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

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SACRIFICE

(China 2010) 

Original Title: Zhao Shi Gu Er

(aka) Zhao's Orphan

Directed by Chen Kaige Produced by Chen Hong, Gu Guo Qing, Ren Zhong Lun Action by Dee Dee Ku

Starring: Vincent Zhao Wen Zhao, Ge You, Wang Xue Qi, Huang Xiao Ming, Fan Bing Bing, Zhang Feng Yi, Ethan Li, Peng Bo, Wang Jin Song, Christina Hai

Reviewing: High Fliers UK DVD Release

Genres: Drama / Historical / Action

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: For genreations, the Zhao family has wielded power, even extending over the king. In a well-planned coup, their mortal enemy TU'AN GU (Wang Xueqi) slaughters the entire clan, determined to wipe out their influence forever. However, a solitary Zhao baby survives the massacre, and is hidden and taken home by GENG YING (Ge You), the doctor who delivered him, to live with his wife (Hai Qing) and their newborn baby. Set on revenge, and raising the Zhao child as his own, Cheng Ying bides his time, enrolling himself and the Zhao orphan (who he calls Cheng Bo) into the service of the Tu'an Gu household.

Views: Set during the period of the Warring States, Sacrifice tells the tragic story of the Zhao family who get framed for the murder of Lord Ling. It's all part of an elaborate plan by General Tu'an Gu who wants rid of the famed Zhao clan who, he believes, have been given too much power in the kingdom. After poisoning the Lord, the General calls for everyone in the Zhao family to be killed and sends his men to start the massacre. Meanwhile, Doctor Cheng Ying hears of the coup and makes it his business to save the only surviving member of the Zhao family. With the mother dying soon after his birth, the doctor offers to hide the baby at his home, along with his wife and their own new born son. But it doesn't take long for the doctor to soon find General Gu's men banging on the door of every house in the town – taking away any babies they find. Racing home to warn his wife, Cheng finds that the Zhao boy has already been removed. With his own son now being the only baby in town that hasn't been arrested by General Tu'an Gu, the doctor soon learns that their baby has now become the 'one' they are looking for and entrusts the lives of his family to that of Gong Sun Chujiu, a righteous man who has stayed loyal to the Zhao clan. As the General closes in, he finds Cheng's wife and their son hiding in Gong's basement. Thinking that it is indeed the Zhao baby, General Tu'an Gu slays both the child and mother – returning the actual Zhao baby to Doctor Cheng in believing that it is his own son. Heart broken at the loss of his wife and child, Cheng Ying brings the young Zhao up as his own, counting the minutes until he can deliver vengeance for the murder of his family and the massacre of the Zhao clan. After many years pass, Cheng enrols both himself and the teenage Zhao into the Tu'an Gu home and soon names General Tu'an as the godfather to his son. Cementing a relationship between them both, Cheng puts his plans in action that will finally help him seek revenge for both of their losses!

This 2010 production from powerhouse director Chen Kaige, often seems to be forgotten about when people talk about his filmography. Having also written its story, the highly praised filmmaker delivers a powerful and emotional tale that offers all the ingredients of most historical Chinese epics including, revenge, loyalty, honour, respect, family, and (obviously) sacrifice. While not as action-packed as The Warlords, Red Cliff, or God Of War (for example), the film still manages to keep a grip on its viewers with its strong story and amazing performances. What action is there though, offers some excitement when on-screen and is handled by popular actor/action director Dee Dee Ku (Huen Chiu). Starting life in the industry in the mid 80s with small roles in classics like My Lucky Stars, Royal Warriors, A Better Tomorrow 2, Tiger On The Beat, Bloody Brotherhood, and more – as well as working as an assistant fight director on a few films including Born To Defence, from Jet Li. From there, he was taken under the wing of the one-and-only Yuen Woo Ping and went on to work on titles such as Once Upon A Time In China 1 & 2, Last Hero In China, Iron Monkey, Tai Chi Master, Fist Of Legend, and so much more – continuing into the decades with (but not only) The Four Trilogy, The Mermaid, 14 Blades, Shadow, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Forbidden Kingdom, and the aforementioned epic, The Warlords. While there is some degree of choreographed action throughout Sacrifice, the majority of the fighting is worked around swordplay on horseback or delivered in a hack-and-slash style. Even the great Vincent Zhao (who appears as warrior Zhao Shuo) doesn't get to show off too much kung-fu before his dramatic death within the first 30 minutes. It would be the final duel between the teenage Zhao and his godfather when he finds out the truth, that probably offers the more intricate choreography in the film. It may be short, but it does offer some neat moves before coming to an end with a tragic stand-off and beautifully emotional ending.

All in all, this is a story about a father's love and the emotion involved in losing your family while trying to raise another. Popular actor Ge You, was definitely the right man for the job in portraying the role of Doctor Cheng Ying, offering a powerful performance from beginning to end and pretty much makes the film his. Starting his acting career in 1985 with Shengxia & Her Fiancé, Ge You first worked with Chen Kaige on the wonderful and highly loved, Farewell My Concubine. The turn-of-the-century would see him start working with Feng Xiao Gang – another of my favourite Chinese directors – where he would offer some of the most memorable performances of his career with Big Shots Funeral, A World Without Thieves, The Banquet, and Personal Tailor, to name but a few. Equally, the fantastic Wang Xue Qi turns in a superb performance as the hardened General, Tu'an Gu. Although he had started acting in the early 80s, I actually only first saw Wang in the brilliant 2003 film, Warriors Of Heaven And Earth, followed soon after by The Founding Of A Republic, Beginning Of The Great Revival, Bodyguards & Assassins, and as Cao Feng in the awesome Reign Of Assassins. The beautiful Fan Bing Bing plays the role of Zhao's wife who, soon after giving birth to their son gets killed off, and the young Zhao Wen Hao (of who I'm not too sure is connected to Vincent Zhao or not, or if it's just a coincidence that they share the same family name), does a great job in his first role as the teenager who takes an emotional kick to the nuts, after he learns the truth about his past. Proving himself as an actor that can provide emotion, and someone that can adapt to fight in his role, Wen Hao went on to star in the epic White Vengeance the following year and took a long gap before returning with the television show, And The Winner Is Love, as well as starring in Young Ip Man: Crisis Time.

