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

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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SATANIC CRYSTALS

(Hong Kong 1989) 

Original Title: Duo Bao Long Hu Dou

Directed by Cheng Kei Ying Produced by Tomas Tang Action by Leung Kar Yan, Chiang Tao Starring: Leung Kar Yan,Cheng Kei Ying, Ng Man Tat, Shing Fiu On, Daan Gwan Chi, Ha Chi Chun, Stuart Ong, Chiang Tao, George Nicholas, Sun Chien, Cheung Kwok Leung, Christoph Kluppel, Reviewing: Astro Film German DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Action / Adventure

 

Rating - 2 / 5

DVD Synopsis: The legendary, precious eyes of a Buddha statue have disappeared without a trace for years. Terry Chow goes in search of the precious stones. But a rough tribe in the jungle worships the stones as a sanctuary and promises whoever brings them back a gross fortune in drugs. Because of this, countless drug lords are trying to get their hands on the stones. A deadly battle ensues between the men of the drug empire and the heavily armed friends of Terry. Satanic Crystals is an explosive adventure film with breathtaking action sequences and hard shock effects. Wild chases, dangerous firefights and beautiful scenery make this film a unique experience. (88 Mins)

Views: The wonderful Leung Kar Yan plays Terry Chow, an adventurer who has arrived back in Hong Kong after spending two years in South Africa. The first thing on his mind is to win back the heart of his old girlfriend Susan. But Susan has now married a hard-of-hearing, rich gangster called John during his time away, and has since moved on with her life. After stopping at a local bar to find out about Susan's whereabouts, we soon learn of Terry's martial skills after he runs into an angry pimp who is treating some local girls with disrespect. After teaching the pimp a lesson, Terry eventually finds Susan and her new husband at their home – although continues to try and win her back by asking them both out to South Africa for a holiday. But as he leaves to get the tickets (just like that), John and Susan are attacked by a gang who are in search of a map that can lead them to two multi-coloured, glowing jade stones somewhere in Thailand. But after killing John and leaving Susan for dead, the gang leave with the map – not knowing that a second part is hidden elsewhere in the house. When Terry returns, he finds Susan barely alive although she manages to tell him where the second map is and who was behind the attack. Within minutes, Terry organises a team to head out to Thailand with him where they very quickly find one of the jade stones, but he is soon attacked by another gang of thugs and shot. After getting nursed back to health by some local villagers, Terry soon learns that the thugs are never too far behind after he returns from a hunting trip to find all the villagers dead and the jade stone missing. At this stage of the game that things start to get a little messy with the plot as a clan of Amazonian women turn-up to attack everyone, a white guy named Tiger joins the race for the jade stones, Terry is joined by an old 'Nam pal in action, some weapons dealers get involved, men get eaten by alligators, and Terry takes flight during a jet-ski chase on the jungle river! Of course, it all boils down to a fight for the jade stones, rescue missions, revenge, and plenty of insane action!

I'd say that anyone who enjoyed the late 1980s Hong Kong adventure movies such as Armour Of God, The Seventh Curse, Iron Angels 3, or any amount of Thai action-flicks directed by Panna Rittikrai from the same period, is going to have a great time with the Tomas Tang produced Satanic Crystals. It's like a badly mixed cocktail of Eastern Condors, Fantasy Mission Force, and Stanley Tong's Stone Age Warriors – but still manages to offer enough entertainment with some exciting fight scenes, crazy stunts, fun cast, and plenty of wild antics that plants it firmly in the exploitation sub-genre of Hong Kong cinema. In fact, it actually steals some music from Jackie Chan's aforementioned classic adventure-film, and definitely had some other notes that I'm sure I've heard in other films over the years (including some Moon Lee titles). I have to admit, I was expecting so much more from this film after hearing about it for many years, but it most certainly was not the experience I was hoping for and because of this, I point the finger at writer and director Tommy Cheng Kei Ying – who also co-stars as one of the gangsters in the film. Cheng started life in the industry as an actor in 1973 in Only The Brave Stands, but very quickly added a notch to his belt the following year as a martial arts director for his second film, The Owl, that saw him star alongside Michael Chan Wai Man for the first of a number of times in his career. Cheng would continue his dual roles over the next lot of years in films such as Bravest Fist, The Kung Fu Kid, Ironside 426, The Handcuff, Clones Of Bruce Lee, Gang Of Four, and Vice Squad 633 – with the man providing the script for the latter two also. But in 1981, Cheng would also turn his hand to directing and made his debut with the fun Chi Kuan Chun vehicle, Eagle Fist, of which he also starred in, produced, and choreographed. While he would continue to star in titles through to the late 90s including Billy Chong's Kung Fu Zombie and A Fistful Of Talons, Majestic Thunderbolt, Return Of The Bastard Swordsman, The Man From Holland, and others – Cheng would return to directing in the late 80s with a host of cut-and-paste titles for Filmark such as Death Code Ninja, Ninja American Warrior, Ninja Warriors From Beyond, and more as well as his own titles like this, the hard-to-find Rape In Public Sea with Lam Ching Ying (and a cameo from a young skinny Mike Leeder), and a film called Sea Climax – both of which were made in 1993 and both of which got slapped with the infamous Cat.3 label. While he toyed with these things in Satanic Crystals, such as the sex and violence, the film really sticks with the themes of action and adventure for the most part, although proves why the man with the wildest sideburns in the business – should have just stayed-put as an actor...

As Terry Chow, Leung Kar Yan does what he can to try an make him interesting. Thankfully, he gets enough action scenes to play with that sees him face-off against a number of known Hong Kong actors, as well as doubling-up as one of the films action choreographers. After wowing fans for a strong decade with his roles in many Shaw Brothers hits as well as independent titles such as Eagle's Claw, Iron Monkey, Sleeping Fist, Thundering Mantis, and Demon Strike, as well as classics like Enter The Fat Dragon, Warriors Two, Odd Couple, Knockabout, The Victim, Dreadnought, Legend Of A Fighter, and Postman Strikes Back – and delivering his directorial debut with the brilliant Profile In Anger, the popular Leung Kar Yan's career started to get a little wobbly into the late 80s. After appearing in Ting Shan Hsi's epic Story Of Dr. Sun Yat Sen alongside Alex Man, Moon Lee, Kara Hui, Gordon Liu, and Chin Siu Ho, Leung slowed down a little – only appearing in Yuen Woo Ping's Tiger Cage over a 2 year period, with Satanic Crystals following a year later and a further four titles across 1989. While things looked like they weren't going to pick up anytime too soon for him, Leung pushed-on starring in a host of titles as well as delivering his second directorial effort in 1990 with the Chow Sing Chi action-comedy, My Hero. Thankfully, it didn't take too long after that for things to start picking-up, and Leung has continued to entertain his fans through to today – going-on to star in over 150 films, a number of television shows, and has directed 10 films to date as well as working as an assistant director on films such as Tiger Cage 2 and Jackie Chan's Mr. Nice Guy.

On paper, the cast for Satanic Crystals looks pretty impressive – but it's just a shame that, for the most of them, they just show up for a cameo as such (extended or otherwise) and often don't lend themselves to anything too important in regards to the plot. While Leung Kar Yan and director Cheng Kei Ying are the two most common faces throughout, other popular faces of Hong Kong cinema just come-and-go. The wonderful Shing Fui On stars as the pimp that gets a quick fight with Leung in the bar. Chow Sing Chi regular, Ng Man Tat, is practically wasted as Susan's deaf husband John Chai – with Susan being played by actress Daan Gwai Chi who also starred in Final Run and Ghost Ballroom the same year. Martial arts star Ha Chi Chun, who impressed in Sammo Hung's Eastern Condors, Angel Enforcers, and Aces Go Places 5, pops-up with Stuart Ong as weapons dealers and prolific Shaw Brothers villain Chiang Tao (Kong Do) gets a bit of a stronger role as one of director Cheng's men, as well as working alongside Leung as the second action-choreographer. I was excited to find out that the awesome Sun Chien (from Chang Cheh's Venom Mob) was in the film, but his role here is a far cry from what he was delivering back in his hey-day at the Shaw Brothers studio. Actress Eliza Yee appears for a brief bit of action, and regular bit-players like Paul Wong, James Ha, and Jack Wong appear as thugs here-and-there – as does Tiger Cage 3 star, Cheung Kwok Leung. It was fun to see German (I think) actor Christop Kluppel appear as Leung Kar Yan's old friend from Vietnam. Kluppel starred in a number of Thai action flicks over the years including Dark Day Express, Battle Warrior, Devils War, In Gold We Trust, and others, and comes in at the end to reprise a similar role that involves him just shooting people and blowing things up. But I was actually more excited to see George Nicholas appear as the foreign bad guy called Tiger – perhaps a reference to his role in Alexander Lo Rei's Ninja USA from a few years previous, where I first saw him as an actor along with his role in the awesome Sakura Killers – one of my favourite childhood ninja flicks. It's definitely a fun cast to say the least, but it's just a shame that they never really make a lasting impression...

