THE MACHINE GIRL
Original Title: Kataude Mashin Garu
Directed by Noboru Iguchi Produced by Yoshinori Chiba, Yoko Hayama, Satoshi Nakamura Action by Kensuke Sonomura Starring: Minase Yashiro, Asami, Nobuhiro Nishihara, Kentaro Shimazu, Ryosuke Kawamura, Yuya Ishikawa Reviewing: Cineasia UK DVD Release Genres: Gore / Action / Ninja / Comedy
Rating - 4 / 5
DVD Synopsis: When Ami's bro can't pay enough, violence breaks out, he is murdered and Ami is bound, tortured and has her left arm hacked off as a reminder not to screw with the Yakuza. But this is one chick who doesn't take any shit! Barely alive, she is take in by a mechanic, who builds her a prosthetic limb with a difference – it's only a fully automatic machine gun! Filled with genius tongue-in-cheek gore moments including human tempura's, nail-gunned faces, finger sushi, exploding torsos and the soon-to-be-legendary 'drill bra', Machine Girl is the movie that Quentin Tarantino always wanted to make! Don't miss the over-the-top cult action hit of the decade! (94 Mins)
Views: Noboru Iguchi's Machine Girl is a wild tale about a normal schoolgirl, Ami Hyuga, whose life takes a turn for the worse when her brother and his friend (Takeshi) are killed by bullies after being thrown to their death from a building. Setting out to find those responsible, Ami's first stop is with one of the bullies at his family home – a meeting that soon leaves her abused by both parents, one of which deep-fries her arm in hot oil with tempura batter! That night, Ami returns for revenge and soon finds out that the gang of bullies is led by Sho Kimura – the son of a gangster leader connected to a ruthless ninja-yakuza clan. After beheading the bully, Ami puts a knife through the back of the mother's head and showers the dad with the blood of his son, while he takes a bath. It's all pretty mental, and only a warm-up for what's to come! Determined to get her revenge, Ami moves forward with an attack on Sho at his family home, but is soon overpowered by the clan in a brutal and bloody fight that sees her chained and tortured before having her left arm cut off! Ami soon escapes and eventually gets help from Takeshi's parents – two mechanics who help nurse her back to health. Takeshi's mum (Miki) agrees to help Ami seek revenge for the boys and in between training her, creates a multi-barrelled machine gun prosthetic arm which she helps fit to Ami. Miki agrees to help her seek revenge for the boys just as a trio of ninjas attacks them in the garage. As the action kicks off, Miki's husband completes Ami's gun arm and throws it to her as a dozen ninja stars cut through his body. Angered, the girls set out to take down the rest of the clan members, massacring them one by one with Miki armed with a chainsaw to accompany Ami's gun-arm. It all leads to a gore-filled, action-packed, and violent showdown that involves a deadly drill-bra, crazy ninjas, exploding heads, and much, much more!!
Machine Girl is the kind of film where there are seemingly no rules! In fact, although it was successful enough on release I think this is the kind of story that would have been even better as an anime – perhaps giving it even more freedom and higher production values. Regardless, this insane revenge flick definitely has its moments from the over-abundance of gore to its wild action scenes, and plenty of corny lines. Because let's face it – you are not supposed to be taking this kind of thing seriously (and if you have, then perhaps this style of cinema is not for you). Like many Japanese filmmakers, director and writer Noboru Iguchi started life in the film industry as a soft-porn director, delivering a host of titles throughout the 90s before moving into television and fictional features just after the turn of the century. It seems that insanity and beautiful women have always been Noboru's thing (quite obvious in Machine Girl) and apart from a handful of sane films, his true style would show in films such as Sukeban Boy, Cat-Eyed Boy, and this which was very quickly followed by the wonderful Robo-Geisha, Mutant Girls Squad, Zombie Ass: Toilet Of The Dead, and Dead Sushi – to name but a few. And while most of them are far from perfect, often showing their flaws through the low-budget production values, Noboru still adds enough exciting things to save his titles from being written off as a complete disaster.
For her first-ever role, the beautiful Minase Yashiro does a fantastic job as Ami – the titular Machine Girl. Her great looks and passable acting were aided by the fact that she was brave enough to step into the role, as well as throw herself into the action which was often pretty wild. She clearly made enough of an impression and went on to star in a host of TV shows including Kamen Rider W. Popular adult and exploitation actress, Asami, plays the role of Miki who gets to kick as much ass as Ami – even when her leg is cut-off! Asami had already had a few crazy projects behind her by the time Machine Girl came round, including the lead character in Sukeban Boy. After this, she went on to star in most of the girls-n-gore films for Noboru Iguchi as well as movies like Helldriver, Erotibot, the Rape Zombie series, Bikini Ramen, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, and much more. Of course, one of the other main stars (if not the actual star) of Machine Girl is its special effects and gore. Blending some digital works in with lots of well-crafted practical effects, viewers are taken on a crazy ride of blood showers, exploding heads, sliced bodies, and finger sushi. This is all down to Taiga Ishino and his team who do an amazing job without a Hollywood budget. Of course, Taiga had already kicked things off in the equally wild Meatball Machine as well as the aforementioned Sukeban Boy with Noboru. His work would put him in charge of effects on more great titles such as Tokyo Gore Police (which I adore), Love Exposure, Samurai Princess, Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl, Deadball, Helldriver, and pretty much all of Noboru's gore-filled films that followed...
Kensuke Sonomura is a fight choreographer whose film, Hydra, I had the pleasure of screening at my festival in 2020 – has worked on a lot of great titles over the years, even getting in with Donnie Yen and his team on The Monkey King and Iceman. Others include Japanese films such as Death Trance, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, Alien Vs Ninja, the Gantz film series, and more. Here he provides a host of fun fights and even given the limitations of his non-fighting females, still manages to make it work. Machine Girl may be far from perfect and does offer plenty of eye-rolling moments – with the bad acting from the younger cast members being a huge part of that – but the film is so outrageous, it totally works and proves to be an entertaining 90 minutes that passes pretty quick. Although it's definitely not for the squeamish!
Overall: Action-packed insanity with lots of blood and buckets of gore, topped off with ninjas, gun-wielding schoolgirls, and great special effects!
DVD Extras: Behind The Scenes, Trailer
MADAM CITY HUNTER
(Hong Kong 1993)
Original Title: Cheng Shi Nu Lie Ren (aka) Lady City Hunter; Born To Fight 6
Directed by Johnnie Kong Yeuk Sing Produced by Yuen Woo Ping Action by Yuen Cheung Yan Starring: Cynthia Khan, Anthony Wong, Tommy Wong, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Sheila Chan, Wu Fung, Yau Gin Gwok, Tang Tai Wo, Hau Woon Ling, Simon Cheung, Jack Wong, Patrick Ling, Alex Yip, Tse Wai Kit Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Comedy
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Phoenix Distribution German DVD Synopsis: After the great success of the super action series Born To Fight now the sixth part. Even more exciting, even more action and crazy stunts with the megastar of the action film Cynthia Khan. Relentlessly and mercilessly, she fights a death-defying battle against the killers who will stop at nothing. Using only her fists as a deadly weapon, she fights for her life and it's only a matter of time before she brings the killers down. (89 Mins)
Views: The first 10 minutes of Madam City Hunter consists of 2 energetic action sequences, both of which show lady cop Cynthia Khan infiltrating 2 different (abandoned) mansions to take down 2 different gangs of crooks in an exciting flurry of kicks, gunfire and explosions. During her second bout, Khan meets Anthony Wong – a private detective who goes by the name of Charlie Chan, who has been hired to search for a worried grandmother's teen granddaughter. Tricked into helping Wong in his search, Khan soon finds the young girl hiding out in a drug den with her boyfriend and his gang and, in a bizarre turn of events, is knocked-out and locked in the boot of a vehicle that just happens to be in the room. At the same time, one of the crooks from the second mansion suddenly appears in the den and uses Cynthia's gun to kill everyone there – framing her for their murders. Implemented but supported by her chief, Khan sets out to find answers aided by the lustful private dick who refuses to leave her side. With her job on hold, Cynthia visits her father and similarly aged stepmum who, she believes, is part of a powerful gang and is trying to kill her dad for his wealth. And this is all while trying to dodge Wong's advances, divert many attempts on her life, and find the real killer that framed her!
Given the talent involved both in front of and behind the camera, Madam City Hunter should have been a much better film, as well as a bona-fide classic of Cynthia Khan's career. But as with a number of Yuen Woo Ping movies from the mid-90s, it often comes across a little uneven with the fast-paced first 30 minutes playing like a collection of random fight scenes and silly gags – most of which are quite entertaining to watch actually. Although released on DVD in Germany as Born To Fight 6, Madam City Hunter is actually a very hard title to find and perhaps if Yuen Woo Ping had also directed it instead of just producing, the film may have been more widely available given his boost of popularity since his Hollywood projects. Often overlooked by many fans of Hong Kong cinema, it isn't terrible by any means and is really only marred by a slower middle section as well as (for me) a lacklustre score – especially when it comes to the action scenes. While it tends to focus more on the hit-and-miss comedy elements that feature plenty of sex jokes in the second third, we do get treated to one random action scene that is seemingly thrown in between the madness. It also seems that everything that happened in the first half hour of the film is pretty irrelevant, with the storyline on the relationship between Cynthia and her stepmum dominating the final two thirds. Of course, the loose connection is that her stepmum (played by the wonderful Kara Hui) is part of the very same gang that Khan went after in the second mansion at the beginning – but by this stage, you really don't care...
While the ever popular Yuen Woo Ping may have produced the film and his equally famous brother handled the action, the main man at the helm was Johnnie Kong Yeuk Sing. Most probably recognised by fans of Hong Kong cinema as Sandy in Stephen Chow Sing Chi's awesome films, A Chinese Odyssey 1 & 2 (of which he would also serve as an executive director), Kong started life in the industry as an actor and assistant director in the mid 80s, honing his skills behind the scenes on classics such as Happy Ghost 3, Haunted Cop Shop 2, As Tears Go By, The Inspector Wears Skirts 2, and more. The 1990s would see him continue as an assistant director to Wong Kar Wai on Days Of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together, as well as hits like The Top Bet, Fist OF Fury 1991 and its sequel, Doctor Wai & The Scripture With No Words, and Island Of Greed, before going onto Era Of Vampires and Black Mask 2 for Tsui Hark. Back in 1993, Kong also served as an executive director of Yuen Woo Ping's underrated Donnie Yen flick Heroes Among Heroes, which is probably what helped him bag the support for Madam City Hunter which was made the same year. Although he had been involved heavily with a number of fantastic titles for almost a decade at this stage, it looks like Kong still hadn't quite mastered the art of direction with what he offered here. Of course, this could be down to the hurried production in order to cash-in on Jackie Chan and Wong Jing's popular action comedy, City Hunter, which was doing the rounds at the same time. Of course, this film would only be lightly based on the popular manga/anime with Anthony Wong's PI character parodying that of Ryo Saeba – and not Cynthia Khan's as the title would have you think.
