(South Korea 2020)
Original Title: #Saraitda
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.
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!
(Hong Kong 2005)
Original Title: Jo Sok
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.
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, with its main focus of romance and the struggles of family life. Of course, as one of the first reviews in my collection, I had to finally dust it off and, well – I only wish I had done so sooner! While a simple film, celebrated director Derek Yee (Shinjuku Incident) gives us a beautiful film that hits hard in many departments. From the great acting of its amazing cast, delivery of emotion, light-hearted comedy, and capturing of real life – I have to admit that it 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, little Jaycee sure had some big shoes to fill in order to show he is his own person when it comes 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, 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. Yee gathers a top cast to work with these young new stars in the shape of the amazing Eric Tsang and Teresa Mo who play Chan's parents (with Mo winning the award for Best Supporting Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards), and the fantastic Anthony Wong and Candice Yu, who star as hers. Regular face of many Hong Kong films, Shiu Hung Hui, co-stars as a butler for the latter's family, and the ever-popular Lam Suet gets a fun cameo as the headmaster of a school...
I loved 2 Young. Maybe as a parent in my 40's with teenage kids, I can relate more to the film – but I 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 and the right amount of emotion, without any of the cheese most Hollywood films of the same genre delivers!
DVD Extras: Making of documentary, Promotional Footage, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Trailer, Photo Gallery, Directors Biography & Filmography
3 FAMOUS CONSTABLES
Original Title: San Da Ming Bu Hui Jing Shi
(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 Pian
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.
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!
It 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, introducing more characters, right up to the arrival of the wonderful Pearl Cheung.
Tin Hok, from films such as Awe Inspiring Weapon, and Godrey 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, pretty much, 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 overall-plot quite basic. But the film wins-over its viewers with its action scenes which 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). Joining him are fight directors Wang Chiang Liang and Yau Pang Sang, both of whom had 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. Or perhaps that's just how it's meant to be!
Strangely enough, Ching Siu Tung's incredible 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 Duel, 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 some great production value and plenty of exciting martial-action.
Overall: Stylish, old-school wuxia action, that's well worth the watch!
5 FIGHTERS FROM SHAOLIN
Original Title: Gui Fu Shen
(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, Chian 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.
Views: I was so excited to finally see this action-packed classic and I was not disappointed! Not only did it star a fantastic martial arts cast, but the fight choreographers behind the action were none-other than the amazing Alexander Lo Rei and Robert Tai. Of course, Lo Rei starred alongside Long in the aforementioned movie, and most of this cast has also shared the screen with Lo Rei at some stage or at the very least, been directed by Tai...
Director Ko Pao was behind one of my childhood favourites, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death (aka Ninja Tiger), along with Shaolin Iron Claws, and the fun 7 Commandments Of Kung-Fu, as well as starring in a host of classics from the 1970s, with 5 Fighters From Shaolin being his last as a director. Bursting with energy due to its fantastic kung-fu cast, the film has some fun comedy woven throughout mixed with crazy stunt-work and plenty of fast and furious martial arts choreography. 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 Chen Shan, co-star of many Alexander Lo Rei movies such as Ninja USA, and Shaolin Vs Lama, as well as many other Taiwanese classics. Chen is a great mover and really gets to show his skills from the get-go here. The next is Shaw Brothers star Chiang Sheng, who also played the blind master in the aforementioned Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death. Here, he plays a roadside-teahouse owner alongside his brother, played by the fun William Yen who, much like the rest of the cast, has starred in many Alexander Lo Rei and Robert Tai productions. A few other faces join the group and by the 20-minute mark, the rigorous training regime kicks-in, allowing the cast members to put their kung-fu and comedy skills to good use. This includes a scene at night, where monk Long blocks all senses of his students – making them wear cloth mitts, clogging their noses and ears with tissues, and blindfolding them, before setting them off on a mission to get back to the temple using 'the force', for want of a better explanation. It all results in a quick scuffle with some bandits, and the team throwing a hissy-fit about their teacher's hard-handed ways!