I guess the same could be said about the film as a whole, which is unfortunate as I had really hoped that Satanic Crystals would have been so much more. While the direction and editing may be shoddy at times, the cinematography doesn't help much either and offers up many dark scenes that hide some action. While I would have preferred to have seen the film in its Cantonese language with English subtitles, it's clear that the talent involved in dubbing Satanic Crystals had no idea what was going on either – which allows for some unintentional comedy admittedly. Action wise, I have to admit I did enjoy it for the most part. There was definitely enough martial arts action on offer, and to a decent degree in terms of Leung Kar Yan and China Tao's choreography. But there was also plenty of gunplay, explosions, gore-filled violence – with the wading through the river filled with alligators being one of the more highly entertaining moments – and a fun jet-ski chase on the river that allowed for some stunt work and moves that defy the laws of gravity. Regardless, and as bad as it was, Satanic Crystals was enjoyable at times but I can honestly say that it's not a title I would be going back to watch again and again. And while its title and trailer may sell the film with a plot that delves into the occult, there is no Satanism at all throughout it – which may have helped things just a little!

Overall: While it may be cheap looking and messy at times, Satanic Crystals makes for a fun watch (at least once) for the sake of its interesting cast and some crazy action scenes!

DVD Extras: Trailers, Photo Gallery

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SAVING MR. WU

(China 2015) 

Original Title: Jie Jiu Wu Xian Sheng

Directed by Ding Sheng Produced by Ding Sheng Action by He Jun Starring: Andy Lau, Wang Qian Yuan, Cai Lu, Liu Ye, Wu Ruo Fu, Lam Suet, Lu Peng, Vivien Li Meng, Yu Ai Lei Reviewing: Hi-Yah TV Release Genres: Crime /Action / Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

Synopsis: Mr Wu, a Hong Kong movie star, is visiting Beijing when he finds himself the victim of a kidnapping after a group of men pose as cops. Although the kidnappers are fans of his work, they mean business and hold the star to ransom which results in some drastic consequences. (106 Mins)

 

Views: Ding Sheng's 2015 dark-drama is an interesting piece for sure! The film is based on the true story of popular Chinese actor Wu Ruo Fu's kidnapping that happened just a decade earlier, and saw him held for ransom for 21 hours before being rescued by the police. But what caught me off-guard about this film, was the fact that Wu Ruo Fu co-stars as one of the cops leading the rescue. Originally offered the role of 'himself' before Andy Lau, the real Mr. Wu turned it down- no doubt refusing to go through the trauma once again that left his psychologically shook up. Regardless, it was brave enough of him to take on any role as I'm sure that both shooting and watching the film proved to be a gut-churning experience. Cramming 21 hours into 106 minutes, director Ding Sheng provides a tense and well-knitted piece that recounts the events of 2004, telling the story of the actors kidnapping by the gang of ruthless criminals, and the police team who worked tirelessly to save him!

 

Told in a non-linear fashion with a narrative that has become typical of Sheng, Saving Mr. Wu is a cleverly constructed thriller that flits between the present and past events during Wu's kidnapping, often slipping in theoretical scenes of what might have happened as the police try to piece things together or Wu ponders ways to get out of the situation. I've always been a big fan of Ding Sheng as a director since catching The Underdog Knight 1 & 2 and awesome Jackie Chan flick, Little Big Soldier, as well as Police Story 2013 and Railroad Tigers respectively. While I have yet to see his remake of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow, Saving Mr. Wu is the latest of his short filmography that I have had the pleasure of seeing. As the titular Mr. Wu, Andy Lau does a stellar job in playing the victim – shedding all his usual coolness to spend the majority of the movie wrapped in chains and taking beatings. While his character is based on that of co-star Wu Ruo Fu, there are definitely a few changes there such as him being an actor from Hong Kong etc – even going as far as making one of the kidnappers state that they watched him in God Of Gamblers. During his ordeal, Wu is imprisoned with a rich boy called Dou who has also been kidnapped for ransom, with the star offering to pay his fee in order to save his life. Dou is played by Cai Lu who I've only ever seen in Sheng's Police Story 2013, although he has went on to become a sought after television actor in China. As mentioned, the real Wu Ruo Fu stars as Cao Gang, the police captain determined to save Wu and catch the kidnappers. Given his background and connection with the project, Wu does a great job in what would be his first feature film since the mid-90s. He stars alongside the brilliant Liu Ye, star of Ding Sheng's brilliant Underdog Knight 1 & 2. Starting his film career at the turn-of-the-century with small roles in Postmen In The Mountains and Team Spirit, Liu went on to star in titles such as The Floating Landscape, Curse Of The Golden Flower, Blood Brothers, Connected, City Of Life & Death, Police Story 2013, The Last Supper, and so much more. The wonderful Lam Suet pops up yet another extended cameo, playing the business friend and Andy's who must deliver the ransom money for his return, but it has to be the fantastic Wang Qian Yuan who steals the show as the ruthless leader of the kidnappers. Wang started his film career with a brief role in the Chinese drama Winner in 1996, before charging in a few years later with The Ring Of The Hill and a number of hit television shows. While more film roles came over the years, it would be his performance in Lu Yang's epic Brotherhood Of Blades that really got everyone's attention. From there, Wang would secure roles in Ann Hui's Golden Era, John Woo's The Crossing 1 & 2, Peace Breaker, Sky Hunter, Shadow, The Eight Hundred (my favourite film of 2020), and Saving Mr. Wu obviously. As kidnapper Zhang Hua, Wang delivers a fantastic performance that emits so much tension and dedication, the audience just doesn't know what to expect from him with every move.

 

While the most of the film is driven with some great drama, there are a few great shoot-outs and chases on offer. These are handled by He Jun; a recognisable actor, stuntman and choreographer who has worked under the watchful eye of Jackie Chan in films such as The Medallion, Around The World In 80 Days, Shanghai Knights, New Police Story, The Myth, Rob-B-Hood, Chinese Zodiac, The Karate Kid, Little Big Soldier, and Railroad Tigers – with the latter 2 starting his relationship with Ding Sheng of course. Director Of Photography, Ding Yu, also returns to work with Sheng again after capturing The Underdog Knight 1 & 2, Little Big Soldier, and Police Story 2013 for him. After working on Railroad Tigers straight after, it would be a few years later before Yu would be behind the camera on another feature – shooting the gorgeously captured and exciting Battle At Lake Changjin 1 & 2 for directors Tsui Hark, Dante Lam, and Chen Kaige. For Saving Mr. Wu, he is joined by cinematographers Deng Jun and Chao Ming, both of which have followed him on his journey for the most part, with the trio using a lot of hand-held shots that help build the tension and set the tone for the story. I really enjoyed Saving Mr. Wu and only wish I had seen it sooner. The final 10 minutes around the rescue is well-captured and emotional, with Andy bringing a lump to the throat when he comes face-to-face with his old friend (Suet). It was also neat to see the footage of the real operation screened over the end credits!

 

Overall: Tense, well-acted, captivating and emotional, Saving Mr. Wu is a fantastic film and well worth the watch!