Sacrifice is beautifully detailed in every way, through costumes, weapons, and set design, all backed up by some gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Yang Shu, who won an award for his work as DOP on the 2005 film, Peacock. Kicking off behind the camera in the late 80s, Yang has worked steadily over the decades in China shooting on films such as Shanghai 1976, Caught In The Web, Cock & Bull, and Genghis Khan...

Overall: Perhaps one of Chen Kaige's more underrated films, Sacrifice makes for a great watch with its emotional story and great performances!

DVD Extras: Trailer

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SAGA OF THE PHOENIX

(Hong Kong 1989) 

Original Title: A Xiu Luo

(aka) The Peacock King 2

Directed by Lam Nai Choi, Lau Shut Yue Produced by Chua Lam Action by Yuen Bun

Starring: Yuen Biao, Gloria Yip, Loletta Lee, Hiroshi Abe, Shintaro Katsu, Natori Yuko, Ngai Suet, Lawrence Lau, Tachibana Yukari, Arai Noriko, Hayashi Okakeiko

Reviewing: Universe HK DVD Release

Genres: Fantasy / Action / Drama

Rating - 2.7 / 5

DVD Synopsis: Phoenix is the sacred girl of hell. She was locked up in hell but she escapes one day and flees to earth. The holy monk sends his chief disciple Peacock to catch her. Her eagerness arouses sympathy of the holy monk, who let her enjoy the last seven days of her life on earth. However, th evil force wants to capture Phoenix in order to absorb her formidable power that can revitalize all the devils.

Views: Haven't not learnt her lesson from her previous adventures on earth, the Holy Maiden of Hell (Ashura) returns to her favourite holiday destination once again. Of course, it doesn't long for something to go wrong, and soon, Peacock and Lucky Fruit are back on the scene to rescue her once again. When their grand master threatens to have her sent back to Hell for good, the pair of heroes plead with him to give her another chance. Ashura asks for just 7 days on earth so that she can enjoy the best of what's on offer – a simple request that the grand master agrees to, providing Peacock and Lucky Fruit watch over her. Once back in Nepal, an army of demons led by the Concubine of Hell sets out to get her so that they can unlock her powers for the destruction of earth. Ashura soon meets her best friend, a gremlin-like creature called Genie who proves to be quite troublesome. After it gets captured by the demons, Peacock jumps into Hell to rescue him, which results in the hero getting frozen in a block of ice. Back on earth, Genie – now turned to stone – gets picked up by a traveller who takes it back to Hong Kong with her. Lucky Fruit and Ashura soon follow behind and find the girl living with her wacky scientist brother who wants Genie for his own experiments. As the demons close in, Ashura avoids capture thanks to Lucky Fruit and a few kung fu nuns, and continues to enjoy her life on earth while shopping, swimming, and eating – but it doesn't last. In a bid to save Peacock and stop the Hell Concubine once and for all, Ashura and Lucky Fruit travel to Hell for one last battle that results and a SFX packed showdown that may give Ashura a 'get out of jail free' card, and help save earth from annihilation!

There isn't a lot of love kicking about among fans for Saga Of The Phoenix, which is most likely due to the lack of action in comparison to The Peacock King, as well as the fact that Yuen Biao gets frozen from the 30-minute mark that keeps him out of the picture until that last 10 minutes. While the film starts off well, with a burst of great SFX (for its time) and action, it quickly slows down somewhat to allow for more comedy based antics with Genie in the vain of Ghoulies, Critters, and even Gremlins – although sometimes he comes across more like the alien from the 80s ET rip-off, Mac & Me! But this kind of pacing isn't unusual with Hong Kong films of this era, and it still has enough going on between the lackluster comedy moments and character-building (of those we don't really care about) to keep things moving. That said, it's obvious that the film was rushed into production and made the very same year as its predecessor. While the great Yuen Biao was already a huge star in Japan, it seems that Golden Harvest really wanted to push the rest of their talent to the Nipponese market. This is evident with Biao's absence for the majority of the film as well as a cast of big Japanese names and even though it is a Hong Kong production, I felt that the overall feel of Saga Of The Phoenix had the feel and pacing of a (similarly themed) Japanese movie from the 80s. Many other reviewers have complained about the use of SFX, crazy themes of heaven and hell, monsters, and time travel in both films, but we mustn't forget that The Peacock King movies are based on the extremely popular Japanese manga of the same name – so as far as live-action adaptations go, I don't think director Lam Nai Choi did too bad a job at all. The last 10 minutes in particular are a lot of fun and play like a modernised version of the classic Zu Warriors Of Magic Mountain – rammed with some cool fight action, neat SFX, and a cool demon monster...