After a good 30 minutes of training, daft comedy sequences, and impressive moves, you quickly realise just what a talented bunch of people is involved in this production. Much like his brother, Mark Long is an incredible on-screen fighter and throws some strong moves that really please. I did enjoy him in this more comedic role as the crazy monk. One of his highlights for me was his fight against the great Alan Chui and his men, showcasing some fast and furious moves before introducing Jack Long as the white-haired killer - sporting many similarities to his character in the brilliant Ninja Hunter (ironically this is also known as Ninja Hunter 2). 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. Thankfully, it isn't too distracting and all lead to an insane 20-minute finale, with (the now one-armed) monk Long and his fighters taking on the awesome Jack Long and his men in a 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...
Overall: Funny, fast-paced, and full of great kung-fu, 5 Fighters From Shaolin is well worth the watch and highly entertaining!!
5 PATTERN DRAGON CLAWS
(South Korea / Hong Kong 1983)
Original Title: Noigwon
(aka) Thunderfist; Fist Of Lightning; Dragon Claws
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
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...
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 cliches 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 it actually still is!
The film opens in the middle of a tournament being held at a temple. The 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. Starting film-life as a Bruce Lee clone, Dragon 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 a more exciting actor and fighter than Bruce himself. While he looks like he's about knee-high, Dragon Lee is a powerhouse and beats his way through this 90-minute fight, with hardly a rest. One of the other students and close friend of Dragon's, (Mun Jong-Geum) decides to kill the head monk and steal the treasured books under his pillow, in a bid to become the best fighter of the martial world. With the monk now gone, the head gangster of the town (played by the amazing Hwang Jang Lee) vows to let nothing get in his way and soon has his men out causing trouble which leads to some fantastic fight scenes. The 30-minute mark gives us a great battle between Dragon and Hwang Jang Lee, showcasing some impressive moves, and coming across like an end battle that many other kung-fu flicks of this era would be proud of. Unfortunately, the Dragon is left for dead after an attack by Hwang's feet-of-fury, 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, it's 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 gives the brilliant Hwang Jang Lee his finest moments though, as he takes on the master monk and a furious Dragon Lee in a blistering end battle that totally impresses with his powerful, thunder-kicks!
So much fun!!
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, Baek Hwang-Ki. Baek is also a familiar face to fans of early kung-fu films, starring in classics such as The Dragon's Showdown, Martial Monks Of Shaolin Temple, Tower Of Death, and Hitman In The Hand Of Buddha, as well as many others. 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 from Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers) 5 Pattern Dragon Claws still delivers with constant kung-fu action. It also highlights a host of fantastic kicks that are woven through its wonderfully choreographed fights, thanks to its casting of taekwondo trained performers – most of whom are recognisable to fans of old-school kung-fu cinema.
Overall: While not a classic to many, 5 Pattern Dragon Claws delivers and still holds up well today!
(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.
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!!
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 other 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. 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!
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. The fights, which are mainly handled by Hung Yan Yan, are (for the most part) gritty and realistic. There is 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 the fights also include a blade of some sort, most of which are wonderfully choreographed. In fact, it would be fair to say that almost everyone in the main cast gets to throw a punch or kick somewhere along the way...
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 initial attack on the army camp is 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. Again, I can't understand why there isn't more love for this epic.
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!
Overall: A fantastic movie that deserves a bigger audience, 7 Assassins is almost epic in its own right!
7 COMMANDMENTS OF
(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.
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. This leads to a fun fight scene just before the halfway mark, as the 2 men take on the attackers. 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 one of my childhood favourites with 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, while much lower in production values, 7 Commandments Of Kung-Fu still had its moments with the end battle being the highlight of course.
Overall: Nothing new here, but some nice kung-fu action if you've nothing else to watch!
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: Eastern Heroes UK DVD Release
Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Comedy
Rating - 4.5 / 5
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”.