By the time she had made Madam City Hunter, Cynthia Khan had already starred in almost 30 titles and had wowed audiences with her roles in Tiger Cage 2, Queens High, It's Now Or Never, Super Lady Cop, Zen Of Sword, Blade Of Fury, and In The Line Of Duty 3 – 7 of course, as well as many more. Interestingly enough, 1993 would be one of her busiest ever years starring in no less than 10 productions from 13 Cold Blooded Eagles to The Avenging Quartet. While you would imagine this kind of popularity over the course of a year made her somewhat of a hot-ticket, Cynthia Khan's career started to quickly take a dive and by the turn-of-the-century saw her almost slip into obscurity, only to pop up in cheap Chinese titles here and there -much like that of her past co-stars Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima. Another actor who had had a busy 1993 also was her co-star Anthony Wong, who starred in a crazy 18 titles that very same year including Heroic Trio 1 & 2, The Untold Story, A Moments Of Romance 2, The Mad Monk, Taxi Hunter, and the often forgotten, Murders Made To Order along with Cynthia Khan herself. Of course, before all of that, Wong had made an impression starring in films such as The Big Score, An Eternal Combat, Erotic Ghost Story 2, Hard Boiled, and Full Contact, although he seems to be having a good time here as the perverted PI. It was also good to see him get in on the martial action and deliver some fun moves here-and-there. The crazy Sheila Chan from Prince Of The Sun, All For The Winner, All's Well End's Well 92, and Heroes Among Heroes, plays two roles in Madam City Hunter – though mainly as Blackie, the wild twin sister of Anthony's murdered girlfriend. The great Tommy Wong Kwong Leung gets to step away from his usual gang boss role and stars as Khan's police chief who also has an eye for his lady cop. Having started in the industry with Oh, My Cops! back in the early 80s, Tommy has went on to appear in around 100 movies with many huge titles under his belt from directors like Clifton Ko, Ringo Lam, and John Woo. Popular Hong Kong actor and star of over 380 films, Wu Fung, does a great job as Cynthia's father who gets to roll about a number of times with the incredible Kara Hui Ying Hung – the award winning Shaw Brothers actress. Starting her career in 1977 (which was the year I entered the world) with a role in The Brave Archer, Kara very quickly made a name for herself under the watchful eye of the legendary Lau Kar Leung and, with over 150 titles to her name, is still going strong today as a true queen of Hong Kong cinema. Much like her co-stars, it looks like she's having a blast being silly while dressing up in French maid outfits to tease her older lover, although still gets to kick ass a few times throughout without really taking anything away from Miss Khan. Yau Gin Gwok, who burst onto the screen in the awesome South Shaolin Master, plays the main bad guy of the film and gets to trade kicks with Cynthia, Kara, and Anthony at different times. Although his career only lasted a decade, Yau starred in many great films such as Don't Fool Me with Andy Lau, Once Upon A Time In China, Angel Terminators 2, Fist From Shaolin, South Shaolin Master 2, and once again with Anthony Wong in Kirk Wong's awesome Rock N' Roll Cop which would be his final film.
The wonderful and very talented Yuen Cheung Yan handles the fight action in Madam City Hunter, delivering a host of fun and varied martial arts battles over the 90 minute running time. Although his fight choreography has always been a little less refined than that of his brother's, I've always enjoyed what Yuen Cheung Yan brings to the screen. Here, it seems that anything goes, from good old fashioned hand-to-hand combat to some moves that seem more inspired by wire-fu flicks like Iron Monkey and Super Lady Cop for example. Heck, there's even some gun-play thrown in just for fun! It all starts with the aforementioned opening fights in the first 10 minutes of the film, both set in abandoned mansions. This sees Cynthia take down a host of gangsters in scenes that could easily have taken from her In The Line Of Duty series. After a quick battle with a transvestite, she gets to go toe-to-toe with Kara Hui later on, but only for a brief moment. Strangely enough, Kara only gets one more fight scene towards the end when she faces off against the gangster boss, but seems fairly underused in the action department overall. It was fun to see Anthony Wong getting in on the action also, putting his martial skills to use a number of times (although artfully doubled for the more intricate moves). His highlight fight comes at the halfway mark when he sits fishing at the top of a huge reservoir, dressed as a woman, and is suddenly attacked by a lone swordsman. While it's a fun fight, it almost seems out of place in such a modern action-comedy as the choreography has them pulling moves that would be more fitting to a mid-90s wuxia film. A few other fun scuffles are scattered throughout which includes a great chase on bamboo scaffolding, and an action-packed finale where Cynthia and Anthony take on Yau Gin Gwok and his men in an exciting showdown that should please fans.
It's worth noting that this German DVD I have, bearing the title of Born To Fight 6, offers two cuts of the film – both of which are in great quality. The lengthier Hong Kong version runs for an extra 4 minutes than the export version, and includes some extra action scenes that differs in ratio and quality, although is still very watchable. I really wanted to love Madam City Hunter, but it just feels a little uneven at times. Cynthia is as great as always (as is everyone else), but there's just something about the film that seems unfulfilling. That said, there are enough great action scenes to enjoy (even if they don't make sense sometimes) and some funny moments, but it certainly isn't Tiger Cage 2 or In The Line Of Duty 3 & 4, and should have been much better to be honest. Regardless, Cynthia Khan fans will get a kick out of it, and it definitely gets more entertaining with every watch!
Overall: Uneven in it's execution, Madam City Hunter redeems itself with some great action scenes and a fun cast!
DVD Extras: Alternate Version (84 Mins), Trailer
(Hong Kong 2007)
Original Title: San Taam
Directed by Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai Produced by Johnnie To, Wai Ka Fai Starring: Sean Lau Ching Wan, Andy On, Gordon Lam, Eddy Ko, Kelly Lin, Joseph Lee, Karen Lee, Flora Chan, Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung, Jay Lau, Jeff Cheung, Chiu Chi Shing, Hung Wai Leung, Lu Ching Ting Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Crime / Drama / Action / Mystery
Rating - 4.5 / 5
Synopsis: A rookie cop teams up with a former detective with a supernatural gift, to hunt down a serial killer. (89 Mins)
Views: The awesome Lau Ching Wan gives one of his best-ever roles as Detective Bun, a genius detective who goes to goes to extreme lengths to solve a case. And like many geniuses, it seems he has a screw loose as shown in his introductory scene where he solves a murder by re-enacting the case – such as stabbing a hanging pig in the middle of a room, before climbing into a suitcase so that he can be thrown down many flights of stairs. Bloodied and dizzy, Bun gets to his feet announcing the murderer and the case is closed. Soon after, at the retirement of a senior officer (in a cameo by Eddy Ko), Detective Bun offers him a goodbye present by cutting off a piece of his own ear – an act that sees him fired from the force. Five years later, unemployed and living with his long-suffering (ex) wife, Bun's mental illness has seemingly gotten worse and things are dull. Inspector Ho (Andy On), a young member of the force who admires Bun greatly, approaches him for help on a case that involves a stolen gun, and a dirty cop named Ko (Gordon Lam) who suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder. Luckily enough, Bun has been blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see the true personalities of others, and soon finds himself facing off against Officer Ko and his 7 inner persons which reignites his flame for detective work!
Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's Mad Detective is pretty damn amazing and gave me vibes similar to that of the incredible, Running On Karma, which was their previous project together before this. Wonderfully constructed and so off-beat, you may possibly need to watch it twice to grasp the cleverness of it. That said, it really is a simple premise that the directors decide to take on a more complex journey – albeit in the most entertaining way – offering plenty of typical Johnnie To moments such as unexpectedly humour, exciting action sequences, Mexican stand-off's, mystery and suspense, and plenty of stunning visuals courtesy of cinematographers Cheng Siu Keung and To Hung Mo. Having worked on a host of Johnnie To films from Loving You to Blind Detective and many more, Cheng was also behind the lens of many great Hong Kong titles such as Fight Back To School 2, Satan Returns, Ip Man 4, Zen Of Sword, and Black Cat 2 – of which he was also the executive director for. Cheng would also go on to direct Cynthia Khan's Forbidden Arsenal and Sea Wolves from the In The Line Of Duty Series, as well as White Lotus Cult in 1993 which was inspired by Once Upon A Time In China. It's clear the pair make a great team, with To Hung Mo working alongside Cheng on many Johnnie To titles having worked as a focus puller on the aforementioned White Lotus Cult, right after starting in the industry on Tsui Hark's Green Snake which was made the same year.
As per usual, To puts to use the skills of his cast members, many of whom have been working with him for some time now. Lau Ching Wan, who started working with To in the early-mid 1990s is just amazing as Detective Bun and I would say that this is probably one of his finest moments without a doubt, and Andy On hangs up his kicking boots for a more serious, dramatic role with very little fighting required. That said, he does a great job here and is a pivotal character in the storyline. Gordon Lam continues his streak of bad guys roles wonderfully as Officer Ko, the killer with 7 personalities – one is which is played by To regular Lam Suet, who is as great as always. All benefit from a great supporting cast which includes, Kelly Lin, Flora Chan, and Jay Lau, as well as many others. Assistant Director Jeff Cheung also appears as one of Lam's 7 personalities and has continued to work under To for a number years now. Music-maker Xavier Jamaux makes his feature film debut as a composer and creates a fantastic and strange score that definitely fits the tone of the movie. Since his work on Mad Detective, Xavier has gone on to cover many other To titles including Sparrow, Don't Go Breaking My Heart, and Drug War...
Mad Detective is yet another incredible piece from Hong Kong that benefits greatly from To's artistic direction and Wai's writing, which proves as a great return to form for it's leading star. While it may seem like such a dark and serious film, for the most part, the directors provide enough light-heartedness to help get you through it – although without ruining the general flow of things. It's different, it's odd, yet it works and isn't as confusing as many other reviewers would lead you to believe. The film is a stunning watch and entertains on many levels which gets two thumbs up from me and (once again) shames any similar types of crime mysteries that have come out of Hollywood in the last 20 years!
Overall: Well worth the watch, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai return to form with an exciting and unusual piece that makes Mad Detective one of their best!