I remember seeing an interview with Yuen Biao in which he expressed some concerns over his role in The Peacock King, so I was surprised to see him take a reduced role in the sequel. Regardless, he still lights up the screen for the most part whenever he's about and gets to let loose with some impressive kicks and moves during his action scenes. 1989 was a busy year for the man with both Peacock King movies in production, but Biao also starred in the fantastic action-adventure The Iceman Cometh – a film that carried a number of similar themes and SFX ideas but proved to be a much bigger and better movie – as well as a cameo in Jackie Chan's Miracles. Either side of that saw him come off productions such as Picture Of A Nymph, On The Run, and the epic Dragons Forever, before joining forces with big brother Hung once again for Shanghai Shanghai and the underrated License To Steal the following year. The handsome Hiroshi Abe makes his Hong Kong film debut as Japanese monk Lucky Fruit, taking over from Hirosho Mikami who played the same character in The Peacock King. It would be over a decade before Abe would return to Hong Kong with a role in the fun Tokyo Raiders, and almost a further two decades when he next appeared in Legend Of The Demon Cat. While I like Mikami in the role before, I think I enjoyed Abe a little more. His good looks and energy brought a little something extra to the role, and it was nice to see him get in on the action. Gloria Yip reprises her role from before, although gets to be a little cuter with it as she tries to fit in on earth, and the lovely Loletta Lee stars as the traveling girl who leads them to Hong Kong. Her annoying brother is played by comedy actor Lawrence Lau and the lesser-known Ngai Suet stars as Hell's Concubine, the big villain of the piece. Legendary actor Shintaro Katsu, who played the one and only Zatoichi The Blind Swordsman for many years, stars as Abbott Ji Ku, the grandmaster who grants Ashura her time on earth. It was great to see him appear in Saga Of The Phoenix, where he certainly brings a great screen presence to the role.

While it will never go down as one of Yuen Biao's or one of Hong Kong cinema's greatest ever films, Saga Of The Phoenix isn't all bad. Director Lam Nai Choi has always been a rough-around-the-edges kind of guy, with titles like the infamous Story Of Ricky, Erotic Ghost Story, and The Seventh Curse under his belt. For this, he is joined by Lau Shut Yue, a director who had just come off the likes of Ghost Fever and Ghost Busting before going onto the fun My Neighbours Are Phantoms and Chow Sing Chi's, Look Out, Officer! The wonderful Yuen Bun handles the action, blending some decent martial arts with many fantastical and comic-book-inspired moves, and is aided by Wong Chi Ming – a long time kung fu actor of over 170 movies who also worked the action on many great titles such as Super Power, City War, The Seventh Curse, Demon Of The Lute, and even helped out on the classic Drunken Master 2!

Overall: Far from amazing and not as exciting as before, Saga Of The Phoenix still passes the time with some fun moments and nice action!

DVD Extras: Biographies, Trailers

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THE SAINT OF GAMBLERS

(Hong Kong 1995) 

Original Title: Dou Sing 2: Gai Tau Dou Sing

(aka) All For The Winner 2

Directed by Wong Jing Produced by Wong Jing Action by Dion Lam

Starring: Eric Kot, Ng Man Tat, Chingmy Yau, Sik Siu Lung, Diana Pang, Ben Lam, Shing Fui On, Donnie Yen, Nat Chan, Manfred Wong, Corey Yuen Kwai, Teresa Ha Ping, Andy Cheng, John Ching, William Duen

Reviewing: YouTube Release

Genres: Gambling / Comedy / Action

Rating - 3.5 / 5

Synopsis: Uncle Tat looks for a new Saint Of Gamblers and finds him in the form of a dimwitted mainlander named God Bless You.

Views: Prolific Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Jing returns to his favourite genre once again for a follow-up of sorts, to the Jeff Lau and Corey Yuen Kwai-directed hit film, All For The Winner. With Stephen Chow Sing Chi's character now having left to study under the legendary God of Gamblers, Uncle Tat heads back to the same mainland village where he found Chow, to search for a new Saint of Gamblers. He soon meets the dimwitted God Bless You (Eric Kot), a man who is even more stupid than his predecessor but has enough supernatural powers to convince Uncle Tat that he is worthy. Of course, lots of crazy adventures and antics prevail as Tat brings his new found Saint to the table crossing the paths of crazed triads, colourful opponents, and kick-ass femme fatales!

If there was ever a film that deserved the description of a live-action cartoon, then The Saint Of Gamblers is one such film. Wong Jing takes the very genre he helped create and blends it with the madness of his zany Streetfighter 2 rip-off, Future Cops – cranking up the madness in almost every scene, and perhaps to compensate for having Eric Kot take the place of the wonderful Chow Sing Chi. While I'm not a huge fan of Kot, having first seen him in the Wong Jing directed Jackie Chan comedy City Hunter, then again in Lawyer, Lawyer with Chow Sing Chi, Gorgeous, Gen Y Cops, Chinese Odyssey 2002, and Spy Dad, he does have some big shoes to fill here and doesn't do too bad a job in his performance. And while he certainly doesn't possess the comic timing of Chow, Eric was lucky enough to have the late, great Ng Man Tat to bounce off. While he never fails to entertain, Ng plays one of his most wildest and ridiculous characters yet and, although continuing that of his role in All For The Winner, cranks his performance up to eleven and just goes wild. It's probably not the kind of movie you should be watching if you're only starting out on Hong Kong cinema (especially from this era), as it may come across as completely bizarre and insane if you haven't already experienced All For The Winner, God Of Gamblers 2 & 3, or any other of Wong Jing's wilder offerings, but for me – The Saint Of Gamblers was hilariously entertaining and a lot of fun.