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THE SEVENTH CURSE

(Hong Kong 1986) 

Original Title: Yuen Chun Hap Yu Wai See Lee (aka) Dr.Yuen & Wisely

Directed by Lam Nai Choi Produced by Wong Jing, Raymond Chow Action by Yuen Bun Starring: Chin Siu Ho, Chow Yun Fat, Maggie Cheung, Dick Wei, Elvis Tsui Kam Kong, Sibelle Hu, Chui Sau Lai, Ni Kuang, Yasuaki Kurata, Ken Boyle, Tam Bo (cameos from) Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Wong Jing, Chor Yuen, Derek Yee, Wong Yu, Kara Hui, Nina Li Chi, Joyce Godenzi, Elsie Chan, Steve Mak Reviewing: Universe HK DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Horror / Adventure

Rating - 4 / 5

88 Films UK Blu-ray Synopsis:When Dr.Yuen (Chin Siu Ho) attempts to rescue a girl about to be sacrificed by the Worm Tribe in the middle of a jungle in Thailand, he is damned with seven 'blood curses' and must return there to find a permanent cure. Though he finds a temporary antidote this will only last a year and he must return to the jungle to find a permanent cure. The Seventh Curse is an adventurous story of lost tribes and deadly magic. Featuring strange locales, evil sorcerers and monsters, this bonkers thrillfest is a rollicking Asian oddity. A must for collectors of exotic Hong Kong cinema. (83 / 80 Mins)

Universe DVD Synopsis: Yuen Cheung-ha save Bachufrom being sacrificed by the wicked priest in Thailand, but is stricken with seven blood curses. Soon, Yuen's veins start to burst. Wales Lee sends Yuen, Maggie and Bachu's boyfriend back to find Buddha's Eye,which can cure Yuen. The wicked priest has directed the blood demon to attack Yuen and his friends. Wales Lee comes up with the weapon to destroy their wicked enemies. Peace and love return to a troubled land. (81 Mins)

Hong Kong Classics UK VHS Synopsis: This supernatural adventure movie is a classic example of Hong Kong cinema at its most crazy, imaginative and bloodthirsty. Gorgeous femme fatale Maggie Cheung plays Sally, an impetuous reporter who gets mixed up in a violent siege at a hospital. Here she meets up with heroic Doctor Chester Yung (Chin Siu Ho), who is fighting a tribal blood spell which is about to kill him. With the assistance of his friend Wisely (Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat), Chester goes to Thailand to confront the tribe which has put the spell on him. Here he must battle against an evil sorcerer – that's if the worm demon, the reanimated corpse and the giant stone Buddha don't get him first! Mayhem ensues, with a rocket launcher-wielding Wisely kicking off some of the wildest action sequences you'll ever see! (93 Mins)

Views: After a trip to Thailand, Doctor Yuen discovers that he now has a mysterious blood curse. Advised by his good friend Wisely to seek out its origin, the young doctor returns to the Thai jungles in search of the Worm Tribe before all seven blood vessels burst and kill him. Once there, Dr. Yuen finds problem after problem as the tribe try everything in their power to stop him – from armed warriors to deadly traps, and reanimated corpses to kung-fu monks. Joining forces with Wisely and some new-found friends, Yuen fights for his life in a battle against a crazed witch-doctor and bloodsucking demon in a gore-filled, action-packed finale around a giant stone Buddha!

Although I have numerous copies of The Seventh Curse, from VHS to Blu-ray, this crazy and entertaining film is not one I often go back to time and time again - although not for any particular reason I guess - but that is going to change since I got my hands on the beautifully restored Blu-ray release from 88 Films. Along with cinematic powerhouses Wong Jing and Raymond Chow, the film was co-produced by Chua Lam who brought us lots of fun titles such as the Erotic Ghost Story Trilogy, The Peacock King 1 & 2, Vampire Vs Vampire, Robotrix, Crime Story, City Hunter, Mr. Nice Guy and Story Of Ricky, the infamous live-action manga starring Fan Siu Wong and Yukari Oshima. Of course, many of these very same titles were directed by The Seventh Curse director Lam Nai Choi who started life in the Hong Kong film industry as a cinematographer in the mid 70s. It was here that he would captured the images for titles such as Carry On Con Men, The Drug Connection, Avenging Eagle, The Kid With A Tattoo, and Rendezvous With Death, before making his directorial debut in 1981 with One Way Only starring Robert Mak and Danny Lee. For the next decade, Lam would continue to shoot many of his own films with Erotic Ghost Story being one of his last and although I've often enjoyed his directorial efforts, I think it's fair to say that Lam Nai Choi isn't the greatest director in the world, with most of his films flawed in one way or another respectively. While the prolific and late Ni Kuang provides the story – as well as making a cameo as himself – the script is written by the aforementioned Wong Jing and Yuen Kai Chi, with the former also making a fun cameo at a party at the beginning of the film. And while we all know very well what talents Wong holds as a writer and director, it's worth noting that Yuen has been credited for writing many of Hong Kong's cinemas finest films including A Chinese Ghost Story, Pedicab Driver, She Shoots Straight, Once Upon A Time In China, Drunken Master 2, and more. That said, The Seventh Curse isn't exactly perfect and still feels a little uneven at times in its story – focusing more on Dr. Yuen rather than the infamous character of Wisely - but it still proves to be highly entertaining.

Although he had been entertaining audiences for a number of years and was fast becoming a superstar with the success of John Woo's A Better Tomorrow in 1986, Chow Yun Fat took on the smaller role here of popular adventurer Wisely – leaving the leading role for the awesome Chin Siu Ho. Mind you, this was only 1 of 11 roles Chow would star in that year alongside Dream Lovers, The Lunatics, 100 Ways To Murder Your Wife, A Hearty Response, and the aforementioned gangster flick that went on to be one of Chow Yun Fat's most memorable roles ever. Chin Siu Ho, brother of the equally incredible Chin Kar Lok, stars as doctor Yuen Chen – the student of Wisely and hero of the piece. Having made his film debut at the Shaw Brothers studio in the late 70s, appearing in titles such as The Boxer From The Temple, Ten Tigers Of Kwantung and many other Venom titles, Chin went on to star in modern hits such as Mr. Vampire, In The Blood, They Came To Rob Hong Kong, Blonde Fury, New Kids In Town, Fist Of Legend, Tai Chi Master and so much more. Although his career saw somewhat of a lull after the turn-of-the-century, Siu Ho would see a revival of sorts after starring in films like A Battle Of Wits, Let's Go!, Rigor Mortis, Vampire Clean-up Department, and Hand Rolled Cigarette. As Dr. Yuen, Chin does a great job as always and looks fantastic when in action, getting to kick ass a number of times on his adventures as random parts of his body explodes in the search for a cure. The lovely Maggie Cheung joins him for the ride in what would have been her 7th or 8th role after in 2 years after starring in films such as Prince Charming, Police Story, It's A Drink! It's A Bomb! and Rose. She plays a troublesome reporter who insists on joining Yuen no matter what, eventually getting in on the action with disastrous results. The brilliant Dick Wei plays a member of the Worm Tribe who helps the doctor on his quest, while saving his girlfriend along the way and landing some powerful kicks on the enemy as the pair fight side by side in the grand finale. Of course, this wasn't the first time Dick and Chin worked together, with the two of them sharing the screen a number of times during their days at the Shaw Brothers studio. The outrageous Elvis Tsui Kam Kong stars as the witch-doctor of the Worm Tribe, painted-up to add a little more crazy to the character he's playing. Following the same steps as his co-stars, Tsui began his career at the Shaw Brothers studio and starred alongside Maggie the year before in the fun It's A Drink! It's A Bomb! before going on to work with Chow soon after in City On Fire, Tragic Hero, Prison On Fire 2, and God Of Gamblers Return. If you are watching the uncut Hong Kong version, the film opens with the late Ni Kuang swirling a glass of brandy as he looks into the camera and talks about telling a good story. For some bizarre reason he is surrounded by a host of ladies, each of whom are known as Miss Asia 1986 and include Nina Li Chi, Elsie Chan, Wong Lai Ying, and Shirley Ng in some of their earliest appearances. The author of over 300 stories and 400 screenplays, Ni was the creator of Wisely who brought him to life in many stories and films with stars such as Chow Yun Fat, Sam Hui, and Andy Lau each delivering their own version of the character along with many others over the years. Unfortunately Kuang passed at the start of July (2022) due to skin cancer, leaving behind a legacy of highly regarded literature and film work. The Seventh Curse plays like a who's who of cameos – and mostly from popular Shaw Brothers stars who were just making the transition to modern-action in the mid-80s. These include prolific directors Chor Yuen and Derek Yee, Wong Yu, Kara Hui, Wong Chi Ming, Steve Mak, and others. The great Johnny Wang Lung Wei appears as a bandit leader in the films opening action scene, with the legendary Yasuaki Kurata cameoing as the captain of the police force in charge of stopping him. I also think it would be fair to say that both Chow Yun Fat and Sibelle Hu's roles are more or less extended cameos in the grand scheme of things, and word has it that Joyce Godenzi pops-up briefly in extended Hong Kong cut of the film...