MADE IN HEAVEN
(Hong Kong 1997)
Original Title: Gu Huo Tian Tang
Directed by Alex Cheung Kwok Ming Produced by Henry Fong Ping Action by Wong Wai Fai Starring: Ada Choi, Michael Tong, Law Kar Ying, Diana Pang Dan, Kwai Chung, Benny Chan, Kam Hing Yin, Sze Mei Yee, Bobby Yip, Beat Leung, Garry Chan Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Action / Comedy / Drama
Rating - 2 / 5
Synopsis: Ada Choi is a reincarnated thief who was previously male - but in his new life he looks like Ada Choi. Ada has the ability to see bad things in the future, which is great because she becomes an insurance salesperson. Great for her clients, that is. Her 100% payout rate bankrupts the company, and from them on her new powers continue to bring her trouble. Michael Tong turns up as a triad boss/love interest, while Pang Dan shows up as the jealous moll. Sadly, Ada has been cursed by Heaven to be loveless, which means that she'll have major problems if she falls in love. (93 Mins)
Views: Alex Cheung's final film as a director is a bit of an odd one indeed. It opens in heaven where the thief, Mak Ah Chat, is next in line for reincarnation. Due to the good-natured reasons behind his stealing while on earth, his heavenly barristers convince the judge to have him sent back with the chance to help people. The judge agrees, but on the condition that his return will have him cursed to be loveless – something which Mak brushes off without a second thought. But once back in the land of the living, Mak has been reincarnated as a young girl called Lily, now with the ability to see the unfortunate side of people's futures. Although she warns her father of his death by cause of an 'apple', her family ignores her warning and punishes Lily for saying such things. Obviously spooked by the comment, her father avoids anything apple-related on his way to work, only to have a newspaper page blow into his face while crossing the road. As he peels it off and sees a picture of an apple before him, a truck mows the man down and kills him. As the year's pass, the now-adult Lily works in a busy bar/restaurant where she is picked on by her co-workers and customers. After a run-in with some triads leaves her shaken, Lily quits her job, and in an odd turn of events, triad Alan returns to find her and then easily convinces her that he loves her – in fact, tricking her into becoming a hooker for his gang. She is soon saved (by default) by triad boss Fung and sets out to find a new job as an insurance saleswoman, but once again, is drowned in bad luck that sees her abused and chased away from potential clients. After fainting on a doorstep, Lily finds help from Doctor Law who gives her the medicine she needs for free, in order to get her back on her feet again. He continues to show his goodwill by introducing Lily to his friends who all sign up for her insurance plan, which helps her greatly. Meanwhile, a triad war kicks off between Fung's gang and others that see most of his men killed. Having remembered a warning from Lily, Fung Wen saves himself from a brutal death that sees his enemies plummet to their death when a construction elevator breaks. He soon seeks her out with the intention of starting a relationship, but as her curse (and heavenly prosecutor keeps reminding her), this second chance at life comes with a loss of love!
I really don't know what to make of Made In Heaven. It's an odd blend of comedy and triad action that feels like it belongs more in Wong Jing's filmography than Alex Cheung's, offerings shades of My Left Eye See's Ghosts and Mad Detective in some bizarre way. Having made his début with the fantastic Cops & Robbers in 1979, Cheung Kwok Ming spaced his following 5 films out over the next decade, while waiting a good 7 years before helming this. Although he appeared in a few roles as a bit-player, from Tsui Hark's Dangerous Encounters Of The 1st Kind through to Donnie Yen's Kung Fu Jungle, Cheung also wrote the majority of his 7 films, shot a few of them, and worked as the FX Director on the super fun, Legend Of Wisely starring Sam Hui and Ti Lung. But apart from a couple of small roles in later films, I'd say it was the box-office-bomb that is Made In Heaven that most likely ended his career, shortly after release. While not a dreadful movie in the grand scheme of things, Made In Heaven does contain a few entertaining moments between the humour and the action, with a decent enough cast of recognisable faces from that era of Hong Kong cinema. Ada Choi (wife of Hong Kong superstar Max Zhang), who appeared alongside Stephen Chow Sing Chi in Hail The Judge, and played the Princess Iron Fan in A Chinese Odyssey 1 & 2, does a great job as Lily Wong with both the comedy elements and the more dramatic side to it all. Still going strong today, Choi went on to star in titles such as The Suspect from Ringo Lam, Agent Mr. Chan, S Storm, and brought back her character of Princess Iron Fan for the wild action-comedy, Just Another Pandora's Box. Actor Michael Tong Man Lung, who starred in films such as Somebody Up There Likes Me, Sexy & Dangerous 1 & 2, Purple Storm, An Eye For An Eye, Man Of Tai Chi, and The Four, stars as Fung – the triad who takes a shine to Choi after he saves her life. The often hilarious Law Kar Ying, popular for his roles in a host of Stephen Chow Sing Chi comedies, stars as Doctor Law – Lily Wong's saving grace at one stage (who also falls for the poor girl), and Diana Pang Dan of Evil Instinct, The Imp, and Devil Snake Girl fame, stars as Fung's ass-kicking moll who gets a little jealous of Lily stealing her man. Popular big beast, Kwai Chung, stars as Fung's right-hand man and gets in on a bit of action throughout. Although he started with a small role in the late 70s, Kwai really jumped into the industry a good decade later going on to star in films like Triad Story, Robotrix, Angel Terminators, C'est La Vie Mon Cheri, and a host of Troublesome Night sequels.
While the action comes and goes, it really isn't anything to write home about, but it does entertain. This is down to some neat work from Wong Wai Fai, a Shaw Brothers actor (who has continued on front of the camera in many hit titles) who began assisting in choreography work a good decade before his debut as martial arts director on Made In Heaven. From titles like City War, Sleazy Dizzy, Guns of Dragon, First Option, Fatal Assignment, and more, Wong would go on to choreograph titles such as Sasori, Triple Tap, Cold War, Hit Team, Stool Pigeon, No Problem 2, Golden Job, and many more. Popular Hong Kong film mogul Henry Fong Ping, star of over 80 films including Saviour Of The Soul, Black Mask, A Taste Of Killing & Romance, and 2 Young, produces, with Wong Po Man providing the cinematography...
Overall: Although it isn't the worst thing out there, Made In Heaven just feels like it's missing something and isn't a film you really need to rush out to see!
MAD MAD GHOST
(Hong Kong 1992)
Original Title: Huang Jin Dao Shi
Directed by Billy Chan Produced by Chan Wui Yuen Action by Mandy Chan Chi Man Starring: Lam Ching Ying, Jacqueline Law, Chin Shih Erh, Lee Fai, Mandy Chan, Tse Wai Kit, Sze Mei Yee, Peter Chan, Ricky Ho, Mark Houghton, Eddie Maher, Billy Lau, Shum Wai Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Horror / Comedy / Action
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Synopsis: Vampire hunter Uncle Ying, has a run-in with ghosts and treasure hunting Mormons in this horror-comedy from Billy Chan. (91 Mins)
Views: The late, great Lam Ching Ying teams up once again with director Billy Chan for the brilliant Mad Mad Ghost, just 1 of 6 (if not more) films made in 1992 that would see Lam recreate his most famous role. The film opens with Uncle Ying teaching his 5 young students the art of vampire hunting, with Hui – the only female student – standing out as his best due to her great kung-fu knowledge. They all live in a house where a married couple of ghosts live in the attic, with the wife constantly abused and belittled by her abusive husband. After he tries to (hilariously) attack Uncle Ying as he sleeps, the Taoist priest decides to help the poor wife and expels the husband from his home to help her live peacefully. While on his day job as a security guard for the housing block, Uncle Ying soon meets 2 Western men who claim to be Mormons but are really in search of some buried treasure that was hidden in Uncle Ying's garden some time ago. It doesn't take long for trouble to follow and soon, Uncle Ying, his students, and ghost lady Kuen, find themselves up against the treasure hunters in a host of fun action sequences!
Lam Chin Ying most definitely wins as the most stereotyped actor of the century. After his infamous role as Mr. Vampire, he would forever be known as the Taoist priest that hunts down ghosts, demons, and vampires (all but for a few other exciting roles) up until his death in 1997. In Mad Mad Ghost, we are treated to a more fair priest as he takes pity on Ah Kuen, helping her get a second chance at life where she takes on the persona of pop star, Madonna. She is played by the wonderful Jacqueline Law Wai Guen (who passed away in 2012) and gets to deliver some genuinely funny moments, as well as suffer some crazy abuse and even get in on the action towards the end. Her abusive ghost husband is played by Mandy Chan Chi Man, an actor and choreographer who made his debut playing Donnie Yen's adversary in the awesome Drunken Tai Chi before joining him in films like Mismatched Couples, Tiger Cage 2, Iron Monkey, High Voltage, and Satan Returns – most of which he also assisted on with the choreography. In Mad Mad Ghost, Chan provides a bevy of fun and wacky action sequences, from ghostly battles to hilarious fights between Ying's team and the wild Westerners, played in the most OTT fashion by fan favourites, Mark Houghton and Eddie Maher. The final third is absolutely bonkers with some fun action that reminded me of the crazy Vampire Settle On Police Camp from Chen Chi Hwa.
While Mad Mad Ghost comes across as more of a low-budget affair than the likes of Mr. Vampire, keeping the most of its scenes in and around the one location, it still manages to keep a hold of its audience with a decent enough cast including cameos from Billy Lau – one of the original Mr. Vampire stars – and Shum Wai, who appeared in Billy Chan's directorial debut, New Mr. Vampire. Ying's team of students consists of Chin Shih Erh, a recognisable actor who started out in 7 Commandments Of Kung Fu as well as starring in titles like A Life Of Ninja, Fury, Against All, A Rascal's Tale, Gang's '92, and Circus Kids of which he also helped choreograph. Martial arts starlet Lee Fai plays the only female of the team who, although having only starred in around 12 films over her 20 years in the business, has impressed wonderfully in titles like Royal Tramp 1 & 2, A Chinese Ghost Story 2, Angel Terminators 2, Iron Monkey, and Champions alongside Dicky Cheung. The cheeky faced Tse Wai Kit joins the team as does Ricky Ho Pui Tung, both of whom have starred together in a number of films over the years, who are led by elder brother, Sze Mei Yee, a hilarious actor who has appeared in many great Hong Kong hits from The Blonde Fury to Kawashima Yoshiko, Fight Back To School 2, Black Mask, Master Q, and many more. The wonderful Peter Chan, who has shared the screen with Lam Ching Ying many times over the years, appears towards the end as an opposing priest who has been hired by the Mormons to counteract Uncle Ying's work and provides a few laughs along the way – and was no doubt doing a favour for his brother, director Billy Chan Wui Ngai.
Having started as a bit player in many Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest, and independent kung-fu titles from the early 70s, Billy Chan (along with Peter) stuck close by the legendary Sammo Hung where he got to hone his skills on a host of classic titles such as The Iron Fisted Monk, Warriors Two, Knockabout, Odd Couple, and many more. While his work as a choreographer would continue (and on many Sammo titles), Chan got the chance to work as the assistant director on his big brother's wonderful Heart Of The Dragon before making his directorial debut with the aforementioned, New Mr. Vampire. From there, he has delivered a host of great titles such as Brotherhood (Code Of Honor), the underrated License To Steal, brilliant All Men Are Brothers: Blood Of The Leopard, White Storm, and Crazy Safari which saw him take Lam Ching Ying's Taoist priest into the African badlands combining Mr. Vampire with The Gods Must Be Crazy as Lam teams up with N!Xau to take on vampires, lions, rhino's, and more. Now if one film deserves a Blu-ray release, it has got to be that one!
