, which was just criminal. As it stands, Hidden Strike has had a plethora of problems since it's production completed, from the Covid-19 pandemic to John Cena pissing off the Chinese government with his innocent comments on Taiwan, and more potentially political issues highlighting the fact that an American soldier is the hero of a Middle Eastern country – especially when the U.S. Army had pulled out of Afghanistan not long before. So, almost five years later and after a host of title changes, Netflix opted to release Hidden Strike to the world and I have to say; this has proven to be one hell of a marmite movie for most. The film holds many similarities to Wu Jing's Wolf Warrior 2 – a movie that was made only a year prior to this, and one that had gained huge global success for many reasons. Of course, it's only natural that Chinese producers would want to try and replicate that, and I guess that Hidden Strike was their answer – although it's a film I'd say is definitely more Hollywood in its approach than Chinese. Without getting too down about things, let me just get the negative points of Hidden Strike quickly out of the way. The first of these has to be the script which was written by Arash Amel; a writer and producer behind small studio productions such as Erased, Grace Of Monaco, The Titan, A Private War, and Rise – a Disney Plus show about a basketball family. While he has seen moderate success with many of those titles, I just feel that had the script for Hidden Strike been in the hands of someone a bit more talented (and quite a bit funnier) it would have been much stronger. But what we get instead, feels like the production was working off a first-draft making me wish that they had actually cut a number of questionable moments from the final edit; ultimately putting together a tighter, more polished 90 minute movie. At the same time, it's fair to say that Amel's attempts at comedy fall flat for the most part, even those that seemed to be ad-libbed by the stars – although I can't deny that there was definitely some genuinely funny moments here-and-there. My second gripe has to be the over-use of green-screen backgrounds and set pieces, something that, when done right, can look pretty damn awesome. But in Hidden Strike, it just looks so bloody obvious and a little rough around the edges at times. I totally understand that certain moments in a film like this call for CGI, and yes, there are plenty of moments throughout where it does work, but given the fact that the film itself was delayed for years, would it have killed the producers and director to just take a moment to fix things?
Obviously not. And then there's director Scott Waugh, your typical LA-born Hollywood director who made his feature debut with Act Of Valor in 2012; a similarly themed action flick that could actually be his best work. Waugh followed up with the well received Need For Speed, a film experience that he obviously put to use with the vehicle action here in Hidden Strike, and 6 Below – a tense drama about a snow-boarder trapped in the mountains. While it's clear the man knows his stuff as a director, I can't help but feel that his work here is far from his best with Hidden Strike often coming across like a direct-to-video Steven Segal movie at times. I found it interesting that the promotional trailer created by Netflix, oozed the style of The Expendables films when Scott's next feature as a director is actually The Expendables 4 – but I'm not getting my hopes up. Equally interesting is the fact that this was supposed to finally be the big team-up between Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone, with the latter playing the role of Chris Van Horne that eventually went to John Cena. Apparently, Stallone couldn't commit due to scheduling conflicts for Creed 2, but I think the wrestler-turned-actor was a good choice in replacing him. Since entering the film world almost 2 decades ago, Cena quickly gained a following and found his calling in more comedy based roles in films such as Trainwreck, Daddy's Home 1 & 2, and Blockers. Bigger roles would soon follow with Bumblebee, Fighting With My Family, F9: The Fast Saga, and The Suicide Squad really elevating his status; with his role as Peacemaker in the latter quickly getting its own successful spin-off series. Although Hidden Strike was made before a number of those productions, I couldn't help but feel that Cena was channelling his inner Peacemaker for a lot of his comedy scenes here – although maybe that's just him. I must admit that I quit enjoyed him here as Chris Van Horne, and even though it took some time for the chemistry between him and Jackie to feel natural (although I blame the direction for that), I still really enjoyed the pairing of both stars.