While a lot of this is down to the comedy situations and gambling of course, the film also benefits from having a great cast and some fantastic fight scenes. Starring alongside Ng Man Tat and Eric Kot is the beautiful Chingmy Yau – Wong Jing's leading lady of the time who had made quite the impression in films like Royal Tramp, City Hunter, Naked Killer, Tricky Brains, Future Cops, Kung Fu Cult Master, and so much more. Here, Yau gets to kick ass and look good as she plays a role similar to that in God Of Gamblers Returns from the year before, and even gets a kung fu kid sidekick once again – this time played by the wonderful Sik Siu Lung from the Shaolin Popeye movies, in what would only be his 4th role. The great Ben Lam stars as Ray Thai, a gambling opponent who keeps the latter two people close by him and befriends Kot and Tat only to try and use their skills for his own gain. Although he also gets in on the action, Lam goes through a series of unfortunate mishaps whenever Kot is about and puts his comic talents to use as he gets beaten from all directions. The rest of the cast is filled out by a great list of names including Shing Fui On as a loud mouthed triad, William Duen playing-off his role of E-Honda in Future Cops, John Ching as a triad loan-shark, Teresa Ha as the mother of God Bless You, Nat Chan and Manfred Wong as competition announcers, Corey Yuen Kwai as a mahjong player, and Diana Pang Dan stars as a busty, leather-clad gambling vixen posing as a Thai queen who can hypnotise men. Of course, we can't forget about the exciting cameo by Donnie Yen as Interpol Officer, Lone Seven. I always thought that this cameo was just for one fight scene, but Yen actually appears a little bit more throughout as his intentions are to thwart Ben Lam's plans in becoming the leader of all illegal casinos around the world. At this stage of his career, Yen's fans were a bit unsure as to where he was going having left the Yuen Woo Ping party after Iron Monkey, Hero Among Heroes, and Wing Chun. His two films before this, Circus Kids and High Voltage didn't really make the same impact as his previous outings – and it looked like things were on a downward spiral after this with the broken Iron Monkey 2 and action thriller Satan Returns for Wong Jing – a film which I really enjoyed to be honest.

The awesome and often over-the-top action scenes are handled by Dion Lam Dik On, an actor and action choreographer who has been involved with some brilliant titles such as The Dragon Family, Angel Enforcers, City Cops, Shanghai Shanghai, Twin Dragons, The East Is Red, A Man Called Hero, Infernal Affairs, Red Cliff, and more recently League Of Gods and Dynasty Warriors. In The Saint Of Gamblers, Lam doesn't hold back and goes wild with some tight choreography, wacky gun-play, and even a riff on Dragonball Z that sees Eric Kot dress as Goku and Ng Man Tat as Piccollo, in a scene that reminded me very much of the aforementioned Future Cops. Of course, there are one or two special action scenes reserved for Donnie Yen that allow him to show off his awesome kicking techniques and display some genuine martial artistry, but to me it has to be child actor Sik Siu Lung who gets the best fight scenes as he goes up against ninjas, triads, and eventually gets to fight alongside Yen himself as he takes on Lam's heavies which include Jackie Chan Stunt Team member Andy Cheng. The film is neatly shot by prolific director and DOP Andrew Lau Wai Keung of Infernal Affairs fame. Although he had already been directing for a good 5 years already from his debut, Against All through to the Jacky Cheung movie, To Live And Die In Tsimshatsui in 1994, Lau continued to shoot as a DOP (and even still today) and has worked closely with Wong Jing for many years. As well as shooting this in 1995, Andrew Lau also shot and helmed the Wong Jing produced Lover Of The Last Empress and Mean Street Story, before moving into the Young And Dangerous saga the following year where his directorial career would take off...

Although 1995 may have proved to be a quieter year for Wong Jing as a director with only this and the brilliant High Risk (released as Meltdown in the west) coming out, he was still a typically busy man and managed to produce a further 8 feature films including the awesome My Father Is A Hero, Lover Of The Last Empress, Sixty Million Dollar Man, and I'm Your Birthday Cake. I've always admired Wong Jing for his talents and ability to work so fast and hard, although many folk seem to dislike the man based on some of his weaker projects. Regardless, there is no denying the man is a powerhouse of Hong Kong cinema and has provided some of the most entertaining and memorable films from the jade screen – and is still going strong today. With The Saint Of Gamblers, Wong delivers a production that we've seen from him many times before and while Eric Kot may not have the screen presence or comic appeal of Stephen Chow Sing Chi, Wong Jing makes sure that he keeps things moving fast enough so that you can ignore his less funny moments. It's over 90 minutes of madcap comedy, fast and furious fight scenes, and plenty of silly gambling antics to keep any true fan of Hong Kong cinema happy!

Overall: A lot of fun with plenty of insane comedy and brilliant fight action, The Saint Of Gamblers screams Wong Jing and highly entertains!

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SAKURA KILLERS

(USA/Taiwan 1986) 

Directed by Dusty Nelson, Wang Yu Produced by K. L. Lim, Roy McAree

Starring: George Nicholas, Mike Kelly, Chuck Connors, Jack Long, John Ladalski, Cara Casey, Maji Otsuki, Brian Wong, Thomas Lung

Reviewing: Entertainment In Video UK VHS Release

Genres: Ninja / Martial Arts / Action

Rating - 4 / 5

VHS Synopsis: The evil Sakura have stolen the secrets of a deadly scientific experiment. The Colonel, a tough ninja buster dispatches ace agents Sonny and Dennis to Taiwan in a race against time and a quest to defeat the ferocious Sakura. Even Sonny and Dennis' skills and bravery are no match for their foes and they seek the help of SUGIYAMA, a Ninja master, who aware of the Sakura's treachery to their art instructs our heroes in the secret ways of the Ninja. But what is he deadly secret they seek? Does the Colonel really plan to destroy it, or use it for his own ends?

Views: A band of evil ninjas steal a secret video from a research facility in the US, that details the plans for a deadly scientific experiment. A gun-toting, golf-playing old man known as The Colonel sends two of his best operatives to Taiwan to retrieve them. Once there, Sonny and Dennis learn the ways of the ninja in order to achieve the skills needed to take on the silent killers of the Sakura and get home alive. It all boils down to an action-packed finale of ninja vs ninja! Sakura Killers is one of my all-time favourite childhood movies. Along with the likes of Armour Of God, The Last Dragon, The Deadliest Art: Best Of The Martial Arts Movies, and a few others – this was never out of my player, and while everyone else was hailing American Ninja as the ninja movie to watch, I was fighting for this. Everything I did as a young teenage ninja, I learned from Sakura Killers – as well as Alexander Lou's brilliant Ninja USA which I got as a gift only a year or two later. Interestingly enough, they both have very similar openings to some degree, although the latter stands above this in regards to its more powerful action scenes and quite possibly proved as some sort of inspiration, as it was made a couple of years before. It was also interesting to note that both films also star George Nicholas (Dennis), which may help open up the mystery as to who was actually behind the production of Sakura Killers!