Overall: While far from perfect, Mad Mad Ghost offers plenty of laughs and some great action which should keep most Lam Ching Ying fans happy!
(Hong Kong 1981)
Original Title: Wu Guan (aka) Instructors Of Death
Directed by Lau Kar Leung Produced by Run Run Shaw, Mona Fong Action by Lau Kar Leung Starring: Gordon Liu, Kara Hui, Robert Mak, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Ku Feng, King Lee, Chu Tit Wo, Wilson Tong, Hsiao Ho, Lau Kar Leung Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Comedy
Rating - 4.3 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: Legendary kung fu master Lau Kar Leung (The Legendary Weapons Of China) continues his winning streak of glorious productions for the equally legendary Shaw Brothers studio in this classic entry of the genre, depicting the mischevious folklore hero and his fraternity's strive to uphold righteousness and traditions of society and the martial world. Wong Fei Hung (Gordon Liu, The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin) becomes entangled in a rivalry between the students and masters of their respective schools. (118 Mins)
Views: It's been some time since I last watched this classic Shaw Brothers offering from director Lau Kar Leung – almost 25 years ago when I hired it from a video store in Toronto under its alternate title, Instructors Of Death. While I always thought that title represented a much grimmer sounding movie than it actually is, I have to say that I was super excited to finally get my hands on this new uncut Blu-ray edition from 88 Films, released under its original title of Martial Club (although offering the alternate version in a new Grindhouse Presentation). The late Ni Kuang, who had already written well over 100 movies for Shaw Brothers since his debut with the classic One-Armed Swordsman, pens the 12th film for Lau Kar Leung after writing his directorial debut, Spiritual Boxer, and many of his other hits. Due to his success and thanks to many years of dedication to the studio, Sir Run Run Shaw had pretty much given Kar Leung a little more freedom for each of his projects, with each one getting bigger and better in some respect. Having been under the constraints of powerhouse director Chang Cheh for many years, you can almost feel the relief on-screen with what Lau delivered in each of his projects, going from strength-to-strength and rarely disappointing, with Martial Club proving to be one such title. By the mid-80s though, the love for traditional kung-fu movies was fading and after directing Jet Li in Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts Of Shaolin, Lau turned his talents to more modern action flicks such as Tiger On The Beat 1 & 2, and Aces Go Places 5 as well as working as the action-director on films such as The Dragon Family, The Barefooted Kid, Evil Cat, Operation Scorpio/The Scorpion King, and New Kids In Town with Moon Lee. Lau's return to kung fu would come courtesy of Jackie Chan's fantastic Drunken Master 2, where he would return to the character of Wong Fei Hung once again. When things didn't go so well on that project – with creative differences cited as the reason for his departure – Lau set out to make his own sequel of the tale, released as Drunken Master 3 (which was a pretty unofficial entry in regards to Jackie Chan's titles). Although it had some star power with Andy Lau, Simon Yam, Gordon Liu, Adam Cheng, and Lau himself, Drunken Master 3 was somewhat of a rushed mess that was panned by critics and fans alike, and was most likely the main reason as to why Lau Kar Leung stepped down as a director for almost another decade. In 2003, Lau bounced back with the fun Drunken Monkey, the film that helped launch Wu Jing's career, before going-on to star in and work the action-choreography for Tsui Hark's underrated Seven Swords. Lau pretty much retired from the industry soon after and passed in 2013 due to cancer, leaving behind a solid piece of cinema history by starring in over 200 features, directing 25, and lending his martial arts talents to just as many as a choreographer...
The awesome Martial Club sees Gordon Liu return to the role of Wong Fei Hung for the first time since his major breakthrough role in Kar Leung's Challenge Of The Masters, in 1976. While only a sequel of sorts by way of the character in question, this new adventure highlights the young Wong Fei Hung in a similar light to that of Jackie's version in the awesome Drunken Master. Only towards the end of the film do we see a change of pace and character in Wong, which presents him more like that of Jet Li in the Once Upon A Time In China series with a little more maturity and respect; albeit a good decade before Tsui Hark's entry. Since his previous role as Wong, Gordon Liu journeyed on somewhat of a wonky road that shared his newfound stardom between the Shaw Brothers studio and some independent productions including He Has Nothing But Kung Fu, Fists and Guts, and Warrior From Shaolin both of which were directed by Kar Leung's younger brother and star in his own right, Lau Kar Wing. 1981 would prove to be a busy year for the young star with this, My Young Auntie, and Kar Wing's Treasure Hunters being produced for the Shaw Brothers studios, alongside Godfrey Ho's Raiders Of Buddhist Kung Fu and Shaolin Drunken Monk from director Ulysses Au Yeung Jun. I've always been a huge fan of Gordon's since I first saw him in Return To The 36th Chamber – one of my earliest ex-rental buys – and I thoroughly enjoyed him here, once again, as Wong Fei Hung. The handsome Robert Mak plays his good friend Wang Yin Lin, in what would only be his 10th film appearance since making his debut in Chang Cheh's Shaolin Temple five years prior. Going on to star in Crippled Avengers, Ten Tigers Of Kwantung, Kid With The Golden Arm and My Young Auntie, Mak would stick with Lau Kar Leung for The Lady Is Boss, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter and Tiger On The Beat 2 as well as starring in a host of modern hits such as City War, Holy Virgin Vs The Evil Dead, Way of The Lady Kickboxers and more. The relationship between Wong and Wang is the backbone of their journey, with both men belonging to different martial arts clubs, but are always determined to prove that one is better than the other. There is a nod to Sammo Hung's classic Yuen Biao vehicle of the same year, Prodigal Son, as the opponents of both fighters are often paid-off to take a fall. While Gordon impresses (as always) with his fast and powerful moves, Robert wows the audience with some fantastic kicking skills and gives as equally an entertaining performance that should have seen him become more of a bigger star than he actually was...
The rest of the cast is filled out with a welcome host of faces, including a cameo from Lau Kar Leung himself who opens the film with an introduction to Lion Dancing and the rules of Martial Clubs. Kar Leung movie regular, protégé, ex-girlfriend, and never-ageing actress Kara Hui Ying Hung stars as Robert's sister Wang Ju Ying and while her character can be a little troublesome and meddling at times, it gives her plenty of chances to kick ass and look good doing it – whether it's against Wong Fei Hung or alongside him. Since making her big screen debut in The Brave Archer, Martial Club would mark her 30th feature film appearance in just 4 years made alongside My Young Auntie around the same period, and is still going strong today with 160 films to her name as well as a host of television shows. She is joined by the wonderful Johnny Wang Lung Wei who gets to impress in a rare role as a good guy as Master Shan; the kung-fu Northerner who is tricked into doing some evil deeds by his kung-fu brother before he is taught a healthy lesson by the young Wong Fei Hung. I've always been a huge fan of Wang's who had starred in over 40 films by this stage since his debut in Chang Cheh's epic, Shaolin Martial Arts in 1974, with the man going on to work alongside his co-stars in the aforementioned My Young Auntie and Treasure Hunters the same year as this. In 1985, Wang would try his hand at directing and made his debut with This Man Is Dangerous which was quickly followed by the much loved Hong Kong Godfather. To date, Wang Lung Wei has directed 10 features, most of which are well worth a watch including The Innocent Interloper, Fury, Bloody Brotherhood, and Angry Ranger. The super-talented Hsiao Ho co-stars and gets to impress time and time again with his amazing physicality, as well as assisting the director with the films action-choreography. The prolific Ku Feng stars as Wong Fei Hung's father and fan-favourite Wilson Tong plays Robert Mak's teacher, Master Zheng, with recognisable bad-guy Chu Tit Wo starring as the twisted Master Lu who is out to take-down Wong Fei Hung no matter what. He is assisted by his equally mad student, Lu Shan Hou, who is played with glee by Lee King Chu, a recognisable face to Lau Kar Leung fans from films such as Heroes Of The East, Spiritual Boxer 2, Dirty Ho, Mad Monkey Kung Fu, and Return To The 36th Chamber where he would play monk San Te. As with many Shaw Brothers films from the late 70s and early 80s, Martial Club features a cast of hundreds with many regular background extras and bit-players including Mak Wai Cheung, Jackie Chan Stunt Team member Johnny Cheung, Steve Mak, Ma Hon Yuen, and others.
While it is just shy of perfect, due to some directional choices and moments that drag, Martial Club is still a highly entertaining piece from Lau Kar Leung with an abundance of fights that come within minutes of each other – offering some hugely enjoyable moves and fast-paced choreography courtesy of director Lau Kar Leung, Hsiao Ho, and Lee King Chu. The final half hour is practically non-stop with a lengthy showdown in an opera theatre, before Gordon faces-off against Johnny Wang in Zig Zag Alley where their skills would be put the ultimate test with a surprise ending that sees the latter leave a better man with a new outlook on life. And while it has seemingly been overshadowed by many of Lau's other classic titles, Martial Club most definitely has its moments and gets better as the story rolls along. As always, there's a meaningful moral behind the story and plenty to love in this early 80s kung-fu comedy from the Shaw Brothers studio!
Overall: Backed by a great cast and tons of kung-fu action, Martial Club is a worthy title that deserves a place in anyone's collection!
Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng & Michael Worth, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Instructors Of Death Version in a Grindhouse Presentation, Interviews with Robert Mak, Johnny Wang, Lawrence Wong, Hung Sun Nam & Tony Tam, Trailers
Watch my unboxing video of this Koch Media release HERE
THE MASTER OF KUNG FU
(Hong Kong 1973)
Original Title: Huang Fei Hong (aka) Death Kick; Shaolin Death Kicks
Directed by Ho Meng Hua Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Yuen Woo Ping, Yuen Cheung Yan Starring: Ku Feng, Chen Ping, Lin Wei Tu, Hui Siu Hung, Wang Hsieh, Wong Hon, Chan Shen, Law Hon, Shum Lo, Tino Wong, Fung Hak On, Yuen Shun Yi, Danny Chow, Brandy Yuen, Yuen Biao, Corey Yuen Kwai Reviewing: Black Hill/Koch Media German Blu-ray Release Genres: Kung Fu / Drama
Rating - 3.7 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: Shaw Brothers classic about the Chinese folk hero Huang Fei Hong who swears revenge for his student Mai. Solid fight scenes, rough, hard and aggressively dynamically staged. The famous boxer Huang Fei Hong teaches at the Pao Chi Lin Institute in Canton. There, the English businessman Gordon organizes a martial arts tournament to find a new bodyguard. Huang's student Mai, who enters the tournament against his master's advice, is killed in battle by criminal Li Tien Tao. When Gordon's valuable jade collection is shipped to Hong Kong, Li forces his new master's faithful under his command and seizes the stones. But Huang, who wants to avenge the death of his friend Mai, is already waiting for him on the river bank... (92 Mins)
Views: A lesser-known tale of Wong Fei Hung's cinematic journey, The Master Of Kung Fu sees the legendary hero played by Shaw Brothers star Ku Feng who started his journey with the studio in 1969. Feng quickly made a name for himself as a very versatile actor, and had already starred in a healthy 80+ productions by the time he played this role and would go on to star in over 380 films during the course of his career – starring alongside every major name in the industry at one point or another into his 80s, with a role in the little known Mad Monk Ji Gong (2016) being his last to date. I have to say that I did enjoy him as Wong Fei Hung in The Master Of Kung Fu, which gave him the chance to deliver a more mature and realistic version of the hero. While Master Wong teaches his martial arts and medicine at the Po Chi Lam school, an arrogant European businessman called Gordon organises a martial arts tournament in the town in search of a new bodyguard. Excited about the prospects of winning the new job, Wong's old friend Mai Ken puts himself forward to fight – ignoring the advice and warnings of the master. But Mai soon finds himself up against Lin Tien Tao, a renowned thug in town who injures the fighter to keep in line with a plan he has to rob Gordon of his valuable jade collection. After chasing Lin off, Wong offers to treat Mai Ken but is soon framed for murder when the injured fighter is found poisoned to death. Determined to clear his name, Wong Fei Hung must evade capture and bring Lin Tien Tao to justice – no matter what it takes!
Penned by prolific writer, Ni Kuang – who practically wrote every major action film for the studio since his debut with The One-Armed Swordsman in 1969 – The Master Of Kung Fu was just one of his 27 screenplays made that year, and was brought to life by the well-versed studio director, Ho Meng Hua. This director had started his career in the film industry in the early 1950s as a writer and assistant director with titles such as The Valiant Dog and Orchid Of The Valley. After assisting on 5 films, Ho got the chance to make his directorial debut in '58 with An Appointment After Dark for the Shaw Brothers studio. This would secure his spot there as an in-house director, with Ho going on to helm almost 60 titles over the course of his career. Many of these would go on to become some of the Shaw Brothers most memorable titles including The Monkey Goes West and Princess Iron Fan, The Human Goddess, The Flying Guillotine, Black Magic 1 & 2, Dragon Missile, Oily Maniac, Vengeful Beauty, The Mighty Peking Man, and Shaolin Hand Lock (many of which were early Shaw Brothers Blu-ray releases from 88 Films). While we all may have heard a similar story before, Ho manages to keep his audience interested with his great cast, highly detailed set-pieces, strong story-telling, and some fantastic action. I was surprised that Lau Kar Leung wasn't hired to handle the films fight choreography, given his connection with the real Wong Fei Hung, but The Master Of Kung Fu hugely benefits from having the talents of the young Yuen Woo Ping and Yuen Cheung Yan on-board. Although the brothers had been acting for a good decade before this, the pair had already been working as action-choreographers on a number of productions for some time already - honing their skills on titles such as Have Sword Will Travel, King Eagle, The Killer, The Bloody Fists, Awaken Punch, and others. Between the two of them, they manage to bring a wide range of fun, fast, and furious kung-fu fights to the table shifting from tournaments to street fights, weapons work to group battles, and the climatic showdown. Unlike a lot of the Shaw studio's martial arts flicks of this period, the Yuen brothers keep the fluid and fast with Ku Feng, Wang Hsieh, and others looking their best in action. Of course, the pair would revisit the character of Wong Fei Hung many times over the years with the likes of Drunken Master, Tsui Hark's Once Upon A Time In China series, Iron Monkey, and Last Hero In China, to name but a few.
Taiwanese-born actor Wang Hsieh stars as the wicked Lin Tien Tao, who gets to trade moves with a number of characters throughout the story – as well as having a few fights with Wong through to their exciting finale, which I'm sure must have been exhausting to shoot! Having made his debut in the late 1950s with Twin Woman and The Ghost Lake, Wang went onto star in almost 190 features including modern hits like The Prodigal Son, A Better Tomorrow, Iron Angels, The Killers Blues, Bloody Brotherhood, and Legend Of The Drunken Tiger. And equally prolific actor Chan Shen, more often than not cast as the bad guy also, stars as Mai Ken – Wong's old friend and master of an opposing school. Starting his acting career in the late 60s, Chan soon joined the Shaw studio and went onto star in over 170 films, vanishing from the film world in the mid-80s after ending his contract with Taylor Wong's Pursuit Of A Killer alongside Lo Meng, Sun Chien, and Jason Pai Piao. The handsome Lin Wei Tu plays one of Wong's students, and although he had only started in the business just a year before, had already appeared in 8 titles for the studio. The always fun Hui Siu Hung joins Lin as another student who, more-often-than-not, finds himself in many awkward situations. It seems to be a thing with Hui and his roles and, although it was only his 4th film, has went on to star in almost 170 films to date with many memorable roles over the years and is still going strong today. Taiwanese actress Chen Ping stars as the main female star of the film, and future stars such as Yuen Biao, Fung Hak On, Tino Wong, Danny Chow, Yuen Shun Yi, Brandy Yuen, Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Yat Chor, Yen Shi Kwan, and Chin Yuet Sang, can also be spotted popping up throughout...
As one of the most (if not 'the most') celebrated real-life characters ever portrayed on film and television, it's going to be hard to deliver a fresh story on Wong Fei Hung for any writer or director, respectively. But apart from Kwan Tak Hing's infamous role as the folk hero in over 70 films, The Master Of Kung Fu still came out well before he was re-invented by stars such as Gordon Liu and Lau Kar Leung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Woo Ping, Jet Li and Tsui Hark, as well as Vincent Zhao Wen Zhao, Chin Kar Lok, Sammo Hung, Eddie Peng, Ashton Chen, Bosco Wong, and many others. Of course, fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping would revisit Wong a good 5 years later with Drunken Master to offer a completely different take to his work here – but that's not to say that The Master Of Kung Fu doesn't have its own entertainment value!
Overall: Entertaining, well made, and full of great fights, The Master Of Kung Fu is well worth the watch!
Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Picture Gallery
Watch my unboxing video of this Koch Media release HERE
(aka) Escape From Miami
Directed by Richard Park Woo-sang Produced by Y.K. Kim Action by Kwon Yeong-moon Starring: Y.K. Kim, Vincent Hitsch, Joseph Diamand, Maurice Smith, Angelo Janotti, Kathy Collier, William Ergle, Si Yung Jo, Richard Park, William Young Reviewing: Vinegar Syndrome US 4K Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Thriller
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: Dragon Sound, the house band at Orlando's #1 nightclub is made up of five orphans and university classmates, all of whom are experts in Taekwondo, with a musical mission to share the importance of love and friendship. One of the band members, john, is engaged in a budding romance with Jane, sister of Jeff, a kingpin in one of Florida's toughest drug pushing gangs. A resentful rival band enlists the help of Jeff and his crew of violent, motorcycle riding thugs to exact revenge for their bruised egos, against Dragon Sound. The five best friends are soon forced to put their fighting skills to the ultimate test, not just to defend themselves, but their entire community from the iron grip help over it by these narcotic trafficking hooligans. An international cult sensation and tribute to the unwavering power of friendship, Woo-sang Park (aka Richard Park) and Grandmaster Y.K. Kim's MIAMI CONNECTION was the cinematic passion project of Florida based martial arts teacher, Grandmaster Kim, and combines explosive action set pieces, daring and elaborate fight sequences, and live musical performances from Dragon Sound. Featuring a cast comprised of Kim's students along with plentiful local talent, MIAMI CONNECTION offers the best traits of regional exploitation filmmaking through the aesthetic of Cannon-esque 80s action, and finally comes to UHD from Vinegar Syndrome, exclusively restored in 4K from recently unearthed negative materials and loaded with plentiful archival and newly shot extras. Plus, this edition includes the world home video debut of its long lost pre-release version, ESCAPE FROM MIAMI, which features numerous additional and extended scenes as well as a completely different ending! (86 Mins)
Views: Popular rock band Dragon Squad have just been made the regular House Band at the biggest nightclub in Orlando, stepping on a few toes that soon see them under threat from the biggest motorcycle gang in the State. After losing their spot to Dragon Squad, the previous band hold a grudge and make a deal with the ninja bikers to get rid of them. Jeff, the leader of the gang, is more than happy to help as he already despises the band – one of whom is dating his sister Jane, their main vocalist. Before they know it, Dragon Sound are fighting for their lives on the Florida streets against violent bikers, sword wielding ninjas, and more!
Beautifully restored by the team at Vinegar Syndrome, Miami Connection is an action-packed and fun 80s flick whose flaws are easily forgiven when you learn about the love, passion, and hard work put into the production by a team of first-time filmmakers. Having directed 7 independent features myself, I can totally relate to Miami Connection in many ways. And while I'd love to have had even half the budget that Y.K. Kim put into this, I know that the only thing that makes up for a lack of money is creativity and dedication. This is something quite evident in the film, perhaps only marred by its typical 80s style story, cheesy lines, and bad acting – but it's most definitely there and evident in the choreography, SFX and on-screen energy. We also have to remember that these were actual martial artists and musicians, not actors; and I have seen worse many times over the years. So while it has its flaws and may be laughed at by today's modern audience, I take my hat off to Grandmaster Y.K. Kim and his team for creating a damn entertaining martial arts flick. Miami Connection proved to be somewhat of a box-office bomb flop made worse by a heavy load of negative reviews. This obviously pained Y.K. Kim after the amount of money and work he had put into it, and retired him from the film industry almost immediately. Thankfully, over the years, Miami Connection gained somewhat of a cult following with the film finally getting the release it deserved courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome much like that of John Liu's lost opus, New York Ninja, and I can only hope that it manages to gain a new audience that sees it for what it is. Fans can also rejoice with the same release as it also contains Escape From Miami – the pre-release version of Miami Connection which features a number of different scenes, both extended and additional, as well as a completely different ending and is just as entertaining...