Views: First of all, there are better quality versions of 7 Grandmasters on YouTube than what this Eastern Heroes DVD release offers, which is just ridiculous. If there was any respect for this classic and others, they would have delivered a much cleaner version rather than this ripped-from-video copy!
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-creme of classic kung-fu cinema, led by the incredible Long brothers who 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 - brought about after he receives a mysterious letter. There's nothing nasty in what he's doing (in fact, he's a very modest guy), but when you've got to confirm something's in life, you just have to do whatever it takes. With his posse alongside him (which includes his brother Mark Long), Jack's first challenge is with a renowned kung-fu master played by the wonderful Lung Fei. Without seriously injuring Fei, Long proves the winner and leaves the scene after thanking him for his time, but in a strange turn of events that night, Fei 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 friendly duels, some of which include stars such as fight choreographer and Hong Kong legend Corey Yuen Kwai, the popular character-actor Chin Yuet Sang, Lee Hang, and long-time kung-fu actor, Mao Ching Shun.
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 father's murder. Although reluctant to let him join the party, Lee persists and keeps trying, while constantly treated like crap and verbally abused by Long's avid followers. 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 film's serious plot without ruining things. 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 Long see Lee Yi Min's dedication, and after answering a simple question about the master's last fight, finally secures his spot as a respected disciple of the group. As more incredible fights and training sessions follow, it all boils down to the clichéd 'master-versus-student' showdown as Lee Yi Min is convinced that it was his new master who killed his father (Lung Fei). This is definitely one of the finest fights of the film, with both stars showing some incredible moves and kung-fu skills as they battle it out.
Jack Long is just one of the most amazing martial artists ever committed to film. His moves, on-screen presence, and acting are always in top form, as are his brothers. Although Jack leads the way, both siblings get to show their stuff many times in some greatly choreographed action that comes from two of Hong Kong's finest action directors, with the aforementioned Corey Yuen Kwai himself getting to face off against Jack in one of the films best fights. With minimal training sequences, which is rare for a kung-fu film of this era, the classic 7 Grandmasters is packed with one-to-one fights, well-choreographed kung-fu battles, and an incredible finale between Jack Long, Lee Yi Min, and Alan Chui, that shines as one of kung-fu cinema's best!
Overall: A well made kung-fu classic and one of Joseph Kuo's best films...
DVD Extras: Trailer
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!
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 – but honestly, it's not that bad. 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!
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
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: Without a doubt, one of my favourite Shaw Brothers movies and one of my all-time favourite kung-fu films overall, 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. He is outstanding in his performance and pulls off some of his best on-screen fighting in many different fight scenes!
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! 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, 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. I just love this movie. It is quite possibly Lau Kar Leung's finest moment as a director and choreographer with 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 Shaolin monk, Kara Hui as Sister Eight, and even Yuen Tak gets to show off a few moves as he tries to help the Yang's. As usual, Shaw Brothers productions always offer an amazing array of villains and one of their best is Johnny Wang Lung Wei who, as usual, kicks ass and shows why he is one of Hong Kong cinema's best bad guys. It all leads to an incredible finale, with some incredible weapons battles, stunt work, 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
8 DRAGON SWORD
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.
Views: 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, 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 look slightly dated today due to its typical 1960's theatrics and plot, but it boasts a wide range of crazy weapons, interesting characters, and fight scenes that hit the mark and keep things moving!
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. This time, without a battle, he 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. It's at this point, Hua finds out that his 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 – as well as search for Hua's body. From here, the story holds focus on Hua as he protects the real Fire Dragon Magic Ball and its family, from the invading thieves – as well as falling in love with his saviour, played by Violet Pan.
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. Pan Chang Ming is another actor and choreographer that followed a few years later starring in, and working on titles such as One Armed Boxer, Super Dragon, Snuff Bottle Connection, and Devil Girl 18 with Yukari Oshima. His work here on The 8 Dragon Sword would be his first project as a fight choreographer, and along with Yu, who had a handful of jobs behind him by this stage, proved to be very capable in making 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. 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!