The main credit of director goes to Dusty Nelson, a 70s/80s writer and director who was given the task of bringing Sakura Killers to life. According to Nelson himself in an online interview, there was around 70% of footage in the can that Hollywood company, Overseas Film Group, had gotten their hands on. This would be original film footage directed by Taiwanese actor and director, Wang Yu (not Jimmy Wang Yu), The same man who was at the helm of early 80s films such as Legend Of Peach Blossom, The Young Moon Legend, and Shaolin Hero with Leung Kar Yan. He also appeared in films like Jimmy Wang Yu's Magnificent Chivalry, One-Armed Boxer, The Gallant, Beach Of The War Gods, and many more. So this still leaves the mystery of Yu's original movie plans up in the air, as his last directorial effort credited was in 1982 with Eagle Flying In September – although he did work as an assistant director in the mid-90s on The Buddhist Spell, starring Sharla Cheung Man and Wu Ma. So I guess we'll never really know! As Nelson states, he was initially hired to edit what footage they had gained before getting asked to direct some filler footage to help make sense of it all. This was possibly the US footage involving 50s US actor, Chuck Connors, who plays the role of the Colonel and some of the lab scenes. In fact, due to the success of Sakura Killers in the rental market, the same team went on to make another great 80s ninja flick called White Phantom with Dusty Nelson as director. This plays as a great companion piece to this film as it contains a similar storyline including a Colonel (this time played by Bo Svenson) and a Sakura clan...

While Chuck Connors may have been the big name of Sakura Killers when it came to selling it, he's hardly an integral part of the actual film with the scenes of him and his daughter (Cara Casey) thrown in to piece things together. For the most part, he hangs around his ranch playing golf and shooting ninjas when they pop up (randomly) as his daughter Karen, does her fitness workouts. The main stars of the show are westerners Mike Kelly and the aforementioned George Nicholas. George made his debut in the martial arts movie world when he starred as the big baddie, Tyger McPherson, in the awesome Ninja USA. Here, he would get to go toe-to-fist with the incredible Alexander Lo Rei in another of my favourite ninja movies. Sakura Killers would soon follow as would a stint in Lo Rei's crazy Ninja Condors, before going on to appear in movies like Satanic Crystals, Kung Fu Kids 6, and Mannigan's Force. I quite enjoy seeing Nicholas on screen, and while he certainly isn't the greatest actor ever, he isn't the worst and makes up for it with some great moves. His partner in fighting crime, Sonny, is played by the great Mike Kelly who probably proves to be the better mover of the two. Kelly first appeared in the now-little-seen Heroes Three – a Taiwanese production also starring popular kung fu actor Chiang Tao, Lawrence Tan, and John Ladalski, a noticeable face of Taiwanese and Hong Kong cinema who often plays the bad guy as seen in Armour Of God, Cyprus Tigers, Diamond Ninja Force, and also here in Sakura Killers. Interestingly enough, Heroes Three was cast by George Tan who is also credited for writing this 80s classic before he joined forces with the Eastern Heroes band to produce and write the likes of Top Fighter 1 & 2, Cinema Of Vengeance, Fist Of Legends 2, and Trinity Goes East for example. Hardly Oscar-worthy I stuff I hear you say, and you are so right. Sakura Killers is a product of its time and probably offers more unintentional laughs with its script as opposed to its few scenes of actual comedy. Japanese actress Manji Otsuki stars in, what I believe is, her only role to date as the female ninja of the troupe – and does a great job in both the acting and action department. I'd love to tell you who the main bad guy is, but with so little information behind this production I'm torn between a Brian Wong and a Thomas Lung. Thankfully, Sakura Killers is graced with the appearance of at least one kung-fu legend – the amazing Jack Long – who stars as the ninja master to our heroes. While he doesn't get to do too much in terms of fighting, he still does a great job in putting Dennis and Sonny through their paces in making them highly skilled, ghost-faced ninjas.

As a young teen, the ninja action in Sakura Killers had me hooked. From fights in the park to the attack in the hotel room, it all leads up to a blistering 10-minute finale that sees Dennis, Sonny, and Manji take on the evil black ninja in a closing fight that still stands as one of my favourite ninja battles of all time! From tightly choreographed swordplay and swift moves to classic ninja moves like tunneling and smoke bombs, the final fight of Sakura Killers is the highlight of the show. While it's hard to nail just who exactly choreographed the brilliant fight scenes, I want to put it out there that it may have been someone from the Alexander Lo Rei action team and if not the main man himself, then quite possibly Charlie Ma Hsu (aka Philip So Yuen Fung), Lo Rei's co-star of classic ninja flicks such as Mafia Vs Ninja and Ninja The Final Duel. Although he last worked with director Wang Yu on Shaolin Hero in 1982, Charlie Ma was directing a lot of Taiwanese action films around this period such as Run Tiger Run for John Woo, Naughty Cadets On Patrol, Yes, Sir 2, and even assisted on the awesome Legend Of Wisely – also known as The Legend Of The Golden Pearl. I may be far from right, but the style of action is quite similar to Lo Rei's ninja flicks (minus the power and screen presence of Alexander himself) and fits the timeline of films like Ninja Hunter, Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death, Ninja USA, Ninja Condors, and more. Regardless, Sakura Killers is a lot of fun and entertains me as much today as it did 30 years ago. Check it out!

Overall: One of my favourite ninja films, Sakura Killers is a lot of fun with some great action and a firm favorite among ninja fans!