For me, I would say that martial arts and music are the biggest attraction of Miami Connection, with both playing a huge part of the story and both proving to be very entertaining. Since watching this for the first time, I have constantly been singing 'Friends For Eternity' and 'Against The Ninja' to the point where my husband keeps asking me to shut up. But I can't – because Dragon Squad rock and just loved these tracks! The songs for the band were created by Angelo Janotti and Kathy Collier, with both being cast on the spot as the actual band members and the latter playing the lead singer Jane. Although both were actually dating at the time, it would be written that Jane was in a relationship with another character which I'm sure went down a blast when it came to their kissing scenes. Not only did Y.K. Kim help write and produce the film, as well as play one of the leads, but he also helped choreographed the martial arts-action alongside Kwon Yeong Moon while putting his finest students to the test over a host of fast and furious fight scenes. I have to be honest when I say that I wasn't expecting much from the choreography, but I was pleasantly surprised with what was on offer. From street fights to ninja battles and more, Y.K. Kim delivers on the kicks and body-impact that sees some impressive stunt-work and swordplay – which is often followed by a flying arm or head. As I've said, Miami Connection has its flaws but there's no denying its entertainment value (whatever way you take it) and as a fan of 80s independent flicks, I had a great time watching it. On top of that, I can't praise this Vinegar Syndrome edition which gives fans and Miami Connection, exactly what it deserves!
Overall: A fantastic piece of 80s independent fun, Miami Connection is a fight-filled flick with plenty to enjoy!
Blu-ray Extras: 4K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Grandmaster Y.K. Kim and Joseph Diamand, Resurrecting The Dragon: Exclusive Making of Featurette, Friends For Eternity: Making of Featurette from 2012, Dragon Sound Reunion: 25th Anniversary Concert from 2012, Archival Promotional Videos with Grandmaster Y.K. Kim, Re-release Trailer from 2012, Escape From Miami – Original Pre-release Version of Miami Connection
MIGHTY PEKING MAN
(Hong Kong 1977)
Original Title: Xing Xing Wang (aka) Goliathon; Colossus Of The Congo
Directed by Ho Meng Hua Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Yuen Cheung Yan Starring: Danny Lee, Ku Feng, Norman Tsui Siu Keung, Evelyn Kraft, Chen Ping, Hsiao Yao, Lin Wei Tu, Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Cheung Yan, Tsui Fat Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope Blu-ray Release Genres: Kaiju / Fantasy / Adventure
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: King Kong goes Hong Kong as a giant Himalayan beast tries to save a sexy Russian Tarzanette from a sleazy show-biz promoter. The action, locations set in India, and interracial romance made Variety reach this verdict: 'High camp, Chinese style'. (90 Mins)
Views: Runme Shaw's attempt at to cash in on King Kong and the Japanese kaiju craze, helped deliver an incredibly bizarre Hong Kong film – yet one that has gone on to make quite the impression with fans and film-lovers around the world. Blending the original King Kong story with the classic Tarzan tale, albeit swapping the role to that of a woman, Mighty Peking Man rattles along at a great pace and has enough going on to keep viewers glued – regardless if the entertainment on-screen was intentional or not. After show-biz promoter Lu Tien gets wind of a mythical giant gorilla somewhere in India, he hires Johnny Chen to help him find it; a man who is depressed after catching his girlfriend sleeping with his brother. Soon, the team of explorers head out across the wildest regions of India in search of the monster which, in a strange turn of events, ends up finding them first. As the giant animal chases Johnny through the jungle, he unknowingly finds himself rescued by a wild and beautiful jungle lady known as Ah Wei – who is able to communicate with the beast having been raised by him since she was a child. Of course, it doesn't take long for Chen and Ah Wei to fall for each other and soon, everyone is on their way back to Hong Kong with the Mighty Peking Man in chains. Before they've even reached home, Lu Tien announces to Johnny that they have already sold out (in regards to putting it on show) and it doesn't take long before he has the titular creature in front of thousands. But when Ah Wei sees Lu's real intentions and the abuse her hairy friend is going through, she tries to free him. Unfortunately, this results in an attempted rape on her by Lu Tien which infuriates the Mighty Peking Man who breaks free and goes on an explosive and bloody rampage through the city – destroying everything in its path to save the girl he loves!
While my parents were kept busy with the arrival of myself in 1977, Runme Shaw put them to shame by busying himself as the producer of 15 feature films including titles such as Executioners From Shaolin, Clans Of Intrigue, Death Duel, The Brave Archer, and Mighty Peking Man of course (not to mention what the other Shaw brothers were dishing out). This project in particular would highlight the multi-racial productions the Shaw Brothers had become quite keen on, bringing in South Korean and Japanese filmmakers over the years as cameramen, directors, and composers, as well as co-producing many Western titles including Ridley Scott's highly regarded Blade Runner with Harrison Ford. With Mighty Peking Man, the focus was on the special effects and model building – something of which the Japanese film world had been dealing with for some time already and is known as 'tokusatsu', the Japanese term for movies or television shows that make heavy use of SFX. This was definitely a highlight of the production, with many great scenes that involve some incredible set-pieces and model work from the mountain regions of India, to the city streets of Hong Kong. Japanese effects wizard Keizo Murase, who worked on productions of many Godzilla, Mothra, and Gamera movies – including the original King Kong vs. Godzilla – does a fantastic job in helping bring Peking Man to life. This was a job that went through a couple of designs, with the final piece using real human hair that was donated by around 300 Hong Kong citizens. Murase started work with the Shaw Brothers just a year before working on Lo Chen's fantasy The Snake Prince with Ti Lung, and would return to work in Hong Kong almost a decade after this on the brilliant Seventh Curse, directed by Lam Ngai Choi and starring Chow Yun Fat, Chin Siu Ho, and Maggie Cheung – coming back a couple of years later for Sun Chung's underrated City War, once again with Chow Yun Fat and Ti Lung. Perhaps if I was to compare the work to that of Hollywood's King Kong, it would be fair to say that the giant ape suit (and more so the face) wasn't perfect, with the human eyes and body language making things a little less convincing. That said, it was to be expected of the time and certainly didn't distract too much from what was going on, but the miniature sets of the mountain areas in India and of Hong Kong were incredibly well done and highly detailed that took over 50 people around 4 months to complete. At the time, the Jardine House Building (formerly known as the Connaught Centre Building) was one of the tallest in Hong Kong at the time, and would only make sense to be used for the climactic finale that would have the giant gorilla climb up it using its uniquely circular windows.
Director Ho Meng Hua started his career in the film industry in the early 1950s as a writer and assistant director with titles such as The Valiant Dog and Orchid Of The Valley. After assisting on 5 films, Ho got the chance to make his directorial debut in 58 with An Appointment After Dark for the Shaw Brothers studio. This would secure his spot with them as an in-house director, with Ho going on to direct almost 60 titles over the course of his career. Many of these would go on to become some of the Shaw Brothers' most memorable titles including The Monkey Goes West and Princess Iron Fan, The Human Goddess, The Flying Guillotine, Black Magic 1 & 2, Dragon Missile, Oily Maniac, Vengeful Beauty, and Shaolin Hand Lock (many of which were early Shaw Brothers Blu-ray releases from 88 Films). Aside from his Japanese counterparts and some assistance from Koichi Kawakita, Ho Meng Hua would have no less than 4 Hong Kong-based assistant directors with him which included Wen Yao Hua who went on to direct his own flick called, Crack Shadow Boxers. Hung Hak, who assisted Ho on the majority of his productions from the early 70s, also joins the team as does Tong Yuen – a script supervisor and assistant director who worked on many great titles including The Pirate, The Condemned, Executioners From Shaolin, 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Shaolin Mantis, and Heroes Of The East, to name but a few. And finally, there's Wu Shih, a jack-of-all-trades who has acted in films such as City On Fire, Tiger On The Beat, and Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon, as well as having worked as an assistant director on almost 40 titles since the late 60s including A Man Called Tiger, When Taekwondo Strikes, Games Gamblers Play, Broken Oath, My Lucky Stars, Mr. Vampire, A Better Tomorrow 3, and the aforementioned Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon, again with Sammo Hung. Wu would also deliver two of his own directed pieces with 1973's Bruce Lee, The Man & The Legend and The Smart Guys alongside co-director Richard Yeung Kuen. The wonderful Yuen Cheung Yan, who also cameos with Corey Yuen Kwai towards the end as an army bomb officer, gets credited as the action-choreographer of Mighty Peking Man – but there's definitely no kung-fu going on here and offers scenes of action that could have been delivered by anyone. That said, the tiger attack and wrestling was very well done – although I'm sure if it was done today, the big cats would surely be created with CGI – as were the scenes of Evelyn Kraft just toying with them like they were teddy bears. I'm surprised she didn't get bitten or have her face clawed off, to be honest...
Swiss-born actress, Evelyn Kraft, looks beautiful as Ah Wei – the wild woman with the Tarzan-inspired backstory, who ended up in the jungle after her parent's plane crashed during a storm. Orphaned as a young girl and alone, Ah Wei was able to survive by being looked after by Ah Wang, the Mighty Peking Man himself. I must admit, I did love how the non-talking giant was able to teach her how to speak Cantonese – something I'm sure the filmmakers didn't really think about when they were making it. Kraft started her acting career in the early 70s starring in the Italian Giallo film The French Sex Murders before going on to star in Superbug 3, a German take on the family car movie Herbie which was incredibly popular at the time. Mighty Peking Man would be one of two productions Kraft would star in that year for Shaw Brothers, with the other being the Charlie's Angels/James Bond-inspired Deadly Angels for director Pao Hsueh Li. It's fair to say that she seems to be having a great time here (confirmed in the super 8 BTS footage available on this Blu-ray release) as she runs around in strips of material, or completely naked at times, swinging from vines, cuddling wild cats, and climbing trees and buildings as cinematographer Wu Cho Hua catches plenty of up-skirt shots (which I'm sure he thoroughly enjoyed). She also gets to have sex with Danny Lee – a scene that quickly became hilarious as the giant ape started perving on them doing it. This would be around the 30th title Lee would have starred in for Shaw Brothers and had already worked with directed Ho Meng Hua on films such as Killer Darts and Oily Maniac (which was also choreographed by Yuen Cheung Yan). The wonderful Ku Feng stars as sleazy show-biz man Lu Tien, and does a great job in the role. Shaw Brothers legend Norman Tsui Siu Keung starts off in the movie as if he is a big part of things, but falls to his death about 15 or 20 minutes in once the adventure begins. Perhaps he was just lending his star power to the production at the time before going off to work on one of his other films that year such as Clans Of Intrigue, Death Duel, Jade Tiger, or The Battle Wizard, which would see him star alongside Lee once again.
While not perfect and incredibly campy, Mighty Peking Man still proves to be a hell of a lot of fun and puts its own stamp on a classic tale – which saves it from being a complete write-off. It's clear that the Shaw Brothers had a plan to cash in on the success of its western counterpart and with their live-in screenwriter, Ni Kuang, behind the script – did a decent job in providing an entertaining piece. Although released previously on Blu-ray in the UK by 88 Films, this version I watched was part of the first gorgeous box set by Arrow Video known as Shaw Scope Vol. 1 – a collection of Shaw Brothers movies restored and compiled, with a ton of extras and more. The disc also includes the unrestored English dub of the film and when you watch them side-by-side for a comparison, you would think this new version was only made last week – it's a stunning presentation. Because of that, I think I enjoyed Mighty Peking Man even more and look forward to going back to it soon enough for more campy, Hong Kong monster fun!