While The Seventh Curse may be a little uneven at times, there's no denying its entertainment value with a grand collection of martial arts action and gory horror. From deadly forest traps that see people getting spiked through the chest and ripped in half by trees to bloodthirsty skeletons with glowing eyes, it's easy to see why the film fell into the infamous Category 3 genre which will no doubt please 80s horror fans with what's on offer. These moments include those with the flying maggot-like creature that sports a baby's face, and the Pumpkinhead-esque demon - both of which are handled by the wonderful Keizo Murase, a Japanese SFX artist who worked on some of the original Mothra, Godzilla, and Gamera movies, as well as Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters and Mighty Peking Man. And the great Yuen Bun delivers some fantastic action scenes, along with some painful looking stunts that includes a memorable run-in with a jeep that sends one stuntman flying. From the opening fight scene against Johnny Wang Lung Wei and his men, to the many forest fights that see Chin Siu Ho and Dick Wei deliver some powerfully sweet moves, Yuen Bun keeps fans thrilled right to the end with an impressive 20 minute finale that begins on a giant stone Buddha - complete with deadly traps and a small army of kung-fu monks. It's an exciting showdown, backed by a a great score, that reminded me a lot of Cynthia Rothrock's Prince Of The Sun and even Armour Of God to some degree. The fight then moves into the ritual caverns where the team go up against the flying demon, where things really go off the rails and get pretty damn bloody. All in all though, The Seventh Curse is a highly enjoyable piece with plenty to offer and enough craziness to leave a lasting impression. As mentioned, the film has never looked better than it does on the 2K restored Blu-ray released by 88 Films, which offers fans the chance to see both the Hong Kong version and slightly shorter export version with optional audio commentaries. This new print also reveals just how amazingly gorgeous most of the cinematography really is, courtesy of cinematographer Lam Wah Chiu – the same guy behind the lens of titles such as The Golden Lotus, Five Superfighters, The Tigress Of Shaolin, The Peacock King and Demoness From 1000 Years. Supported by lighting director Lau Tit Chi – who honed his craft on Hong Kong horrors like the Hex Trilogy, Bewitched, Corpse Mania, and modern hits such as A Chinese Ghost Story, Peacock King, A Terracotta Warrior, and Blue Jean Monster – the pair deliver a host of memorable visuals that look even more stunning, restored in full HD!

Overall: Gore-filled fun and action-packed, The Seventh Curse is a wild adventure film and a lot of fun!

DVD Extras: Trailers, Stars Bio's

Watch my unboxing video of this 88 Films release HERE

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THE SHAOLIN KIDS

(Taiwan 1975) 

Original Title: Shao Lin Xiao Zi (aka) Shaolin Posse; Shaolin Death Squad; Kids Of Shaolin

 

Directed by Joseph Kuo Produced by Joseph Kup Action by Chan Siu Pang, Cliff Lok Starring: Polly Shang Kwan, Carter Wong, Roc Tien Peng, Chang Yi, Cliff Lok, Chin Kang, Chiang Nan, Yi Yuan, Jimmy Lee, Lu Ping, Huang Fei Long Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-fu / Drama

 

Rating - 4 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: In The Shaolin Kids, a ruthless premiere assassinates a political rival, and must face the wrath of his deadly daughter!

Views: Lui Po Wen is a powerful ex-minister who once objected to the election of the new and ambitious prime minister, Hu Wei Yen. With his health at a low point, Lui receives a visit from Hu who has brought a doctor with the promise of getting him better. But after taking some medicine, Liu gets worse – quickly realising that he has been poisoned under the orders of Hu Wei Yen. Before he dies, Liu manages to tell his daughter who killed him and orders her to seek vengeance on behalf of him and the country. Meanwhile, the prime minister has let an important scroll fall into the hands of opposing loyalists – a scroll that contains vital battle orders and self-incriminating evidence. Upon knowing this, Miss Lui and her new friends vow to take this to the Emperor as proof of treason and help bring Hu Wei Yen down. It all leads to a furious showdown of vengeful kung fu that sees

I guess The Shaolin Kids would be the first Joseph Kuo movie to star the trio of Carter Wong, Polly Shang Kwan, and Roc Tien Peng, originally released in the UK under the title of Shaolin Death Squad. This was a bit of a daft move, considering Polly Shang Kwan and Carter Wong starred together in a film called Shaolin Death Squads only a year later for director Chan Siu Pang – one of the fight choreographers of The Shaolin Kids, with Cliff Lok continuing to work with him on that particular production after this as well as 18 Bronzemen and its sequel. 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 then some and as his career progressed, Cliff became the lead in a number of classics such as Kung Fu Genius, Duel Of The 7 Tigers, and Choi Lee Fat Kung Fu, going on to appear in modern flicks such as Angels Project with Moon Lee and the low budget, Fatal Dream. Having trained under the infamous master Yu Jim Yuen from the Peking Opera School that put Jackie, Sammo, and Yuen Biao through their paces, Lok was behind a number of films as the martial arts director. But it's fair to say that Chan Siu Pang outshines Lok with his extensive career in the industry, starring in over 100 films from 1960 to 2006 that would see Johnnie To's Election 2 and Shaolin Vs Evil Dead 2: Ultimate Power being his final projects. Chan also directed over 10 films himself including The Best Of Shaolin Kung Fu, The Magnificent, Choi Lee Fat Kung Fu, and Rivals Of The Silver Fox – many of which included working with both Carter Wong and Cliff Lok on a regular basis. Siu Pang also held a strong position as a martial arts director having choreographed over 60 films throughout his career including The Comet Strikes, Super Dragon, Joseph Kuo's The Old Master, and the super fun Seasonal Films flick, Lackey And The Lady Tiger starring Mars and Hwang Jang Lee. In The Shaolin Kids the pair deliver some exciting kung-fu battles which come thick and fast, mixing some great hand-to-hand action with plenty of skilful swordplay.

Cliff Lok also plays a great role here as one of the assassins for the prime minister, and gets in on plenty of fight scenes – often popping a magical healing pill to heal his wounds so that he can continue fighting. Although Carter Wong pops up here-and-there for the first hour of the film, he really gets the chance to shine around the one-hour mark before getting killed off after a spear is thrust through his stomach. I've always been a huge fan of Wong's with him already having starred in a good 30 films before this for studios like Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest, as well as many independent studios. Films like Hapkido, When Taekwondo Strikes, The Skyhawk, The Dragon Tamers, Shaolin Invincibles, Marco Polo, The Blazing Temple, 18 Bronzemen and The Traitorous, helped earned him a large following with the man becoming a huge name of kung-fu cinema for a strong decade or two. When that star started to fade in the early 80s, Wong headed to the bright lights of Hollywood where he got the chance to star in the incredibly fun John Carpenter movie Big Trouble In Little China as Thunder, and worked behind the scenes on the action for Rambo 3 before leaving the set due to creative differences. The poorly received Hardcase & Fist soon followed before he returned to Hong Kong for appearances in films like The Transmigration Romance, Way Of The Lady Kickboxers, and High Voltage with Donnie Yen – but it was nothing compared to that of his heyday of the 70s and soon, Wong returned to the States. Roc Tien Peng – who gets a lot more screen time than Carter Wong – 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 and many that put him alongside his co-stars of The Shaolin Kids, over the years. From 1974 to 1984, 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 the lovely Doris Lung. And of course, we can't forget about the wonderful Polly Shang Kwan, the real leading star of the show who made her film debut alongside Roc in King Hu's Dragon Inn. Once again, Kwan proves to be a joy to watch as she gets to show-off some great moves and acting, and looks great doing it. By the time she made this, Polly had already starred in over 20 titles including classics such as The Bravest Revenge, The Ghostly Face, Back Alley Princess, Chinatown Capers, The Chinese Amazons, and A Gathering Of Heroes – proving to be a powerhouse martial arts starlet and wonderful actress. The rest of the huge cast is filled with many popular Taiwanese actors – many of whom appeared in a number of Joseph Kuo movies, with Huang Fei Long starring alongside Cliff Lok as his assassin partner. As well as a short but fun role from Jimmy Lee, it was great to see the brilliant Chang Yi appear, playing the role of General Lu and getting to pull-off some pretty slick moves in a couple of fight scenes. Yi made quite a name for himself since hitting the scene in 1967 with films such as The Thundering Sword and The Silent Swordsman for the Shaw Brothers studios. King Cat, The Silver Fox, and the awesome Bells Of Death soon followed and by the time The Shaolin Kids came about, Chang Yi had starred in over 40 films including classic titles like Zatoichi & The One-Armed Swordsman, The Fast Sword, Bandits From Shantung, Lady Whirlwind, Four Real Friends, 18 Shaolin Disciples, and more.

While it may not be the greatest kung-fu movie of all time, The Shaolin Kids still proves to be a well made and entertaining piece. With plenty of great kung-fu action, pleasing cinematography from Kuo regular Chujio Chintaro, and solid direction from Joseph Kuo, you can't help but find a soft spot for this martial arts classic of Taiwanese cinema. Recently released as part of the Cinematic Vengeance box set of Joseph Kuo movies from Eureka Video, The Shaolin Kids has never looked better which makes for an even better watch that's well worth the pennies!

Overall: A kung-fu classic packed full of great fights, colourful costumes, and a great cast, The Shaolin Kids is a brilliant Joseph Kuo movie worth the watch!