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SAMURAI

(USA 1979) 

Directed by Lee Katzin Produced by Allan Balter Action by Kim Kahana

Starring: Joe Penny, James Shigeta, Dana Elcar, Beulah Quo, Philip Hall, Geoffrey Lewis, Morgan Brittany

Reviewing: Universal / CIC Video UK VHS Release

Genres: Drama / Action / Martial Arts

Rating - 2.5 / 5

VHS Synopsis: Lee Cantrell is a young assistant district attorney, skilled in the martial arts. He is deeply versed in Oriental philosophy and daily practices the martial arts with Takeo Chisato, his family's major-domo. Lee discovers that Amory Bryson, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, is systematically destroying neighbourhoods for a private land renovation project. When the courts prove ineffective in stopping Bryson, the young attorney dons Samurai garb, straps on his sword to do battle with the tycoon's goon squads. In the process, he finds Bryson has made a horrific discovery...

Views: Lee Cantrell is a young district attorney who fights for justice in more ways than one. At night, Lee moonlights as the Samurai – a sword wielding warrior clad in black, complete with a large red headband who takes on the thugs and thieves of his city. When he finds out that a property developing fat-cat is intimidating local families and business owners to claim their land, Lee takes things into his own hands to put a stop to the criminals and bring justice to those that have lost everything! Originally conceived as the pilot for a new television show, Samurai found itself redirected to video when it failed to excite a potential small screen audience. Written by veteran TV writer Jerry Ludwig, who penned many great shows such Murder She Wrote, MacGuyver, Police Story (not the Jackie Chan one), Hawaii Five-O, and Mission: Impossible, Ludwig scripts this one much like that he has penned befor. Playing like a second rate version of Daredevil – albeit with the ability to see – Samurai didn't exactly make as much of an impression for fans of samurai pop-culture as James Clavell's Shogun did the following year, but it obviously didn't go unnoticed and had some of its plot recycled many years later for the US Jet Li vehicle, Romeo Must Die. To be honest, it's actually not as terrible a movie as many would have you believe!

Directed by Lee Katzin, a television director who has helmed many episodes on shows such as Branded, The Rat Patrol, Young Riders, Police Story, and Mission: Impossible (who no doubt crossed paths with Jerry Ludwig along the way) it's clear the man knew what he was doing, and delivers a pilot that plays like many classic shows of the 80s such as Cagney & Lacey, The Equalizer, and Knight Rider, to some degree. Between them both, the pair manage to provide a crime-fighting adventure that could have been so much more but instead, opted to focus more on the dramatic side of things leaving this television pilot somewhat lackluster when it came to action. But you can understand why – Samurai wasn't exactly packed with authentic martial artists! And although he certainly wasn't as miscast as David Carradine in the Kung Fu series, English-born actor Joe Penny doesn't do too bad a job as the samurai hero and lawyer. Hawaiian actor James Shigeta stars as Cantrell's master and adoptive father whose introduction was quite interesting, allowing him to break the fourth wall with the audience as he explains his student's history and story. Shigeta made a healthy career as one of the go-to Asian actors of US television, starting from the early 60s right through to his death in 2014 as well as starring in many great films such as Bridge To The Sun, The Yakuza, Die Hard, and Steve Wang's awesome Drive alongside Mark Dacascos. Both star are joined by a host of popular 70s/80s television actors such as Dana Elcar, Ralph Manza, Philip Baker Hall who appeared in the Rush Hour movies, and Geoffrey Lewis who played Frank in Van Damme's Double Impact.

While I'd hardly say Samurai is a must for martial arts fans – or even falls into the categorical genre of martial arts – it still made for a fun watch, although this probably sits better for those of us that grew up in the 80s with similar kinds of television shows. This was a period when actors actually acted, which can be seen throughout the movie regardless of how silly and far-fetched the script might be. A product of its time, I may have actually gotten hooked on Samurai had it become a series, but hey, no doubt we'll probably see a remake someday soon as Hollywood run dry of fresh ideas and look back for something else to recycle...

Overall: Not terrible but really not worth tracking down either, Samurai had some potential but lacked the excitement and action that may have saved it!

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SAMURAI BLOOD, SAMURAI

GUTS

(Taiwan 1971) 

Original Title: Zhui Ming Sha Shou

(aka) Blood And Guts; Avengers

Directed by Li Kuo Hua Produced by Chui Kin Chau Action by Huang Kuo Chu, Ho Wei Hsiung

Starring: Chiang Pin, Li Hsuan, Chen Li Yun, Wai Wang, Kang Ling, Kang Kai, Lee Fung, Ko Yu Min, Shan Mao, Lei Jun

Reviewing: YouTube Release

Genres: Wuxia / Drama          Rating - 3 / 5

Synopsis: The Deadly Wooden Hag determined to get rid of the Devil's Knight Tiger Lin, tempts an array of top samurai fighters by offering the book of 9 Yin as a reward for his head. Watch her evil plan of destruction backfire in this incredible story of myth & swashbuckling samurai swordplay.

Views: Although released on VHS by Ocean Shores many moons ago under the above title, this Taiwanese wuxia flick is better deserved of its original name Blood And Guts as there isn't a samurai to be seen. Although the characters in the English dub call each other samurai's (which I'm sure was never in the original dialogue at all), they are in fact swordsmen and monks of Chinese origin – with the film clearly set in the Taiwanese countryside. The film plays out like most typical wuxia films from this era, involving revenge and double-crossings, as a bunch of sword-swinging fighters roam the countryside to bring down one man. Cue plenty of flailing and wirework that gives said fighters supernatural powers, such as the strength to cut rocks in half from 20 paces, the ability to leap onto rooftops, and the skills to knock the weapons from 10 fighters with one move. Samurai Blood, Samurai Guts doesn't offer anything we haven't seen a hundred times before, but it also isn't completely dreadful and does try to offer enough of an entertaining tale with more than a few fight scenes...