Original Title: Ba Da Men Pai
(aka) 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
Reviewing: Hollywood East UK DVD Release
Genres: Traditional Kung Fu / Drama
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.
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.
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. 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 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 does appear on-screen. He literally heads straight into the chambers of Shaolin where he meets some old friends – the Bronzemen – and gives us a show of great moves that hark back to his previous adventures with Joseph Kuo...
It would be fair to say the 8 Masters rattles along at a great pace. Just 20 minutes in, and Chu has already passed all the Shaolin chambers. After thanking his masters, he sets 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. It's a fun fight scene, with a few comedic moments. He soon makes his way to his old home where he finds his blind mother, who is being looked after by the wonderful Doris Lung – starlet of many early classics such as Jackie Chan's Half A Loaf Of Kung-Fu and Shaolin Wooden Men, along with Shaolin Brothers and Shaolin Invincibles, where she shared the screen with Wong again. She also starred in one of my favourite Bronzemen films in the hilarious, 18 Bronzegirls Of Shaolin. As it turns out, 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. Not taking no for an answer, the 8 masters return for another forceful attempt and, once again, Chu refuses. This leads to the kidnapping (and later, death) of his mother, which angers Chu, 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 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 Wong.
Even with its typical 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. 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 it. 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. Instead, we get a few minutes of a scene that brings a proper closure to the film, which is great to see. And while it's not a directly connected sequel to the Bronzemen films, The 8 Masters may just be the best of the bunch!
It's definitely a trilogy I'd love to see cleaned-up and given a respectful Blu-ray release...
Overall: A classic to many, this underrated film is still worth a watch if you are a fan of old-school-chop-socky!
DVD Extras: Photo Gallery
8 STRIKES OF THE WILDCAT
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: Traditional Kung Fu / Comedy
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!
Views: 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 a pretty damn good kung-fu flick! Three kung-fu fighters, 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 the Three Rats, 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, Lee Ta Fa, at the same time!
Released in the UK by the cheap ass Vengeance Video DVD label, the film is presented in wonderful letterbox widescreen although in VHS video quality but is actually really well made. I found it to be wonderfully filmed, with great set pieces and some brilliantly choreographed fight scenes. I'm actually surprised 8 Strikes Of The Wildcat doesn't appear on people's lists more often, as an underrated gem. 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 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 afterward, 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, posing in the splits or cocking her leg in the air. It also stars a number of Taiwanese kung-fu stars such as Wang Tai Lang from films like Eagle Claw & Butterfly Palm, Phantom Kung-Fu, Dance Of Death, and he also played 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, Cantonen Iron Kung Fu, and actor/choreographer in over 120 films. The third rat is Chen Shen Lin, a face recognisable from films such as New Fist Of Fury, The Face Behind The Mask, Killer Meteors, and Secret Of Chinese Kung Fu. Helping Chi find vengeance for her dad is Taiwanese heart-throb and actor Lee Tao Hung, 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, 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 & 6, and Young Kickboxer. Actors Wong Chung Yung and Chen Hsiang assist Lin Wan Chang, and between them, manage to bring some exciting fights to the screen...
Overall: It's funny, it's 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
9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA
(aka) Deadly Warrior; American 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.
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, Laser Mission and the earliest James Bond films. It's fucking embarrassing! 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 to 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. Given the humorous element in those films, I am leaning more towards the fact that 9 Deaths Of The Ninja may actually have been made for laughs. And if that is the case, then this could most certainly be a masterpiece IF it was genuinely 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!
9 1/2 NINJAS
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
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?
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!
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.