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

Watch my unboxing video of this Eureka Video release HERE

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SHAOLIN KUNG FU

(Taiwan 1974) 

Original Title: Shao Lin Gong Fu

Directed by Joseph Kuo, Lau Sau Wa Produced by Joseph Kuo Action by He Ming Hsiao Starring: Wen Chiang Long, Yi Yuan, Lu Ping, Liu Hsiu Yun, Yuan Shen, Yeung San San, Tseng Chao, Yen Chung, Hu Chiu Ping, Cheung Yee Boon, Mark Long, Ko Pao Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 3.7 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: In Shaolin Kung Fu, a young rickshaw driver uses his lethal martial arts skills to cut a path of bloody revenge when criminals target his family.

Views: Rickshaw driver Lin Fong tirelessly carries people around town, working himself to the bone to try and provide for his blind wife. But when a new team of rickshaw pullers arrive, trouble soon kicks-off for him as big boss Tong Yan tries to drive every other rickshaw puller off the streets. Although Fong stands up for himself, Tong and his men takes things to another level when they attack his wife which results in her death. Before she dies, Fong promises her that he would stay out of trouble and no longer fight – but as more of his friends die around him, the young hero is forced to breaking point and puts his martial arts skills to use as he brings vengeance upon the house of Tong Yan!

Joseph Kuo's Shaolin Kung Fu is probably one of the more enjoyable straight-laced kung fu movies I've seen. With only a few chuckles throughout and some pretty serious performances, the film wastes no time in getting into the nitty gritty – bringing it's antagonist to the screen quick and delivering a host of non-stop kung fu battles. I'd never managed to see this 1974 classic until now, released as part of the Cinematic Vengeance box set of Joseph Kuo movies from Eureka Video, but the stunning print just makes it even better and I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps inspired by Bruce Lee's Big Boss to some degree, Shaolin Kung Fu is a simple tale of good versus bad and was penned by first-time writer Siao Se – who only went on to write Tiger Jungle the same year for director Ting Chung, a film that also starred Wen Chiang Long, was also choreographed by He Ming Hsiao, and also shot by Chujiro Shintaro (all of whom worked the same roles here). Of course, by the time Shaolin Kung Fu came about the same lot of talent had been working together on Joseph Kuo movies for the past couple of years already, starting with 1972's The Death Duel before going onto Rikiksha Kuri, Iron Man, and Hero Of Kwangtong. From there, Japanese born cinematographer Shintaro would work with Kuo on many of his films including other kung-fu classics such as 18 Shaolin Riders, The Rebel Of Shaolin, and 18 Jade Arhats, that would see him re-join many of the same cast and crew members over the years. The film was co-directed by Lau Sau Wa, a name that appears on the opening credits with Kuo as the main director. With Joseph on-board as the producer and keeping himself busy with a few other productions that year, it's not clear just how much he actually did himself on Shaolin Kung Fu – with the film itself giving a different feel and flow to his later projects. That said, it still comes across very well done, though it does make me wonder why Eureka Video choose this as one of their titles for Cinematic Vengeance and not Hero Of Kwantong, The Death Duel, Blazing Temple, or even the very fun 8 Masters (which would have completed his Bronzemen Trilogy). Regardless, Lau does a pretty good job and had been an assistant director to Kuo from the later 60s on films like King Of Kings, Superior Darter, Sorrowful To A Ghost, and Mission Impossible. In 1972, Lau made his directorial debut (albeit alongside another co-director, Lee Chi Sin) with Chivalrous Robber Lee San, before going on to direct The Beauty Heroine before this.

I have to say that I really enjoyed Wen Chiang Long as the hero. With his good looks and great moves, he fit the part pretty well and delivered quite a good performance. Over the years, Wen headlined quite a number of films racking-up almost 60 film credits to his name. Starting off in the industry with a role in Fly Swallow Vs One Eyed Knight (1968), the young star joined forces with Joseph Kuo only a few years later to star in The Death Duel and Triangular Duel – going on to star in Tiger Boxer, Rikisha Kuri, Iron Man, and Hero Of Kwantong before this. Many fun films would soon follow such as Tiger Jungle, Mars Men, Eight Hundred Heroes, 18 Shaolin Riders, Fight For Shaolin Tamo Mystique, Idiot Swordsman, Shaolin Invincible Guys, The Master & The Kid, and much more including The Super Rider series of films which were a Taiwanese take on the popular Kamen Rider from Japan. Prolific actor Yi Yuan stars as the final big boss of the flick, taking everything from Wen after his son dies from injuries caused in a fight with the hero. Yi started his career in the late 1950s, and went onto star in almost 230 films including a host of Jimmy Wang Yu titles over the years – even a brief role in Island Of Fire – and worked with both Joseph Kuo and Wen Chiang Long a number of times also. The other villain of the piece is played by Lu Ping, a very recognisable face to fans of kung-fu cinema having starred in almost 200 titles over the decades. In the early 70s, Lu would flit between the mighty Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest, and Joseph Kuo starring in films like The Ghost's Sword, The Invincible Sword, and Swordsman At Large. While he would appear in many of the aforementioned movies here along with his Shaolin Kung Fu co-stars, Lu Ping would also show up in Jackie Chan's New Fist Of Fury, Shaolin Wooden Men, Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin, and Kuo's later kung-fu titles. Yeung San San, who played alongside Wen the very same year in Hero Of Kwantong, does a great job as his blind wife, and the egg-selling kid is just brilliant. Plenty of other noticeable Taiwanese kung-fu actors help fill things out such as Yuan Shen, Tseng Chao, Hu Chiu Ping, Chang Peng, a young Mark Long, and even Ko Pao pops up as one of the rickshaw drivers. Ko Pao, of course, went on to become a brilliant director in his own right at the end of the 70s with films such as Shaolin Iron Claws, 7 Commandments Of Kung Fu, 5 Fighters From Shaolin, and Ninja Kids: Kiss Of Death with Alexander Lo Rei...

Fight choreographer He Ming Hsiao also joins the cast, and helps bring some fantastic martial arts action to the screen. Ming Hsiao joined the Kuo party almost immediately as he made his debut in Joseph's very own film, The Matchless Conqueror and would continue to act from there, but also work behind the scenes as a choreographer or assistant director. His career would start to fizzle out by the late 70s after appearing in titles such as New Fist Of Fury, 10 Brother Of Shaolin, and The Lady Constables – as well as choreographing the likes of 18 Shaolin Riders, Iron Swallow, and finally Moonlight Murderer in 1980. Apart from a few clichés as seen in many kung-fu movies of this period, Shaolin Kung Fu proves to be a highly entertaining and well made movie and is worthy of the watch by any fans of old-school kung-fu cinema!

Overall: A well-made and entertaining old-school flick, Shaolin Kung Fu is a non-stop fight-fest that makes for a fun watch!

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

Watch my unboxing video of this Eureka Video release HERE

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SHAOLIN MANTIS

(Hong Kong 1978) 

Original Title: Tang Lang (aka) Deadly Mantis

Directed by Lau Kar Leung Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Lau Kar Leung, Wilson Tong Starring: David Chiang, Cecilia Wong, Lily Li, Lau Kar Wing, Wilson Tong, Norman Tsui Siu Keung, John Cheung, Teresa Ha Ping, Gordon Liu, Lee Hoi Sang, Wai Wang, Hsiao Ho, Peter Chan Reviewing: 88 Films UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama

 

Rating - 4.3 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: Direct from the golden age of Hong Kong martial arts cinema comes Shaolin Mantis another fast paced fight fest, from the mighty Shaw Brothers studio. When scholar Wei Fung (David Chiang) is hired by the Emperor to infiltrate a clan of rebellious Ming loyalists, his mission goes adrift when he falls in love the clan leader's granddaughter and his plans are discovered. From legendary director and star Lau Kar Leung (The Spiritual Boxer, The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin) Shaolin Mantis is another superlative entry from the never ending showcase of 70s martial arts productions. An absolute must for collectors of classic Shaw Brothers movies. (100 Mins)

Views: Within the 35+ years I have been watching Hong Kong cinema and kung-fu movies, I had never gotten round to watching the legendary Lau Kar Leung's 5th directorial feature, Shaolin Mantis – or perhaps his 6th if you count his co-directing role on Breakout From Oppression. Thankfully, UK label 88 Films recently released this classic on Blu-ray and it's fair to say that I've watched it more than a few times already. It's an interesting film and a little different from Lau Kar Leung's more popular works, that tells the tale of young scholar Wai Fung who has been forced by the Emperor to go on a do-or-die mission in exchange for his parents life. Because of his strong martial arts skills, Wai is ordered to infiltrate a family of Ming loyalists before they can put their plans in order to overthrow the wicked Qing royal. Working his way into the Tien family home as the new teacher of Master Tien's granddaughter Gi Gi, Wai starts to put his plan in order but falls for his teenage student along the way. But as he tries to juggle love, spying, and many secrets, Wai's identity is soon revealed and has a major impact on the Tien family, his new found love, and his own family back home. Although he is perceived as the hero in his story, Wai's actions are that of a villains – forced into killing Master Tien in order to save his own parents, that results in a bloody showdown which sees Wai put his new found style of Mantis kung-fu into use before he returns to the palace!