Of course, the biggest draw for me here (and no doubt many others) is that Hidden Strike is really a Jackie Chan movie and one that was released here in the UK the same week as his wonderful action-comedy, Ride On. I really loved Jackie in this role and although his character's direction came on a little strong and serious in the beginning – almost mirroring that of his similar role in Vanguard – we eventually start to see the Jackie Chan we all love and want breaking-through as the movie rolls along. On topof that, I feel this offers us some of the strongest Jackie Chan fight-action we have seen in a long time, and we mustn't forget that since its original production began the superstar had went onto make The Knight Of Shadows: Between Ying & Yang, Iron Mask, the aforementioned Stanley Tong flick Vanguard, as well as Ride On – all of which have been very underrated in my opinion. As Dragon Luo, Jackie does a great job with his performance marred by the films poor script and Scott Waugh's direction choices. Once again, Jackie is shown to be a bad father who crosses paths with his estranged daughter of whom he hasn't seen for sometime due to a a broken relationship. As expected, the bigger part of the story helps bring them closer together, although not without its challenges, and is a theme I've seen in Chan's movies a number of times over the last decade. While it taunts a more emotional storyline in the beginning, it's clear that the director and producers soon realised that having Jackie crying wasn't going to work in an action-comedy, and quickly changed their approach. The pair are joined by Danish actor Pilou Asbaek, known for his work in Game Of Thrones, The Great Wall, and Ghost In The Shell, who plays the main villain of the piece. While I thought they were going to do something big with his character, I was slightly disappointed to see him come across as just another generic 90s-style bad guy. The gorgeous Amadeus Serafini, who made a great impression in the Scream TV Series, stars as the younger brother to John Cena – although doesn't really last for long – and the cast of mercenaries and soldiers are filled out with martial-arts actors such as Tim Man, Lee Huang, Rachael Holoway, Rima Zeidan, Wang Zhen Wei from Jackie Chan's Karate Kid, and Mortal Kombat star Max Huang – one of the latest members of the JC Stunt Team who also helps with the action. Chinese television actress, Ma Chun Rui, stars as Jackie's daughter Mei and while she is certainly no Maggie Cheung or Anita Mui, she does a fine job in the role.
While fans may be excited to see JC versus JC in Hidden Strike, they will have to wait at least 40 minutes before the two stars actually cross paths and face-off against each other. Thankfully though, from there they hardly leave each others sides for the rest of the movie. That said, Waugh keeps things moving up to then by delivering an exciting car chase – clearly inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road – that allows for some quick scuffles on buses while they race through a giant man-made sandstorm. It's a fun action sequence (if you can see past the moments of dodgy CGI) but I just felt that it was missing something; some kind of 'oompf' that was really needed to ramp things up. But it's certainly not boring mind you, and does warm things up for the first major fight scene that puts Jackie and John up against each other. This is hugely entertaining and makes the fight between Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren, in the first Expendables movie, pale in comparison. Thankfully, the action team behind it all involves the Jackie Chan Stunt Team – which includes Paul Andreovski; the second non-Asian member of the team after the late Brad Allen, who has been with Jackie since the late 90s starting with Mr. Nice Guy, Who Am I?, The Accidental Spy, and many more. While he hasn't worked on anything with the team since 2010's Hollywood comedy, The Spy Next Door, it was great to know he was onboard with Hidden Strike. Team members Lee and Max Huang, who also co-star throughout, double-up in the action department as does the hugely talented Tim Man who stands out as the tattooed mercenary that gets one of my favourite one-on-one showdowns with Jackie! For the last 20 years, Man has climbed the ranks as one of the most sought after fight-directors and stunt performers working on Thai action flicks like Fighting Beat, Ong Bak 2, and Raging Phoenix. He became the go-to guy for Scott Adkins who brought him in for films such as Ninja 2: Shadow Of A Tear, Boyka: Undisputed, Eliminators, Accident Man 1 & 2, Triple Threat, and many more. Throughout Hidden Strike, Tim proves himself as a menacing and ruthless character, with his fight against Jackie being one of the highlights for me. Taking place in an oil refinery, the pair go toe-to-toe in and around a hardened control room before an industrial fire extinguisher breaks and fills the room with thick suds. Jackie and Tim continue to fight as the foam party grows, eventually using strengthened bungee-cords to take their battle to new heights in true Jackie Chan fashion. I also mustn't forget the attack on the desert village before that though – another highlight of the film for me, and a brilliantly choreographed piece that allows both Chan and Cena to make great use of their surroundings and kick some ass. They bring the same energy later to a fight that sees them infiltrate the aforementioned oil refinery, which is so much fun and packed full of exciting moves and stunt-work.
The grand finale of the film enters Rumble In The Bronx territory, with Waugh opting for a massive vehicle stunt rather than a physical showdown. I'm not complaining mind you, as it does prove to be wildly entertaining with both JC's and Mei driving a rocket-truck that manages to cause multiple oil-trucks flying through the air, sends Cena through the windscreen, and practically forces everyone off the edge of a cliff. It's equally as funny as it is impressive and, apart from it's tacky cliched closing joke, is a great action-packed ending to Hidden Strike. With that, it's worth noting what a great job Bruce Law does with the vehicle stunts and action – but you wouldn't expect less from a man that has over 200 credits to his name, and has worked with Jackie many times over the years on films such as Operation Condor, City Hunter, Drunken Master 2, Thunderbolt, Chinese Zodiac, Vanguard, and many more. While many fans and critics have been quick to complain about many of the same negatives as myself, I feel it's only fair to say that it's not all bad and that Hidden Strike definitely gets better. I'd still love to have seen it get its big-screen release worldwide, and wouldn't say no to seeing a sequel or two featuring the leading characters together again. The film also benefits from plenty of crisp camerawork and a decent supporting cast and I hope, in time, that it gains much more of a positive following from the fans of all involved. In fact, I actually enjoyed it much more the second time around in knowing what was coming, and having gotten over any disappointments from the first time, and to be honest, I think I enjoyed it a little more than Skiptrace...