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. 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. Wang Kuo Fei, who starred in films such as Marco Polo, To Kill With Intrigue, and Mars Villa also joins the team. In fact, 1977 was one of his busiest years that would see him star or appear in 22 titles, including Along Comes A Tiger that would see him star alongside a number of the stars here. God Of Gamblers bad guy and kung-fu actor, Jimmy Lee, co-stars as a young monk in 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. And last but not least, the fantastic Judy Lee (Chia Ling) pops up for a smaller role, getting to impress with her moves. Only 5 years after bursting onto the scene with the brilliant Queen Boxer, Judy Lee 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 it offers plenty of kung-fu action, the fights aren't overly memorable – although do entertain to some degree thanks to famed choreographer, Tommy Lee Gam Ming. Working with the same cast of Along Comes A Tiger, and the more superior Eagle's Claw (shot the very same) 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 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. 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!
10 FINGERS OF STEEL
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.
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 and are led by Wang Yu regular and all-round awesome bad guy, Lung Fei, who takes no crap from anyone – including his master who 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, catching the eye of a lady called Yoko (Chang Ching Ching in one of her final roles) at the same time, who nicks 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 wild 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, and 10 Brothers Of Shaolin, a lot of which he also worked on as 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, including a number of Wang Yu films such as Furious Slaughter, The Gallant, and Beach Of The War Gods, as well as choreograph a small number of films before his last role in 1975. The film 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...
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 street and onto a fast-moving train, before leaping onto a rickety old bridge, then falling into a river then continuing to fight as they fall down slippery boulders (painfully) before the climax at 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 as this finale does. On its initial release in the UK, the film suffered heavy cuts from the BBFC due to excessive blood in the fights, the strangling of a child, and general violence, and while it may not be recognised as one of his best films, I would watch 10 Fingers Of Steel over again and again down to its highly entertaining fight scenes that ooze classic Jimmy Wang Yu...
Overall: Madness but fun, 10 Fingers Of Steel is a kung-fu epic that has to be seen to be believed!
10 MAGNIFICENT KILLERS
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.
Views: From the popular Goldig Films, come's a 90-minute fight starring Cheung Lik and Lau Wing 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 probably gets the chance to show some of his finest moves on-screen. 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 (quickly vanishing from the scene only a year later), the actors behind the roles of the masters had quite a bit more experience. San Kuai, a very recognisable face of Hong Kong cinema that starred in over 100 films from 1970 – 1990, plays Cheung Lik's master (as well as joining Lik in the action department), whose special move is the 'whirling fist' which 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 other films. The second master is played by actor, choreographer, and the director of 10 Magnificent Killers – Fong Yau. 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 this, but Fong didn't get behind the camera again for well over a decade when he returned in 1991 with his second directorial effort, Witchcraft Vs Curse, a Cat.3 film featuring Michiko Nishiwaki. And while he would continue to work behind and in front of the camera for many years after, Fong would retire from the film industry at the turn-of-the-century with Hunting Evil Spirit, yet 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. Lee Hang appears as the 2nd fighter and starred in over 160 films, some of which include Web Of Death, 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. Popular actor Tai San from films like Game Of Death, Knockabout, Carry On Pickpocket, and Miracles, stars as the 4th fighter, and crazy eye kung-fu actor, Addy Sung Gam Loi joins as the 5th - recognisable from films such as Kung Fu From Beyond The Grave, The Buddhist Fist, Crystal Fist, and Incredible Kung Fu Master, and many more. 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 at 8th, and all-round popular bad guy Chiang Tao stars as the 9th fighter. Having appeared in over 200 films during the course of his career, Chiang worked his way through many Shaw Brothers classics through to modern day Hong Kong action hits, with his last role being in I Love Hong Kong 2012. The final fighter of course is the great Bolo Yeung himself, who really needs no introduction as one of the most beloved and recognisable stars of kung-fu cinema today having faced off against Bruce Lee, Jean Claude Van Damme, Cynthia Rothrock, and many other action stars.
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 pretty damn good kung-fu flick that hardly takes a breath!
Overall: A better-than-average classic with 90 minutes of non-stop fight action!
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.