It seems that Lau's film has split the fans of the kung-fu community down the middle. While half complain that there just simply isn't enough fighting for a Lau Kar Leung movie, the other half love the change and effort put into the story-telling that saves the majority of its great battles for the second half. I would have to agree with the latter half, and think that Shaolin Mantis is a strong effort from the late director. The film does open with its obligatory display of kung-fu of course, before jumping right in to a couple of fights that put David Chiang's character of Wai Fung up against a Mongolian fighter and a Shaolin monk. The former is played by fan-favourite Lee Hoi Sang who had already starred in over 25 productions since the mid-70s, and really only makes a cameo here as he soon gets killed-off by the young fighter. The same can be said for the great Gordon Liu, who plays a role incredibly similar to that of his character San Tein The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, in what was perhaps a great piece of marketing for the new star's latest film. Although he features prominently on the original Hong Kong poster, Liu's role is much like the character played by Sang but only gives fans a taster of what was to come in his famous role that was also made the same year. While David (or John) Chiang has never been the greatest on-screen fighter of Hong Kong cinema, or one of my favourite stars (respectively), I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with him here in the role of Wai Fung. Under the watchful eye of Lau Kar Leung – and without the demanding vision of Chang Cheh – Lau was able to push Chiang another step further and made the star look the best he ever has, with Chiang delivering some exciting and skilful moves during the films many fight scenes. It was around this time that David's career at the Shaw Brothers studio was coming to an end, with the actor moving into more independent productions about a year later after roles in films such as Murder Plot and Shaolin Abbot. The amazing Lau Kar Wing stars as Master Tien in a powerful role that was just 1 of 5 films he would appear in that year, alongside 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Dirty Tiger Crazy Frog, Warriors Two, and Dirty Kung Fu which he also directed and co-starred a number of actors from here. Kung-fu cinema legends Wilson Tong, John Cheung, and Norman Tsui Siu Keung play uncles of Gi Gi Tien – a group of highly skilled fighters that will do whatever it takes to protect the family home. Each of these stars had been a part of the Shaw Brothers studio for a number of years already by this stage, having been choreographed or directed by Lau Kar Leung in one way or another over the years. While Tsui Siu Keung would strictly stick with the acting for the most part (and still today), Wilson Tong and John Cheung would go on to work as choreographers, stuntmen, and even directors in their own rights over the years with Tong making his directorial debut just a year after this with Kung Fu Genius and Snake Deadly Act, and John Cheung going-on to join the Jackie Chan Stunt Team in the early 80s – along with his brother Johnny Cheung. The film also benefits from having a great female cast in the shape of the wonderful Lily Li, who stars as Gi Gi's mother. Thankfully, Li gets to show her worth as a fighter throughout the film and flawlessly displays some great spear-techniques that almost steals the show. The lovely Teresa Ha Ping co-stars as an aunt to Gi Gi, with the mischievous young lady played wonderfully by Cecilia Wong. Although she had only been on the scene for about 2 years prior to this, Wong had obviously caught the attention of the Lau brothers along the way - going on to star in this and Dirty Kung Fu in 1978, as well as joining Kar Leung the following year for a role in Spiritual Boxer 2...

While fans can keep an eye out for stuntmen and future stars such as Peter Chan, Hsiao Ho, Wong Yu, the aforementioned Johnny Cheung and others, they can't forget about taking in the wonderful performances from the main cast, as well as the highly detailed sets on show, the gorgeous cinematography from Arthur Wong, and the epic moves on offer thanks to the choreography of director Lau Kar Leung and co-star Wilson Tong. Shaolin Mantis may not be perfect and went down a different road to offer cinema-goers something a little different, but it's certainly far from being a waste of time for any fan of kung-fu cinema. One of the highlights for me that was included on this Blu-ray release from 88 Films, was the original Hong Kong trailer. While 99% of other movie trailers just feature a well-crafted selection of clips from the film itself, Lau offers a unique take as he cuts from intricate fight-scenes to allow the cast to break the fourth wall in introducing themselves, or the style of kung fu they are using. The man himself even takes part, getting to display some amazing moves as he discusses his new film in a wonderfully edited taster of what was to come. Yet another classic from the late director, Shaolin Mantis is well worth the pennies and a highly enjoyable piece from the Shaw Brothers studio!

Overall: An underrated classic from Lau Kar Leung, Shaolin Mantis offers some great performances from everyone involved, as well as plenty of exciting kung-fu action!

Blu-ray Extras: Audio Commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng, Complicated Families Featurette, David West on Shaolin Mantis, Interview with John Cheung, Trailers

Watch my unboxing video for this 88 Films release HERE

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THE SHAOLIN PLOT

(Hong Kong 1977) 

Original Title: Si Da Men Pai

Directed by Huang Feng Produced by Raymond Chow Action by Sammo Hung Starring: Chan Sing, James Tien, Casanova Wong, Sammo Hung, Guan Shan,Chin Kang, Kwan Yung Moon, Wong Fung, Ching Po, Mang Hoi, Yen Shi Kwan, Fung Hak On, Peter Chan, Billy Chan, Mars, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Lam Ching Ying Reviewing: Eureka Video UK Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Kung-Fu / Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: After working with the legendary King HU on his Palme d'Or winning A Touch Of Zen, Sammo Hung worked with directed Huang Feng (Lady Whirlwind, Hapkido) on a series of martial arts masterpieces which continuously broke new ground for action cinema, the culmination of which was The Shaolin Plot. After the release of this film, Sammo (who has one of his first major acting roles here,playing a deadly monk with an unusual choice of weaponry) began his own career as a director and would play a huge role in the 'Golden Age' of Hong Kong cinema – an era which revolutionised action filmmaking around the world. Hong Kong movie veteran Chen Hsing (The Iron Fisted Monk) plays a tyrannical ruler with the aim of collecting all existing Chinese martial arts manuals in order to obtain ultimate power. After obtaining the Wu Tang manual, he sets his sights on the Shaolin Temple and the secrets of their fighting style. Two Shaolin Monks (Casanova Wong and Yeong-moon Kwon) must team up with a Wu Tang fighter (James Tien) to defeat the villainous despot. On home video for the first time in the UK from a new 2K restoration, Eureka Classics is proud to present a towering classic that deserves to be recognised as one of the best and most important works of martial arts cinema. (109 Mins)

 

Views: The evil Chinese dictator, Prince Daglen, has taken on the hobby of collecting all volumes of martial arts manuals; abusing his power in a bid to become the ultimate fighter. After beating the head of the infamous Wu Tang clan, the prince yearns to fill the last shelf in his library which is that of the Shaolin Temple, but first he needs to take care of the Wu Tang leader's son who managed to escape. With Daglen's men hot on his heels, the Little Tiger finds support from a lone monk who unfortunately loses his sight during battle. Regardless, the monk promises to train Little Tiger so that he can take revenge for the murder of his family. Meanwhile, Prince Daglen devises a plot that will help him sneak into Shaolin Temple where he can steal the kung-fu manuals from the inside – eventually becoming stronger than those that guard it. But upon the Little Tiger's return, Daglen's cover is soon blown and, by taking the head abbot hostage, he manages to escape. Now, with the help of Little Tiger, the monks must attack the palace to save their leader and put a stop to the evil prince once and for all!

 

In all these years of watching and collecting kung-fu movies, I've never had the pleasure of ever seeing The Shaolin Plot – until now of course, thanks to this Blu-ray release from Eureka Video with a gorgeously restored 2K print – and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed! Oozing shades of Broken Oath and The Flying Guillotine, you can clearly see the inspiration Sammo took from both this and it's director Huang Feng for his directorial debut, The Iron Fisted Monk (that was made later the same year), and the classic Warriors Two which soon followed. But 1977 was a great year for many reasons (and not only because I came into the world then) with Golden Harvest pumping out 8 titles including One Arm Chivalry Fights Against One Arm Chivalry starring the late Jimmy Wang Yu and Lau Kar Wing, The Lady Killer with Sylvia Chang, Ironside 426, and aforementioned classics Broken Oath and The Iron Fisted Monk. At the same time, Jackie Chan was about to start production on Snake In The Eagles Shadow with Yuen Woo Ping, and the Shaw Brothers studios were dishing out classics such as Executioners From Shaolin, Clans Of Intrigue, The Brave Archer, Mighty Peking Man, Battle Wizard, Chinatown Kid, and so much more. But it would be Golden Harvest that started to shake things up, allowing people like Sammo Hung to explore and exercise a whole new form of action-choreography, with that of The Shaolin Plot breathing a new lease of life into a typically cliched story.