While its production date is listed as 1971, I was thinking that it might actually be a later in years given the style of its choreography and direction. That said, one of its fight directors was involved with the brilliant 8 Dragon Sword which was shot the same year and was probably even more inventive with its choreography. It was interesting to see how it recycled music tracks from later kung fu movies, including Jackie Chan's classics for Seasonal Films, but this would be down to its dubbing for VHS release coming about in the mid-1980s. Director Li Kuo Hua was never really a talent whose name caught on with fans of kung fu cinema, but this was probably down to his brief time in the industry having only directed 6 features between 1969 and 1971. In the same year as making Samurai Blood, Samurai Guts Li also directed Magical Power Of Fan Li Wa and Hellfighters which saw the return of this film's lead actor Chiang Pin, as well as a few others. Pin stars as hero swordsman Devil Knight and had been in the business almost since the early 60s before this, with over 20 titles to his name including The Mysterious Knight, Paid With Blood, Dragon Gate Swordsman, Duel With Samurai, and many more. This particular year proved to be quite a busy one for Chiang as he went on to star in no less than 16 features altogether, including the aforementioned 8 Dragon Sword which was a lot of fun and one of my favourite titles of his. Taiwanese actress Chen Li Yun stars as the Deadly Wooden Hag and the antagonist of the film, and Kang Ling playing a vengeful swordswoman in one of her few roles to date. Popular actor Wai Wang, who started in the industry in the late 1950s, stars as another villain of the piece – a role he has covered many times in his career having starred in over 180 titles through to the turn-of-the-century.

The fights are handled by Huang Kuo Chu and Ho Wei Hsiung who provide a range of battles throughout that, while fun f or the most part, aren't anything too special. While Huang went on to work on some classic titles later in his career, 1971 would be his debut year as a martial arts director and started with director Li Kuo Hua on this and Hellfighters. From there, Huang would go on to work on (and often star in) films such as General Stone, One-Armed Against Nine Killers, Avenging Boxer, Mantis Under Falcon Claws, Shanghai 13, Secret Rivals 2, and many more. Huang would also direct 5 of his own features over the years including 37 Plots Of Kung Fu, Fight Among The Supers, and the Cat. 3 action-thriller Whore & Policewoman starring Michiko Nishiwaki. Ho Wei Hsiung, who came into the film world around the same time, has since starred in over 150 films ranging from the late 60s through to the early 90s, and worked on Samurai Blood, Samurai Guts as a fight director after his debut in From The Highway just a year before!

As with all of these older films, its hard to give a fair judgement on such productions when all you have is a cropped version to watch, complete with bad-quality picture, and god-awful dub – although Samurai Blood, Samurai Guts most definitely entertains with the latter. While it will never go down as a genuine classic for most or even been seen by many, the film does have enough entertainment value for die-hard wuxia fans of classic Taiwanese cinema. As I always say though, it would be great to see a collection of these movies restored and released on Blu-ray someday, but I doubt very much that we'll get to see that anytime soon. Until then, it's down to old VHS releases, cheap DVDs, and dodgy YouTube videos to keep these forgotten classic titles alive...

Overall: Hardly amazing, but Samurai Blood, Samurai Guts is entertaining enough and may only appeal to die-hard fans of classic wuxia cinema!

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STORY OF RICKY

(Hong Kong 1991) 

Original Title: Lik Wong

(aka) Riki Oh

Directed by Lam Nai Choi Produced by Chau Lam, Johnathan Chow Action by Philip Kwok

Starring: Fan Siu Wong, Yukari Oshima, Gloria Yip, Frankie Chan Chi Leung, Fan Mei Sheng, Koichi Sugisaki, Wong Kwai Hung, Tamba Tetsuro, Philip Kwok, Lam Suet, Lam Kai Wing

Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release

Genres: Action / Martial Arts / Gore

Rating - 3.3 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: Director Nam Nai Choi (Erotic Ghost Story, The Seventh Curse), brings us a tour-de-force story of incarceration and injustice laced with supercharged action sequences and mounting prison-based tension. Set in the year 2001, where all correctional facilities have been privatised, martial artist Ricky (Fan Siu Wong) finds himself victim to the corrupt system when he is found guilty of the manslaughter of an infamous crime boss. Once in jail he must fight for his own survival when he is thrown into a world of enemies vying for his blood. Based on the Japanese Manga by Masahiko Takajo and Tetsuya Saruwatari, this cinematic adaptation also follows closely in the footsteps of a host of brutal prison dramas like Brute Force (1947), Escape From Alcatraz (1979) and Scum (1979) but of course it's all delivered with a distinctive Hong Kong-style powerhouse punch.

Hong Kong Legends UK DVD Synopsis: A radical fusion of brutal martial artistry, extreme violence and dark visuals, 'The Story Of Ricky' is one of the most infamous and disturbing film projects in the history of Asian cinema. Based on the Japanese comic-strip 'Riki Oh', the movie is set in a futuristic prison where Riki is mistakenly locked up and then systematically tortured by the sadistic warden and his cohorts. Through his radical actions and selfless attitude, Ricky quickly becomes a hero for the rest of the inmates and initiates a daring plan to break free from the brutal regime in which he is incarcerated. Featuring some of the most extreme violence ever recorded on film, 'The Story Of Ricky' is the holy grail of horror and manga fans all over the World. Gore-hounds who indulge in the dubious pleasures of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', 'Ichi The Killer' and 'I Spit On Your Grave!' will be in Seventh Heaven!!

Views: Golden Harvest continues its successful streak of Cat. 3 films with producer Chau Lam and director Lam Nai Choi returning for the infamous, Story Of Ricky. I have to admit, as much as I enjoy the film for what it is, I've never been a huge fan and probably got a bigger kick out of it back when I was a teenager. At that stage of my life, Hong Kong cinema was in full flow with weekly releases on VHS from the likes of Made In Hong Kong, Eastern Heroes, and Hong Kong Classics – not to mention what was on offer from 'private collectors' advertised in the back of Impact Movie Magazine and Combat. Of course, there was a lot of hype surrounding Story Of Ricky upon release (and ever since) so I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy – which would only be via a bootleg copy at that point. Many moons later as the DVD market exploded, Story Of Ricky got a glorious release via Hong Kong Legends which allowed fans to see a must better version overall. But this Blu-ray release from 88 Films just takes things to a whole new level. While the film still has many of the negative points that has come to annoy me over the years, any chance to see the gorgeous Fan Siu Wong half-naked in high definition is always a winner with me!

As fun and as exciting as the violence is, I've often found Story Of Ricky to be quite a boring and bland film with average fight action and low production values. But perhaps watching this (again) straight after Lam Nai Choi's Erotic Ghost Story was the wrong thing to do. That film is gorgeously shot, exciting, and bursting with colour – obviously very different in style to this gorefest, albeit from the same team. Made a year or two after the popular sex comedy, Story Of Ricky is probably Lam's most well-known film and is based off the manga by Masahiko Takajo and Tetsuya Saruwatari. It's clear both he and producer Chau Lam enjoyed delving into comic book-style movies and previously worked together on the live adaptation of The Peacock King and its sequel, with the former being a lot more entertaining. They've also had a love of special effects across their shared productions, mixing some fantastic practical work with some cool camera tricks and animated sequences, most of which are quite well done and often entertaining. The great Philip Kwok returns as the action choreographer, having worked with Lam on The Peacock King and Erotic Ghost Story, and also stars in a small role as a friend of Ricky's. Unfortunately, given the martial arts talent involved and skills of Kwok's action choreography, the fights aren't really anything special and often don't allow for much of a showdown between fighters. The focus seems to be on the power of the opponents and more so, the strength of Ricky's punch – often seen bursting through people's stomachs, heads, or walls to great affect. Of course, that's not to say there isn't any hand-to-hand at all...

The underrated and very handsome Louis Fan Siu Wong gets to strut his stuff as the titular character, and does a great job doing so. He looks amazing whether he's flexing his hot body and knocking the heads of people, or dressed up in the flashbacks while he entertains the super cute Gloria Yip – returning to work with Lam Nai Choi after working with him on The Peacock King 1 & 2. I've long been a huge fan of Siu Wong's since I first caught him in Yuen Biao's Righting Wrongs (Above The Law). Even then I knew the guy had something and about 5 years later, most of which he obviously spent in the gym, the young Fan came back a man in the fun Stoneage Warriors which was very quickly followed by Story Of Ricky. Unfortunately, and even after some strong roles in the likes of Michelle Yeoh's Project S (Supercop 2), Danny Lee's Organised Crime & Triad Bureau, and Brandy Yuen's Master Of Zen, Fan Siu Wong's career got a little wobbly soon after that saw him star in a number of low budget, straight-to-video movies that didn't really win the critics over. Thankfully, after a bit of a resurgence in films like Shaolin Vs Evil Dead 1 & 2, The Moss, and Donnie Yen's ground-breaking Ip Man, Fan has proven to Hong Kong cinema fans that he isn't planning to give up too soon. The bosses of the blocks are played by Frankie Chan Chi Leung from the awesome Full Contact and Operation Scorpio, the amazing Yukari Oshima in a gender-bending role, and lesser-known actors Wong Kwai Hung and Koichi Sugisaki. Each boss gets to get in on the action, deliver their own brand of violence and moves – with the Osh bringing her fair share of kicks and punches to the party. This was a busy and interesting period for Yukari having starred in almost 20 productions between 1991 and 92 – some of which were amazing like Angel (Iron Angels), Dreaming The Reality, The Big Deal, and Kickboxers Tears, and some cheaper productions including the insane Ultracop 2000. Apart from Fan Siu Wong's portrayal of Ricky, the Osh probably stands out as one of the more memorable characters in the film for me – and looks super cool at the same time. Another memorable character is played by Siu Wong's prolific father, Fan Mei Sheng, who stars as the gross and brutal assistant warden, Cyclops – the hook-handed man with a fake eye. The star of over 100 films, Fan senior started life in the business around the early 60s going on to star in a host of Shaw Brothers classics and films like Jackie Chan's Young Master and Project A 2, Yuen Woo Ping's Buddhist Fist and Dreadnought, and Sammo Hung's Millionaires Express as well as many others. It was great to see father and son share the screen and go up against each other with Papa Fan playing such an outlandish character. I can only imagine what a fun experience that would have been for them both, reteaming only a year or two later in Brandy Yuen's Master Of Zen. William Ho, star of over 150 Hong Kong films, stars as the eccentric prison warden who brings his spoilt son to work and has some bizarre tricks of his own up his sleeve. And the wonderful Lam Suet pops up as a gang boss who quickly gets on the wrong side of Ricky, which leaves him feeling more than a little sore.

Regardless if I find the film a tad boring or not (in between the violence), Story Of Ricky will hardly be forgotten by fans of Hong Kong cinema anytime soon. Lam and the team had one hell of a challenge in bringing this to life, packed with some very ambitious effects work that helps viewers ignore the cheap set design and bad script. It entertains as expected with its excessive gore and wild comic-book violence, aided by a host of ridiculous characters and Fan Siu Wong spending the majority of the film topless. This stunning Blu-ray edition from 88 Films actually gives Story Of Ricky a new lease of life to, what was once, a very dated-looking film with great sharpness, bold colours, and lots of detail. And you can't be bad to that!

Overall: Crazy fun and packed with wild violence, Story Of Ricky is worth the watch but may disappoint those looking for another martial arts epic!

88 Films Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Audio Commentary with Kim Newman and Sean Hogan, Audio Commentary with Audi Sorlie and Chris Ling, Interview with Fan Siu Wong, Trailers.

Hong Kong Legends DVD Extras: Audio Commentary with Jude Poyer and Miles Wood, Interview with Fan Siu Wong, Martial Arts Showcase with Fan Siu Wong, Trailers

Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE

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