Overall: A fun and camp adventure, Mighty Peking Man may not have the polish of Hollywood's King Kong, but it probably proves to be a bit more entertaining if I'm honest!
Blu-ray Extras: Unrestored Standard-Definition Version, Audio Commentary with Travis Crawford, Interview with Suit Designer Keizo Murase, Interview with Ho Meng Hua, Interview with Ku Feng, Behind The Scenes Super-8 Footage, Alternate Opening Credits, Trailers, Image Gallery
Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE
MONK COMES DOWN THE
Original Title: Dao Shi Xia Shan (aka) A Monk In A Floating World
Directed by Chen Kaige Produced by Xu Xu Dong Action by Dee Dee Ku Starring: Wang Bao Qiang, Aaron Kowk, Lin Chi Ling, Chang Chen, Fan Wei, Yuen Wah, Vanness Wu, Wang Xue Qi, Danny Chan, Lam Suet, Tiger Chen, Jaycee Chan, Li Xue Jian Reviewing: Netflix UK Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama / Comedy
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: A monk leaves his monastery and ventures out into the real world for the first time in his life, and ends up in an adventure with a kung-fu master who is guarding a special artifact. (123 Mins)
Views: Chen Kaige's adaptation of Xu Hao Feng's acclaimed novel has become somewhat of a Marmite movie for viewers since its release, but for myself – I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. While the story of Monk Comes Down The Mountain starts like an old-school kung-fu classic, the film quickly becomes a bizarre blend of Pinocchio and Kung Fu Hustle, with shades of Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend and Johnnie To's Running On Karma laced throughout. Dare I say it, but there were even moments here that reminded me of The Matrix to some degree! For most people, this just doesn't work at all – and especially coming from a master film-maker such as Chen – but for me, I adore different and really enjoyed what was on offer. Packed with a wonderful array of characters, many of which displayed superhuman powers and abilities, Monk Comes Down The Mountain takes its viewers on a compelling journey before delivering a strong and positive message at the end. The superb Wang Bao Qiang stars as He An Xia, the young Shaolin monk who is sent out to experience the real world. On his journey, An Xia meets a collection of saints and sinners while learning the true meaning of Buddhism as well as who he really is. This was a fantastic role for Wang, allowing him to show a wide range of acting from a giddy and naïve young monk to a strong and mature man who has been pushed through a host of emotional events over the years from loss and betrayal, to love. An Xia's journey sees him find guidance from a variety of different masters and father-like figures, starting with street physician Tsui Daoning – an ex-monk who moved to the city to learn western medicine. It's here that He meets Tsui's beautiful wife, Yu Zhen, who happens to be having a love affair with the doctor's playboy brother, Daorong. From here, An Xia finds that life is a constant roller-coaster as it brings him lesson after lesson, and master after master – and often with harsh consequences...
Tsui Daoning is played by the wonderful Fan Wei, a popular Chinese actor with almost 50 credits to his name including Cell Phone, A World Without Thieves, The Road, City Of Life & Death, Personal Tailor, and many more. His wife is played by the gorgeous Lin Chi Ling, a starlet who debuted in John Woo's Red Cliff 1 & 2 as Xiao Qiao, with Vanness Wu starring as his playboy brother Daorong – a man that sports a wild hair-do and is as camp as the day is long, but is quite happy to steal his brother's wife regardless of the consequences. While he made his feature film debut in 1988's Chopper & The Six Friends, Wu never really made an impact until Daniel Lee's martial arts drama, Star Runner almost 15 years later. Since then he joined forces again with Lee for the fantastic Three Kingdoms: Resurrection Of The Dragon, Dragon Squad, and Dragon Blade alongside Jackie Chan, as well as starring in titles such as Kung Fu Fighter, Kung Fu Chefs, Ah-Choo, and Ip Man 4. As time passes, An Xia soon meets a powerful fighter by the name of Zhao, played by Danny Chan Kwok Kwan who shot to fame in Stephen Chow Sing Chi's Shaolin Soccer thanks to his Bruce Lee-like qualities. Although he had been around for a few years prior, Chan's career has since seen him star in films such as Kung Fu Hustle, Just Another Pandora's Box, Ip Man 3 & 4, Kung Fu League, and The Rookies alongside Hollywood starlet, Milla Jovovich. Here, Chan gets to face off against the legendary Yuen Wah who plays the wicked Peng Qian Wu – his very own teacher who refuses to let him take over the clan and leave his son behind. Yuen Wah, of course, needs no introduction and had starred in over 170 films by this stage of his career. With thanks to Chow Sing Chi once again, Wah saw a resurgence of his career after he was cast as the hilarious landlord in the superb Kung Fu Hustle – and had co-starred with Danny Chan in a number of films through to this. The gorgeous Aaron Kwok gets a wonderful role as Zhou Xiyu – a zen-like priest that brings the story together with his connection to the majority of people An Xia meets along the way. I really liked Kwok in this role. It reminded me somewhat of his role in The Barefooted Kid – albeit the continuation of a much more mature character in some ways. He is master to Boss Zha, a wild soldier he met on the battlefield many years before after saving his life, taming his wild side, and teaching him the ways of the martial arts. Boss Zha is played by the brilliant Chang Chen, an actor whose career rose to new heights when he starred in the Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. From there, Chen went on to star in films such as Chinese Odyssey 2002, Blood Brothers, 2046, Red Cliff 1 & 2, The Grandmaster, Brotherhood Of Blades 1 & 2, and The Last Supper. Here, Chen continues to show off his martial skills as he goes up against a host of fighters – one of which is the great Tiger Chen of Triple Threat fame. And finally, the wonderful Jaycee Chan appears as Qizi, the son of Yuen Wah's leader of the Nine Dragon clan. His initial introduction is quite funny, as he offers to cook a meat dish for the young monk in return for information about the man who roughed up his father. But after one bite, both of them take such a reaction to the poisoned meat that brings on some hallucinations and leaves them with a face as big as a melon. I found it quite ironic that Jaycee played a character involved in passing off a drug to a new friend (as well as the hallucinogenic themed jokes) considering the actor himself was arrested for the possession of marijuana and left out of all publicity for this film upon its release – much to the disgrace of his father. Regardless, he does a great job as Qizi and brings some emotion to the role as well as some laughs with plenty of comic moments. The rest of the cast is filled out with many recognisable faces including the brilliant Lam Suet – one of Hong Kong's busiest actors who has over 260 credits to his name – and Wang Xue Qi who starred in films such as Warriors Of Heaven & Earth, Bodyguards & Assassins, Sacrifice, and Reign Of Assassins!
While Monk Comes Down The Mountain may take two or three viewings to completely understand, there's no denying that Chen Kaige has done a wonderful job as the director. Apart from a beautiful score by George Acogny, Monk Comes Down The Mountain scores big points with some gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Geoffrey Simpson, an Australian cinematographer who captured the images of movies such as Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe, Shine, Center Stage, Under The Tuscan Sun, Cargo, and Chinese sci-fi flick, Shanghai Fortress, with Shu Qi. And while there are many naturally beautiful images on offer, there are equally as many enhanced by CGI – most of which work well, although some are noticeably rough around the edges. These are hardly off-putting mind you and reminded me of the CG work in Kung Fu Hustle, mainly coming about during moments of superhuman abilities to enhance fight scenes and moves – or tell a brief part of the tale through animation. While Kaige had a huge action team behind him here, the fight choreography was under the control of Dee Dee Ku along with Alan Fung Wai Lun and Shu Jian, with Bruce Law handling the vehicle action. To me, Monk Comes Down The Mountain is one of the best Yuen Woo Ping movies never directed by Yuen Woo Ping, and apart from some moments of comedy and characters throughout, this would mainly be because of the action. Dee Dee Ku started life in the Hong Kong film industry starring in Hong Kong classics such as My Lucky Stars, Royal Warriors, A Better Tomorrow 2, and Tiger On The Beat (as well as working as a stunt double for Jet Li in many films) and began trying his hand at action-choreography on films such as Holy Robe Of The Shaolin Temple, Mirage, Born To Defence, Revenge Of Angel, and Stone Age Warriors. In the early 90s, Ku would find himself lucky enough to be taken under the wing of master Yuen Woo Ping to work on films such as Tiger Cage 3, God Of Gamblers 3: Back To Shanghai, Iron Monkey, Tai Chi Master, Black Mask, and many more and went on to be an action director in his own right. But it's easy to see that his time with Woo Ping made quite the impression, as in Monk Comes Down The Mountain he brings a ton of fantastic martial arts sequences to the screen. And while they may not be the greatest fights ever committed to celluloid, they all still prove to be hugely entertaining and wildly imaginative for the most part, blending the aforementioned moments of superhuman abilities with some skillful wire-work to make it all a little more special.
While this Chinese/Hollywood co-production did pretty well at the domestic box office, I'd imagine it would still get lost to many western viewers because of its strong philosophies and shift in tones. But for me, Monk Comes Down The Mountain is a stunning and impressive piece with great performances from all involved with plenty of emotion, genuine laughs, and enough great fight scenes that kept me glued. This is one I'll be going back to time and time again...
Overall: A comic book kung-fu flick with plenty to enjoy, Monk Comes Down The Mountain is full of stunning visuals, wisdom, and exciting fight scenes!
MONKEY KUNG FU
(Hong Kong 1979)
Original Title: Chu Long Ma Liu (aka) Stroke Of Death; Drunken Monkey
Directed by John Law Ma Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Ching Siu Tung, Tony Leung Siu Hung Starring: Tony Ching Siu Tung, Hau Chiu Sing, Lam Fai Wong, Fong Ping, Shum Lo, Wong Mei Mei, Tony Leung Siu Hung, Chiang Sheng, Kwan Fung, Benz Kong, Lam Wai, Paul Wong, Wan Fat Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Tradition Kung-Fu / Comedy
Rating - 4 / 5
Blu-ray Synopsis: From director Mar Lo (Shaolin Thief), and starring Siu-Tung Ching (The Shaolin Boxer) comes this fast-moving Wuxia classic from the legendary Shaw Brothers studio. When prisoner Ching is given half of a wooden keepsake by a one eyed-master about to be executed, he breaks out of prison to go in search of the other half to discover its purpose. However, on his quest he is pursued by a gang leader who will also stop at nothing find out its secrets. Embroiling mystical promise, an adventurous journey and a search for the truth into its winding storyline, Monkey Kung Fu AKA Stroke Of Death is a uniquely satisfying late seventies delve into the magical world of martial arts Hong Kong cinema. (93 Mins)
Views: After being jailed for murder, Wei Chung is forced to share a cell with a feared death-row prisoner called Ma Siu Tien who is highly skilled in the art of monkey kung-fu. But during his time there, Wei stands-up to the one-eyed man and gains respect from his cell-mate for doing so. Because of their new-found friendship, Ma passes half of a wooden medal to Wei on the eve of his execution – with orders to find the person with the other part. The following day, Wei manages to escape with a fellow prisoner named Zhou (of whom he is chained to). As the pair try in many ways to break free from their chain, a man called Tung Hei Fung and his fighters begin their search for Wei to take back the wooden medal that he was given. As they win fight after fight and try to stay one step ahead of Tung and his men, Wei soon learns that Zhou holds the other piece of the medal. Together, the new friends must learn the art of the drunken monkey to prepare themselves for a showdown with Tung and a fight to the death!