 

Although he had been appearing in many movies for well over a decade already, The Shaolin Plot would offer Sammo more of a solid role, much like of John Woo's Hand Of Death from the year before. Of course, once again, it would be playing the role of a villain – a stereotype he would soon cast aside later that year when he directed and starred in The Iron Fisted Monk. Here, Sammo plays a cheeky renegade monk who wields a pair of deadly symbols – used in a similar fashion to the popular 'flying guillotines' that have been used in countless kung-fu classics. Although dressed in a bald cap and super-designer facial hair there's no denying the big man's moves and charm when on-screen, and I really enjoyed him in this role as well as the abundance of slick moves he displayed and choreographed. It was also great to see the majority of his future team alongside him once again including a young Yuen Biao, Mars, Lam Ching Ying, Yuen Wah, Stephen Tung Wei, Peter & Billy Chan, Chung Fat, Austin Wai, and more. Fan favourites Fung Hak On, Chin Yuet Sang, and Yen Shi Kwan play side-kick villains to Hung; getting the chance to put on a great show – especially the latter – and Mang Hoi cameos as a beggar assassin, who gets to show off some drunken monkey.

 

The brilliant Chen Sing stars as the twisted prince, and offers a great performance that is further boosted when his plot to infiltrate Shaolin begins. At this point he plays a beaten mute-monk, with his left eye practically hanging out. And while we all know it's just amazing practical effects work created to help him enter the temple, one has to wonder where the hell he got the latex, a fake eyeball and horror make-up from – let alone a highly skilled make-up artist in the 14th Century – but it hardly takes away from the star's performance. James Tien stars as Little Tiger, a role I would love to have seen Jackie Chan star in for a number of reasons. Regardless, Tien does a fine job and is put to work physically when it comes to the fight scenes. Of course, both he and Hung (as well as Chan and most of the extras mentioned above) had worked together the year before on Hand Of Death, so he more than likely knew what to expect with Sammo's choreography. While James never really became an A-list star of Hong Kong cinema, he still made quite the career for himself going on to star in Jackie's Magnificent Bodyguards, Spiritual Kung Fu, Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu, Fearless Hyena, and Dragon Fist, as well as joining Sammo over and over again in many of his productions from The Prodigal Son to Millionaires Express, Dragons Forever to Blade Of Fury, and so much more. While he had appeared in some small roles leading up to The Shaolin Plot, Korean super-kicker Casanova Wong gets his official introduction as one of the warrior monks of Shaolin, alongside his equally impressive countryman Kwan Yung Moon. Both highly impress when the action kicks-off, and both went onto have a pretty healthy career in the world of kung-fu cinema. The same year, Wong would get his first big starring role alongside Sammo in The Iron Fisted Monk before starring in films such as Wonderman From Shaolin, The Legendary Strike, Warriors Two, Duel Of The 7 Tigers, Duel To The Death, Warriors Of Kung Fu, and then some before directing his one-and-only feature with Sword Of Evil Power in 1985. Starring in a similar amount of films over the same period, Kwan appeared in a run of better movies for the most part. From Action Taekwondo to Master With Cracked Fingers, and Shaw Brothers hits like Killer Constable, Return To The 36th Chamber, and My Young Auntie; Kwan nailed some great roles in plenty of memorable films, going on to star in Kirk Wong's The Club, Billy Chong's Kung Fu Zombie, Sammo Hung's brilliant The Dead & The Deadly, Ninja In The Dragons Den, and Duel To The Death, as well as Jackie Chan's Dragon Lord and Project A...

 

Director Huang Feng appears as the Chief Abbot, continuing the theme of popping-up in the most of his self-directed projects. Although he had been acting since the early 50s, Huang only made the move to directing in 1971 with Angela Mao Ying's entertaining martial-arts adventure, The Angry River – one of the first films for new film studio Golden Harvest and producer Raymond Chow. Over the course of 7 years, Feng would direct a total of 14 titles including Bandits From Shantung, Lady Whirlwind, Hapkido, When Taekwondo Strikes, and The Himalayan – most of which would include Sammo Hung in a small role and as the choreographer. Interestingly enough, Huang would end his directing career with The Legendary Strike; another Angela Mao Ying that saw many stars from The Shaolin Plot return, except for Sammo. Recognisable actor Chang Ching Po appears as Huang's second in command, and although he doesn't get to bust a move as such, still leaves a good enough impression due to his performance. Having already starred in films such as Heads For Sale, Iron Bodyguard, The Skyhawk, and A Queen's Ransom, Chang stuck with Sammo over the next lot of years gaining roles in films such as The Iron Fisted Monk, The Victim, Encounters Of A Spooky Kind, The Prodigal Son, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and more. Over the years, Chang had actually been the assistant director on many of the films he starred in as well as classics such as Valley Of The Fangs, King Boxer, The Pirate, Last Hurrah For Chivalry, and even The Shaolin Plot – making his first and last effort as a director in 1974 with The Sharp Fists In Kung Fu; which had action choreographed by Lam Ching Ying. And last but not least, the great Kam Kong plays the lone monk who comes to James Tien's rescue, delivering a host of strong kicks and moves only to find himself blinded by monk Sammo's sneaky attack. I really liked Kam in this role and was pleasantly surprised to see him appear, before being just as shocked to see his end – with the monk getting burned to death as he sits in a prayer position. It was a scene that emulated that of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc's Saigon protest in 1963, where he burned himself to death in the middle of an intersection to highlight the discrimination against Buddhists. Starting life in the film industry in 1973, Kong went on to star in over 60 films across two decades including classics like The Blazing Temple, One Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine, Shaolin Wooden Men, The Flash Legs, Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin, Half A Loaf Of Kung Fu, The Silver Spear, and so much more.

 

While The Shaolin Plot may bear many similarities to a number of traditional kung-fu flicks from the 1970's, I still found it to be highly enjoyable. Huang Feng certainly knows how to direct a solid piece, enhanced with some beautifully shot scenes and packed with plenty of amazing kung-fu action and, of course, I can't forget the incredible finale of the show which is worth the price of admission alone! To be able to see such a beautifully restored version of the film is indeed a blessing, and I can only hope that these indie distributors continue to pump-out more unseen classics for us fans of Hong Kong cinema over the years to come!

 

Overall: A classic in many ways, The Shaolin Plot offers some incredible kung-fu action and plenty to enjoy!

 

Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary by Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng & Michael Worth, Trailers

Watch my unboxing of this Eureka Video release HERE

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SHAOLIN TEMPLE

(Hong Kong 1976) 

Original Title: Shao Lin Si (aka) Death Chamber

Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma Produced by Runme Shaw Action by Hsieh Hsing, Chen Hsin I Starring: Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan Chun, Ti Lung, David Chiang, Yueh Hua, Johnny Wang Lung Wei, Wai Wang, Wang Chung, Lau Wing, Bruce Tong, Philip Kwok, Chian Sheng, Lo Meng, Li Yi Min, Ku Feng, Shan Mao, Shih Szu, Shum Lo Reviewing: Arrow Video Shaw Scope Blu-ray Release Genres: Traditional Martial Arts / Drama