But I must also praise my hero, Jackie Chan, for delivering some of his finest action in years and highlight the fact that he was around 64 years of age while doing so. Once again, this incredible man proves that age is just a number and is absolutely the highlight of the film for me, with a run of bloopers over the end credits confirming this as we see Jackie's physicality put to the test over and over again, take after take. I only hope that I'm as fit as he is at that age. I think it's fair to say that, given the power of the internet and freedom everyone has to criticise the film world, people expect far too much from movies nowadays! Hidden Strike wasn't made for award season or to be taken seriously – in fact, these kind of movies ruled the late 80s and early 90s; so switch off your brain, get yourself comfy, and enjoy the ride!
Overall: While it absolutely lacks a bit of wit and relies far too much on its CGI, Hidden Strike still proves to be highly enjoyable – and mostly thanks to Jackie Chan!
(Hong Kong 1982)
Original Title: Ren Pi Deng Long (aka) Human Skin Lanterns
Directed by Sun Chung Produced by Runme Shaw, Mona Fong Action by Tong Kai, Huang Pei Chih Starring: Lo Lieh, Chen Kuan Tai, Lau Wing, Tanny Tien, Sun Chien, Lo Meng, Teresa Ha Ping, Yuen Bun, Yuen Wah, Choh Seung Wan, Lam Sau Kwan, Shum Lo, Huang Pei Chih, Wong Ching Ho Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Horror / Martial Arts
Rating - 4 / 5
88 Films UK Blu-ray Synopsis: Amidst a long-held rivalry between two distinguished gentlemen is an unbalanced and aggrieved craftsman of lanterns who seeks bloody retribution. Featuring the Shaw Brothers custom brand of martial arts mayhem, HUMAN LANTERNS also taps into the craze for the American slasher film and the earlier Hammer horrors by providing a grisly take on the serial killer feature in an inimitable Hong Kong style. (99 Mins)
Momentum Asia UK DVD Synopsis: It's Lantern Festival time and Lung Shuai is determined to beat Tan Fu in the competition. He recruits the help of retired swordsman and aged lantern maker Chao Chun Fang, unaware of Chao's ingenious manner of avenging old wrongs. Following the abduction of his wife, Lung is intrigued by the rumour that Chao's lanterns are made from the skin of his enemies' sisters, mistresses and... wives! This is it: one of the most talked about cult films ever made – a maniacal masterpiece of the macabre, the martial arts, and the just plain weird. Insanely conceived, beautifully filmed, unashamedly performed, it must be seen not to be believed or forgotten! (94 Mins)
Views: This early 80s Shaw Brothers flick tells the tale of two old rivals, Lung and Fu, who have hated each other for a long time over the smallest of achievements. Both are successful and powerful men-about-town who are always out to do better than the other – no matter what it involves. But in taking one of these games a little too far, Fu hires out Lung's favourite hooker which angers him to no end and forces Lung to pull-off a stunt which should humiliate his old rival. With plans to produce a large number of large lanterns at the New Year Festival, Lung seeks help from an old foe called Chun, an eccentric lantern maker who secretly uses women's skin for his work. After he agrees to help, Chun sets out to find some fresh victims for his new project – dressed as a terrifying monster who kills anyone who gets in his way!