Views: Offering a more furious and violent take on the 1963 classic by Eiichi Kudo, Miike's modern masterpiece is a stunning piece of 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 what 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. 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 a film!
While it may just be shy of a perfect film, there's a reason 13 Assassins has won and was 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 also 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 Derek Yee. Since collaborating on 13 Assassins, Kita has went on to work with the famed director on 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, 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 or Beat Takeshi's Zatoichi, 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
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 monter, 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.
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 and won the world over with its crazy wire-fu and frantic swordplay. 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 finale 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 of wuxia movies from the New Wave period. Personally, I think its pretty damn good and a lot of fun, beautifully filmed with plenty of fun swordplay action, and decent acting from a decent cast. The great Waise Lee leads the way as the Red Eagle and gets in on enough action to impress – obviously doubled for the more acrobatic and trickier moves of his fight scenes. I've never been a huge fan of Waise Lee, 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 90s. From there, his career exploded and has since starred 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 and joining in on the big finale.
Of course, its not just Lee and Khan who impress! The film is 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 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 when he starred 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 Shi Kwan 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 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, star of 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...
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. As the modern age crept in, Tsui continued his work as an action director for Moon Lee's Killer Angels and Devil Hunters, as well as earlier Donnie Yen vehicles such as Crystal Hunt, Cheetah On Fire, and Holy Virgin Versus The Evil Dead – some of which he also co-directed.
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!
13: GAME OF DEATH
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.
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 is filled with 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
(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: Amazon Prime UK Release
Genres: Martial Arts / War / Drama
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: The cast of The 14 Amazons is a veritable “who's who” of the golden age of Shaw Brothers swordplay adventures, and was not only a major box office hit (ranking fourth for 1972), but also a top prize winner, including a special citation for outstanding lead female performance for Lily Ho, Best Director for Cheng Kang, and an award for Honourable Mention or Drama.
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. From there, the 14 women of his 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, and explodes with many great characters, hundreds of extras, and a host of great kung-fu battles!
The legendary stories of the Yang Family have been passed down for generations, and have been told countless times in Hong Kong cinema. The Yang's took part in many wars across 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 2011 update, 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. These 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. The wonderful Ivy Ling Po, star of over 100 films from the early 1950s joins the fight as does Lily Ho – star of films such as The Sword & The Lute, The Water Margin, and The House Of 72 Tenants. Shu Pei Pei, who appeared in films like The Sword Of Swords and Cub Tiger From Kwangtung, plays another of the sisters along with Wang Ping who starred in 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 I just love seeing pop up everywhere. Shaw Brothers leading man Yuen Hua stars as Lu Chao, one of the swordsmen that comes to the Yang family's aid, and 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. Popular kung fu actor and Feng's Young Master co-star Fan Mei Sheng, 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, Millionaires Express, and Story Of Ricky alongside his big handsome son, the amazing Fan Siu Wong. Equally exciting is seeing the great Wang Hsieh as the 1st Prince, James Nam as the 2nd, Tin Ching as the 3rd, Paul Chun (brother to David Chaing and Derek Yee) as the 4th Prince, and the brilliant Lo Lieh as the 5th – with Bolo Yeung himself popping up throughout as a Mongolian fighter. Also keep an eye out among the soldiers 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 Tony Ching Siu Tung who also had a hand in the choreography...
Tony Ching is joined by Shaw Brother's regular, Leung Siu Chung – father to the aforementioned kung fu stars Bruce Leung and Tony Leung Siu Hung – who has worked as the action director on many classics such as Billy Chong's Sun Dragon, The Lady Hermit, The Thunderbolt Fist, Kung Fu Executioner, and The Dragon Lives Again with his son Bruce. 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 14 Amazons even more due to its many similarities. The fights come often enough, from large-scale war battles to one-on-one action such as the clash between a young Bolo Yeung and hero Yuen Hua. Each of the fights are wonderfully choreographed, inventive, and exciting to watch – not to mention violent at times with the infamous blood-spraying of most Shaw Brothers productions, put to good use. One hilarious thing I must point out though is the fact that most of the bad guys are dressed like little Santa Clauses, which adds some unintentional humour to it all – but its hardly distracting.
And finally, 14 Amazons 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 Cheng Kang – the man who helmed classics such as The Sword Of Swords with Jimmy Wang Yu, Killers Five, The Flying Guillotine 2, The Criminals, and Gambling Soul which would be his last as director. Interestingly enough, the same man also gave us one of Hong Kong cinema's greatest treasures in his son, Tony Ching Siu Tung, who would go on to bring us some of the finest martial-arts-action-films ever made to this day!
Overall: Epic in its running time, action scenes and superstar cast, 14 Amazons is wonderfully scripted, beautifully shot, and highly entertaining!
(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.
Views: Donnie 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 played by Law Kar Ying. Now on the run, Yen finds support with a small gang led by Qiao Yung (Wu Ma) and his daughter, Hua (Vikki Zhao Wei). From here, our hero must find out why he was betrayed and take revenge before his men catch up with him.
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. 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, wonderful Vikki Zhao Wei, gorgeous Wu Chun, and a bevy of HK cinema legends such as Wu Ma, 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...
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.
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. Donnie Yen carries his lead role brilliantly, and kicks ass pretty much the whole way through, finishing with an end battle reminiscent of a scene from the classic Zu Warriors!
Overall: Stunningly shot, action-packed, and never dull, 14 Blades is one of Daniel Lee's best films!
DVD Extras: Making of Documentary, Trailers
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.
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!!
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 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!
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: MIA UK DVD Release
Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama
Rating - 4 / 5
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.
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, most of which where very well received and most of which were 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!
While the awesome 36th Chamber Trilogy carried a lot of comedy throughout, the Bronzemen Trilogy is a much more serious matter. Running the usual storyline of Manchurian villains and revenge in a fight involving Qing versus Ming, there is a fair amount of drama that drives the film forward. It's hardly fresh in that respect but it is supported with some great training sequences and fight scenes of course. By the halfway point you feel you have already sat through a full film (in a positive way) having had so much happen, but it is at this mark our heroes (Wong and Tien) get to leave Shaolin to continue their story. Around the one hour mark, we get introduced to the fantastic Polly Shang Kwan who plays a man for the most part, but helps bring a little more energy to the last 30-40 minutes and at the same time adding to the story. I must admit though, it's very hard to believe that no one picked up that her character was a woman long before her reveal. Regardless, it isn't done in a cheesy way unlike many other kung-fu films from that era and is, in fact, very well acted. Even the original English dub respects it enough not to throw in some daft sounding voice-actors...
In what is probably one of his most memorable roles, Carter Wong shines as the kung fu boy with a vengeance. I've always been a huge fan of his and its odd to think that he had already starred in a good 30 films before this role for studios like Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, as well as many independent Taiwanese companies. 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. With his star starting 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, then 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 his heyday and he soon 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 which put him alongside his 18 Bronzemen co-stars over the years. 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. And the wonderful Polly Shang Kwan, who debuted alongside Roc in Dragon Inn, is a joy to watch as always having shared the screen many times with both of her leading men. Not to be outdone by them though, Kwan shows once again that she means business 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, and appeared 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 this film and its first sequel as well as The Shaolin Kids and Shaolin Death Squads with Carter Wong, 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, and many of the aforementioned titles with Carter Wong and Cliff Lok as well as working as a choreographer on many of them. He 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 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. Pang was the star of over 100 films from 1960 to 2006 that would see Johnnie To's Election 2 and the fun 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, 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, all 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 writing and producing the majority of his work.
Overall: Well produced, full of emotion, kung-fu and great cinematography, The 18 Bronzemen is one of Kuo's finest moments!
DVD Extras: Trailers
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...
*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!
Overall: 18 Golden Destroyers is just plain bad, but if you need a laugh and love bad films then this is for you!