While I can easily confess to being a huge fan of Tony Ching Siu Tung, I must admit that I never knew of this Shaw Brothers production until it was announced by UK label, 88 Films, as one of their new releases. But I'm glad they did, because as simple as the plot is, Monkey Kung Fu is a highly enjoyable kung-fu comedy that oozes the same energy and exciting physicality as films such as Snake In The Eagles Shadow, Knockabout, Fearless Hyena, Crystal Fist, and many more. Written by the prolific Szeto On and director Lo Mar, Monkey Kung Fu isn't exactly hard to follow and is all about showing-off the martial skills and gymnastics of its main cast. Of course, that's an easy task when you have the incredible Tony Ching Siu Tung as your leading man – making his debut here in his first full-featured role and coming across very similar to that of Yuen Biao in Knockabout. Tony Ching was born into the industry as the son of famed Shaw Brothers director, Cheng Kang, the man behind titles such as The Sword Of Swords, 14 Amazons, Flying Guillotine 2, and Trilogy Of Swordsmanship. After starting as an extra and bit-player in the late 60s, Ching started working behind the scenes as a choreographer on some of his fathers films and more, and by the time Monkey Kung Fu had come about he had appeared in well over 25 films including bit-parts in films such as Come Drink With Me, 14 Amazons, Hapkido, Superior Youngster, The Shaolin Boxer, The Tournament, The Tea House, and more. But his starring roles were destined to go as fast as they had come with Ching starring in a handful of flicks over a two year period including Snake Shadow Lama Fist, He Who Never Dies, Disco Bumpkins, Young Outcasts, and the brilliant Master Strikes. But only a few years later, Tony Ching Siu Tung would cement his name as a Hong Kong director to watch out for when he made his directorial debut in 1983 with the incredible, Duel To The Death – doubling-up as the action-choreographer also which quickly saw him booked by every major film-maker in Hong Kong as their go-to guy. While he has only directed 18 titles to date – including A Chinese Ghost Story 1-3, Swordsman 1-3, Dr. Wai & The Scripture With No Words, Naked Weapon, and An Empress & The Warriors – Ching has choreographed the action on hit films such as A Better Tomorrow 2, The Killer, City Hunter, Peking Opera Blues, New Dragon Gate Inn, A Chinese Odyssey 1 & 2, Butterfly & Sword, Future Cops, Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, The Warlords, and so many more. For Monkey Kung Fu, Ching is joined by Hau Chiu Sing, a footballer-turned-actor that made his debut in the Wilson Tong penned and choreographed Snake In The Monkeys Shadow. While this would come in as his second feature, Hau would go on to star in the brilliant Five Superfighters for director Lo Mar and Shaw Brothers studios, before working on a Billy Chong trilogy with the awesome Crystal Fist, Sun Dragon, and Super Power, before giving his final role as the villainous Tiger Kuo in the fun Shaolin Drunk Fighter. While I've never been a huge fan of the odd-looking guy, I did think that Hau did a good enough job here- although was certainly not a match for the physical skills of his co-star...
These guys are joined by Kwan Fung who plays the role of the villain, Tung Hei Fung. This would actually only be his fourth starring role after appearing in Lo Mar's films like Magnificent Spearman, The Boxer From The Temple, and Ten Tigers Of Kwantung, but Kwan would continue to stick with the studio for a few years after going-on to star in Five Superfighters soon after before films such as The Fighting Fool, Flag Of Iron, Sword Stained With Royal Blood, Five Element Ninjas, and so much more. He is joined by Chiang Cheng (aka the great Rambo Kong), a popular and talented actor who plays the dual role here of one-eyed prisoner Ma and one of Tung's heavies. After making his debut in the awesome 10 Magnificent Killers, Chiang went onto star in a number of great titles including 36 Crazy Fists, Tigress Of Shaolin, My Kung Fu 12 Kicks, The Fighting Fool, Shaolin Drunk Fighter, and the Hollywood blockbuster Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story as the angry kung-fu chef. He is joined by the wonderful Tony Leung Siu Hung – brother to the fantastic Bruce Leung/Liang, star of Kung Fu Hustle, Gallants, and so much more; both of whom are the sons of famed martial artist/actor/choreographer Leung Siu Chung – who also plays the dual roles of a thug and a fighter for Tung Hei Fung. Working alongside Ching Siu Tung as an extra in films such as his father's 14 Amazons and more, Leung went onto star in over 50 films through to Donnie Yen's Ip Man movies and make a name for himself as the director of films like Thunderclap, Guns Of Dragon, Satin Steel, Superfights, and Bloodmoon with Gary Daniels, as well as being a very sought-after action-choreographer having worked on films like Iron Angels, Magic Crystal, Ip Man, My Heart Is That Eternal Rose, The Tigers, A Fistful Of Talons, Sex & Zen, and much more. In Monkey Kung Fu, Leung doubles-up his duties (or triples) as he provides the wonderful kung-fu action on display alongside star Tony Ching Siu Tung, with both providing a wide range of amazing work. Popular Shaw Brothers bad guy Wan Fat plays the third member of Tung's group of fighters, and delivers plenty of great moves when in action. Having started with the studio as an extra in 1972's brilliant Boxer From Shantung, Wan soon started to make a name for himself as an actor and went on to appear in titles such as The Master Of Kung Fu, Heroes Two, Iron Fisted Monk, 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Vice Squad 633, Snake In The Monkeys Shadow, and more. Wan would stick around with the team that same year to also star in Five Superfighters before moving onto Seasonal Films Lackey & The Lady Tiger and The Masters Strikes – which would see him star alongside Ching Siu Tung once again. Aside from acting and the odd-role of choreographer, Wan Fat would also work as an assistant director – many of which were for Jackie Chan in films such as Police Story 1 & 2, Project A 2, Armour Of God, Miracles, Dragons Forever, Crime Story, and Drunken Master 2 – as well as on Ching Siu Tung's directorial debut, Duel To The Death back in '83. It was also great to see many other recognisable faces pop-up throughout for some great action moments or cameos such as Benz Kong, Shum Lo, Lam Fai Wong, Lee Chun Wa, David Lam Wai, Sham Chin Bo, and Wong Mei Mei who plays Andy Lau's sister in the wonderful Magic Crystal.
I really enjoyed Monkey Kung Fu. While it was hardly the greatest film ever made and offered up some hit-and-miss moments of slapstick comedy, it certainly entertained and displayed an incredible amount of physical genius and superb kung-fu that matches the early works of Jackie Chan and others, as mentioned. Director Lo Mar delivered a number of decent titles throughout his career such as the Crazy Bumpkin Quadrilogy, Tiger, Magnificent Spearman, The Boxer From The Temple, Five Superfighters, and Young Hero with Hwang Jang Lee, but he was never considered to be one of the Shaw Brothers finest unlike that of Chang Cheh, Lau Kar Wing, Chor Yuen, and Ho Meng Hua respectively. Regardless, he provides an entertaining piece with this one that is boosted with the presence and talents of his young cast who have all went onto greater things, and I look forward to getting back to Monkey Kung Fu sometime soon!
Overall: Packed with energy and great choreography, Monkey Kung Fu is a fun watch that highlights the talents of Ching Siu Tung, Tony Leung Siu Hung, and others perfectly!
Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Kenneth Brorsson & Phil Gillon, Interview with Tony Leung Siu Hung, Trailers
THE MYSTICAL TREASURE
Original Title: Bai Men Wu Jia (aka) The Treasure Mystical
Directed by Zhang Zhe Lin Produced by Wang Zhen Ni, Du Jiu Hang Action by Zhao Peng Starring: Ryan Yuan, Xia Yang, Wen Dong Jun, Ceng Ni, Zheng Ya Fei, Liu Xin Yu, Liu Dong, Li Hua Fei, Zhang Yi Dan, Shao Xiao Jiang Reviewing: Hi-Yah TV Release Genres: Wuxia / Fantasy / Drama
Rating - 2.5 / 5
Synopsis: Ge Zhen joins a killer organisation known as The 12 Troops. Caught up in a whirlwind of loyalty and betrayal, the warrior soon learns about the coexistence of evil and justice (73 Mins)
Views: There's not a lot I know about this 2018 web-movie except that it passed an hour for me in a pretty enjoyable way. The Mystical Treasure never really made much sense for the most part, playing like a modern-day wuxia adventure with elements of a Chinese fantasy computer game, but it definitely had its moments. The film boasted an interesting blend of modern costume and haircuts that really stood-out from it's traditional Chinese setting making its leading man, and some scenes in particular, come across like a blend of the popular television series Into The Badlands with Japanese fantasy Zipang, courtesy of its steampunk like weapons and wings. But then there were also the moments of action that owed more to Andrew Lau's 1998 comic book movie The Storm Riders, with its blend of cartoonish CGI, fancy swords and super-powered moves – so it's quite the mix!
The leading man is played by the handsome Ryan Yuan Bu, a new-enough actor that starred alongside Jackie Chan in Chinese Zodiac, as well as appearing in the fantastic Brotherhood Of Blades 2, and the Chinese fire-fighting drama, Blast. Wen Dong Jun, who also shared the screen with Jackie in the disappointing Skiptrace, co-stars along with a host of young new faces who were only starting out on their career. The Mystical Treasure is directed by Zhang Zhe Lin, in what would be his 3rd title after White Snake and Magic Dolls from the year before. He also went on to direct Ip Man: The Awakening Master in 2021, that saw child-star and wushu wonder Xie Miao kicking ass as the kung-fu master. Of course, Miao stole the show many times when he starred as Jet Li's son in both My Father Is A Hero and New Legend Of Shaolin, as well as impressing in his role in God Of Gamblers Returns with Chow Yun Fat. The Mystical Treasure definitely seems to be missing something, but it does offer some nice cinematography and exciting moments of wuxia action. While I wouldn't say that it was essential viewing, I'd also say that it wouldn't be a complete waste of time if you just wanted to kill an hour...
Overall: A little messy and far from perfect, yet at times beautiful and exciting, The Mystical Treasure is a bizarre little web-movie that has its moments!