The wonderful Lo Lieh gives a top performance as the psychotic Chao Chun Fang, the lantern maker who dresses in animal furs and a make-shift skull mask to hunt his victims – kind of like a demon-monkey complete with a mean pair of sharp claws. At this stage of his career, Lieh had been in the business for almost 2 decades and had already starred in well over 150 titles – many of which were for the Shaw Brothers themselves. 1982 proved to be a busy enough year for the star, with 10 productions on the go including Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave, Buddha's Palm, Spirit Of The Sword, and Who Is The Killer – an action thriller he co-directed with the equally brilliant Chen Kuan Tai; one of his co-stars in Human Lanterns. It was only a decade before when Chen had made a name for himself as Ma Yung Chen in the hugely enjoyable Boxer From Shantung. Flitting between the Shaw Brothers studio and many independent productions, the star would appear in a host of classic titles as well as doubling-up for a small number of them as the director such as Iron Monkey and Big Boss Of Shanghai. Much like Lieh, 1982 would prove to be a busy year for Chen with no less than 13 films on the go such as Blood Brothers, The Tycoon, Dirty Trick, Seven Knights, and Don't Love Any Stranger – a film that would be cut-and-paste into Godfrey Ho's Mission Thunderbolt just a year later, for IFD Films. In Human Lanterns, Chen plays Master Tan Fu going on to face-off against the popular Lau Wing, who plays his rival named Lung. Wing, also known as Tony Liu and Anthony Lau, made his film debut in the fun Golden Harvest flick The Comet Strikes before making a name for himself alongside Bruce Lee in The Big Boss, Fist Of Fury, Way Of The Dragon, and even Enter The Dragon. Although he stuck with Golden Harvest for a number of years, Liu eventually shifted over to the Shaw Brothers studio where he would appear in a number of classic titles such as The Dragon Missile, Shaolin Temple, Clan Of Amazons, Legend Of The Bat, and more – many of which were alongside his aforementioned co-stars. Lau does a great job as Lung and holds his own against the studio powerhouses of Chen and Lieh. The trio are joined by two of the popular Venom crew in the shape of super-kicker Sun Chien and the wonderful Lo Meng who get to show their stuff with the former playing a law-man and Meng, a swordsman. The rest of the cast is filled out with a host of familiar faces including Wong Ching Ho, Shum Lo, Wong Siu Ming, and Shaw's ladies Tanny Tien Ni, Choh Seung Wan, Lam Sau Wan, and the great Teresa Ha Ping. A young Yuen Wah, Yuen Bun, and Lam Chi Tai also appear...
The action is handled by popular Shaw Brothers actor and choreographer Tong Kai (also listed as Tong Gaai and Tang Chia), a man who appeared in over 130 films, choreographed over 190, and directed 3 of his own for the studio such as Shaolin Prince, Shaolin Intruders, and the brilliant Opium And The Kung Fu Master with Ti Lung. He is joined by actor and choreographer Huang Pei Chih, who also plays a supporting role here as one of Master Tan's henchmen. Starting with the studio in the later mid-60s, Huang went onto star in over 150 films through to 1984 while working as an action-choreographer on over 80, returning briefly in the mid-90s for films such as Run & Kill, Brother Of Darkness, Red To Kill, and Ghost House – A True Story. For Human Lanterns, the pair create a host of exciting a fun fight scenes – many of which are packed with some fantastic weapons work – although there were a few questionable moments of wire-work that made me raise an eyebrow. Regardless, it most definitely works and shows the main stars of Human Lanterns in top form. The film is gorgeously captured by Cho On Sun, a cinematographer who debuted with Judgement Of An Assassin in 1977and ended his time with Yuen Cheung Yan's fun Kung Fu Vampire in '93. During his time in the industry, Cho lensed 25 films in total and many of which were for the Shaw Brothers studio including The Deadly Breaking Sword and What Price Honesty, as well as Lau Kar Leung's The Lady Is Boss, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, and Martial Arts Of Shaolin – the third chapter of Jet Li's highly regarded Shaolin Temple series. Cho would stick with Leung for the excellent Tiger On The Beat before going on to capture the likes of Vampire Vs Vampire, Triad Story, Magic Cop, and Angel Force with Moon Lee.
As one of the co-writers alongside the ever-prolific Ni Kuang, Taiwanese director Sun Chung delivers a fantastic piece of entertainment that blends classic Shaw Brothers kung-fu action with atmospheric horror – clearly inspired by a host of late 70's US and Italian slasher flicks, albeit with a dash of classic Hammer horror. Although he had only just worked as the assistant director on Recalling My Dreams in 1967, Sun made his directorial debut the following year with Wild Girl, following up with Tops In Every Trade a couple of years later. But it would be 1972 that saw him secure a career changing gig with the Shaw Brothers, beginning with The Devil's Mirror. Over the years, Sun Chung would deliver a host of worthy titles for the studio including The Bloody Escape, The Drug Connection, Lady Exterminator, The Proud Youth, Avenging Eagle, The Kid With A Tattoo, Rendezvous With Death and so many more including Billy Chong's Fistful Of Talons, Chow Yun Fat's City War and Lau Ching Wan's Angel Hunter (which would also be his last as a director). Having enjoyed directing the fun Revenge Of The Corpse only a year before (which also starred Lo Lieh), Chung delivers one of his darkest and most exciting works with Human Lanterns that offers plenty of gore as well as one or two truly unsettling scenes!
Overall: Atmospheric, dark, and packed with some great fight scenes, Human Lanterns is a cult classic worthy of a watch!
88 Films Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary by Kenneth Brorsson & Phil Gillon, Interviews with Susan Shaw & Linda Chu, Lau Wing Featurette, Trailers
Momentum Asia DVD Extras: Trailer
Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE