A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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#ALIVE

(South Korea 2020) 

Original Title: #Saraitda #살아있다

 

Directed by Il Cho Produced by Kim Sae-Mi, Kim Sae-Rom, Eugene Lee, Oh Hyo-Jin Starring: Yoo Ah-In, Park Shin-Hye, Jeon Bae-Soo, Lee Hyun-Wook, Jeon Woon-Jong, Oh Hye-Won, Lee Kyu-Ho, Jeo Woon-Jong, So Hee-Jung Reviewing: Netflix UK Release Genres: Zombie / Horror / Drama

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Synopsis: The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. This is his story. (98 Mins)

Views: Even though I've always been a fan of zombie movies and even directed two zombie features of my own, I had held back from rushing to see #Alive on its initial release. One reason was that Netflix didn't exactly release an exciting enough trailer to grab me and, the other was that I had far too much amazing Hong Kong cinema that I still had to get through on DVD and Blu-ray, and there just wasn't enough hours in a day, to be honest. But in saying that, I have long championed the filmmakers of South Korea and stated many times that they have certainly impressed me the most since the turn-of-the-century (both in terms of feature films and television content), so at 6am this morning, I finally forced myself to sit down and watch this new, modern zombie flick. Some have hailed #Alive as a remake of a French horror flick called, The Night Eats The World, while others have pointed out the similarities between the main character of Oh Joon-Woo to that of Kondo Tatsumi in Max Brooks' book, World War Z – An Oral history Of The Zombie War (Complete Edition), swapping Japan for Korea. Ironically, this film was released in its home country amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and had the biggest box-office opening for 21 days before going on to take the top ranking in VOD sales afterward!

 

Set in and around a small apartment block – which helps keep everything pretty tense and claustrophobic, we follow the story of teen gamer and layabout Oh Joon-Woo, who awakens one morning to find his family away shopping. As Joon-Woo sits down for a morning of gaming, his world is immediately thrown into chaos as wi-fi communications and phone signals are lost, with television announcements breaking news of a national emergency that is seeing people becoming violent and warning everyone to stay at home. Not even a second has passed, when the very same problem is going on right outside Joon-Woo's front door, launching him into full survival mode – although not without its problems. When a neighbour bursts into his apartment to hide, Joon-Woo gets his first zombie encounter up close and personal – letting him see first-hand just what it is that he is up against. From his fourth-floor balcony, he watches as a mother and daughter find each other among the carnage, only to see the young girl change in her mother's arms and take chunks out of her neck! Later, he watches in horror as a female police-officer runs through the crowds of the undead, shooting and ducking before being taken down and pushed across the parking lot like a mop, as the zombies try to eat her. The more horror he sees and the more he begins to feel alone, Joon-Woo soon starts to break emotionally. During an attempt to hang himself, the distraught young man is interrupted by the red light of a laser, spelling out to him to stop by using different bits of artwork and posters around his home. Noticing another survivor in the apartment block facing, Joon-Woo frantically breaks his noose – ecstatic to see another human being that doesn't want to eat him. Thus begins the next chapter of survival as Joon-Woo and female survivor Kim Yoo-Bin (played wonderfully by Park Shin-Hye), figure out a way to escape their homely prisons, get together and survive the horde of undead outside their front door...

 

There definitely is a likeability about #Alive – both due to its intimate setting and leading man, Yoo Ah-In. And while it may start with a little tongue-in-cheek humour here and there, director Il Cho quickly makes sure his audience knows that this is a serious affair, with some dark, emotional and dramatic moments portrayed by the handsome Yoo, as well as many tense and horrific close calls that will have you on the edge of your seat. As only the second directorial effort from Cho, I have to say it's a pretty damn good offering with only minor flaws that really shouldn't come to light with a mainstream audience. At the time of writing I have yet to see his directorial debut, Jin – but would say that he is one to watch after the success of this project. And while it may not offer the same shock impact or heavy emotional ride that Train To Busan did upon initial viewing, #Alive still has its moments. The zombies, for example, are offered up and performed in the same way as Train – with violent, jerky reactions when changing, and a feral approach to attacking victims, with no regard for what other zombies (or actors) are around them when the camera is rolling. And while the likes of 28 Days Later and World War Z totally impressed with their zombies, I don't think I've seen scarier or more realistic looking undead than what gets offered up in Korean zombie flicks. One crazy scene, in particular, stands out in my head which features a fireman zombie. After finding a hanging rope that leads to the balcony of the girl's apartment, he starts climbing up to get her, while she lies on the floor unconscious. It makes for a pretty scary and intense moment!

 

The third act of the film cranks things up even more and gets the adrenaline going, but I'll not give anything else away. I liked #Alive, and while it may be a while before I get round to watching it again, I'd definitely recommend it to fans of horror and zombie films – or anyone just looking for an exciting watch. While most Western zombie films can come across as the same old thing, #Alive does seem a little fresh. Give it a go, even just once...

 

It's dead good!

 

Overall: Exciting, tense, and well made, #Alive is worth the watch!

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2 GREAT CAVALIERS

(Taiwan 1978) 

Original Title: Ci Xiong Shuang Sha 雌雄雙煞 (aka) Two Great Cavaliers; Blade Of Fury; Deadly Duo

 

Directed by Yang Ching Chen Produced by Chen Wen Sen Action by Kwan Hung, Leung Kar Yan Starring: Angela Mao Ying, John Liu, Leung Kar Yan, Chen Sing, Wen Chiang Long, Chin Lung, Shih Chung Tien, Kwan Hung Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Drama / Traditional Kung Fu 

Rating - 2.7 / 5

Synopsis: After a gang of Manchu killers murder Ou Yang Chun's fiancee while in search of a list containing the names of all Ming Dynasty rebels, the angered fighter teams up with lady warrior Hsiao Mei to take revenge! (94 Mins)

 

Views: There's no denying that this late 70s Taiwanese flick will grab the attention of kung-fu fans with it's main stars, but 2 Great Cavaliers isn't anything too special in the grand scheme of things. Although simple in plot, the film-makers tend to let things get a little more complicated and the edit of this particular version doesn't exactly help (never mind the English dub). As the film rolls along it offers up a few twists here-and-there, but nothing too surprising ever comes from it. And after many fights, double-crossings, deaths, and deadly traps, it all boils down to a big showdown in the grand finale that sees four heroic fighters take on the major bad guy – offering up plenty of great kicking action and exciting moves!

I often wonder how much better films like this would look in a cleaned-up, restored version that allows us to see things in its original ratio (and language) and with what the director actually intended. I do love Taiwanese kung-fu films from this era as they usually offer plenty of fun characters in lavish costumes and wildly inventive choreography – and 2 Great Cavaliers is no exception. While it's not amazing and has plenty of flaws throughout, the film still entertains with plenty of decent kung-fu action, and that's really what we all came here for to be honest. Super-kicker John Liu plays Ou Yang Chung, a rebel fighter who is attacked every-which-way he turns and has problems with his lady who likes to get him in trouble. But at the same time, he looks great with a costume and style that looks like he had just stepped off the set of his co-star's more superior film, Broken Oath. Although he made his debut in 1972's Great Boxer, Liu would catch the attention of the kung-fu world when he was cast as Hsiao Yi Fei in Ng See Yuen's amazing classic, Secret Rivals. After starring in its sequel the following year, Liu went on to star in classics such as The Invincible Armour, Snuff Bottle Connection, Invincible Kung Fu Trio, and Mars Villa before starring in this. A student of the great Dorian Tan Tao Liang, John Liu continued acting into the early 80s, turning his hand to directing with Zen Kwun Do Strikes In Paris in 1979. This was followed by In The Claws Of The CIA and Dragon Blood soon after, before Liu went state-side in 1984 to make the infamous New York Ninja. After running into some major production difficulties before the film was actually finished, Liu abandoned the project altogether and retired from the industry – refusing to take part in interviews or public life, except for making an appearance in Robert Tai's 1998 flick Trinity Goes East, for producer Toby Russell. New York Ninja lay unedited and unseen for almost 30 years, until director and producer Kurtis Spieler came across it in the vaults of his new workplace. After viewing what was on the reels, Spieler made his ambition to bring Liu's unseen final film to life, with New York Ninja finally getting an incredible release on Blu-ray courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome in 2021 (check out my review elsewhere on the site, and my unboxing video on the Invincible Asia YouTube channel)...

 

The wonderful Angela Mao Ying stars as Hsiao Mei, the heroine of the piece and scene stealer of 2 Great Cavaliers. Although she started acting the same year as Liu, Mao Ying managed to rack-up a hefty 27 films prior to this including classics like Lady Whirlwind, Hapkido, Enter The Dragon, The Fate Of Lee Khan, When Taekwondo Strikes, A Queen's Ransom, and Broken Oath. The late 70s saw her move into more independent Taiwanese productions with The Lady Constables, Swift Shaolin Boxer, and Legendary Strike following this in 1978, before going on to star in a small number of titles before her retirement from the industry around 1984 after her marriage to Kelly Lau. Handsome Taiwanese actor Wen Chiang Long stars as troubled swordsman and hired killer, Pai Lung Hsing. Over the years, Wen headlined quite a number of films racking-up almost 60 film credits to his name overall and started off in the industry with a role in Fly Swallow Vs One Eyed Knight (1968). The young star joined forces with Joseph Kuo only a few years later to star in The Death Duel and Triangular Duel – going on to star in Tiger Boxer, Rikisha Kuri, Iron ManHero Of Kwantong and Shaolin Kung Fu. Plenty more fun films would soon follow such as Tiger Jungle, Mars Men, Eight Hundred Heroes, 18 Shaolin Riders, Fight For Shaolin Tamo Mystique, Idiot Swordsman, Shaolin Invincible Guys, The Master & The Kid, and much more including The Super Rider series of films which were a Taiwanese take on the popular Kamen Rider from Japan. The always impressive Leung Kar Yan pops-up to deliver the opening action sequence, as well as taking part in the closing battle, and the great prolific actor Chen Sing stars as Kuan Yu Chung, the villain of the piece whose black-hand-strike gets accompanied by the sounds of gun shots with each strike. Of course, both co-stars get to take part in a couple of fight scenes which are mainly the book-ends of the film. A number of recognisable Taiwanese actors also appear throughout including Shih Chung Tien, Chin Lung, Ching Kuo Chung, Chen Hsin I, Kwan Hung, and Chang Hung Chi.

 

Director Yang Ching Chen doesn't do too bad a job to be honest, although never gives viewers anything overly memorable to talk about. Yang worked as the assistant director on Wang Yu's classics Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman, The Chinese Boxer, and One-Armed Boxer, before making his own directorial debut in 1973 with The Dragon & Tiger Joint Hands. Apart from his work here, Yang would go on to direct titles such as Heroine, 18 Fatal Strikes, Shaolin Heroes, Gambling Ghost Are Ready, and The Drug Hunt in '95 with Dick Wei which would be his last. As well as co-starring in 2 Great Cavaliers, Leung Kar Yan doubles up as one of the fight choreographers of the show – in what would be his second effort after Clutch Of Power the year before. He is joined by co-star Kwan Hung, an equally prolific actor who first debuted in 1968 with the King's Sword. Unlike Kar Yan, Kwan had been working as a martial arts director since the early 70s on films like The Sword, Showdown, Beach Of The War Gods (a personal favourite), The Brave Lion, and more. Between the two of them, Kar Yan and Kwan Hung deliver some pretty decent stuff when it comes to the fight scenes, making use of John Liu's brilliant kicking techniques and Mao Ying's wonderful-self. Much like the director though, there isn't really anything too spectacular -but it's definitely not a complete waste of time!

 

Overall: Typical of its time, 2 Great Cavaliers has enough going on but is far from being a classic of kung-fu cinema!

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2 YOUNG

(Hong Kong 2005) 

Original Title: Jo Sok 早熟

 

Directed by Derek Yee Produced by Henry Fong Action by Chin Kar Lok Starring: Jaycee Chan, Fiona Sit, Eric Tsang, Teresa Mo, Anthony Wong, Candice Yu, David Chaing, Lam Suet, Shiu Hung Hui, Chin Kar Lok, Henry Fong Reviewing: Panorama HK DVD Release Genres: Teen Drama

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Synopsis: Ka Fu (Fong – aka Chan) is born into a working-class family. He is happy since he has a very loving family. Natalie (Sit) grows up in a very affluent family. Her parents want her to have the best and thus have lined up a rich education for her. However, Natalie is not happy. She finds no love from her parents and they are often away on business trips. Ka Fu and Natalie are from two different worlds. They are not related in any way, but fate throws them together. Natalie accidentally falls pregnant. Ka Fu's parents are so furious because they find their son following in their footsteps. They do not want Ka Fu to regret when he gets older. However, they are finally moved by the love of the young pair. (107 Mins)

Views: To be honest, 2 Young sat unwatched in my DVD collection for over 12 years. Even though I knew the cast and crew involved in it, I just never had any urge to watch a teen-drama from Hong Kong as soppy looking as this did. The main focus of 2 Young is on the forbidden teenage romance of Chan and Sit, along with the problems they bring their parents as they start the journey of becoming parents and soon learn the struggles of family life. It's a fairly simple tale that happens quite a lot in most of our lives (to some degree), so as one of the first reviews in my collection I finally had to dust it off and give it a watch. And well – I only wish I had done so sooner! Celebrated director Derek Yee (Shinjuku Incident) delivers yet another a beautiful film that hits hard in many departments. From the great acting of its amazing cast to the delivery of emotion, and from the sprinkles of light-hearted comedy to being able to capture many moments of realism – I have to admit that 2 Young had me crying no less than 3 times during its running time!

As the son of my all-time hero and the legend that is Jackie Chan, the young Jaycee Chan sure had some big shoes to fill in order to show that he could hold-his-own when it came to having a film career. His début was, of course, in the disappointing (although fun) Twins Effect 2, but with 2 Young we really get to see what he is capable of and, to be honest, I think Jaycee nails it. His cuteness and charm play well alongside Fiona Sit as his teen love interest, and both do a great job in such a drama-heavy story. This was the feature film debut for Sit Hoi Kei who obviously made enough of a splash to keep her career going, having since starred in movies such as Love Undercover 3, Simply Actors, Vugaria, Golden Chickeness, 12 Golden Ducks, and more. The same can be said for Mr. Chan, who made one hell of a splash in Benny Chan's awesome action flick, Invisible Target, just a couple of years later. Since then, Chan Cho Ming has went on to star in (and impress) a number of great titles such as The Drummer, Shinjuku Incident, Tracing Shadow, Mulan, 1911, Double Trouble, Monk Comes Down The Mountain, and Railroad Tigers – once again, starring alongside his legendary father. Of course, Derek Yee wasn't just going to risk this whole production on a couple of new-comers and managed to gather a top cast to work with them in the shape of the amazing Eric Tsang and Teresa Mo who play Chan's parents. At this stage of the game, Tsang had been in the business for over 30 years already, starring in a host of amazing titles from the Shaw Brothers classic 14 Amazons through to the Infernal Affairs Trilogy, leading up to this. I've always been a huge fan of Eric's and he certainly doesn't disappoint here, delivering some great dramatic moments and well as some laughs. The wonderful Teresa Mo Sun Kwan, who made her debut in the late 1970's but really exploded onto the film scene in the 90s, does a fantastic job as Jaycee's mum and went onto bag herself the award for Best Supporting Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards that year. The great Anthony Wong appears as Fiona's strict father – playing a pretty straight-laced role in only 1 of his 8 roles that year, which included the super-fun Stephen Fung directed House Of Fury and Andrew Lau directed Initial D with Jay Chou. His wife is played by the lovely Candice Yu, a starlet who launched her film career in the mid-70s with titles such as Let's Rock, Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat, Writing Kung Fu, as well as Shaw Brothers classics Legend Of The Bat and Death Duel where she would co-star alongside her 2 Young director, Derek Yee Tung Sing...

Regular face of many Hong Kong films, Shiu Hung Hui, co-stars as a butler for Sit's family and the ever-popular Lam Suet gets a fun cameo as the headmaster of a school. Jamie Luk pops up for a bit and producer Henry Fong plays a fun role as shop owner who employs Jaycee to deliver gas bottles on a bike. The wonderful Chin Kar Lok also co-stars and doubles-up as the action-choreographer of the film, but there really isn't too much going on in that department that leaves a lasting impression. A host of other recognisable faces from Hong Kong cinema help fill-out 2 Young, but they never distract from what the 2 new stars have to offer. As an actor, Derek Yee most certainly impressed over the years from his beginnings in the late 1970s in titles such as Lady Exterminator, Death Duel, The Sentimental Swordsman, Legend Of The Bat, and much more – but as a director, Yee has shown the world that he can deliver some of the most amazing pieces of Hong Kong cinema from his directorial debut of The Lunatics in 1986 through to People's Hero with Ti Lung, Full Throttle with Andy Lau, Shinjuku Incident with Jackie Chan, and Sword Master with Kenny Lin, as well as many other great titles including this one.

Perhaps as a parent in my 40's with teenage kids of my own, I can relate to 2 Young a little more than I would have upon its initial release, and with that I definitely fell in love with the film. But I also know for sure that it never bored me or lost my attention for one second, and these days that's a rare thing!

Overall: A new favourite of mine with an amazing cast, 2 Young delivers the right amount of emotion without any of the cheese most Hollywood films of this genre delivers!

DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Promotional Footage, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Trailer, Photo Gallery, Directors Biography & Filmography

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3 FAMOUS CONSTABLES

(Taiwan 1983) 

Original Title: San Da Ming Bu Hui Jing Shi 三大名捕會京師 (aka) The Elimination Pursuit

 

Directed by Chang Peng Yi Produced by Chain Wen Hsiung, Ma Hung Wing Action by Peter Chang, Wang Chiang Liang  Starring: Roc Tien, Pearl Cheung, Peter Chang, Siu Foo Dau, Wong Hap, Yuen Sam, Kwan Chung, Tin Hok Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Wuxia

Rating - 3.3 / 5

Synopsis: The deadly swordsman, Lone Wolf, wanders the land killing all those in his path, silently and swiftly. But an even greater danger lurks in the form of the evil martial arts expert Abbot White, who is destroying all the top masters. Lone Wolf is employed by a nobleman to track down Abbot White and is joined by two other formidable fighters and ex-constables. Together the trio wreaks havoc amongst an army of dastardly fighters before confronting the evil master in his martial fortress. (80 Mins)

Views: Kung-fu, swordplay, ninjas, horror, and murder are the main ingredients for the 3 Famous Constables, also known as The Elimination Pursuit. Starring the ever-popular Roc Tien and Pearl Cheung (Chang Ling) both of which star here in one of their last few roles, I actually found this Taiwanese flick to be a highly entertaining, wuxia thriller!

The film opens with a catchy little number that plays over an edit of the film's most exciting moments, almost like the start of a television episode for any amount of wuxia shows. There's a lot on offer here and these first few minutes certainly whets the appetite, leaving viewers excited for what has still to come. No sooner has the story started, when we are thrown straight into the action as mysterious swordsman Roc Tien, cuts and slices his way through town as ninjas attack from all sides. These attacks and action continue as more characters are introduced, right up to the arrival of the wonderful Pearl Cheung. Tin Hok, an actor from films such as Awe Inspiring Weapon and Godfrey Ho's Majestic Thunderbolt, plays a fur-draped swordsman that looked quite familiar to me on first viewing. After some thought, I remembered I had seen the very same character (and costume) in another Taiwanese classic that I actually have on videotape - although played by a different actor (possibly Alan Chui). The warrior in question appeared in Lone Ninja Warrior, a similarly themed Taiwanese wuxia flick (also known as An Everlasting Duel) from 1982 which was also directed by Chang Peng Yi, and starred Roc Tien in a role that was quite identical to this. It does make me wonder if 3 Famous Constables is actually a sequel, although it's not something I can confirm at the time of writing...

While the main plot focuses on how the good guys can get rid of the Devil Clan – a gang of rascals and robbers who have never been caught – the narrative can be lacking somewhat and the overall-plot, quite basic. But the film wins-over its viewers with some great action scenes that are fast, violent, and plentiful – if not slightly dated, in comparison to what Hong Kong was dishing out at this time. But it works! 3 Famous Constables is a bizarre mix of horror and martial arts, beautifully shot (enough so, that I would love to see a restored, cleaned up version) with many nicely lit, night-time shots complete with smoke-filled backgrounds which I just love. The action is directed by the Method Man himself, Peter Chang (also known as Peter Chen) who is joined by fight directors Wang Chiang Liang and Yau Pang Sang - both of whom have starred in a number of kung-fu classics such as The Rebellious Reign, Chinatown Kid, Iron Neck Li, and Jackie Chan's fun Magnificent Bodyguards. Between them, they bring a hefty amount of wuxia action, boosted by plenty of fantastical characters, ninjas, and Roc Tien in a samurai-esque role who rocks a pretty sweet blade. The exciting 10-minute finale offers some crazy moments, with its great choreography, energetic swordplay, and the big reveal. My only complaint is that this version I watched, seems to have combined its final dramatic scenes in a quick edit over a closing song which seemed to lose me along the way. Or perhaps that's just how it's meant to be!

Strangely enough, Ching Siu Tung's incredible debut classic, Duel To The Death, went into production in the same year. I can't say which film came first, but if anything I'd say this took quite a bit of inspiration from it, along with a few sprinkles of Sammo Hung's 1980 master-piece Encounters Of A Spooky Kind. But I say that with total positivity, because although probably lower in budget than its Hong Kong counterparts, the 3 Famous Constables proves to be far from boring with great production value and plenty of exciting martial-action.

Overall: Stylish, old-school wuxia action, 3 Famous Constables is well worth the watch!

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5 FIGHTERS FROM SHAOLIN

(Taiwan 1984) 

Original Title: Gui Fu Shen 奇門5福將 (aka) Ninja Hunter 2; Possession Of Ghost

 

Directed by Ko Pao Produced by Li Chin Chi, Liu Yang Action by Alexander Lo Rei, Robert Tai, Yung Yeh Starring: Jack Long, Mark Long, Chiang Sheng, Chen Shan, Sun Jung Chi, Alan Chui, Ma Cheng, William Yen, Wong Chi Sang Reviewing: Amazon Prime UK Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy

 

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Synopsis: Five disciples, each a grandmaster in a particular style of kung fu, are banded together by a wise old drunken monk. He leads the band of fighters on a mission to catch a group of evil martial-arts experts, and white-haired wizards from China and Tibet in the ultimate martial arts fight to the finish. (87 Mins)

Views: I was so excited to finally see this action-packed classic and I was not disappointed! As well as starring in a host of classics from the 1970s, director Ko Pao was behind one of my childhood favourites, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death (aka Ninja Tiger), as well as directing titles like Shaolin Iron Claws and 7 Commandments Of Kung-Fu. As it happens, 5 Fighters From Shaolin was his last as a director but it's still bursting with energy thanks to its fantastic kung-fu cast, some fun comedy, crazy stunt-work, and plenty of fast and furious choreography courtesy of old friends Alexander Lo Rei and Robert Tai. As it turns out, the majority of the main cast members have each shared the screen at one time or another with Lo Rei or, at the very least, were directed by Tai somewhere along the way...

Mark Long, almost unrecognisable as a wacky-old-monk, travels the land to find the best (but most rag-tag) bunch of fighters to help him take on the white-haired killer, played by his brother Jack Long. The first is the great Chang Shan, co-star of many Alexander Lo Rei movies such as Devil Killer, Shaolin Vs Lama, Ninja USA, and Ninja Hunter, as well as many other Taiwanese classics such as Of Cooks & Kung Fu, A Fistful Of Talons, and A Heroic Fight. Chang is a great mover and really gets to show his skills from the get-go here proving to be one of the best fighters of the show. The next is Shaw Brothers star Chiang Sheng, a brilliant kung-fu star who had a few small roles in classics such as The Brave Archer 1 & 2, Naval Commandos, and Chinatown Kid, before landing his big role in the awesome Five Venoms just a year later. From there, Chiang went onto star in a host of Shaw Brothers hits, as well as doubling-up as the assistant director on most of those he starred in through to the brilliant Shanghai Thirteen for Chang Cheh. Chiang would also don another hat as the martial arts-director for the most of the very same movies, as well as direct his own title with the awesome Ninja In The Deadly Trap starring Ti Lung, Yasuaki Kurata, Philip Kwok, and Chiang himself. I always enjoyed him as the blind master in the aforementioned Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death and he proves to be just as entertaining here as a roadside-teahouse owner. Chiang runs the teahouse alongside his brother who is played by the fun William Yen. Yen has starred in many Alexander Lo Rei and Robert Tai productions as well as Exciting Dragon, Kung Fu Wonderchild, and School For Vampires with Alexander Lo Rei choreographing once again. The last of the kung-fu brothers is played by Chiu Ying Hong, a popular actor appearing in what would only be his fourth role since launching his career a couple of years prior in Pearl Chang's Matching Escort. Chiu would go on to star in a host of films over the next two decades including titles such as Lucky Seven 2, Queen Of Gambler, Dragon Ball: The Magic Begins, Heroic Brothers, and Lo Rei titles like Life Is A Bet, Passionate Dream, and Drug Tiger also starring Eric Tsang and Wu Ma. And of course, we can't forget about the awesome Jack Long – an incredible kung-fu star who has headlined many classic titles and starred in some of my favourites such as Beach Of The War Gods, 7 Grandmasters, Born Invincible, Ninja Hunter, and so much more. Here, Jack Long showcases some fast-and-furious moves as the white-haired killer - sporting many similarities to his character in the latter ( which is ironic since this is also known as Ninja Hunter 2) and proves to be more than a challenge for the team of heroes!

After a fun introduction to the heroes of the piece, the 20 minute mark sees the rigorous training regime kicks-in which allows the highly skilled cast members to put their kung-fu and comedy skills to good use. One such scene includes a sequence at night were monk Mark Long blocks all senses of his students – clogging their noses and ears with tissues, blindfolding them and making them wear cloth mitts before setting them off on a mission to get back to the temple by using 'the force' (for want of a better explanation). It's all a good bit of old-fashioned kung-fu fun and after a good 30 minutes of training, daft comedy, and impressive moves, that results in a quick scuffle with some bandits and the the team throwing a hissy-fit about their teachers hard-handed ways. It also shows just what a talented bunch of people are involved in this production Much like his brother, Mark Long is an incredible on-screen fighter and throws some strong moves that really impress and I have to admit, I did enjoy him a little more than usual in this comedic role as the crazy monk. One of his highlights for me was his fight against the great Alan Chui and his men which allowed both of the stars to put their skills to good use. Around the one hour mark there are a few scenes that don't offer much explanation – possibly down to a bad edit for this western release, or something lost in translation. But thankfully, it isn't too distracting and leads to an insane 20 minute finale with (the now one-armed) monk Long and his fighters taking on Jack Long and his men in a beautifully choreographed kung-fu battle of crazy stunts, violent moves, and explosions, in true Lo Rei/Robert Tai style – which is more than enough to keep me happy.

Although I talk about how 5 Fighters From Shaolin is just like Lo Rei's other ninja movies, it is by far the most comedic of them all – and funny in a way that doesn't detract from the amazing kung-fu action that's on offer. In fact, all that's missing is Alexander Lo Rei himself but I'd still give this movie a thumbs-up and go back for another watch soon...

Overall: Funny, fast paced, and full of great kung-fu, 5 Fighters From Shaolin is well worth the watch and highly entertaining!!

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5 PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS

(South Korea / Hong Kong 1983) 

Original Title: Noigwon 雷拳 (aka) Thunderfist; Fist Of Lightning; Dragon Claws; Nwoi Fighting Technique; Thundering Fist

 

Directed by Kim Si-Hyeon, Godfrey Ho Produced by Chang-Hwa Jeong, Tomas Tang Action by Baek Hwang-Ki Starring: Dragon Lee, Hwang Jang Lee, Baek Hwang-Ki, Kitty Chui, Kim Ki-Bum, Kim Ki-Hong, Park Wan-Su, Mun Jong-Geum  Reviewing: Diamond Films UK VHS Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama

 

Rating - 3.3 / 5

VHS Synopsis: In this exciting fight-packed adventure, a kung-fu fighter seeks only one thing – supreme authority in the martial arts. On being asked to leave his school the student kills his master in a rage, provoking events which lead to his own downfall and leave a disorientated martial arts school to fend off their adversaries, the Fu brothers. With the return of the Abbott, Wong and Su Ching find renewed vigour with which to avenge the impending death of the monk and the theft of the idol Buddha. A vigorous climax when the roaring tiger encounters the furious dragon in a unique showdown. (95 Mins)

 

Views: I initially got this IFD video release in the early 90's – a period of my life where any and all kung-fu movies were like gold to me. I had seen its main stars in a couple of flicks before, but wasn't all that clued in on Asian cinema as I am today. Back then, I enjoyed 5 Pattern Dragon Claws with its typical kung-fu film clichés of an evil kung-fu tyrant, stolen books, revenge and all that nonsense, but watching it again today (for the first time in 25 years) I was surprised to find just how much fun is actually still is!

Opening in the middle of a tournament being held at a temple, some monks are competing with a local kung-fu school to see which 5 are worthy of being accepted as students under their leading warrior monk. Of course, the great Dragon Lee is one of the five picked. But once in, one of the other students, and close friend of Dragon's, decides to kill the head monk so that he can steal the treasured books under his pillow and become the best fighter of the martial world. With the monk now gone, the head gangster of the town, Kam Fu, vows to let nothing get in his way and soon has his men out causing trouble – which leads to some fantastic fight scenes. Unfortunately, after a fight with Kam himself, the Dragon is left for dead but he is soon discovered by a silver-haired old man in the forest (who turns out to be his monk teacher) and nursed back to health. From there, its just fight-after-fight as Hwang and his men try to take over the town, and Dragon's brothers are defeated in a battle for justice. There is an odd moment right-on the 1 hour mark, that seemed slightly out-of-place, when Dragon's monk-master attacks him wearing a leopard mask (which is actually a piece of yellow material painted with black stripes). It's accompanied by some funky music before quickly returning back to the serious drama it was and, while a fun fight, was somewhat unexpected. The final 10 or 15 minutes sees some of the films finest moments though, as Kam Fu takes on the master monk and a furious Dragon Lee in a blistering end battle that totally impresses with powerful, thunder-kicks and great choreography!

Starting film-life in the late 1970s as a Bruce Lee clone, the South Korean born Dragon Lee has always been an interesting character to me. His wild, over acting, manic style of kung-fu is highly entertaining, and I honestly find him to be a more exciting actor and fighter than Bruce himself to some degree. While he looks like he's only about knee-high, Dragon Lee is a martial arts powerhouse and beats his way through this 90 minute fight scene without hardly resting. Interestingly enough, the guy only starred in about 20 titles from The Last Fist Of Fury to Dragon On Fire, and The Clones Of Bruce Lee to Martial Monks Of Shaolin Temple, but he rarely fails to entertain and is always fun to watch. The same can most certainly be said for legendary super-kicker Hwang Jang Lee, who plays the main villain Kam Fu and whose kicks are accompanied by the sound of thunder. I've long been a fan of Hwang's since seeing him in Ng See Yuen's Secret Rivals when I was a young teen, although 5 Pattern Dragon Claws and the aforementioned Martial Monks Of Shaolin Temple were also probably some of the first films I caught him in. Soon after that I managed to get my hands on many other great Hong Kong titles from Drunken Master to Iron Angels, and Shanghai Express to No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder. Here, both stars shine with the 30 minute mark giving us a great battle between Dragon and Hwang Jang Lee that showcases some impressive moves. It actually comes across like the battle of a grand finale, that many other kung-fu flicks of this era would be proud of. Korean actor Mun Jong Geum plays the double-crossing best friend of Dragon Lee's, and had actually starred alongside both Lee and Hwang in the likes of Martial Monks Of Shaolin Temple and Dragon Claws made around the same time...

Although most fans in the west will acknowledge this as a Godfrey Ho movie, 5 Pattern Dragon Claws is actually credited to the director of the original South Korean production, Kim Si Hyeon – the same man behind titles such as Close Kung Fu Encounter, The Last Fist Of Fury, Golden Dragon Silver Snake, Dragon's Snake Fist, and Dragon Claws – to name but a few. He is joined by action-choreographer Baek Hwang-Ki, a familiar face to fans of early kung-fu films who appeared in classics such as The Dragon's Showdown, Martial Monks Of Shaolin Temple, Tower Of Death, and Hitman In The Hand Of Buddha. Here, he plays Hwang's right-hand man, who quite happily guides his men around town to fight and beat anyone who gets in their way. And while it may not be as polished as much of the classics coming out of Hong Kong around the same time (mainly coming from the Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers studios), 5 Pattern Dragon Claws still delivers and wins-over its audience with constant kung-fu action which highlights a host of fantastic kicks and wonderfully choreographed fights, thanks to its cast of taekwondo trained performers – most of who are recognisable to fans of old-school kung-fu cinema.

Overall: While not a classic to many, 5 Pattern Dragon Claws delivers the action and still holds up well today!

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7 ASSASSINS

(Hong Kong / China 2013) 

Original Title: Kwong Fai Shui Yue (aka) Glory Days

 

Directed by Eric Tsang, Xin Xin Xiong Produced by Eric Tsang Action by Xin Xin Xiong Starring: Felix Wong, Eric Tsang, Xin Xin Xiong, Gigi Leung, Ray Lui, Tao Guo, Michael Wong, Max Mok, Benny Chan, Ellen Chan, Ekin Cheng, Fung Hak On, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Waise Lee, Leung Kar Yan, Liu Hua, Ken Lo, Mars, Michael Miu, Lawrence Ng, Ng Man Tat, Jason Pai Piao, Ti Lung, Dick Wei, Simon Yam, Yu Rong Kwong, Michael Tong, Chen Kuan Tai Reviewing: Panorama HK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama / Epic 

Rating - 4 / 5

Synopsis: When social unrest plagues a Kingdom in ancient China, the Imperial Court collects stockpiles of gold from local governments to expand the royal army. However, the gold is robbed while in transport. In a desperate move to retrieve the stolen treasure, elite royal guards are sent on a mission to go after the gold but soon find out they are not the only ones in pursuit of it. (103 Mins)

Views: I remember 7 Assassins getting a lot of negativity on its release. I'm not sure just why, but I have watched it a few times now and find it very entertaining. Of course, I can see the flaws going on – most of which are small, but apart from that the film is a pretty damn good homage to the 70's and 80's golden generation of Hong Kong cinema. It's big on sets and big on sweeping action scenes, but most of all, 7 Assassins is big on cast. In fact, big is the wrong word. This film is huge on cast!!

Based on a true story, 7 Assassins begins in the desert, with a huge sand storm hitting the entourage led by Felix Wong. The winds are so strong, that many men (and horses) are blown off the cliff edge, with others dying due to the heavy stone and sand in the air. As the storm passes and the surviving men continue their journey, they are soon attacked by a small army of bandits who have been ordered by the Prince to bring in Wong at any cost. The bandits succeed, and make a deal with army Governor Ti Lung to turn a blind-eye on their actions if they hand Wong over. It was nice to see Waise Lee share the screen with Lung once again, even if it was just a cameo. I'm not 100% positive, but it may be the first time since their days on A Better Tomorrow. Elsewhere, Eric Tsang is returning to his village in the Golden Valley, in a scene that reminded me of Gandalf coming back to the Shire. This gives us a great introduction to most of the characters, with a very light-hearted approach, luring us into a false-sense-of-security before things really kick-off. The mood soon changes when Felix Wong, who is unconscious on his horse after a lucky escape, rides into the happy village of retired warriors. Here, he reveals to Tsang and co his plans to over-throw the Qing government, in a bid to save China. We soon learn that Ti Lung was the saviour of most of the villagers, and it was him that sent Wong to them with a message to join forces, and continue the mission. Little do they know, that at the same time, Lung has been killed by the bandits who soon arrive at Golden Village for their prisoner. It's here that we get to enjoy the first major fight of the film, with plenty of hand-to-hand action, swordplay and stunt-work – all of which definitely pleases. From here, the mission begins with Wong, Tsang and the village fighters joining forces to take on the bandits and Prince's army – which all kicks-off well before the half-way mark, offering some epic action scenes. After a dark period, leading into the second half of the film, the 70-minute mark sees the warriors set out for revenge, collecting old friends along the way in the shape of Simon Yam, Leung Kar Yan, Fong Hak On, Chen Kuan Tai, Jason Pai Piao, Lawrence Ng and many more. After the death of yet another brother, Eric Tsang fuels his men with an inspiring speech that kick-starts a fantastic, action-packed, 20-minute end-battle as the villagers fight for gold, revenge, and their freedom!

The fights, which are mainly handled by Hung Yan Yan, are (for the most part) gritty and realistic with the odd spat of wire-work, but its nothing overly distracting and mainly for his own fight scenes in which he channels his inner Clubfoot for fun. A number of fights also include a blade of some sort, the most of them are wonderfully choreographed and it would be fair to say that almost everyone in the main cast gets to throw a punch or kick somewhere along the way. The initial attack on the army camp is just great, packed full of fists, kicks and sword fights that is well worth the watch - with Gua Tao getting some of the better choreography. It was also nice to see Dick Wei back in action after a good decade or more, but for me it has to be the showdown in the church between our heroes, Ray Lui (the Prince) and Ellen Chan (the bandit leader), that is the highlight of the show. It's a tightly choreographed and violent clash of swords, that shows Lui as a force to be reckoned with...

With so many major Hong Kong stars playing good and bad guys, its hard to think why the film didn't gain more attention. Co-director and star, Eric Tsang, shares the leading role with Felix Wong (Drunken Master 2) with his co-director Xin Xin Xiong popping up to kick-ass when needed – often wrapped in a quilt of some-sort. The wonderful Ray Lui delights as the nasty Qing Prince, who destroys everyone and everything in his path. He is aided by two bodyguards who are played by the awesome Dick Wei and Ken Lo who probably hadn't shared the screen for some time up to this point. Michael Wong (Beast Cops) co-stars as a priest trying to keep the peace, although he still gets a bit of action, and the handsome Max Mok gets to return to his Assassin roots as a scarred-swordsman with a vengeance. And it goes on! It was such a delight to see an amazing cast of old-and-new talent share the screen, with more and more showing up as the movie went on – some as co-stars, others in cameos. But regardless of their time, it just made the experience all the more impressive, and I can't think of one that gives a poor performance. Think Seven Swords meets Bodyguards & Assassins meets A Battle Of Wits. The movie plays like a Hollywood Western, taking place between the deserts of China and a little village between the mountains, offering gun-fights on horseback, and a soundtrack that often carries twangs of a John Wayne classic. The scenery is often kept bland with its sepia-toned natural settings, but when some colour finally gets the chance to pop up on screen, it certainly does just that – pop!

I must also mention the great cast of females led by Gigi Leung, who plays the matriarch of the villagers as well as love interest to Eric Tsang. She is joined by Ni Hong Jie, Rose Chan, Ellen Chan and the wonderful Kara Hui, who joins the fight in the final act. For me, it just adds to what is already a great film. Even with such a huge cast and vast amounts of action, there's still plenty of dramatic moments, romance and little sprinkles of humour throughout. Fan's of Hong Kong cinema's golden years should be getting behind 7 Assassins. It really is an underrated all-star gem and I can't understand why there isn't more love for this epic...

Overall: A fantastic movie that deserves a bigger audience, 7 Assassins is almost epic in its own right!

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7 COMMANDMENTS OF

KUNG FU

(Hong Kong 1979) 

Original Title: Gong Fu Qi Jie

Directed by Ko Pao, Lee Yi Min Produced by Ching Kuo Chung Action by Suen Shu Pau, Shiao De Starring: Lee Yi Min, Chang Yi, Goo Jing, Lung Fei, Ma Chin Ku, Ching Kuo Chung Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy

 

Rating - 3 / 5

Synopsis: A young man walks out on his uncle and a job in a pharmacy to follow Lu Zu Hai, a wanderer with superb kung fu. Lu Zu teaches him the Seven Commandments. (84 Mins)

Views: A typical late seventies, run-of-the-mill, kung-fu comedy, 7 Commandments Of Kung-Fu stars Lee Yi Min as a hapless young man who helps kung-fu master Chang Yi, after an attack. In return for saving his life, Lee opts to follow Yi and learn from him, leaving behind his beggar uncle and pharmacy job. Opening with a training montage and credit sequence lasting over 4 minutes, the film fast becomes a case of 'having-seen-it-all-before', with the added bonus of lots of laxative jokes. It follows the typical story of a naive student learning that their master is the bad-guy and, in turn, must learn a new style to defeat him – similar in story to Lee's role in the awesome 7 Grandmasters from 2 years previous. It also seems to be a loose remake of the classic Spaghetti Western, Days Of Wrath starring Lee Van Cleef...

While sub-standard in terms of most classic kung-fu flicks (for me), it's always good to see both stars in action and 7 Commandments Of Kung-Fu certainly has plenty of that – although it does take some time in coming about. The first 25 minutes are filled with a few training scenes that allow Lee Yi Min to impress on the rings and plenty of daft humour that involve him taking or handing out wrong medicines (leading to the aforementioned laxative jokes). Only when the great Chang Yi shows up, do we get to enjoy our first real kung-fu battle when a group of men attack him. They are led by popular villain, Lung Fei, the star of many Jimmy Wang Yu classics such as Beach Of The War Gods, and One-Armed Boxer, as well as having a filmography that most modern stars today could only dream of achieving. Overpowered and injured, Chang is soon saved by Lee Yi Min, who is able to provide him with the right medicine. After recovering, it doesn't take long for them to team up and head off on their journey. Of course, Lee hasn't a clue who Chang really is, and can't understand why everyone and anyone is desperate to poison or attack the pair. Regardless, Chang seems happy to have a companion and begins training Lee whenever he can. They soon rest at a teahouse and inn, with a gang of Lung Fei's men hot-on-their-heels, that leads to a fun fight scene just before the halfway mark. Thankfully, from here, the fights become a lot more frequent as attack-after-attack follows and Chang puts Lee through his training – which includes learning the titular commandments (or rules) of kung-fu. The big turn-around comes at the 1-hour mark when Chang Yi turns up (alone) at Lee's home to go toe-to-toe with his uncle – an old adversary, which leads to a pretty sweet fight. Having found out that his uncle has been killed, Lee races home and soon learns the truth about his teacher, the death of his father, and the murder of his uncle. Promising to get revenge, Lee Yi Min goes into hiding for some serious training and shape-throwing, before he delivers his 10 minutes of vengeance in a fantastic and well-choreographed end battle, against the murderous Chang Yi.

Directed by Ko Pao, who was behind the fun 5 Fighters From Shaolin and Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death (aka Ninja Tiger), the Taiwanese director is joined in the chair by star Lee Yi Min - who also presented the film. Shaw Brothers actor Suen Shu Pau, who starred in classics such as The Brave Archer, Five Venoms, and Chinatown Kid, looks after the fight-action and delivers plenty of fast and fun choreography, some of which are pretty neatly choreographed. He is joined by Shiao De, who seems to have only had a brief stint in the film world. For me, the film was reminiscent of early Jackie Chan flicks and although it proved to be much lower in production values, 7 Commandments Of Kung-Fu still had its moments with the end battle being the highlight of course. Perhaps seeing a restored version on shiny-blu someday may change my mind!

Overall: While there's nothing new to see here, 7 Commandments Of Kung Fu still offers some nice kung-fu action if you've nothing else to watch!

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7 GRANDMASTERS

(Taiwan 1977) 

Original Title: Jue Quan (aka) 7 Secret Rivals

 

Directed by Joseph Kuo Produced by Joseph Kuo Action by Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Cheung Yan Starring: Jack Long, Mark Long, Lee Yi Min, Lung Fei, Corey Yuen Kwai, Alan Chui Chung San, Chin Yuet Sang, Nancy Yen Nan Hsi, Cheung Ching Fung, Lee Yan Wa, Li Hsiao Fei Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy

 

 

Rating - 4.5 / 5

Eureka Video Blu-ray Synopsis: In The 7 Grandmasters, Jack Long plays a kung fu master who is challenged to defeat a series of opponents – all masters of different styles of martial arts – before he can declare himself a true grandmaster. (89 Mins)

DVD Synopsis: Martial arts supremo, Jack Long demonstrates his superb Kung Fu skills as he seeks out worthy opponents to prove to himself that he is still the Grand Master of China before he retires. Veteran fight choreographer and actor Yuen Kwai's fast paced action, ensures the movie is five star rated. Proving without a doubt why he is fast becoming one of the top Action Directors in the West having worked with Jet Li on “Romeo Must Die”. (89 Mins)

Views: Before Eureka Video did the world a favour and released this classic restored on Blu-ray (as part of their Joseph Kuo Collection with Cinematic Vengeance), the only copy I had of 7 Grandmasters was a poor DVD release by Eastern Heroes. Honestly, there are better quality versions on YouTube than what the DVD release offered, which seems like it was ripped from an old video. Thankfully that is no longer the case, and much respect has been put upon this release which gave me the best watch of the film to date. The fantastic Joseph Kuo, of whom I am a huge fan, directs this incredible kung-fu comedy filled with outstanding fights choreographed by the legendary Corey Yuen Kwai and Yuen Cheung Yan. Of course, this is only made better by the crème-de-la-crème of classic kung-fu cinema who are led by the incredible Long brothers that rarely fail to impress!

Having been sent a plaque from the Emperor claiming him the title of World Kung-Fu Champion, master Jack Long embarks on a journey across China to challenge the finest fighters, just to make sure he is worthy of such a title before he retires. This is brought about after he receives a mysterious letter. There's nothing nasty in what he's doing – he's a very modest guy – but when you've got to confirm some thing's in life, you just have to do whatever it takes. With his posse alongside him (which includes his brother Mark), Jack's first challenge is with renowned kung-fu master Sha, played by the wonderful Lung Fei – star of over 170 films, many of which were with Jimmy Wang Yu such as One Armed Boxer 1 & 2, Beach Of The War Gods, Seaman No.7, Return Of The Chinese Boxer, and many other kung-fu classics. Without seriously injuring Sha, Long proves the winner and leaves the scene after thanking him for his time, but in a strange turn of events that night, Sha is found dead with master Long's trademark move as the main cause of his death. This seems to continue with his challengers, as he crosses the land meeting the titular grandmasters for a friendly duel. As they move across the country, a young Lee Yi Min latches on – convinced to follow master Long by a mysterious old man. Lee hopes that Long will take him as his student so that he may learn kung-fu and take revenge for his fathers murder. Although his other students are reluctant to let him join the party, Lee persists and keeps trying to prove himself, even though he is constantly treated like crap and verbally abused by them. After falling ill, Lee helps to nurse master Long back to health before going-on to save him from an attack at their inn. This lets master Long see Lee Yi Min's dedication and, after answering a simple question about the master's last fight, Lee finally secures his spot as a respected disciple of the group. As more fights against other kung-fu masters and training sessions follow, the grand finale of 7 Grandmasters boils-down to the clichéd 'master-versus-student' showdown as Lee is tricked into believing that it was his new master who killed his father (Lung Fei) in their past duel.

It's without a doubt that Jack Long is one of the most amazing martial artists ever committed to film. His moves, on-screen presence, and acting are always in top form – as is his brother Mark. Although Jack leads the way, both siblings get to show their stuff many times. As expected, Lee Yi Min carries most of the humour seen throughout 7 Grandmasters. Thankfully though, experienced director Joseph Kuo doesn't let it get too silly and sticks to the films serious plot without ruining things. Although I've never really been the biggest fan of the star, whose career spanned two decades in the film industry, I wouldn't say no to watching one of his flicks – many of which ranged from titles with the Shaw Brothers studios to those directed by Joseph Kuo, and other Taiwanese independent flicks. I would say that this film probably allowed him to show off some of his finest moves, with the added advantage of working alongside his old Peking Opera schoolmate (Jack Long) when they face-off in the grand finale. This is definitely one of the finest fights of the film with both stars joined by the great Alan Chui, and each of them showing some incredible moves and kung-fu skills – brought to life by the wonderful Corey Yuen Kwai and Yuen Cheung Yan who grace the film with a host of memorable battles. The majority of these are spread over Long's battles with the grandmasters with popular actor Mao Ching Shun following Lung Fei. Having starred in almost 190 films over the course of a decade, Mao became a recognisable face to fans having appeared in films such as Shaolin Death Squads, To Kill With Intrigue, Militant Eagle, Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin, A Massacre Survivor, Of Cooks And Kung Fu, and many more. The third master is played by the wonderful Chin Yuet Sang, a Hong Kong star often referred to as the Sleeping Wizard after his role in the fantastic Last Hurrah For Chivalry. Although he starred in in many kung-fu classics over the years, Chin joined forces with Sammo Hung just after 7 Grandmasters and went onto appear alongside him from The Iron Fisted Monk to Warriors Two, Prodigal Son, The Dead & The Deadly, and more. Lee Hang, who starred as a young extra in many Shaw Brothers flicks from the late 60s, plays Jack Long's fourth challenger. Hang would grow as an actor with the studio right through to the early 80s before going onto star in modern action flicks such as Return Engagement, Kung Fu Vs Acrobatic, Look Out Officer, King Of Beggars, and Last Hero In China. The 5th grandmaster is played by the awesome Corey Yuen Kwai – one of the film's aforementioned action-choreographers. This would be only 1 of 16 films that Yuen Kwai would star in that year, although only 1 of 4 that he would work on as a choreographer – but is definitely one of my favourite fights of the film that displays some incredible weapons work and physical skills. I'm not 100% on who the star is that plays the sixth fighter against Long – then lesser known actor Li Hsin Hua comes in as the final grandmaster Chao Lung. Starting his film career in Hou Cheng's crazy 13 Worms, Li's filmography plays a little more sparse than the rest with just over 20 films in 10 years including titles such as Chinese Kung Fu, Shaolin Kung Fu Mystagogue, Invincible Swordswoman, and Eunuch Of The Western Palace – which would be his last film to date...

It's safe to say that 7 Grandmasters wastes no time at all in getting into the action, with 3 of Jack Long's challengers beaten by the 15 minute mark. And although it takes a good 30 minutes or more for the rest to follow, viewers are kept entertained with the introduction of Lee Yi Min's young scamp, as well as some strong character development, revealing flashbacks, and an assassination attempt at the inn. The film is backed throughout by a memorable score from Stanley Chow Fook Leung – a producer and musician who has scored almost 230 films in his time, and offers minimal training sequences which is rare for a kung-fu film of this era. 7 Grandmasters may not win any prizes for its basic storyline or technical offerings, but it definitely shines as one of kung-fu cinema's finest that is bursting with energy and amazing kung-fu talent!

Overall: While cliched in many ways, 7 Grandmasters is an exciting kung-fu classic and one of Joseph Kuo's best films!

Eureka Video Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng and Michael Worth

Eastern Heroes DVD Extras: Trailer

Watch my unboxing video of this Eureka Video release HERE

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7 STAR GRAND MANTIS

(South Korea / Hong Kong 1983) 

Original Title: Sandong Yeojamuljangsu (aka) The Woman Water Seller In Sandong; Gay Woman From Shantung

 

Directed by Kim Seon Gyeong, Godfrey Ho Produced by Kim In Dong, Tomas Tang Action by Kim Yeong Gil Starring: Benny Tsui, Eagle Han, Song Jeong A, Kwon Sung Young, Lee Hee Sung Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy

 

Rating - 3 / 5

Synopsis: The mantis boxing family many branches, including the deadliest of them all: 7 Star Grand Mantis. See the ripping, locking, grabbing, and tearing techniques of this rarely seen style in brutal action. Our hero is matched in skill by the dreaded Silver Fox Master, who has his own lethal arsenal of death in his fists. Don't blink when these two titans of terror clash for the oldest reason in the jungle: survival! (95 Mins)

Views: While 7 Star Grand Mantis is a very colourful, and often entertaining kung-fu flick from South Korea, it still lacks a little something that stops it from being hailed as a classic. With involvement from Godfrey Ho and Tomas Tang on the Hong Kong side, you could be forgiven for expecting the worst but ultimately, this film is a corny South Korean kung-fu-comedy that reminds its viewers of the late 70's and early 80's Hong Kong classics such as Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu, Dirty Tiger & Crazy Frog, and others...

Starring Benny Tsui (who looks surprisingly like Elton Chong) as the leading man, 7 Star Grand Mantis is as clichéd as it gets with a silly student and long-haired-master, a plot of revenge, an evil ass-kicking bad-guy, and a female friend with some great moves. It's nothing new and certainly doesn't highlight much of the titles kung-fu style, but the film has a wacky charm about it, is actually pretty well made and has a huge amount of decently choreographed fight scenes performed with some great moves. After a brief intro over some fight action, we soon meet our hero (Tsui) who is taking part in a pig-catching event at a local village fair. A silver-haired-old-man, who claims to be Tsui's coach, gives him some tips on how to win which seems to work. Unfortunately for them, this results in lots of hilarity and beatings when the opposition proves to be a bad-loser, as well as a member of a feared gang from the village. From here, the film basically focuses on the constant clashes between the same parties – albeit in a very confusing way. Still, this allows for many fun fight scenes, an abundance of goofy humour (which definitely won't appeal to everyone), and some pointless training scenes. It all leads to an action-packed and fantastic 20-minute showdown against the evil villain and his gang which includes a bonkers, fire-hose gag that involves using their mouths. It's incredibly insane and actually quite funny. But my favourite moment has to be when the heroes of the story spoof the famous bronzemen – painted gold and pretending to be an art exhibition in order to attack the enemy (with no logical reason).

Although most people will only see Godfrey Ho's name here as director, the real man behind this 1983 production is South Korean director Kim Seon-Gyeong. As well as being assistant director on Shaw Brothers classic Killer Constable, Kim was the man behind some interesting titles such as Blood Of The Dragon Peril, Wonderman From Shaolin, and Four Masters, with the latter 2 starring Korean super-kicker Casanova Wong! The fights are handled by South Korean choreographer Kim Yeong Gil, who provides some pretty fun fight scenes – although this is perhaps his only-ever role behind the camera. As well as a bit-part role in the film, he also starred in a few others such as Invincible Obsessed Fighter, 10 Shaolin Disciples, and Deadly Shaolin Longfist.

South Korean actor and martial artist Eagle Han plays the crazy silver-haired-master with a sense of humour and some great kicks. Han has always proved to be a great mover and actor, with many films under his belt such as Jackie Chan's brilliant Dragon Fist and fantastic Fearless Hyena, as well as a host of other South Korean and Hong Kong collaborations. It was nice to see him play both a good guy and such a comedic role in 7 Star Grand Mantis. Actress and co-star Song Jeong-A impresses with her moves, but it's Eagle Han who steals the show with some incredible kicks and kung-fu – although only really getting to let-loose on the one hour mark. Of course, Benny Tsui saves the best of what he has, for the final 20 minutes – but it is worth the wait!

The soundtrack for 7 Grand Star Mantis is nicked from any number of HK kung-fu classics (including Aces Go Places) and often tricks you into thinking you're watching something better – although it's not that bad to be honest. If you can handle zany slapstick and cartoon humour, you'll enjoy it. And on that note, one of the films alternate titles (which portrays a different film altogether) is Gay Woman From Shantung; no doubt due to the scenes of Tsui dressing up in drag in the final 15 minutes. It doesn't last too long, and involves him eating the bread-roll boobs in his bra, while on the run. It's just crazy, but you can understand why they changed the title...

Overall: Far from disappointing, 7 Star Grand Mantis is a fast-paced, crazy kung-fu comedy that entertains!

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8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER

(Hong Kong 1979) 

Original Title: Wu Lang Ba Gua Gun (aka) Invincible Pole Fighter; Eight Diagram Pole Fighter

 

Directed by Lau Kar Leung Produced by Mona Fong Action by Lau Kar Leung, Hsiao Ho, Ching Chu Starring: Gordon Liu, Lau Kar Leung, Kara Hui Ying Hung, Wang Lung Wei, Lily Li, Philip Ko Fei, Alexander Fu Sheng, Lin Ke Ming, Lau Kar Leung, Ching Chu, Chu Tiet Wu, Yuen Tak, Hsiao Ho, Lau Kar Wing, Lau Suet Wah, Robert Mak Tak Law, Wong Yu, Yeung Jing Jing, Wong Ching Ho Reviewing: 88 Films UK Bluray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama

Rating - 5 / 5

88 Films Blu-ray Synopsis: Although made when the mighty Shaw Brothers studio were stepping away from film production, Eight Diagram Pole Fighter shows they had plenty of fight left in them: indeed, it's one of the best films they ever produced. It's based on a story from Chinese history: a heroic general is betrayed on the battlefield. He and five of his sons are killed, but two of his sons are able to escape. Haunted by what happened to their father and brothers they begin to think of revenge but they will have to tread with care. The traitor and his troops are on their tail, and he means to finish the job he started. Tragically, co-star Alexander Fu Sheng (Heroes Shed No Tears, The Brave Archer) died in a car accident mid-way through filming. But under the careful hands of master filmmaker Lau Kar Leung (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Drunken Master 2), the finished film is a worthy tribute to this great star. 88 Films are proud to present the UK Blu-ray premiere of one of the true masterpieces of Hong Kong cinema.

Warner Home Video UK VHS: Fu Sheng plays a noble young warrior who masters the lethal art of pole fighting to avenge the death of his father. In the inimitable style of the Shaw Brothers, The Invincible Pole Fighters is a furious foray into the deadly world of martial arts.

Views: Loosely based on the historical Yang Family, the film opens with an impressive battle scene where the Yang brothers and their father have been ambushed by the enemy due to a set-up by a jealous General. The line-up of the sons is pretty damn good, leading you to believe you're in for a big named cast throughout. Unfortunately, due to the high numbers and powerful weapons of the enemy, Shaw Brothers stars such as Lau Kar Wing, Wong Yu, Robert Mak, Hsiao Ho, and others, don't get to stick around for long. Surviving the attack is Fu Sheng and Gordon Liu, with the latter disappearing mid-battle and Fu Sheng returning home to his kick-ass mum, played by Lily Lee, and sisters Kara Hui and Yeung Jing Jing. Unfortunately, Fu seems to have lost his mind after seeing the tragic deaths of his father and brothers. Elsewhere, a lost and injured Liu stumbles upon an old shack in the mountains and soon meets a hunter, played by director Lau Kar Leung. It doesn't take long for the enemy to catch up though, so Lau helps the injured Yang member escape as he takes them on in a bloody battle that sees him sacrifice himself in honour of the Yang family. Alone, Liu makes his way to the nearest Shaolin Temple – putting him back in familiar territory (ala the hit 36th Chamber Of Shaolin) where he must convince the monks to let him in. Of course, from there, we all know it's about training him in heart, mind, and moves, so that when the time comes - he can take revenge for the murder of his family...

8 Diagram Pole Fighter is quite simply astounding and without a doubt, one of my favourite Shaw Brothers movies as well as one of my all-time favourite kung-fu films. The classic 8 Diagram Pole Fighter finally gets a release it deserves from 88 Films in the cleanest, crispest print I've seen yet with more stunning artwork by Kung Fu Bob O'Brien. Infamously known as superstar Alexander Fu Sheng's last movie, due to his untimely death in a car crash during production, the script was quickly rewritten to have Gordon Liu's character go on Fu Sheng's journey making him the hero, and the better man for the job in my opinion. While I like Fu Sheng and more-so in his comedy roles, this to me is definitely a role made for Gordon Liu. Although he had already made quite the name for himself in films such as Shaolin Martial Arts, Challenge Of The Masters, 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Heroes Of The East, Legendary Weapons Of China, and Dirty HoGordon proves to be outstanding in his performance here and pulls off some of his best on-screen fighting across many different fight scenes. As one of Lau Kar Leung's final films for the mighty Shaw Brothers, we are treated to a fantastically dark tale packed with beautiful sets and costumes, incredible kung-fu battles, and emotional performances from all involved, and especially Gordon Liu who quite clearly shows his pain at the loss of his good friend Alexander Fu Sheng, in the second half of the film.

This was the 16th directorial piece from Lau Kar Leung (or 17th if you count his co-directing role on Breakout From Oppression with Gordon Liu), and I have to say that it is one of his finest. Lau joins prolific writer Ni Kuang for the screenplay, with Ni having already written well over 100 movies for Shaw Brothers since his debut with the classic One-Armed Swordsman, and had also penned the most of Lau's previous titles. Due to the success of those films and thanks to many years of dedication to the studio, Sir Run Run Shaw had given Kar Leung much more freedom for this next project which is quite evident upon viewing. 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 in 1986, Lau turned his talents to more modern action flicks such as Tiger On The Beat 1 & 2, and Aces Go Places 5 as well as working as the action-director on films such as The Dragon Family, The Barefooted Kid, Evil Cat, Operation Scorpio/The Scorpion King, and New Kids In Town with Moon Lee. Lau's return to kung fu would come courtesy of Jackie Chan's fantastic Drunken Master 2. But when things didn't go so well on that project – with creative differences cited as the reason for his departure – Lau set out to make his own sequel of the tale, released as Drunken Master 3 (albeit a pretty unofficial entry in regards to Jackie Chan's titles). Although it had some star power with Andy Lau, Simon Yam, Gordon Liu, Adam Cheng, and Lau himself, Drunken Master 3 was somewhat of a rushed mess – panned by critics and fans alike, and was most likely the main reason as to why Lau Kar Leung stepped down as a director for almost a decade. In 2003, Lau bounced back with the fun Drunken Monkey (the film that helped launch Wu Jing's career), before going-on to star in and work the action-choreography for Tsui Hark's underrated Seven Swords. Lau Kar Leung pretty much retired from the industry soon after and passed in 2013 due to cancer, leaving behind a solid piece of cinema history by starring in over 200 features, directing 25, and lending his martial arts talents to just as many as a choreographer...

 

I just love this movie! It is quite possibly Lau Kar Leung's finest moment as a director and choreographer as he delivers many incredible battles and one-to-one fights, both with weapons and good old-fashioned hand-to-hand. Everyone looks amazing during the action including the great Philip Ko as a scene stealing Shaolin monk. Ko Fei had already been wowing fans of kung-fu cinema for over a decade by this stage, and went onto star in over 250 films during his career - many of which he had directed or choreographed. 8 Diagram Pole Fighter was 1 of 12 films he starred in, in 1984 alongside titles such as Return Of The Bastard Swordsman, Opium And The Kung Fu Master, Profile In Anger, and Secret Service Of The Imperial Court from director Tony Liu. I'm a huge fan of the man and think he was one of the greatest stars and movers of the 70s and 80s, before his choices and career started to get a little wonky by the mid-90s (unfortunately). The beautiful Kara Hui stars as Sister Eight and, much like her kung-fu brothers and director, had already been impressing audiences for years starring in many Shaw Brothers titles. A young Yuen Tak gets to show off a few impressive moves as he tries to help the Yang's, and looks great doing so. Apart from a few jobs as a stuntman, Tak got into the industry a little later when he started acting and directing fight scenes for the Shaw Brothers studios in the late 70s including classics such as The Snake Prince, Fighting Fool, Boxer From The Temple, Coward Bastard, and more. Of course, he has went onto star in and choreograph some highly memorable stuff, and just adds to the 'already' brilliant cast on offer in 8 Diagram Pole FighterAs usual, Shaw Brothers productions always offer an amazing array of villains with Johnny Wang Lung Wei shining as one of their best. As usual, Johnny kicks-ass and shows why he is one of Hong Kong cinema's most memorable bad guys. It all leads to an incredible finale, with some incredible weapons battles, stunt work, choreography, and acrobatics that show all involved at the top of their game. Amazing!

More recently adapted as the fantastic Ronny Yu epic, Saving General Yang...

Overall: A bona fide kung-fu classic and one of Hong Kong cinema's finest, 8 Diagram Pole Fighter should not be missed!

Bluray Extras: Audio Commentary by Scott Harrison

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8 DRAGON SWORD

(Taiwan 1971) 

Original Title: Long Xing Ba Jian (aka) The Eight-Dragon Sword

 

Directed by Chin Sheng En Produced by Chang We Yao, Chin Sheng En Action by Yu Tien Lung Starring: Kong Ban, Chiang Pin, Chen Hung Lieh, Pan Yin Tze, Chang Jen Chieh, Chin Wan Hsi, Blacky Ko, Yu Tien Lung Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Wuxia Pian / Traditional Kung-Fu

 

Rating - 3.3 / 5

Synopsis: A young swordsman is tricked into stealing the Fire Dragon Magic Ball from Carefree Mansion's Master Hua while a masked killer seeks the magic ball for his own profit and kidnaps the daughter of Master Hua to reach his goal. (86 Mins)

Views: Opening with an attempted rape, we are instantly launched into the action as our hero (Hua Li Qun) rescues the girl from the attacking fiend. This great fight gives its audience a taste of what-to-expect as the men fly through the air on bladed-umbrella's, accompanied by some slick moves and great camera work. The next fight isn't too long in coming about and sees Hua go up against Cai Xing, a spear fighter who basically has a flame-thrower on the tip of his weapon. After a great battle, Xing submits and joins Hua for the rest of his journey. As they reach a nearby town, the duo bump into the rapist once again who opts to join the team and follow the great fighter in his search for the Fire Dragon Magic Ball. Once in his possession, Hua reveals that he wants to sell the treasured item much to the shock of his companions. His intention is to help feed the poor people in the south, who have been suffering from a severe drought. Not happy with his decision, the two followers soon poison the hero and attack him - but even weakened, Hua manages to stand his ground. Still, and only by luck, the criminals manage to steal the Magic Ball from him and leave Hua for dead. The hero is soon saved by the real owners of the Fire Dragon Magic Ball, and offers to retrieve the stolen treasure to help repay their kindness. But it's at this point that Hua finds out that his ball was a fake - something the two criminals find out at the same time. Under orders from a mysterious masked fighter, the double-crossing duo set out once again to find the real one while they search for Hua's body. From here, the story holds focus on Hua as he protects the real Fire Dragon Magic Ball and the family from the invading thieves – as well as falling in love with his saviour, played by Violet Pan...

While it may come across as a run-of-the-mill early-70's Taiwanese wuxia flick, The 8 Dragon Sword is actually a very fun and action-packed adventure which is overly ambitious with its innovative wire-fu and choreography. Starring veteran kung-fu actor and Shaw Brothers star Chen Hung Lieh as the main villain, the film may seem slightly dated today due to its typical 1960's theatrics and plot, but it still boasts a wide range of crazy weapons, interesting characters, and exciting fight scenes that hit the mark and keep things moving. The film was written by Taiwanese movie journeyman, Chin Sheng En, an actor/writer/producer who also directed films such as Duel With Samurai, One-Armed Swordswoman, Iron Ox The Tigers Killer, Immortal Warriors, and The Powerful Men with Robert Mak and Mark Long (which would also be his final movie). Popular actor Chiang Pin stars as the hero Hua Li Qun and does a great job as the leading man. Chiang had already starred in over 30 titles by this stage - many of which were with director Chin Sheng En - including titles such as Paid With Blood, Darkest Sword, Blood & Guts, and Hellfighters. He would go on to star in almost 80 titles during his career like Angry Hero, 18 Shaolin Disciples, Shaolin Kung Fu Mystagogue, Eagles Claws & The Butterfly Palm, and Legend Of A Tycoon in 1981 that saw him star alongside Sibelle Hu in his final film role. The lovely Violet Pan co-stars as Hua's saviour and love interest in a role that came about half-way through her career. Violet had already starred in the fun 13 Worms, Come Drink With Me, Magnificent Trio, One-Armed Swordsman, and Hellfighters with her co-star Chiang Pan. And much like Chiang, she would continue to work through to the early/mid 80s with roles in The Master & The Kid, The Bone Crushing Kid, Burning Of The Red Lotus Monastery, and a final role in John Woo's Run Tiger Run. But almost 2 decades later, Pan would reappear on the big screen for a brief role in Jackie Chan's hugely underrated Hollywood flick, Around The World In 80 Days.

Fight directors Yu Tien Lung and Pan Chang Ming handle the often wild, but very innovative choreography that proves to be some of the better action from its era. Starting his career as an actor and choreographer in the late 1960s, Yu Tien Lung worked on many titles such as Infernal Street, Five Kung Fu Daredevils, and Ways Of Kung Fu, as well as directing a handful like Eagle's Claws & The Butterfly Palm, Heroes In Jail, and Ghost with Wu Ma and Blacky Ko later in his career. Pan Chang Ming, an actor and choreographer that came about a few years later, worked on (and starred in) titles such as Jimmy Wang Yu's One-Armed Boxer, Super Dragon, Snuff Bottle Connection, and Devil Girl 18 with Yukari Oshima. Here, his work on The 8 Dragon Sword would be his first project as a fight choreographer, and along with Yu (who already had a handful of jobs behind him by this stage) proved to be very capable in putting together some exciting action scenes between them. This was the 4th film of director Gam Sing Yan, and while I've never seen any of his other titles (at time of writing), I'll definitely be searching for them in the near future. Nicely shot, with plenty of great fight-action and great locations, The 8 Dragon Sword is a lot of fun and delivers a lengthy end-battle that's very well executed. At times, the film feels as if it was directed by King Hu with Tony Ching Siu Tung behind the often-wild choreography, and its great to see that it can sill entertain just as much, over 50 years later. I wouldn't mind seeing a nicely cleaned up version of this on Blu-ray!

Overall: Old-school but inventive, The 8 Dragon Sword stands-out from other wuxia films of this period!

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8 MASTERS

(Taiwan 1977) 

Original Title: Ba Da Men Pai (aka) The Eight Masters

 

Directed by Joseph Kuo Produced by Joseph Kuo Action by Wong Fei Lung Starring: Carter Wong, Doris Lung, Philip Ko, Ting Chao, Chia Ling (Judy Lee), Chen Shen Lin, Fung Yu, Blacky Ko Reviewing: Hollywood East UK DVD Release Genres: Drama / Traditional Kung-Fu

 

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: A film featuring some of the most daring and action-packed examples of Shaolin kung fu fighting, with spectacular acting and locations...

Shao Chi's only son has been brought up in a Shaolin Temple. When he leaves, after intensive training, he is pursued by his father's enemies, all masters of the eight schools of kung fu. Shao Chi resists all their attempts to goad him into a fight... But when his mother is killed the spirit of vengeance arises: Shao Chi smashes his way to victory in eight incredible contests... against every dirty trick in the book. (78 Mins)

Turbophase Video UK VHS: Shao Chi's only son has been brought up in a Shalin Temple. When he leaves, after intensive training, he is pursued by his fathers enemies, all masters of the eight schools of kung-fu. Shao Chi resists all their attempts to goad him into a fight... But when his mother is killed, the spirit of revenge arises. Shao Chi smashes his way to victory in eight incredible contests... against every dirty trick in the book. (78 Mins)

Views: Sometimes known as the third entry to famed director Joseph Kuo's fun, although unrelated 'Bronzemen' films, this little classic is one I got very early on in my collection (I mean, like 30 years ago) as the VHS video artwork really had won me over. Although I watched it in its 4:3 presentation, cropped with bad picture quality, I still enjoyed The 8 Masters. Thankfully though (many years later), Hollywood East released it here in the UK on DVD and I thought - why not..? It hadn't been cleaned up that much, to be honest, but still made for a more enjoyable experience - and even after all these years, is still a lot of fun!

The film opens with the obligatory challenge between two fighters, one of which is Carter Wong himself disguised as an older man. The story suddenly jumps forward to show a man bursting into the home of a young Wong and his mother – claiming to have once been saved by her husband. He is there (bizarrely) to return the debt as the 8 masters are coming for them both to seek revenge – I guess, after the results of the opening fight?! The stranger grabs the boy and runs (who knows where the mum went), fighting off the 8 masters as he does before reaching the Shaolin temple and his final resting place. But before passing, the hero begs the monks to look after the boy to which they agree. Unlike a lot of other kung-fu films of this time, the monks actually start training young Chu – rather than sticking a brush in his hand or hiding him in the kitchen, as many other classics seem to do with charity cases like this one. The kid who plays the young Carter Wong gets a good 10 minutes before growing up, something which is done in a pretty cool single-shot. I'd like to have seen more of him as he was a pretty good wee actor, and looked the part in his training and fighting scenes. It's not that disappointing though, as things jump up a notch or ten in the action department when the wonderful Wong (as adult Chu) finally appears on-screen and he literally makes his straight into the chambers of Shaolin. Of course, this is where he meets some old friends – the Bronzemen – and gives us a show of slick moves that hark back to his previous adventures with Joseph Kuo...

It would be fair to say 8 Masters rattles along at a great pace. Just 20 minutes in, Chu has already passed all the Shaolin chambers and thanks his masters before setting off in search of his mother - all while experiencing his first real taste of city life after spending a good decade in the temple. I'd like to have seen director Kuo put a bit more emphasis on this, as it would be an experience akin to a long-term prisoner getting released. No sooner has Chu stopped for a bite at a tea-house, when all hell breaks loose and some local bandits start wrecking the place for no real reason. It's a fun fight scene, with a few comedic moments that keeps things interesting as Wong makes his journey. He soon arrives at his old home where he finds his blind mother, who is being looked after by the wonderful Doris Lung. I've always loved seeing Lung on-screen, the starlet of many early classics such as Jackie Chan's Half A Loaf Of Kung-Fu and Shaolin Wooden Men, along with classics like Shaolin Brothers and Shaolin Invincibles where she shared the screen with Wong once again. She also starred in one of my favourite Bronzemen spin-off films which was the hilarious, 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin. Here though, it turns out that Lung is actually the niece of one of the masters, and has been placed in her position to help convince Chu to accept the challenge. The titular 8 masters don't take too long in finding out that Chu has returned and set out to challenge him to a duel. Of course, Chu refuses and puts his teachings of Shaolin as his main reason for not fighting, but the 8 masters refuse to take no for an answer and soon return for another forceful attempt. Once again though, Chu refuses which unfortunately leads to the kidnapping (and death) of his mother. Naturally, this angers Chu to no end and soon, he sets out for the biggest challenge of his life – to fight and defeat the wicked 8 masters in a hard-hitting 30-minute showdown that shows Wong at his finest, and proves to be one of the best finales of any traditional kung-fu flick I've seen. Kung-fu fans will recognise the majority of the faces from the gang of masters, and none more so than Yue Fung from Shaolin Brothers and Iron Neck Li, Lu Ping from New Fist Of Fury and 18 Bronzemen, and the awesome Philip Ko from many Hong Kong classics who actually gets to take part in one of the best fights of the film. Joining them a little late in the story, in what is pretty much just an extended cameo, is the wonderful Judy Lee who tops Ko's highlight when she goes fist-to-toe with Carter Wong.

Even with its typical and cliched 70's kung-fu storyline, there's still plenty to enjoy in this Joseph Kuo classic. As a director, he rarely fails to entertain and usually boasts a great cast - which is why it a such a shame that this film didn't make the cut for Eureka Video's release of Cinematic Vengeance - The Joseph Kuo Collection. Regardless, The 8 Masters does not disappoint and with a constant stream of fun kung-fu battles, you really can't get bored while watching. The acting is pretty decent and the handheld camerawork helps add a little something different to the experience. It's also worth noting that unlike the majority of kung-fu films from that era, this one doesn't just end with a screenshot on a final move or death, but instead delivers a few minutes of a scene that brings a proper closure to the film. And while it's not a directly connected sequel to the Bronzemen films, The 8 Masters may just be the best of the bunch!

Overall: A classic to many, The 8 Masters underrated film is still worth a watch if you are a fan of old-school-chop-socky!

DVD Extras: Photo Gallery

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8 STRIKES OF THE WILDCAT

(Taiwan 1976) 

Original Title: Ye Mao Ba Fan

 

Directed by Lin Yi Hsui Produced by Arthur Tan, Shan Kwan Action by Wang Tai Lang Starring: Dan Dan Chi, Tao Hung Li, Chen Shen Lin, Ma Chin Ku, Ma Ju Feng, Min Ming, Tsia Hung Reviewing: Vengeance Video UK DVD Release Genres: Comedy / Traditional Kung-Fu

Rating - 3.7 / 5

DVD Synopsis: The Rodent Posse: Rat, Mole and Vole are a ruthless group of killers who murder all those who stand in their way, a young girl manages to escape from their foul doings and is trained in the 8 Strikes of the Wildcat by a wise old master in order to defeat the rodents once and for all. DVD.com is proud to present for the first time on DVD this rare lost classic! (86 Mins)

Views: Without a doubt, 8 Strikes of the Wildcat is an odd little movie! I honestly think the makers of the film were just taking the piss out of themselves and the kung-fu genre in general when they made this. From the crazy characters and their fighting styles to the wacky comedic scenes and random moments of mind control and techniques – you cannot watch this without laughing out loud a number of times. That said, it's still a pretty damn good kung-fu flick! Three kung-fu fighters who are collectively known as the Three Rats, are on the search for a two-part treasure map and are happy to kill anyone who gets in their way. After her father is killed by them, a young girl named Shao Wa seeks revenge for his death. But in order to defeat the Rats, she must learn the titular Eight Strikes of the Wild Cat from an old Kung Fu Master - while trying to evade his lovestruck assistant at the same time!

Released in the UK by the cheap-ass Vengeance Video DVD label, 8 Strikes Of The Wildcat is presented in wonderful letterbox widescreen (although in VHS video quality) and is actually really well made. I found it to be wonderfully filmed, with great set pieces and some brilliantly choreographed fight scenes throughout. I'm actually surprised 8 Strikes Of The Wildcat doesn't appear on people's lists more often, and feels like an underrated gem lost among the tens-of-thousands of kung-fu titles available. The English dub just adds another level of hilarity to it all, but generally speaking this 40+ year old flick is quite an entertaining film overall. A lengthy and impressive end battle ties things up neatly, along with the film actually ending on a dramatic closing scene rather than giving us a screenshot of a final move or death. This was director Lin Yi Hsui's first film after getting a taste of the action working as an executive director on King Weng's Tiger Love, only a couple of years before. He didn't really stick around for long afterwards, only working on a handful of films until 1985 such as Elephant Wife, Famous Woman, and Ghost Chasers...

The film stars Chi Dan Dan in one of her only two roles to date. This flexible girl is the one you see on every cover of the film, posing in the splits or cocking her leg in the air. A number of Taiwanese kung-fu stars appear alongside her such as Wang Tai Lang from films like Eagle Claw & Butterfly Palm, Phantom Kung-Fu, and Dance Of Death, as well as playing one of the ghosts in Jackie Chan's Spiritual Kung Fu. The great Tsai Hung, from classics such as One-Armed Boxer, Beach Of The War Gods, 72 Desperate Rebels, and Iron Neck Li, leads the Three Rats - one of which is Ma Chin Ku from 7 Grandmasters, Incredible Kung Fu Mission, and Cantonen Iron Kung Fu. Like his co-star before him, Ma is a highly recognisable actor who starred in over 120 films through to the early 90s. As well as acting as the assistant action director on the brilliant No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder, Ma worked as the martial arts director on a handful of titles such as the aforementioned Eagle Claw & Butterfly Palm, Struggle Through Death with John Liu, and I Revenge For My Son starring Eagle Lee and Philip Ko Fei. The third rat is played by Chen Shen Lin, an actor known from films such as Jackie Chan's New Fist Of Fury and Killer Meteors, The Face Behind The Mask, and Secret Of Chinese Kung Fu. Helping Chi find vengeance for her dad is Taiwanese heart-throb and actor Lee Tao Hung, the star of titles like Hong Kong Emmanuelle, The Red Phoenix, and Legend Of A Tycoon with Sibelle Hu. The kung-fu action is handled by no less than 3 choreographers. The first is Lin Wan Chang, a popular actor and choreographer who worked on films such as A Book Of Heroes, Golden Queens Commandos, Fantasy Mission Force (where he played the escaping prisoner), King Swindler, Island Of Fire, and Come Fly The Dragon - as well as many more with 8 Strikes Of The Wildcat being his first as a choreographer. Lin would also direct a handful of flicks over the years, including Kung Fu Kids 5 & 6Young Kickboxer, and the fun but forgotten City Of Darkness starring Donnie Yen, Collin Chou, Billy Chow, and Kim Marie Penn. Actors Wong Chung Yung and Chen Hsiang assist - with 8 Strikes Of The Wildcat being their one and only credit as martial arts directors. Whereas Wong would only star in a small number of titles including The Wandering Monk and Six Directions Of Boxing, Chen appeared in almost 80 features from the early 70s including titles such as Return Of The 18 Bronzemen, Shaolin Wooden Men, Iron Neck Li, Kung Fu Zombie, and modern day flicks such as Sea Wolves 2, Requital, and City Of Darkness. Between them all, the team bring some well choreographed kung-fu battles to the screen that keep 8 Strikes Of The Wildcat exciting and fun for fans of old-school flicks.

Overall: Funny, different, and full of great kung-fu - 8 Strikes of the Wildcat is worth the watch!

DVD Extras: Available Now Artwork, Coming Soon Artwork, Bonus Fight

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9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA

(USA/Philippines 1985) 

(aka) Deadly Warrior; American Ninja; 9 Lives Of The Ninja

 

Directed by Emmett Alston Produced by Ashok Amritraj, Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan Action by Sho Kosugi, Alan Amiel Starring: Sho Kosugi, Brent Huff, Emilia Crow, Blackie Dammett, Regina Richardson, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Vijay Amritraj, Bruce Fanger, Protacio Dee Reviewing: RCA Columbia Pictures UK VHS Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Ninja / Comedy

Rating - 2 / 5

Video Synopsis: A U.S. Congressman is the prime kidnap target of a murderous group of Oriental terrorists. Together with his entire tourist group, he is held hostage in return for the release of a violent criminal with a drug-racket background. To combat crisis on an international scale, the U.S. deploys its feared DART squad, a top-level anti-terrorist task force. Led by Spike Shinobi, a Ninja combat guru, DART takes on the underground army of a power-crazed drug tycoon with a combination of cunning, Ninja techniques and state-of-the-art weaponry. Spike Shinobi is played by SHO KOSUGI, who broke into films after becoming All Japan Karate Champion at the age of 18. (94 Mins)

Views: Every time I think of 9 Deaths Of The Ninja, I still laugh-out-loud at how ridiculous this 1980's action flick really is. It must be a good 20+ years since I last watched it and had actually forgotten just how badly written and camp the whole thing is, with the first 10 minutes alone proving to be the switch-off moment for any sane person watching it. The film opens with a dreadfully staged musical number, delivered in the style of a James Bond opening credits sequence - complete with a cheesy power ballad, dancing girls, and a topless Sho Kosugi dancing with his weapons. Jesus Christ, who came up with that one?!? A busload of tourists in the Philippines are captured and taken hostage by a crazed group of terrorists/drug dealers, including two kids (Kane and Shane Kosugi). One of the tourists is a U.S. Congressman who becomes the perfect bargaining chip when the terrorists demand the release of one of their leaders – a violent criminal who is imprisoned back in the States. The U.S. Government send out a trio of agents (known as the DART Squad) who include Spike Shinobi (Sho Kosugi), Steve Gordon (Brent Huff), and Jennifer Barnes (Emilia Crow), on a special mission to track down crazed terrorist leader, Alby The Cruel (Blackie Dammett) and his wild woman, Honey Hump (Regina Richardson). Together, they must defeat the oddest bunch of villains ever and bring the American hostages home!

If I'm going to be honest, I don't really know how to take 9 Deaths Of The Ninja. Was it made as a comedy? Was it not? I mean, we have the typically serious Sho Kosugi trying to pull off his best Jackie Chan impression – kidding around, pulling funny faces, and having fun with the baddies during fight scenes – and then there's the introduction of some of the most wildly over-the-top villains. These include a quartet of 'kung-fu' midgets who are easily defeated by picking them up to shake them, or by simply spinning them around. And then, of course, there is Alby The Cruel and Honey Hump – the two main villains of the piece who are so utterly over-the-top and ridiculous, you just can't take 9 Deaths Of The Ninja as a serious action flick. Alby, played by Blackie Dammett, is a wheelchair-bound German terrorist with a pet monkey and a bad accent. He's backed by the crazy Honey Hump, a gun-toting, loud-mouthed lesbian played by Regina Richardson, both of whom deliver equally dreadful performances. In fact, pretty much everyone in 9 Deaths Of The Ninja does...

As an action movie, this one falls in comfortably with classic action flicks such as Naked Gun, Airplane, and Laser Mission although to be honest, it's genuinely embarrassing to some degree! How Sho Kosugi (with all due respect) got to be a huge Asian star in 1980's America and Jackie Chan didn't, is beyond me. I'm not saying that the negatives of this film are down to him, but what a waste of talent. We have seen what Sho can do in other movies and how good he can actually be, but in this – my god! This was the 3rd movie from cinematographer-turned-director Emmett Alston after the horror-comedy Three-Way Weekend and New Year's Evil for the Cannon group. And given the humorous element in those films alone, I am leaning more towards the fact that 9 Deaths Of The Ninja may actually have been made for laughs. Mind you, if that is the case, then this could most certainly be a masterpiece IF it was made as a parody of 80's action (and ninja) movies. Emmett would follow this one up with another martial arts adventure called Tigershark, staring Mike Stone from American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, and returned to the ninja genre in '88 with Force Of The Ninja (but the less said the better) before ending his career with Little Ninjas in 1993 in a bid to cash in on the success of the passable family film, 3 Ninjas, from the year before.

Overall: So bad it might just be good for other people, 9 Deaths Of The Ninja isn't the greatest film of the Cannon catalogue!

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9 1/2 NINJAS

(USA 1990) 

 

Directed by Aaron Barsky (Worth) Produced by John Morrissey Action by BJ Davis Starring: Michael Phenicie, Andee Gray, Robert Fieldsteel, Magda Harout, Don Stark, Rance Howard, Gerald Okamura, Keaton Simmons, Kane Hodder Reviewing: RCA Columbia Pictures UK Video Release Genres: Comedy

Rating - 1 / 5

Video Synopsis: Joe Vogue is the deadliest man on two feet; he is able to catch a speeding bullet in his bare hands, he is raw, rugged and handsome. But he has one weakness – he's a wimp when it comes to women. And when the luscious Lisa sets eyes on Joe, he knows the biggest battle of his life has begun. But the course of true lust never runs smooth. Joe has upset the local Mr. Big, whose idea of a fair fight is an entire army of martial arts warriors against one. Normally this is no problem for our hero but he finds he is fighting off avenging Ninjas and the passionate Lisa at the same time! Will Lisa ever get more than a nibble from Joe? Will Joe wind up as mincemeat? Or will Mr. Big get his just desserts? (88 Mins)

Views: I first bought this when I was about 14 or 15 because it had ninjas in it and honestly, I was all for buying anything with the word ninja in it around that time. Of course, having the scantly clad and very beautiful Andee Gray splashed over the cover, my friends and parents were very convinced I had bought it for other reasons - But I think my husband would disagree!

There's really not much to this dreadful comedy, that had me laughing for all the wrong reasons. Michael Phenicie plays Joe Vogue, a well-dressed ladies man adept in the art of ninjitsu. He soon meets the beautiful and clumsy Lisa Thorne (Andee Gray) but as their spicy relationship kicks off, Joe finds himself in trouble with a local real-estate tycoon who has hired some deadly assassins to kill him. With the help of his mother, Joe must now protect the woman he bones – and, eventually loves – as well as train her in the art of ninjitsu, in a bid to stay alive and have more sex!! At this stage, I was sourcing as much Hong Kong cinema as I could possibly find and had seen some of the finest at this point, with my video collection growing fast. I knew from the look of this that I wasn't going to find anything that would get my adrenaline going, but oh boy – I was not expecting this. Completely played for laughs in the style of the hilarious Naked Gun and Airplane movies, this 1990 flick that clearly spoofs 9 ½ Weeks, is just plain bonkers and unfortunately falls flat on most of its gags.

Director Aaron Barsky (or Worth as he is in this) has quite the credits behind him in the film industry and 9 ½ Ninjas was his directorial debut. Before that, he had worked as a second unit director or assistant director on titles such as Amityville 2: The Possession, Year Of The Dragon, The Equalizer television series, When Harry Met Sally, Friday The 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan and Pretty Woman. Thankfully, after this disaster of a film, Aaron went back to working for others only directing his second film in 2017 – again focusing on sex and boobs with Codename: Diablo! - as well as directing a couple of episodes for a television show. I have to say though, had this been in the hands of Mel Brooks or David Zucker, it might just have been a hit. Instead, due to weak direction and writing, the comedy seems overly forced and so badly timed. The film itself is bland and boring on a technical aspect, but a lot of US films were in this time period. Hollywood go-to Asian of the '80s and 90's Gerald Okamura plays the Master of course, ironically having just come off the equally unfunny Ninja Academy from the year before...

Michael Phenicie and Andee Gray just work with what they have, and are watchable for the most part. Joining the film industry in 1980, Phenicie appeared in the super-fun Force: Five, and a host of television shows before landing this leading role in 9 ½ Ninjas. While it didn't make his career explode and offer any A-list roles afterward, Michael went on to star in more shows like popular US soap, Knots Landing, Angel, Alias, The L Word, and more. He was definitely a little busier than his co-star who only had an appearance in an episode of Dark Justice the following year, before disappearing from the scene altogether. Gray had some previous roles in films like Texas Godfather, Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter, and Dead Men Don't Die, and probably would have made something of a career had she went down the comedy route. Veteran television actress Magda Horout plays Gladys Vogue, who steals any scene she appears in and probably gets the funnier jokes of the film to be honest. That said, it's still not enough to make 9 ½ Ninjas a worthwhile watch – although there is worse out there!

Overall: Not a vital part of your life, but will make you laugh more unintentionally than you think!

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10 BROTHERS OF SHAOLIN

(Hong Kong/Taiwan 1979) 

Original Title: Shi Da Di Zi (aka) Warriors of the Sacred Temple

 

Directed by Ting Chung Produced by Ting Chung Action by Tommy Lee Starring: Wong Tao, Judy Lee Chia Ling, Leung Kar Yan, Philip Ko Fei, Stephen Tung Wei, Chang Yi, Shaw Luo Hui, Jimmy Lee, Wang Kuo Fei Reviewing: Amazon Prime UK Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu

 

 

Rating - 2.5 / 5

Synopsis: The martial-arts action film 10 Brothers Of Shaolin tells the tale of ten specially trained fighters, five monks, five laymen, who have been taught their skills in order to protect Master Chu, who needs all the help he can while attempting to bring down the Mings. (90 Mins)

Views: Opening with the classic Drunken Master (Wong Fei Hung) theme, we soon meet the fantastic Wang Tao who stars as a Shaolin disciple that is entrusted to escort a high ranking official to his desired location. Along the way, Wang must protect him from a number of attackers who want him dead, and finds support in his 9 other Shaolin 'brothers' who secretly help him on his journey. That's pretty much the backbone of 10 Brothers Of Shaolin, but it doesn't take long for things to get kind of messy in dealing with too many characters that, ultimately, feels like a waste of talent by the end of it all...

Working on the regular late 70's plot-line of Ming versus Ching, the great Chang Yi gets to put in another performance as an evil ass-kicking general. His son is played by popular Hong Kong fight choreographer and director, Stephen Tung Wei – also known as that kid who gets a quick life lesson from Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon. Fan-favourite, Leung Kar Yan, gets to impress as an evil brigadier who works for the general and thankfully gets to show some great moves, and stuck around with the team for Eagle's Claw which came about soon after. Shao Lo Hui returns in yet another role as a shifty monk, and veteran actor Min Min (star of over 160 movies from the late 50s through to 1990) appears as another official. I have to say, I am a big fan of Don Wong Tao. Its rare that a film he is in proves unwatchable, even if they are flawed like 10 Brothers Of Shaolin. By the time he had made this, Wong had only been in the business a few years but had already made almost 20 films, including Slaughter In San Francisco, Duel With Death, Moonlight Sword & Jade Lion, and the classic Secret Rivals! His supporting cast of brothers makes for a serious call sheet of kung-fu stars that include the great Philip Ko Fei – one of my favourite Hong Kong film stars whose first 2 decades in the industry gave us some incredibly memorable fights and entertaining roles. Of course, Ko Fei would share the screen with Wang Tao a number of times over the years including Along Comes A Tiger, Eagle's Claw, The Secret Rivals 2, and The Hot, The Cool, & The Vicious, and doesn't let fans down when he appears on screen. Next up is Huang Kuan Hsiung, a popular character actor who appeared a host of classic titles such as 18 Shaolin Disciples, 18 Bronzemen, Killer Meteors, Born Invincible, and many more, as well as Wang Kuo Fei, who starred in films such as Marco Polo, To Kill With Intrigue, and Mars Villa. In fact, 1977 was one of the latter's busiest years that would see him star or appear in 22 titles overall, including Along Comes A Tiger that would see him star alongside a number of the names here. God Of Gamblers bad guy and kung-fu actor Jimmy Lee also co-stars as a young monk. It was a year of productions that would see him share the screen with most of the other stars in aforementioned titles such as Along Comes A Tiger and Eagle's Claw. Famed director and action-choreographer Stephen Tung Wei gets the chance to trade moves with the stars, as does the amazing Leung Kar Yan who had just come out of his Shaw Brothers contract after starring in a host of popular Chang Cheh titles. And last but not least, the fantastic Judy Lee (Chia Ling) pops up for a smaller role, getting to impress with her moves and stealing any scenes she appears in. Only 5 years after bursting onto the scene with the brilliant Queen Boxer, Judy starred in over 30 productions up to the point of 10 Brothers Of Shaolin including the classic Girl Named Iron Phoenix, Blazing Temple, 8 Masters, and many more!

While 10 Brothers Of Shaolin offers plenty of kung-fu action, the fights weren't as overly memorable as I had hoped for. That said, they do entertain to some degree thanks to famed choreographer, Tommy Lee Gam Ming. Working with the same cast in Along Comes A Tiger and the more superior Eagle's Claw (shot the very same year), Lee delivers a wide selection of fights throughout the story. These include the obligatory teahouse fight, which was a lot of fun, and many battles against Stephen Tung Wei which were a highlight for me. But I must admit, I was expecting more in the final fight against the heartbroken Chang Yi, which resulted in a bit of an underwhelming finale overall. The film was directed by Taiwanese actor and director Ting Chung, the man behind titles such as Mars Villa, Kung Fu Of Seven Steps, and Of Cooks And Kung Fu – all of which came after 10 Brothers Of Shaolin, and all of which proved to be much better films overall. While he was never the strongest director of the kung-fu world, Ting obviously had a knack for getting in some decent names but It's just a shame he didn't learn how to utilise them a bit better, because 10 Brothers Of Shaolin results in being a case of having seen it all before and definitely should have been much better than it was. 

Overall: Not amazing, but definitely not boring, 10 Brothers Of Shaolin has its moments!

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10 FINGERS OF STEEL

(Taiwan 1972) 

Original Title: Tang Ren Piao Ke (aka) The Screaming Tiger; Wang Yu King Of Boxers; Screaming Ninja

 

Directed by Chien Lung Produced by Chang Wen Pin, Shih Chao Chin Action by Wong Fei Lung, Poon Chuen Ling Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chang Ching Ching, Lung Fei, Lu Ping, Chi Lan, Shan Mao, Kang Kai, Hsieh Han, Lei Ming Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Martial Arts / Thriller / Drama

 

Rating - 4 / 5

Synopsis: When the Japanese massacre the people of his fishing village, the Chinese hero of this kung fu epic (Jimmy Wang Yu) heads to Japan to seek vengeance. (101 Mins)

Views: I am proud to say that I am a huge Jimmy Wang Yu fan! While not the most authentic or graceful of fighters, the man has made some incredible kung-fu films in his lifetime – both as an actor and a director. Some are incredible for his performance, some for the sheer violence of his fight scenes, and some because they are downright outrageous. This little gem definitely has a mix of all three and opens with Wang Yu at his utmost racist after arriving in Japan, where we soon learn about the massacre of his family and villagers by a Nipponese gang of martial artists. Thankfully, with Japan being so tiny (joke), the bold fighter arrives exactly in the right town where these bad guys hold-up - led by Wang Yu film regular and all-round awesome bad guy, Lung Fei, who takes no crap from anyone which includes his old master whom he broke off from long ago. It doesn't take a minute for the action to kick-off as Wang Yu displays his skills to some local hoodlums, at the same time catching the eye of a lady called Yoko who steals something from him and runs off. Luckily for Wang Yu, she just happens to be connected to all the right people he needs to meet – which is quite handy – and soon finds himself facing off against Lung Fei in one of the most manic and insane finales of 1970s kung-fu cinema!

10 Fingers Of Steel has a typical revenge storyline, beefed up by a mad performance by Wang Yu and plenty of crazy characters. The fights are choreographed by Hong Kong movie veteran Wong Fei Lung, and Pan Chuan Ling who bring a hefty dose of fast-moving, violent martial arts to the screen with our hero taking on gangs of men in many battles, as well as some fun one-on-one's that come thick and fast from village throw-downs to fights in the ring with Sumo wrestlers (in a bid to win money for dinner). Anything and everything that moves pretty much gets its ass kicked. Out of the two action directors, Wong has had a lengthier run as both a fight choreographer and actor of Hong Kong cinema, appearing in films such as Wang Yu's classic One-Armed Boxer and its wild sequel, Blazing Temple, 18 Bronzemen and its sequels, 10 Brothers Of Shaolin, and many more of which he also worked on as the choreographer. Between 1978 and 85, Wong would also direct 5 of his own films such as Crazy Guy With Super Kung Fu, Deadly Strike, and Pink Trap to name but a few. His fellow choreographer, Pan Chuan Ling managed to appear in over 30 titles during his 5 years in the industry, many of which included a number of Wang Yu films such as Furious Slaughter, The Gallant, and the awesome Beach Of The War Gods, as well as choreograph a small number of films before his last role in 1975 in Daniel Lau's File Of Heroes alongside Chang Yi and Charles Heung. 10 Fingers Of Steel itself was directed by Chien Lung, who died only a few years later. Having started in the industry as a writer, actor, and director in the late 50s, Chien was the man behind over 70 titles including Mountain Tiger, The Blind Swordswoman, Wandering Knight, Dragon Inn, One-Armed Guest, The Angry Hero, Gold Snatchers, and Wang Yu's fun Shogun Saints. Actress Chang Ching Ching stars as Yoko in one of the final roles of her career. Having starred in around 75 films over a decade, Chang appeared in titles such as Girl From The Mountain, Paid With Blood, One-armed Swordswoman, The Angry Hero, and Magnificent Chivalry with Wang Yu. Other recognisable faces include Kang Kai from films such as Shaolin Temple and The Flying Guillotine 2, as well as later titles such as The Legend Of Zu and Monster Hunt. He plays the son of prolific actor Ma Chi, a familiar face of films from the early 1950s who had worked with Wang Yu on titles such as Furious Slaughter and One-Armed Boxer, as well as Lo Wei's Killer Meteors before working with Jackie Chan after that on To Kill With Intrigue. And popular kung-fu actor Hsueh Han, who starred in almost 200 movies such as A Touch Of Zen, Shaolin Death Squads, The Face Behind The Masks, A Massacre Survivor, and a host of Jimmy Wang Yu titles including Magnificent Chivalry, Furious Slaughter, One-Armed Boxer, Knight Errant, Beach Of The War Gods, The Iron Man, Killer Meteors, and many more - bringing his long career to close alongside his old friend in Requital - a star-studded gangster flick directed by Kevin Chu Yen Ping...

Generic, yes. Flawed, yes. But what brings this classic up to a four star for me is the incredible and long end fight that takes Jimmy Wang Yu and Fei Lung on a bloody battle from the streets to a fast-moving train, before leaping onto a rickety old bridge and falling into a river - continuing to fight as they fall down slippery boulders (painfully) to end their climatic fight scene in front of a huge waterfall. It's just fucking insane! This is 1972 and I've seen action films today that don't even offer the same amount of excitement in 90 minutes like this finale does. On its initial release in the UK, 10 Fingers Of Steel suffered heavy cuts from the BBFC due to the excessive blood shown during the fights, as well as the strangling of a child and general violence throughout. And while it may not be recognised as one of Wang Yu's best films, I would watch 10 Fingers Of Steel over again and again because of its highly entertaining fight scenes, that just ooze classic Jimmy Wang Yu.

Overall: Total madness but a lot of fun, 10 Fingers Of Steel is a kung-fu epic that has to be seen to be believed!

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10 MAGNIFICENT KILLERS

(Taiwan 1977) 

Original Title: Shi Da Sha Shou

 

Directed by Fong Yau Produced by Fong Yau, Wu Yan Action by San Kuai Starring: Cheung Lik, Fong Yau, Chu Chi Ming, Bolo Yeung, Chiang Tao, Lee Ting Ying, Steve Mak, Leung Siu Wah, Addy Sung Gam Loi, Tai San, Chiang Cheng, Lee Hang, Kao Kang Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Comedy

 

Rating - 4 / 5

Synopsis: Underworld gangsters and the law share blood and revenge on their hands. A man's son is kidnapped by a hateful enemy who uses the boy as an instrument for revenge against his own family. But revenge is a double-edged sword, and the payback is tenfold. The lines are drawn, and no mercy is given, or taken. (84 Mins)

Views: From the brilliant Goldig Films, come's a 90-minute fight starring Nick Cheung Lik and Chu Chi Ming as kung-fu students who are each trained by two separate kung-fu masters. As a number of fighters come their way, the pair must take on the 10 killers and defeat them in an explosive show of martial arts skills before facing off against each other in the grand finale! It's quite possibly one of the most simple plot-lines out there of any kung-fu movie and is really all about the physicality of its stars, as well as the choreography of its action directors. Kung-fu star Nick Cheung Lik plays Hsiao Li, the main hero of the story (as well as one of the film's choreographers) and gets the chance to show some of his finest moves on-screen out of the 60+ movies he starred in. Starting in the film industry in 1970, Lik went on to star in many classics such as A Tooth For A Tooth, Superior Youngster, The Big Family, 36 Deadly Styles, Return Of The Bastard Swordsman, and many other great titles through to the mid-80s. While this would be his co-stars début role, it seems that he quickly vanished from the scene only a year later. Luckily, the actors behind the roles of the masters had quite a bit more experience such as San Kuai (also known as Lau Wing), a very recognisable face of Hong Kong cinema that starred in over 100 films from 1970 – 1990. San plays Cheung Lik's master whose special move is the 'whirling fist', which often proves to be hilarious. Many Hong Kong film fans will have seen Kuai in classics such as The Buddhist Fist, Killer Constable, Winners & Sinners, and Drunken Master, as well as a host of Shaw Brothers titles. This would also be his second time as the action-choreographer, where he would work alongside Cheung in bringing some exciting martial arts battles to the screen. The second master is played by actor and choreographer, Fong Yau - the director of 10 Magnificent Killers himself. Kicking off his career by appearing in Shaw Brothers hits Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman and Temptress Of A Thousand Faces, Fong went on to star in many great titles such as The Bloody Fists, Awaken Punch, Superior Youngster, The Club, City On Fire, Godfathers Daughter Mafia Blues, and many more. 1977 would see him make his directorial début with 10 Magnificent Killers, but it would be well over a decade later before got behind the camera again, with 1991's  Witchcraft Vs Curse, a Cat.3 film featuring Michiko Nishiwaki. Fong would continue to work both behind and in front of the camera for many years after, only to retire from the film industry at the turn-of-the-century with Hunting Evil Spirit, another Cat.3 film this time starring Pauline Chan...

The 10 killers themselves are played by Thompson Kao Kang from Tough Guy, Crack Shadow Boxer, and Kung Fu Master Named Drunk Cat, who helps kick things off with the challenges. Lee Hang appears as the 2nd fighter and has starred in over 160 films, some of which include Shaw Brothers classics like The Magic Blade and Web Of Death, as well as Broken Oath, The Young Master, and Last Hero In China. They are joined by Chiang Cheng in his début role before going on to star in 36 Crazy Fists, The Fighting Fool, Postman Strikes Back, and South Shaolin Vs North Shaolin, and popular actor Tai San from films like Game Of Death, Knockabout, Carry On Pickpocket, and My Lucky Stars, appears as the 4th fighter. Crazy-eyed kung-fu actor, Addy Sung Gam Loi, joins in as the 5th fighter and is highly recognisable from films such as Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave, The Buddhist Fist, Crystal Fist, and Incredible Kung Fu Master. Loi rarely fails to entertain and does as a great a job here as he has done in any before or after. Peter Leung Siu Wah from Magnificent Boxer, Dragon On Fire, and Clones Of Bruce Lee plays the 6th fighter, while Steve Mak Fei Hung impresses in only his second role as the 7th before going on to star in films like The Eagle Fist, Martial Club, Project A, New Kids In Town, and many more. Lee Tin Ying, from Billy Chong's Super Power, comes in as the 8th fighter and all-round popular bad guy Chiang Tao (also known as Kong Do) stars as the 9th. Having appeared in over 200 films during the course of his career, Chiang worked his way from many Shaw Brothers classics through to modern day Hong Kong action hits like Outlaw Brothers, Brave Young Girls, Just Heroes and more - with his last role being in I Love Hong Kong 2012 from director Wilson Chin. The final fighter of course is with the great Bolo Yeung himself, who really needs no introduction. As one of the most beloved and recognisable stars of kung-fu cinema today, Bolo has faced-off against Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damme, Cynthia Rothrock, and many other action stars over the course of his career.

While there isn't much to it, 10 Magnificent Killers is really all about the kung-fu and, in all honesty, there is probably about 10 minutes of the film that doesn't have any. It's like a 'tournament' fighting movie without a tournament, combined with plenty of comedy throughout and fights that come thick and fast – getting better and better every time. Of course, if you aren't already exhausted from everything beforehand, it all leads to a great finale that helps make 10 Magnificent Killers one to watch. Both director Fong Yau and co-star Bolo Yeung join Lik and Kuai as action directors, helping to bring together a memorable kung-fu flick that hardly takes a breath!

Overall: A better-than-average classic with 90 minutes of non-stop fight action, 10 Magnificent Killers is well worth the watch!

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13 ASSASSINS

(Japan 2010) 

Original Title: Jusan Nin No Shikaku

 

Directed by Takashi Miike Produced by Minami Ichikawa, Takahiro Ohno, Shigeji Maeda, Koji Yoshida Action by Keiji Tsujii, Mao Asou Starring: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Arata Furuta, Koen Kondo Reviewing: Artificial Eye UK DVD Release Genres: Samurai / Swordplay / Drama

 

Rating - 4.5 / 5

DVD Synopsis: In Shogun-era Japan, the powerful and sadistic Lord Naritsugu threatens to shatter the country's fragile peace and plunge it once more into war. Determined to stop him at all costs, an elite group of renegade samurai – each with their own deadly skill – plot his downfall. Massively outnumbered, the thirteen fearless warriors must face Naritsugu's lethal army in a monumental and bloodily violent showdown.

Featuring stunning action sequences, this epic adventure by cult director Takashi Miike (Audition) is a bravura assault on the senses that has been compared to the classic samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. (141 Mins)

Views: Offering a more furious and violent take on the 1963 classic by Eiichi Kudo, Takashi Miike's modern masterpiece is a stunning slice of chanbara cinema that tells the tale of a group of sword-wielding assassins who join forces to take down an evil lord. Each of them know that they are about to take part in a suicide-mission to take down the wicked Naritsugu, as he travels to Edo (now Tokyo) in 1845. What follows is an intense mission of kill-or-be-killed as the blood flows and hundreds of swordsmen are sliced down, as the group try to succeed in their mission. With some stunning cinematography, incredible art direction, and sharp action choreography, 13 Assassins could easily be mistaken as part of the incredible Akira Kurasawa's filmography and for that, I praise the wonderful Takashi Miike for delivering such an amazing film!

While it may just be shy of perfect, there's a reason 13 Assassins has won and been nominated for over 40 awards. From the gorgeous photography to Miike's own direction, the cast play a major part in what makes this film rock! The performances from all involved are just incredible with a strong cast including the likes of Koji Yakusho – star of the box office smash Memoirs Of A Geisha and the popular Shall We Dance from the mid-90s (later remade by Hollywood with Richard Gere in the same role), with Takayuki Yamada starring as his younger brother Shinrokuro Shimada. Starting life as a popular television star, Takayuki went on to star in the entertaining 252: Signal Of Life, Gantz The Movie, as well as Crows Zero 1 & 2 and Lesson Of The Evil returning to work for Miike. Star of the fantastic sci-fi action hit Casshern, Yusuke Iseya, joins the team along with the handsome Sosuke Takaoka, who made his feature film debut in the classic Battle Royale. And the wonderful Goro Inagaki stars as the evil Lord Naritsugu – the main antagonist of the story. Starting his career around the end of the 1980s, Goro has gone on to become one of Japan's most loved television stars with shows like The Knife & The Sword, Bull Doctor, Triangle, and Dangerous Relationship behind him...

The stunning cinematography is captured by the wonderful Kita Nouyashi, who also worked as the DOP on Miike's very own Crows Zero 2 and the brilliant Jackie Chan thriller, Shinjuku Incident from director Derek Yee. Since collaborating on 13 Assassins, Kita has went on to work with Takashi on many more of his titles such as Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, Ninja Kids, For Love's Sake, Lesson Of The Evil, Shield Of Straw, The Lion Standing In The Wind, Blade Of The Immortal, and First Love – as well as capturing the fun Hong Kong caper, The Great Magician, that paired him with director Derek Yee one more time. Stunt co-ordinator Keiji Tsuji joins forces with Takashi once again after handling the action on his films such as One Missed Call and The Great Yokai War (which I just love). Highly impressing with his work on 13 Assassins, Keiji returned soon after to work alongside Miike for a few more films including Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, Lesson Of The Evil, the insane Yakuza Apocalypse, and the gorgeous Blade Of The Immortal. His build-up of violent swordplay leads to a blistering 45-minute battle that stands strong as one of Japanese cinema's finest – perhaps even beating that of the popular Azumi, respectively.

Overall: A modern-day classic, 13 Assassins is one of Miike's finest works and a stunningly made piece of cinema!

DVD Extras: Trailer, Deleted scenes, Interview with Takashi Miike

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13 COLD BLOODED EAGLES

(Hong Kong 1992) 

Original Title: Xi Leng Xue Shi San Ying

 

Directed by Tsui Fat Produced by Tsui Fat Action by Tsui Fat Stunt Team Starring: Cynthia Khan, Waise Lee, Chung Fat, Yen Shi Kwan, Wan Seung Lam, Lau Ji Wai, Anthony Cho, Ng Ting Ko, Wan Seung Lam Reviewing: Eastern Heroes UK VHS Release Genres: New Wave / Wuxia 

 

Rating - 3.7 / 5

Video Synopsis: Cynthia Khan (Force Of The Dragon) leads the way in this action packed period piece drama. A band of highly skilled martial artists, the 13 Cold Blooded Eagles, are instructed by their leader, the Foster Father, to destroy surrounding kung fu schools in search of the Skills Book, knowing that whoever possesses it will unlock its martial arts secrets and become invincible. On their quest they face many obstacles, including the Shin Shu monster, a creature who practices the star bleeding skill, allowing his body to be penetrated by daggers and swords without being killed. A skillfully directed film with excellent fight sequences employing a range of weaponry and fast paced kung fu to mostly violent effect. A cross between Chang Cheh's FIVE ELEMET NINJA coupled with the stylistic camerawork used by Ching Siu Tung in THE SWORDSMAN, this is martial arts carnage at its best. (100 Mins)

Views: A remake of the 1978 kung-fu classic Avenging Eagle, this underrated gem came at the height of Hong Kong's 'New-wave' of film-makers and is similar to works such as Blade Of Fury, Swordsman 2, New Dragon Gate Inn, and many more that graced the jade screen - winning the world over with its crazy wire-fu and frantic swordplay. In 13 Cold Blooded Eagles, a group of highly trained assassins known as the Eagles, are sent on missions to kill everyone and anyone who is deemed an enemy, by order of their foster father King Eagle. Taken from a young age, the warriors have been brainwashed over the years in believing their fathers wicked ways and will do anything to please him. One fighter, however (Red Eagle Yu Feng), starts to question their ethics and soon finds himself hunted down by the brothers and sisters he once helped. Joining forces with the beautiful Quihua, Yu Feng stands his ground and puts all his skills to use in a deadly fight against his evil foster father!

Although this film came out in the mid-90s, it seems to have slipped by most people's 'go-to lists for the best wuxia movies from the New Wave period. Personally, I think its pretty damn good and a lot of fun, beautifully filmed for the most part with plenty of fun swordplay action, as well as some decent acting from a nice cast. The great Waise Lee leads the way as Red Eagle Yu Feng, and gets in on enough action to impress – although obviously doubled for his more acrobatic and trickier moves. I've never been a huge fan of Waise Lee to the same degree I am with Jackie Chan or Chow Yun Fat for example, but I can honestly say that it's rare when he disappoints me. Getting his big break in the incredible John Woo epic A Better Tomorrow, Lee quickly found the roles come flooding in with films like Fury, The Big Heat, Gunmen, and Spy Games taking him into the 1990s where his career would explode a- going onto star in over 120 productions including modern hits like The Four Trilogy, Cold War 2, League Of Gods, and Death Notice from director Herman Yau. Lee is joined (eventually) by the beautiful Cynthia Khan – someone he has shared the screen with a number of times over the years in films like Super Cops, Tough Beauty & The Sloppy Slop, Angel On Fire, The Avenging Quartet, Pink Bomb, Murders Made To Order, and many more, and although she is highlighted across the artwork of most releases around the world, Khan actually only stars as a secondary character who comes out to play for the last half hour. Of course, 1993 was an incredibly busy year for the actress with no less than 10 titles credited to her including The Top Lady Of Sword, Pink Bomb, Blade Of Fury, Madam City Hunter, The Avenging Quartet, and once again with Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima in A Serious Shock; Yes Madam that also starred Waise. Regardless, Ms. Khan only strengthens things on her arrival and gets to fly around gracefully while kicking ass before joining in on the grand finale. Of course, its not just Lee and Khan who impress as the film is pretty well cast, with hardly a bad performance from anyone and boasts the presence of the great Yen Shi Kwan as the foster father. Starting out in the film industry of the early 1950s, Yen did his time at the Shaw Brothers studios as an extra and bit-player right through to the late 70s where he would move into more independent productions such as Clutch Of Power, 36 Crazy Fists, Jackie Chan's Fearless Hyena and Dragon Fist, and Dance Of The Drunken Mantis for Ng See Yuen. It would be a good decade later before Yen's career got a new leases of life after he was cast as Iron Robe Yim in Tsui Hark's incredible Once Upon A Time In China, and although he hasn't really done much since the turn-of-the-century, Yen has managed to rack-up over 130 films during his time in the film industry. Fan favourite and kung fu star Chung Fat, stars as the Shinshu Monster – a fighter who proves to be a great threat to Yen's King Eagle. While he's been impressing from the early 70s, Chung Fat very quickly became known to fans of Hong Kong cinema when he joined forces with the legendary Sammo Hung, working with him on films from The Iron Fisted Monk through to Zu Warriors, Winners And Sinners to Pantyhose Hero, and many, many more. Shaw Brothers kung-fu star Wan Seung Lam, who has starred in over 160 titles, plays the White Eagle while Anthony Cho Cheuk Nin from Dreaming The Reality, Godfather's Daughter Mafia Blues, Mission Of Justice, and Angel Terminators 2, plays the Gold Eagle...

Brother of Hong Kong cinema stalwart Hsu Hsia - the King Of Sticks himself (Drunken Master) - director Tsui Fat, impresses with his first and last film as a stand-alone director. I'm surprised he didn't go on to direct more, although he has been a recognisable face in over 150 Hong Kong films including a host of Shaw Brothers classics from the early 70s – one of which was the original Avenging Eagle. Apart from his vast acting career, Fat would also be well known to fans of Hong Kong cinema for his action choreography on many films which began on early classics such as the awesome Five Superfighters, The Fighting Fool, The Master, Kung Fu Vs. Yoga, and the patchwork Fearless Hyena 2. Fat also worked with director Tony Liu on many projects over the years, serving as the action director on his films such as Moon Lee's Killer AngelsDevil Hunters, and Dreaming The Reality, as well as The Dragon Fighter with Michiko Nishiwaki, and earlier Donnie Yen vehicles such as Crystal Hunt, Cheetah On Fire, and Holy Virgin Versus The Evil Dead – some of which he also helped co-direct.

It was refreshing to watch 13 Cold Blooded Eagles again after many years, and I'll definitely not be leaving it so long next time. But I can only hope that it finds its way to Blu-ray soon as this deserves to be seen as Tsui Fat intended!

Overall: A highly enjoyable hyper-kinetic wuxia flick from Hong Kong's new wave era, 13 Cold Blooded Eagles offers Hong Kong film fans plenty of exciting swordplay action!

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13: GAME OF DEATH

(Thailand 2006) 

Original Title: 13 Game Sayawng (aka) 13 Beloved

 

Directed by Chookiat Sakveerakul Produced by Prachya Pinkaew Action by Chaiyaporn Junmoontree Starring: Krissada Sukosol, Achita Sikamama, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Namfon Pakdee Reviewing: Revolver Entertainment UK DVD Release Genres: Thriller / Dark-Comedy / Crime

 

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck salesman has lost his job, his car and his girlfriend on the same day. When a mysterious mobile phone caller offers him $100 million to play a 'game show' featuring 13 secret challenges, he decides to accept. The catch? The tests grow increasingly intense, grotesque and morally questionable, but if he quits at any time he loses everything... Loaded with diabolical twists, 13: Game Of Death is an adrenaline pumping thrill ride that grabs you from the very start and doesn't let go until its final, shocking conclusion. (114 Mins)

Views: Putting the quote 'From the makers of Ong Bak and Chocolate' on the front cover has no doubt led many fight fans to believe that this is another action-packed film from the team in Thailand, but that is not the case. And I don't mean that negatively because, instead, we are given one of the best Thai films in recent years all wrapped up in a twisted thriller that's filled with plenty of dark comedy and violence galore, that takes the Baa-Ram-Ewe Studio to another level! Its been a while since I first watched 13: Game Of Death and had actually forgotten just how well made, directed, and entertaining it all is. At times it comes across like a ramped-up and twisted version of Michael Douglas' fantastic 1993 film Falling Down, yet keeps its own originality as it starts off on a light jog before breaking into a full sprint in no time at all. There are certainly no boring moments here as it keeps shocking and surprising its audience along the way, as poor Chit accepts challenge after challenge – with each one getting worse along the way, determined to succeed 13 tasks with the promise of winning 100 million dollars for his efforts. It really is a fascinating insight as to how far people can be pushed for money, but 13: Game Of Death goes much deeper. From killing an insect to eating a plate of shit, this downtrodden unemployed and emotionally destroyed guy soon finds himself caught up in something much more sinister. At the same time, there is still plenty of laughs to be had at Chit's expense, most of which don't take anything away from the tension the main story has already provided. More often than not, Thai comedy doesn't translate too well for the Western audience but, with this, most of the humour actually works and comes across as quite funny!

Each role is pretty well-acted, but main star Krissada Sukosol definitely owns the show. He plays Chit perfectly, full of emotion that keeps you glued to the screen every second he's on it. I felt it was like he was channeling the energy of a young Anthony Wong from the golden years of Hong Kong cinema! And while only having appeared in a handful of films as I write (this being his third) such as The Adventures Of Iron Pussy and Bangkok Loco, I'd like to see Krissada go a long way and make a bigger name for himself. While he has shown up since in a handful of Thai titles, there hasn't been any that have stood out such as this. 13: Game Of Death is the second feature film by director Chookiat Sakveerakul, made 2 years after his debut project Evil (Pisaj) which was also produced by Baa-Ram-Ewe studios. His follow-up feature was the well-received Love Of Siam, a coming-of-age romantic drama that saw his 'Directors Cut' clocking in at a brave 178 minutes long. While I haven't seen anything of his since, it's good to know that Chookiat is still going strong having just directed the Thai television show, Manner Of Death, which has been getting some great feedback...

I don't want to give too much away about 13: Game Of Death, as the shock value and plot twists will be spoiled if you haven't already seen it. Hollywood already remade it in 2014 as 13 Sins, starring Ron Pearlman and Mark Webber – although I've yet to see it for a full comparison. That said, I'd highly recommend you see the original first for a more entertaining and grittier experience. So go find yourself a copy of 13: Game Of Death and enjoy one of Thai cinema's better offerings before someone ruins it for you...

Overall: Fast-paced, shocking, and funny, 13: Game Of Death is one of the best films to come out of Thailand thus far!

DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Original Trailer

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14 AMAZONS

(Hong Kong 1972) 

Original Title: Shi Si Nu Ying hao

 

Directed by Cheng Kang Produced by Run Run Shaw Action by Tony Ching Siu Tung, Leung Siu Chung Starring: Ivy Ling Po, Lisa Lu, Lily Ho, TYuen Hua, Fan Mei Sheng, Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, James Nam, Paul Chun, Lo Lieh, Lin Ching, Bety Ting Pei, Sharon Yeung Pan Pan, Bolo Yeung Reviewing: Black Hill/Koch Media German Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / War / Drama

Rating - 4.5 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: Revenge Of The Yellow Tigers is an epic historical drama of daredevil action and clashing guns. The 1972 Hong Kong blockbuster is the Shaws' homage to the story of the brave Yang warriors who set out to avenge their general. Generations of Yang warriors involved in numerous famous battles sacrificed themselves for their country - up to their last general, Yang Tsung Pao. He defended the territory of the Song Dynasty against the Tartar invasion. For three days and three nights he besieged the enemy. Unassisted, he fights bravely, true to the spirit of Yang. Outnumbered, he was ambushed at the Golden Mountain - his troops were wiped out. Tsung Pao was wounded and was about to be captured. Our story begins here... (117 Mins)

Views: This historical epic opens with a fight scene much like the closing-battle of most other kung-fu films, where we witness the massacre of the famed General Yang and his army who were slaughtered by the invading Mongolians. It's a pretty brutal slaying that sees the greatest warriors of the clan, and their leader, killed outright. After the news reaches home and the shock has passed, the 14 women of the Yang family (his wife and daughters) set out on a blood-soaked revenge mission to take down the invading army that puts their weapons skills to the test that makes 14 Amazons explode with many great characters, hundreds of extras, and a host of great kung-fu battles that practically fill three-quarters of the film's 2 hour running time!

The legendary stories of the Yang Family have been passed down for generations – told countless times in Chinese and Hong Kong cinema. The Yang's took part in many wars throughout the decades, although most were not without their losses. And for anyone who's not a fan of the old-school kung-fu movies, there's always Frankie Chan's underrated 2011 reworking, Legendary Amazons, which is great fun and just as action-packed. As with most Shaw Brothers productions, the sets and costumes for 14 Amazons are outstanding with such great attention-to-detail that compliments the amazing cast on offer, as well as some incredible model work blended in throughout. The cast in question include the lovely Lisa Lu Yan who plays the Grand Dame, She Tai Chun, in what would only be her second role on the big screen after her debut as Madam Dong in The Arch. Although still active through to 2018, Lisa impressed in a wide range of roles from titular character of The Empress Dowager to The Last Emperor alongside John Lone and Joan Chen before going on to modern flicks such as Temptation Of A Monk, The Postmodern Life Of My Aunt, Invisible Target, Lust Caution, and 12 Golden Ducks with the brilliant Sandra Ng. The wonderful Ivy Ling Po, star of over 100 films from the early 1950s, also joins the fight and was no stranger to action roles. From playing the titular character in Lady General Hua Mulan, to starring alongside a young Jimmy Wang Yu in films such as Temple Of The Red Lotus, The Twin Swords, and The Sword & The Lute, Ling Po made quite the impression over the years and went into retirement in the late 1980s after starring in Eric Tsang and O Sing Pui's Golden Swallow remake, only to make one more film appearance almost 20 years later in Kenneth Bi's Rice Rhapsody alongside Sylvia Chang, Maggie Q, and Chin Han – her old co-star from Lady General Hua Mulan. Lily Ho, who starred in films such as The Sword & The Lute, The Water Margin, and The House Of 72 Tenants adds to the sisters, as does Shu Pei Pei who appeared in films like The Sword Of Swords and Cub Tiger From Kwangtung, and the lovely Wang Ping also appears - co-star of classics such as The Chinese Boxer, The Killer, King Boxer, and Jackie Chan's Magnificent Bodyguards. The infamous Betty Ting Pei joins the cast, as does the wonderful Teresa Ha Ping who went on to star in over 260 films before her death in 2019. From her debut in the 1956 film The Soul Stealer, Ha went on to star in or appear in many fantastic titles such as Shaw Brothers hits like Killer Clans, The Magic Blade, Clans Of Intrigue, Death Duel, Battle Wizard, Chinatown Kid, and Killer Constable, as well as delivering plenty of memorable roles in modern titles like Millionaires Express, Kung Fu Scholar, The Accidental Spy, and a hilarious role in Chow Sing Chi's Hail The Judge. Shaw Brothers leading man Yueh Hua stars as Lu Chao, one of the swordsmen that comes to the Yang family's aid after escaping the Mongolians who murdered his family and put him up against Bolo in a fight to the death. Before passing just under a year before Teresa Ha Ping, Hua had starred in almost 140 feature films since his debut in 1964 as a dancer in The Dancing Millionairess – a film that became the starting point for many Shaw Brothers stars including Lo Lieh, Chin Ping, and Cheng Kang Yeh. A couple of years later he gained the lead role as Wu Kong in The Monkey Goes West and its sequel Princess Iron Fan, quickly followed by King Hu's epic Come Drink With Me alongside Cheng Pei Pei. Over the years, Yueh starred in many Shaw Brothers titles until moving into modern day film in the mid 80s, appearing in titles such as On The Wrong Track, In The Line Of Duty 3, Just Heroes, Princess Madam, Rumble In The Bronx, and Three Kingdoms: Resurrection Of The Dragon. The great Tien Feng – star of The Young Master, The Fate Of Lee Khan, and The Assassin with Jimmy Wang Yu – plays the Mongolian warlord, King Wang, with his Young Master co-star Fan Mei Sheng who appears as one of the generals of the Mongolian army. Mei Shing is no stranger to fans of Hong Kong cinema and has starred in many classic titles over the years including One-Armed Swordsman, The Magic Blade, Dreadnought, The Magnificent Butcher, Millionaires Express, and Story Of Ricky alongside his big handsome son and kung-fu star – the amazing Fan Siu Wong. Equally exciting is seeing prolific actor Wang Hsieh as the 1st Prince, James Nam as the 2nd, the wonderful Tin Ching as the 3rd, Paul Chun (brother to David Chaing and Derek Yee) as the 4th, and the amazing Lo Lieh as the 5th Prince. The aforementioned Bolo Yeung appears a number of times as one of the Mongolian fighters - often killed off only to reappear in the following scenes wearing a new hat or more facial hair. It's also worth keeping an eye out for the younger faces of Eric Tsang, Corey Yuen Kwai, Ricky Hui, Eddy Ko, Jason Pia Piao, Billy Chan, Lam Ching Ying, Tony Leung Siu Hung and his brother Bruce Leung, and Hong Kong director Tony Ching Siu Tung who also had a hand in the choreography...

As this was only his second job as a martial arts director, Tony Ching was taken under the wing of Shaw Brother's regular, Leung Siu Chung – father to the aforementioned stars Bruce Leung and Tony Leung Siu Hung. Leung worked as the action-director on many kung-fu classics such as Billy Chong's Sun Dragon, The Thunderbolt Fist, Kung Fu Executioner, and The Dragon Lives Again with his son Bruce, and started his relationship with the Shaw Brothers studio in1971 when hired to work on The Lady Hermit for director Ho Meng Hua. In 14 Amazons, most of the fights include putting the family weapon to good use (the spear), so any fans of the incredible 8 Diagram Pole Fighter will enjoy this even more due to its many similarities. Thankfully, the fights come often enough, from large-scale war battles to one-on-one showdowns,  with each fight proving to be wonderfully choreographed, very inventive, and exciting to watch. They can also be quite violent at times with plenty of the studios infamous blood-spraying on display as well as Lo Lieh shooting arrows in peoples eyes, people getting cut in half, cliff falls, rock crushing, and so much more. One thing I must point out though is the fact that most of the bad guys were dressed like little Santa Clauses, and while it does add some unintentional humour at times – it's hardly distracting and obviously based on traditional Mongolian dress. And finally, this certainly wouldn't be the epic it is without the guidance of a good director, with Sir Run Run Shaw putting that job in the hands of the great Cheng Kang who also provided the script. Starting his career as an actor and director in1951, Cheng went on to helm many classics such as The Sword Of Swords with Jimmy Wang Yu, Pursuit, Killers Five, The Flying Guillotine 2, The Criminals, and Gambling Soul which would also be his last as a director. Interestingly enough, one of Cheng's finest offerings to fans was when he gave us one of Hong Kong cinema's greatest treasures in his son, Tony Ching Siu Tung – a man who would go on to bring us some of the finest martial-arts-action-films ever made, with 14 Amazons marking the first time the pair would ever work together and Gambling Soul, their last...

Overall: Epic in its running time, action scenes and superstar cast, 14 Amazons is wonderfully scripted, beautifully shot, and highly entertaining

Blu-ray Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery

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14 BLADES

(Hong Kong/China 2010) 

Original Title: Jin Yi Wei

 

Directed by Daniel Lee Produced by Cui Xiao Wen, Dong Xiang, Si Jian Jun Action by Ku Huen Chiu, Ling Chi Wah, Jian Shu, Wong Kim Wai Starring: Donnie Yen, Vikki Zhao Wei, Wu Chun, Sammo Hung, Kate Tsui, Qi Yu Wu, Damian Lau, Wu Ma, Law Kar Ying, Chen Kuan Tai, Fung Hak On Reviewing: Icon UK DVD Release Genres: New Wave / Wuxia Pan / Thriller

 

Rating - 4.3 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Six hundred years ago, during the Ming Dynasty, China possessed a secret intelligence agency, The Jinyiwei. Trained in clandestine combat from childhood, the Jinyiwei were masters of the 14 Blades. Above the law and with a license to kill, they devoted their lives to their Emperor.

When the Imperial Court is taken over by evil eunuch Jia, the best of the Jinyiwei, Qinglong (Donnie Yen) is assigned to identify those still loyal to the Emperor. Unbeknownst to Qinglong, the Jinyiwei have fallen under control of Jia, and during the mission he's betrayed. Now as the most wanted man in the land Qinglong must rally the loyalists to rise against Jia and restore the Emperor to power. (114 Mins)

Views: Donnie Yen plays Qinlong, the strongest fighter in town and the leader of the Jin Yi Wei – a special division of Imperial Guards who are a law unto themselves. Because of his role, Qinlong has been gifted a special wooden box that contains the titular 14 blades. As his missions continue and live moves on, Qinlong soon finds out that he has been betrayed by another member of the clan, aided by a meddling and wicked eunuch. Now on the run, Yen finds support with a small gang led by Qiao Yung and his daughter, Hua. From here, our hero must find out why he was betrayed and take revenge before his men catch up with him, which leads to many stunning and fantastical battles that put the 14 blades to good use!

Daniel Lee's career in the film industry has long divided critics and fans with his over-stylised direction, roller coaster of hits and misses, and sometimes muddled storytelling. Personally, though, I'm a huge fan! While his impressive debut What Price Survival may have been a period piece, Lee quickly moved into the genre of modern-action with titles such as the popular Jet Li flick Black Mask, A Fighters Blues, and underrated Sammo Hung film, Dragon Squad. As the Chinese epic fast became the go-to genre, Lee jumped on the bandwagon with his next slate of films that offered a step back-in-time with the fantastic Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon, starring Andy Lau and Sammo Hung. The heavily Chinese studio invested 14 Blades came next and although a wuxia-thriller, it was much lighter on tone that helped make it one of the best films of his career so far. Of course, this was aided by a fantastic cast in the shape of the great Donnie Yen and others. Hot off the success of Teddy Chen's wonderful Bodyguard & Assassins, Yen was met with a busy year working on 3 massive films such as this, Andrew Lau's Legend Of The Fist: The Return Of Chen Zhen, and the massive Ip Man 2 (which saw him star alongside Sammo Hung once again). All 3 films offered fans the chance to see Donnie in completely different roles, with the latter putting him back in the role of the legendary kung-fu master from his film that fast became one of his biggest hits ever. I really enjoy Yen in 14 Blades - he's stylish, cool, funny, and delivers some incredible moves that took me back to the new-wave wuxia classics of the early 90s. He is joined by the beautiful Vikki Zhao Wei who stars as Qiao Hua, and does as great a job as always. Although she first appeared on the scene in the mid 1990s, Zhao Wei first made an impression in Hong Kong action cinema with a role in Andrew Lau's The Duel alongside Andy Lau and Nick Cheung. This was followed by Chow SIng Chi's awesome Shaolin Soccer and Jeff Lau's Chinese Odyssey 2002, but it would be her role in Corey Yuen Kwai's awesome So Close action-flick that secured her place as a leading action starlet. After starring in 4 titles over 2003, Vikki would reduce her roles to almost one or two a year starring in films such as Warriors Of Heaven & Earth, The Postmodern Life Of My Aunt, Red Cliff 1 & 2, and Jingle Ma's Mulan. This would be her only film role of 2010, and always, Vikki proves to be a joy to watch and a great companion to Donnie for the most part. Hong Kong cinema legend, the late Wu Ma, stars as Zhao Wei's father Qiao Ying. Starting his acting career in the early 60s on Lady General Hua Mulan, Wu Ma went on to star in well over 300 films (not to mention many television shows) as well as directing almost 50, and working many projects as a co-director for Chang Cheh and the Shaw Brothers studio. Ma worked flat-out until his death in 2014 where he would still appear in a few titles and deliver his last directorial piece with Shigeshoshi. The gorgeous Wu Chun, actor, model, and member of Taiwanese Mandopop group Fahrenheit, stars as the desert bandit known as the Judge of the Desert. I first fell in love with Wu when I saw his debut feature role in Jingle Ma's underrated wuxia flick Butterfly Lovers, which was soon followed-up by this. The brilliant My Kingdom came next that saw him star alongside Yuen Biao, before going on to star in Magic To Win and Ronny Yu's fantastic Saving General Yang. At the time of writing, Chun's last role was in Lady Of The Dynasty in 2015 (which I've yet to see), but I am waiting with baited breath for his big screen return. All are joined by a bevy of HK cinema legends such as Fong Hak On, Chen Kuan Tai, and the amazing Sammo Hung in a non-action cameo – so don't be expecting any battles between him and Yen like their rumble in the awesome SPL or the aforementioned Ip Man 2...

The incredible fight action is handled by the talented Dee Dee Ku (Ku Huen Chiu), an actor and action choreographer who has been a part of some incredible titles. As an actor, Ku first appeared in the classic Golden Harvest martial arts comedy My Lucky Stars before going on to appear in other hits like Royal Warriors, A Better Tomorrow 2, Tiger On The Beat, Seven Warriors, and Her Fatal Ways. Aces go Places 97 would be the last feature to star Dee Dee, with fans waiting over 20 years before seeing him back on screen in the Chin Kar Lok-produced doco-film Kung Fu Stuntmen that features almost every major star of Hong Kong cinema. As an action director and choreographer, Ku worked on films such as Tiger Cage 3, King Of Beggars, Hitman, The Banquet, The Four Trilogy, Tai Chi Master, Iron Monkey, Fist Of Legend, Black Mask, and many more. With 14 Blades, he brings a host of stunningly choreographed fights highlighted by the grace and power of Donnie Yen – a man he has worked with for many years - who kicks ass pretty much the whole way through, with the action finishing with an end battle reminiscent of a scene from the classic Zu Warriors From Magic MountainWithout a doubt, 14 Blades is well acted and beautifully shot courtesy of Tony Cheung Tung Leung, the man behind the lens of Drunken Master 2, Black Mask, Beast Cops, City Under Siege, and Daniel Lee films like Three Kingdoms, White Vengeance, Dragon Blade, and What Price Survival of which he was nominated for Best Cinematographer - 14 Blades never loses steam and has a few small hiccups in the form of some dodgy CGI, although it's never too distracting to be honest. With a little humour dusted along the way, the main plot is fairly simple but is strengthened by the story of humanity and romance – and of course, the kick-ass swordplay and kung-fu scenes which are fantastic. For a film made in 2010, this could easily slip in alongside 90's classics such as The Swordsman Trilogy, The Bride with White Hair, Moon Warriors, etc. And while it may not go down as a classic or end up in anyone's top ten, it certainly shouldn't be forgotten about!

Overall: Stunningly shot, action-packed, and never dull, 14 Blades is one of Daniel Lee's best films!

DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Trailers

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18 BRONZEGIRLS OF SHAOLIN

(Hong Kong 1983) 

Original Title: Shao Lin Shi Ba Pa Tung Nu

 

Directed by Lai Yeh Chien Produced by Yun Lin Action by Chou Tai Sheng Starring: Yuen Hua, Lung Chun Erh, Chin Kang, Lee Ying, Wu Yen, Tung Fang Yu, Chen Bao Liang Reviewing: The Martial Arts Collection UK VHS Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy

Rating - 3.3 / 5

Video Synopsis: The Bronze Girls of Shaolin are trained in all aspects of Shaolin Kung-Fu and are forced to fight for revenge. Nowhere else has shown women in such vicious and terrifying combat. Right to the very end, their combined force make them beautiful but deadly fighting machines. (89 Mins)

Ground Zero/Black Belt Theatre DVD Synopsis: Bold, bad, bronze and beautiful, the 18 bronzegirls of shaolin uphold the law and order within the confines of the Temple until a wicked Manchu warlord, Chi Kung in an effort to get the secret training manual of shaolin, goes on a murderous rampage. Ming patriot Yuen Fong teams up with the bronegirls in a display of tiger claw and sun and moon kung fu in this action bronzefest!! (89 Mins)

Views: I first bought 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin on VHS around 1990 when I was just starting my kung-fu video collection. I hadn't yet seen the infamous 18 Bronzemen films, but this seemed intriguing enough for me to pick it up, and I'm glad I did. Back then I found it very entertaining, and I guess today it still is, but for many different reasons. Evil monks, invading government officials, and kung fu grannies fill the plot of this kung fu comedy with no real story to talk about. But with its crazy amount of bizarre characters, silly antics, ridiculous dubbing, stupid situations, giant killer flowers, daft storyline, and obvious doubling of the titular Bronzegirls with stuntmen, I have come to the conclusion that director Lai Yeh Chien quite clearly set out to make a satire of the classic Bronzemen movies - something, I feel, he most certainly succeeded in doing. There's no way this film can be taken seriously. From its opening scenes with the Bronzegirls introduction that sees them diving head-first into a giant bell, to the ludicrous cross-dressing grannies and nutty characters dodging giant flowers that try to kill them, 18 Bronzegirls of Shaolin just keeps on giving in regards to pure entertainment!

Although dated as a 1983 production, I have a feeling the film was shelved for a few years before getting a release. And while far from being in the same league as either Jackie Chan or Sammo Hung's films of the same time, 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin still gives us plenty of lengthy and well-choreographed fights to enjoy. The last 30 minutes alone are pretty much non-stop and include Shaw Brothers star Yuen Hua who arrives at the closing of the film for a fun end battle that sees him suffer a hilarious OTT death blow, that ends his cameo within minutes. But it's so worth it! Martial arts director Chow Tai Sheng is the man behind the action, as well as taking up a small role also. The actor and fight choreographer has starred in over 50 films since the early 70s, including classics such as One-Armed Boxer, 10 Fingers Of Steel, 18 Shaolin Disciples, Fatal Flying Guillotines, and The Green Jade Statuette. His work as a choreographer was less though, only working on 6 or 7 films including Sunset In The Forbidden City, The Death Player, and Fatal Love. I must also mention that Chou directed a handful of his own films, from 1988's Love No Exit to Lady From Palace in 1994 – but I've yet to see any of his work with him at the helm...

One thing I really enjoy about 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin is the cast, all of whom seem to be having a great time. Although the aforementioned cameo by Shaw Brothers star Yuen Hua gets credited as a lead, it's actually the wonderful Doris Lung who is the star of the piece. I've always enjoyed seeing Lung Chun Erh on screen, showing up in kung fu classics such as The Prodigal Boxer, Shaolin Wooden Men, Secret Of The Shaolin Poles, The 8 Masters, Flash Legs, Everlasting Chivalry, and the hilarious Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu alongside Jackie Chan once again. This film is actually very similar in vein to the latter, which gives the actress a chance to show of her comedy talents as well as deliver some great kung fu along the way. Lung is joined by the great Kam Kong, her Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu co-star – although they have shared the screen a number of times over the years. Kong dons the robe for another role as the Chief Monk of Shaolin and, as per usual, gets to throw some shapes along the way. The little know Tung Fang Yu stars as the hero swordsman, while prolific Taiwanese actor Li Ying (who starred in over 170 films) appears as one of the abbots of the temple. Popular actress Wu Yen almost steals the show with her performance, and the rest of the cast is filled out with a host of highly recognisable faces and kung fu actors such as Liu You Pin, Ko Chang Sheng, Chen Bao Liang, Wu Te Shan, and Chen Chin Hai – many of whom appeared in countless Shaw Brothers and early Golden Harvest titles.

While it will never go down as a classic and is constantly ridiculed for its low-budget flaws, 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin is a film that I will happily return to every so often because it makes me laugh. It may not be perfect, but it entertains me and that's all I need. In fact, if this ever got re-released on Blu-ray, restored in glorious widescreen and its original language – I'd be the first to purchase!

Overall: Far from ever being a classic, 18 Bronzegirls is wonderfully entertaining with some fun fights and plenty of laughs!

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18 BRONZEMEN

(Taiwan 1976) 

Original Title: Shao Lin Si Shi Ba Tong Ren

 

Directed by Joseph Kuo Produced by Joseph Kuo Action by Cliff Lok, Huang Fei Lung, Chen Shao Peng Starring: Carter Wong, Roc Tien Peng, You Min Ko, Polly Kwan, Chang Yi, Yi Yuan, Lu Ping, Chiang Nan, Lu Bih Yun, Su Jen Ping, Yuen Shen, Yue Fung Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

Eureka Video Blu-ray Synopsis: Before students can leave the Shaolin temple, they must face a series of challenges and defeat the Shaolin Bronzemen, deadly fighters – some wielding weapons, others heavily armoured – who destroy anyone who crosses their path. Carter Wong (Big Trouble In Little China) will challenge them in both 18 Bronzemen and Return Of The 18 Bronzemen. (95 Mins)

MIA UK DVD Synopsis: At the end of the Ching dynasty and during the time of the Manchurian invasion, a Ming general sends his son to Shaolin Temple to avoid being slaughtered. Eighteen years roll by and the boy, now a fully-grown man and master of the Shaolin martial arts, requests to leave the temple and help fight the Manchu invaders. To leave the sacred order he must first face a test of immense skill, courage and daring. Along with his classmate, Wan Tai Chun (Carter Wong) he must enter a labyrinth of martial arts mayhem. Before them lie corridors of traps and huge bronze men, some wielding clubs, staffs and swords, others dressed in huge armour plated suits, which will destroy anything that crosses their path. Once through the dreaded chambers, the Shaolin disciples will have the Shaolin crest of the dragon and tiger burnt into their forearms by lifting a huge bronze pot. Outside, our heroes meet up with more patriots and fight against tyranny. Joseph Kuo hits the mark with this spellbinding big budget offering, a great movie which spawned a sequel and several imitations. (95 Mins)

Views: The ever reliable Joseph Kuo gives us one of the most iconic and trend setting kung-fu films in the shape of The 18 Bronzemen, the film that thrust star Carter Wong into leading man status and sits comfortably alongside the likes of the 36th Chamber Trilogy as a Shaolin themed classic! This is one film I would love to see cleaned up and 4K restored in widescreen. I'm a huge fan of director Joseph Kuo, with his film career spanning almost 60 films as a director and most of which where very well received, as well as highly entertaining pieces. The 18 Bronzemen is definitely one of his best (not to mention one of his most famous) and its not just because of the shiny men in gold. This is actually a very well made production in every aspect from the acting to the cinematography, and the detailed sets to the nicely choreographed fight scenes. This little gem is a kung-fu classic in every sense. In the same year Lo Wei had released 4 Jackie Chan movies and even went as far as to compete against the Bronzemen with his very own version – Shaolin Wooden Men (aka Shaolin Chamber Of Death). But Lo Wei wasn't the only concern for Kuo's box office spot as the mighty Shaw Brothers Studios were also dishing out hit after hit of course, producing almost 40 titles alone in 1976 including classics such as Killer Clans, The Dragon Missile, Challenge Of The Masters, The Magic Blade, Web Of Death, and so much more. So in reality, any film from a smaller independent studio who were releasing films around this period certainly had their work cut out for them – although I personally believe that 18 Bronzemen had enough great kung-fu, drama, and high production value to stand-tall alongside many of the Shaw Brothers films of a similar theme!

While the awesome 36th Chamber Trilogy carried a lot of comedy throughout, The Bronzemen Trilogy proves to be a much more serious matter. Running the usual storyline of Manchurian villains and revenge involving Qing versus Ming, there is a fair amount of drama that drives the film forward. While it's hardly fresh in that respect, it is supported by some great training sequences and fight scenes which definitely keep things exciting for viewers. In the temple we find young fighters, Carter Wong and Roc Tien, working side-by-side to master their Shaolin training. By the one-hour mark you feel you have already sat through a full film (in a positive way) having had so much happen, but it is at this point our heroes get to leave Shaolin to continue their story. At the same time, we get introduced to the fantastic Polly Shang Kwan who enters as a man, but soon reveals her true self and helps bring a little more energy to the last 30 minutes of the film – getting to kick-ass a number of times in the energetic final chapter...

Although the story mostly focuses on Roc Tien and his story, Carter Wong shines as the kung-fu boy turned monk and steals the show for the most part. I've always been a huge fan of his and its odd to think that prior to 18 Bronzemen he had already starred in a good 30 films beforehand for studios like Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, as well as many other Joseph Kuo productions. Films like Hapkido, When Taekwondo Strikes, The Skyhawk, Dragon Gate, The Dragon Tamers, Shaolin Kids, Marco Polo, The Blazing Temple, and The Traitorous, had already earned him a large following but something about The 18 Bronzemen just confirmed his status as a kung-fu star. When that star started to fade in the early 80s, Wong headed to the bright lights of Hollywood where he got the chance to star in the incredibly fun John Carpenter movie Big Trouble In Little China as Thunder, and worked behind the scenes on the action for Rambo 3. The poorly received Hardcase & Fist soon followed before he returned to Hong Kong for appearances in films like The Transmigration Romance, Way Of The Lady Kickboxers, and High Voltage with Donnie Yen – but it was nothing compared to that of his heyday and soon, Wong returned to the States. Roc Tien didn't do too bad himself starting his film career in King Hu's classic Dragon Inn and returning to work with him once again in A Touch Of Zen. Over the years, Tien starred in more than 60 films through to the early 80s, many of which were enjoyable Taiwanese wuxia flicks. Some of these also put him alongside his 18 Bronzemen co-stars over the years, with the trio sharing the screen repeatedly at the height of the kung-fu craze. From 1974 to 84, he directed 7 features of his own from The Notorious Bandit to The Legend Of All Men Are Brothers, as well as The Silver Spear which saw him star alongside Doris Lung. Of course, we can't forget about the wonderful Polly Shang Kwan, who debuted alongside Roc in Dragon Inn. Once again, Kwan proves to be a joy to watch as she gets to show-off some great moves and acting, and looks great doing it.

The kung fu action is handled with care by no less than 3 choreographers. These include the great Cliff Lok, Chan Siu Pang, and Wong Fei Long. Of course, Lok had been a kung fu star in his own right after starting a career with the Shaw Brothers in films like Magnificent Trio, One-Armed Swordsman, Golden Swallow, and more. As he career progresses, Cliff became the lead in a number of classics such as Kung Fu Genius, Duel Of The 7 Tigers, and Choi Lee Fat Kung Fu, going on to appear in modern flicks such as Angels Project with Moon Lee and the low budget, Fatal Dream. Having trained under the infamous master Yu Jim Yuen from the Peking Opera School that put Jackie, Sammo, and Yuen Biao through their paces, Lok was behind a number of films as the martial arts director. These included 18 Bronzemen and its first sequel as well as The Shaolin Kids and Shaolin Death Squads (both with Wong and Kwan), and Interpol which he also starred in. Wong Fei Long was equally as talented and starred in over 70 films including titles such as One-Armed Boxer 1 & 2, Wang Yu King Of Boxers, 18 Shaolin Disciples, 10 Brothers Of Shaolin, War Of The Shaolin Temple, as well as many of the aforementioned titles with Carter Wong and Cliff Lok where he would also work as a choreographer on most. Long also worked as a choreographer on The Angry Hero, Invincible Super Guy, Flash Legs, The Smart Cavalier, and Eunuch Of The Western Palace as well as directing his own films like Crazy Guy With Super Kung Fu, Deadly Strike, and a few more. But it would have to be Chan Siu Pang who outshines them both with his career in the industry as the star of over 100 films from 1960 to 2006, that would see Johnnie To's Election 2 and Shaolin Vs Evil Dead 2: Ultimate Power, being his final projects. He also directed 7 films himself – many of which included working with both Carter Wong and Cliff Lok on a regular basis, and held a strong position as a martial arts director having choreographed over 60 films throughout his career including The Comet Strikes, Super Dragon, Joseph Kuo's The Old Master (with Master Yu Jim Yuen), and the super fun Seasonal Films flick, Lackey And The Lady Tiger starring Mars and Hwang Jang Lee.

With a great team behind him, Joseph Kuo made a genuine classic kung fu movie. It's a film that I never seem to tire of watching along with its sequels The Return Of The 18 Bronzemen and The 8 Masters, each of which are worth checking out. And although fans of Hong Kong cinema and kung fu movies only often connect the man with a handful of classics including this particular trilogy, Shaolin Kids, 7 Grandmasters, Mystery Of Chess Boxing, Dragon Claws, Born Invincible, and World Of The Drunken Master, Joseph Kuo Nan Hong had actually helmed well over 70 movies from the late 1950s until his final project as director in 1993 with Man And Woman In Love, as well as having written and produced the majority of his own work. Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Eureka Video as part of the Joseph Kuo collection called Cinematic Vengeance, 18 Bronzemen has never looked better and is presented in its original language. Interestingly enough, it is also accompanied by the Hong Kong Theatrical Version – a film reconstructed from a number of different sources that sees the footage jump between widescreen and 4:3 ratio. This is because the restored version was originally re-cut for Japanese audiences, with additional footage from Kuo's Blazing Temple and other scenes removed. With the original Hong Kong version now lost, Eureka did what they could to reconstruct this new version, which runs for a good 4 or 5 minutes longer than the other and offers a different viewing experience worth watching to compare...

Overall: Well produced, full of emotion, kung-fu and great cinematography, The 18 Bronzemen is one of Kuo's finest moments!

Eureka Video Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng & John Charles, alternate reconstructed Hong Kong Theatrical Version

MIA DVD Extras: Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this Eureka Video release HERE

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18 GOLDEN DESTROYERS

(Hong Kong/Thailand 1985) 

(aka) Golden Destroyers; The Hunt For The Golden Man

 

Directed by Godfrey Ho (Gordon Chan) Produced by Godfrey Ho, Joseph Lai Action by Fred Mak Starring: Roman Chan, Sorapong Chatree, Anita Nui, Casanova Wong, Louis Lee, Frank Nui Reviewing: Ground Zero/Black Belt Theatre US DVD Release Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Comedy

Rating - 0.7 / 5

DVD Synopsis: The legendary 18 Bronzemen of Shaolin are unearthed after a long slumber by an evil monk. They are ready to take on the modern world, but is the world ready for them? Some things don't die quietly... (89 Mins)

*Released as a double bill with 18 Bronzegirls of Shaolin

Views: Where do I start?!? 18 Golden Destroyers is just pure 'bad cinema' gold. Opening with a scene from one movie set in traditional China with the great Casanova Wong taking on about 40 men (I think taken from the film Rivals Of The Silver Fox), the film would have you think you think you're in for a treat before quickly switching to another film – a Thai movie called, The Hunt For The Golden Man, and this is where the fun begins. The plot involves a temple in Hong Kong that can reincarnate Shaolin monks into gold “robots” that do the temple's dirty work. An evil monk steals the Golden Destroyers and takes them to Thailand where he plans on using them to extract gold from a mine and then take over the country. I'm not kidding – it's mental!!

With silly acting, panto costumes, and a temple master who has white carpet stuck on his face for eyebrows and a mustache, you can't help but constantly laugh. But for me, it is the ridiculously uninspired and badly choreographed fight scenes that make this such a fun watch. While some of the actors can move, the timing and editing are horrendous which only makes for some hilarious scenes. And while I'm on hilarious scenes – the one where our hero helps a girl down from the rocks and waterfalls is laugh-out-loud funny as their real falls are left in, but the dubbing ignores what is actually happening. Another scene involves the Golden Destroyers attacking a village in a zombie-like fashion, killing off the locals for no reason with one little girl being able to escape through the legs of an undead attacker. Angered, the golden zombie climbs into the nearest pig sty and grabs a piglet – for no reason!

And it just gets more mental from there!!

The film claims to be have been directed by a Gordon Chan. Now if we were to believe that, and it was the same Gordon Chan who gave us HK hits such as Fight Back To School, Fist of Legend, Thunderbolt, and many more – then this would be his first as a director. But I don't believe it was. This has Godfrey Ho all over it, respectively - but truth be told, this is clearly a rehash of a cheap Thai film called The Hunt For The Golden Man and should be avoided...

Overall: To be honest, 18 Golden Destroyers is just plain bad, but if you need a laugh and love bad films then this is for you!

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18 SECRETS OF KUNG FU

Taiwan 1980) 

Original Title: Shi Ba Ban Wu Yi (aka) 18 Weapons Of Kung Fu; Eighteen Fighting Skills

 

Directed by Chan Hung Man Produced by Lin Ta Yuan Action by Wong Wing San Starring: Alan Lee Hoi Hing, Wong Wing Sang, Ricky Cheng Tien Chi, Wong Chi Sang, Miu Tak San, Siu Foo Dau, Shih Ting Ken Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy

 

 

Rating - 3 / 5

Synopsis: Li Tai must endure terrible hardship under his sadistic kung fu master in order to perfect his fighting technique. Chances finally come for the ambitious young man when his old master meets his match, and Li has to use the 18 secrets of kung fu to save his Sifu and fight the challenger. Find out who's the ultimate martial arts master in 18 SECRETS OF KUNG FU! (89 Mins)

Views: After opening with a master monk explaining the history of the 18 weapons (of kung fu) to a group of kids, this Taiwanese chop-socky flick quickly turns into a typical early 80's kung-fu comedy, albeit with decent training and fight scenes that help keep afloat the basic story-line of a sadistic master and his student. While the overall story may be unclear due to the jumps in edits and large range of (unexplained) characters, you certainly can't complain about the quality and quantity of fight scenes on offer. And to be honest, that seems to be what it's really all about! 18 Secrets Of Kung Fu is filled with scattered comedy sequences and crazy characters who often cross paths in training sequences, or full-on attacks that lead to some neatly choreographed kung-fu fights. I must mention though, that there is one great stunt involving one of the actresses (Cheng Fei Fei) as she clings on to a wooden raft as it tears down the white-water rapids, banging off rocks and almost drowning in the raging torrents. It's actually quite a bizarrely, dark moment in the film and seems, somewhat, out of place with everything else that is going on!

The film stars Alan Lee Hoi Hing, a recognisable actor that usually plays the bad guy in many Alexander Lo Rei films such as Ninja USA, Ninja Final Duel, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death, and Ninja Vs Shaolin Guard. He's always been a great mover and in 18 Secrets Of Kung-Fu, gets to enjoy the role of the hero for a change in what would have been only his 4th or 5th feature at the time. Apart from the aforementioned Lo Rei movies, Lee would go on to star in a host of great titles including the epic Ninja In The Dragon's Den, Demon Strike, Drunken Tai Chi, The Last Blood, Beheaded 1000, and the bizarre Iron Monkey 2 – as well as serving as the martial arts director for many of those he appeared in. The popular Ricky Cheng Tien Chi, from movies such as Killer Meteors, Return Of The Chinese Boxer, 37 Plots Of Kung Fu, Fearless Hyena, Incredible Kung Fu Mission, Five Element Ninjas, House Of Traps, Ninja Hunter, Attack Of The Joyful Goddess, and many more, also appears for a bit of fun impressing with some great moves. Wang Yung Sheng, who appeared in over 80 features over the course of a decade, plays one of the main villains in the story. This would be one of his last few roles and would be quite recognisable for his appearances in many Jimmy Wang Yu productions including Beach Of The War Gods, Infernal Street, Seaman No. 7, and the One-Armed Boxer 1 & 2 – playing the Indian fighter in the latter. Wang would also appear with Jackie Chan in New Fist Of Fury and show his skills in Joseph Kuo's 36 Deadly Styles, Mystery Of Chess Boxing, The Old Master, and World Of The Drunken Master, and also handled the fight choreography here in 18 Secrets Of Kung Fu – no doubt with a little help from Alan Lee and a few others. The rest of the cast is fleshed out with regular Taiwanese kung fu stars such as Wang Chi Sheng, Shih Ting Ken, Pan Cheng Ming, Ko Hsiao Pao, and the prolific Wu Te Shan who appears, once again, as an old Shaolin monk.

The film is directed by Chen Hung Min, a name I'm not too familiar with, although I have seen his film Fists Of Vengeance starring Yasuaki Kurata which I quite enjoyed. Starting life in the industry in the late 1950s, Chen trained as an editor in Japan with the Toho and Toei film companies, and went on to edit over 100 films on his return to Taiwan. He would then go on to make his directorial debut in 1968 with Vengeance Of The Phoenix Sisters and directed over 25 films throughout his career including titles such as The Eight Immortals, Chiu Chow Kung Fu, Kung Fu Inferno, and Little Hero with Polly Shang Kwan and Lo Lieh. Although 18 Secrets Of Kung Fu would prove to be his last at the helm, he would continue to edit many more features into the late 80s...

Overall: Bottom line; revenge is on the cards. Nothing special here folks, but 18 Secrets Of Kung Fu offers plenty of great fights to keep fans entertained!

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36 DEADLY STYLES

(Taiwan 1979) 

Original Title: Mi Quan San Shi Liu Zhao (aka) Tai Chi Shadow Boxing; 4 Clans Of Death

 

Directed by Joseph Kuo Produced by Joseph Kuo Action by Max Lee Chiu Jun Starring: Hwang Jang Lee, Cheung Lik, Jeannie Chang Wing Wing, Chan Lau, Fan Mei Sheng, Bolo Yeung Mau Ging shun, Yeung Chak Lam, Jack Long, Mark Long Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama / Comedy

 

Rating - 3.7 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: In the 36 Deadly Styles, a young man must learn a deadly new martial art to avenge the death of his father. (92 Mins)

Views: Opening with an attack on kung-fu star Nick Cheung Lik (A Tooth For A Tooth), 36 Deadly Styles quickly jumps into the typical story-line of that era of a kung-fu student learning a new style to defeat an evil martial-arts-master for revenge. Clearly inspired by the success of Jackie Chan's Snake In The Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master for Seasonal, Joseph Kuo went as far as to hire the same superstar bad guy (Hwang Jang Lee) for the film. In fact, the wonderful Simon Yuen himself had also been cast – as seen in promotional materials before production had started – but was later replaced with the great Fan Mei Sheng, much like with his role in Magnificent Butcher (which was directed by his son, Yuen Woo Ping). Interestingly enough, 1979 was one hell of a busy year for Simon Yuen with 12 or 13 titles on the go, and only a few across 1980 before his death in December of the same year – literally worked to death after the success of his roles in the aforementioned Seasonal titles, leaving behind an impressive 340+ titles to his name. As it turns out, Hwang himself only had a limited amount of time on set and was pretty much doubled for the most part – as seen by the many wide-shots and angles taken to help hide his character, not to mention the large 'Silver Fox inspired' wig used to cover his face (and only one of many from the bizarre collection of wigs on show here) until the big reveal towards the end when the man himself finally appears. Regardless, 36 Deadly Styles does contain a good amount of kung-fu action and some fun comedy, along with a disturbing scene involving the skinning of a snake which is actually quite gross. This is down to Yeung Chak Lam, trying to make himself some medicine to aid his injuries from a past fight against super-kicker, Hwang Jang Lee. While it may open with a dark and serious tone, there is a lot more comedy on offer here than usual for a Joseph Kuo movie (along with music from the famed Pink Panther show), but 36 Deadly Styles does mature eventually and finds a more serious tone for the last 30 minutes – both in story and choreography!

Although there may be better kung-fu films out there, the action in 36 Deadly Styles certainly doesn't fail to entertain and displays some beautifully choreographed fist-to-foot action courtesy of fight director Max Lee Chiu Jun. Lee, who starred in classics such as Snake In the Eagles Shadow, The Magnificent Butcher and Drunken Master (as well as a brief role here as Nick Cheung's father), started life in the industry as a bit-player for Shaw Brothers in 1969. His first foray as a choreographer was on Kung Fu's Hero (aka Angry Dragon) in 1973 that starred Nick Cheung Lik and Bolo Yeung, with 36 Deadly Styles reuniting them almost 6 years later. After some choreography work on Jackie Chan's Master With Cracked Fingers, Lee joined forces with Kuo once again for Dragon's Claws that saw him get the chance to work with Hwang Jang Lee one more time, before sticking with Kuo for The Unbeaten 28 and Shaolin Temple Strikes Back. Here, Lee brings a hefty amount of tight, fast, and hard-hitting kung-fu to the screen that makes the most of its fantastic cast members – all of whom deliver some incredible moves. The grand finale in particular is worth the ticket price alone as a host of fighters face-off against each other including Nick Cheung Lik, Hwang Jang Lee, Fan Mei Sheng, Jack Long, Mark Long, and Jeannie Chang...

Father to the wonderful Fan Siu Wong (Story Of Ricky), Fan Mei Sheng, co-stars as a tea-house owner who had dealt with Hwang previously - happens to run into him again for the end battle. His daughter is played by Jeannie Chang, who joins forces with Lik to take revenge and gets the chance to throw some pretty sweet moves herself. Chang had only started her film career with Kuo in The Mystery Of Chess Boxing (shot just before 36 Deadly Styles) where she starred alongside Kuo regulars Jack Long and Mark Long, as well as Lee Yi Min and Simon Yuen himself. Like many of the other cast members, Chang would stick with Kuo for a few more films including World Of The Drunken Master and The Unbeaten 28. Of course, Mark and Jack Long (who really need no introduction) get to go toe-to-toe near the end, with Mark getting greyed up this time and Jack once again talking about retiring as a kung-fu master. Their big fight looks almost like it was cut in from another film altogether, but apparently Mark's character is brother to Hwang Jang Lee's – so it works. As with the most of his roles, the underrated Nick Cheung Lik does a fantastic job in his role as Wai Chi and while he's no Jackie Chan, he still manages to pull-off some comedic moments and deliver some fantastic moves that will please fans of old-school kung-fu cinema.

This Kuo classic finally had the restoration and respect it deserved, when it was released as part of the Joseph Kuo Collection from Eureka Video called Cinematic Vengeance. I've actually never seen the film look as amazing as it does on this Blu-ray, and it could easily get mistaken for a film made in the last year thanks to its sharp quality, strong colours, and the original ratio on offer. While it may have some minor flaws here and there – not to mention plenty of unintentional comedy thanks to its charade of wigs – 36 Deadly Styles is a highly enjoyable kung-fu flick that deserves a watch!

Overall: While not as polished as other Joseph Kuo films, 36 Deadly Styles still hits the mark and delivers some great kung-fu action!

Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema

Watch my unboxing video of this Eureka Video release HERE

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