Rating - 5 / 5

Arrow Video UK Blu-ray Synopsis (Book): In defiance of the Qing authority, many patriotic people rush to the Shaolin Temple to learn kung fu. However, the Qing are intent on crushing the temple and its monks and students, thereby nipping their teachings in the bud. The Shaolin pupils are Fang Shiyu and Hu Huiqian, as well as many other courageous youths. Fang Shuyi is the son of Miao Zuihua, a successful female pupil of the well-known woman hermit and martial artist, Wu Mei. The main motive for these two youngsters Fang and Hu to enter the Shaolin Temple to learn martial arts is to avenge their fathers' death who were both killed by the pro-Qing, Wu Tang clique. Wu Mei, who is a teacher at the Shaolin Temple, agrees to instruct Hu Dedi and Cai Dezhong in the terrible art of using a whip as well as fists. In return, Hu and Cai must help Fang and Hu instruct the other residents of the Shaolin Temple. Huixian, an abbot at the temple, is a spy for the Qing Dynasty and secretly tries to disrupt the work of the temple. Collaborating with his subordinate Ma Yufi, Hui is ready to attack the trainees from within the temple, if and when the Ching soldiers are prepared to mount their attack upon the temple. Once Fang and Hu have successfully completed their training at the Shaolin Temple, they wish to leave in order to avenge their fathers' deaths; but fearing that their teachers will refuse their permission , they choose to run the gauntlet by fighting their way past 108 wooden robots. Whilst struggling with the robots, the traitorous Huixian, Ma and their henchmen, suddenly pounce upon them. Fortunately, several other patriot monks arrive in the nick of time to save the lives of Fang and Hu. In due course, because Fang and Hu succeed in avenging their fathers' deaths, they return to the Shaolin Temple. Meanwhile, the Shaolin Temple is suddenly attacked by several thousand Qing troops who are aided by the traitorous within that have immobilized and weakened the other monks by secretly putting poison into their well. The highest Shaolin authority and many of his followers die in a fire which subsequently rages through the Temple. Fang, Hu and Cai rally the remaining survivors and mount a successful couter-attack killing many of the Qing soldiers and traitors. When the battle is over, only eight survivors remain, Fang, Hu and Cai among them. They continue tofight the Qing Dynasty under the Shaolin banner. (119 Mins)

Warner Home Video UK VHS Synopsis: From the studios of the legendary Shaw Brothers comes Shaolin Temple, a maelstrom of martial-arts action, kung-fu killers and some of the most lavish and epic battle scenes ever seen in an Eastern film. (117 Mins)

Views: After spending 100 days on their knees in front of the Shaolin Temple, Fong Sai Yuk and his friends gain access to learn kung-fu in a bid to stand-up against the invading Qing Empire. While many other people have the same idea, only a few make it through the door including a band of Chinese patriots who have just returned from war. But they soon learn that there is a traitor among them, and find themselves fighting for their lives inside the temple as the Manchu invaders close in!

While often over-shadowed by Jet Li's film of the same name, Chang Cheh's kung-fu opus actually came a good 5 or 6 years before it. Although it was made a few years after Heroes Two and Five Shaolin Masters, Shaolin Temple plays as a prequel of sorts to both films that leads to the burning of the temple by the Manchus – a scene that kicks-off both of the aforementioned movies. I often found it strange that Cheh would share his 'Shaolin Cycle' in this order, but to me he definitely saved the better one till last. Shaolin Temple is one of the Chang Cheh movies I would enjoy a little more than others, this time backed by the co-direction of the late Wu Ma. Once again, the film is backed by a great cast and offers up some strong kung-fu that is shared between fight scenes and plenty of training sequences. Coming in at 2 hours long, Shaolin Temple may seem long-winded and slow-paced for the most part, but it's far from dull and offers up some incredible training sequences (and sparring) for a good 90 minutes before the climatic finale. Fans of Lau Kar Leung's 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, Joseph Kuo's 18 Bronzemen, or even Jackie Chan's Shaolin Wooden Men for example, will love Shaolin Temple for the very same reasons (and actually pre-dates Leung's epic movie by a good two years).

Alexander Fu Sheng plays Fong Sai Yuk, a role he had already played in the aforementioned sequel Heroes Two. I often mention how I'm not the biggest fan of this unconventional looking hero, but I must admit that I really enjoyed him in this and was impressed with his kung-fu skills on display. While he has often been referred to as the original 'clown prince of kung-fu' before Jackie Chan owned that title, I more often than not just found him to be irritating and annoying as opposed to funny – like Jackie could nail for the most part. Fu Sheng is joined by a host of familiar faces and a cast he has worked with many times over the years. These include the fantastic Ti Lung and David Chiang, who both play the swordsmen that seek sanctuary in the temple alongside their band of warriors. They also become the saviors of Fong Sai Yuk, who soon finds himself the target of the traitors. Yueh Hua, Lau Wing, and Wang Chung join the pair, as does the brilliant Johnny Wang Lung Wei – who I was hoping was going to get a good guy role for a change, but actually turns more villainous as the story moves along. The wonderful Chi Kuan Chun returns for his 9th role, and once again proves to be a scene stealer when it comes to the kung-fu action. Aside from some noticeable faces as the Shaolin monks, such as Shum Lo, Chiang Nan, and Lee Sau Kei, Shaw Brothers starlet Shih Szu cameos and actors Bruce Tong and Wai Wang return. Popular kung-fu star Shan Mao stars as the traitorous Shaolin monk, and does a fantastic job in doing so. Shan started his film career in the late 60s, and managed to wrack up about 120 films before passing far too early about a decade later. Shaolin Temple would have been one of the last handful of movies he would have starred in, as well as Showdown At Cotton Mill that saw him rejoin co-star Chi Kuan Chun once again. Aside from its great cast, Shaolin Temple would also mark one of the last times Ti Lung and David Chiang would star together for director Chang Cheh, with 1977s film The Naval Commandos being the final title. But at the same time, it would also mark the beginning of a new team of actors who would work under Cheh for many years – a team of kung-fu stars more commonly known as the Venom Mob. The wonderful Philip Kwok joins the Shaolin disciples as does a very young Chiang Sheng, both in one of their first fuller roles. Lu Fend also boosts his credentials by taking on a bigger role for the first time – albeit one as the villainous Manchu fighter, General Gu Bei Zi. Popular kung-fu star Li Yi Min (aka Simon Lee) co-stars as another of the new Shaolin disciples, and isn't as annoying as he normally is. Li had already been delivering some strong roles over the previous 6 or 7 years in titles such as The Scholar Swordsman, The Hero, Champion Of Champions, Seven Man Army, and the Taiwanese Kamen Rider inspired Super Rider movies, before starring in this. Of course, after this, Li Yi Min would share his time between the Shaw Brothers Studios and Joseph Kuo where he would find more roles as a leading man and star in some of his more memorable titles such as 7 Grandmasters, Mystery Of Chess Boxing, World Of Drunken Master, and more. The fantastic Ku Feng (who has appeared in over 380 films from the late 1950s) cameos as the Qing Emperor, with fan favourite kung-fu star Wong Ching starring as another of his fighting generals. Also keep an eye out for future directors Jamie Luk, Robert Tai, and Stephen Yip who pop-up as extras throughout...

I thoroughly enjoy Chang Cheh's Shaolin Temple, with the final 25 to30 minutes being one of the best finales of any Shaw Brothers film and offering some incredible martial arts action. This is all courtesy of choreographers Hsieh Hsing and Chen Hsin I – two names who are well known in kung-fu cinema. The former starred in over 60 films during the course of his 12 year career, including classics like The Begging Swordsman, The Ghost Hill, 8 Dragon Swords, and a host of Jimmy Wang Yu titles from One-Armed Boxer to Beach Of The War Gods. He directed his own film in 1979 called The Bone Crushing Kid, and choreographed over 30 films including Hurricane, Marco Polo, Seven Man Army, New Shaolin Boxers, The Naval Commandos, and Return Of The Chinese Boxer. Interestingly enough, Chen followed a very similar path indeed, starring in just as many over the same amount of time which included Dragon & Tiger, Seven Man Army, To Kill With Intrigue, Snake & Crane Arts Of Shaolin, Lady Constables, and more. He directed The True Game Of Death the same year as Hsieh directed his own movie, and choreographed almost 30 titles including One-Armed Swordswoman, Marco Polo, Seven Man Army, The Killer Meteors, Filthy Guy, and To Kill With Intrigue – once again with Hsieh. Between them, I think they put the best of their work on screen in Shaolin Temple, and especially for the grand finale, that allows each of the stars to show off some amazing work between them!

Overall: An epic Shaw Brothers production, Shaolin Temple is one of my favourite Chang Cheh films and well worth the watch!

Arrow Video Blu-ray Extras: Appreciation Film of Chang Cheh by Tony Rayns, Alternate Standard Definition Version, Interview with Kong Do, Featurettes on David Chiang and Ti Lung, Alternate Opening Credits, Trailers, Image Gallery

Watch my unboxing video of this Arrow Video release HERE

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SHATTERED EARTH: CLOUDY

MOUNTAIN

(China 2021) 

Original Title: Feng Bao (aka) Cloudy Mountain

Directed by Li Jun Produced by Deng Meng, Tao Juan Yu Action by Bruce Law, Norman Law Starring: Zhu Yi Long, Huang Zhi Zhong, Chen Shu, Jiao Jun Yan, Cheng Tai Shen, Wang Ge, Lu Si Yu, Hong Jian Tao, Zhou Xiao Ou, Bin Zi, Sun Yi Li Reviewing:

Reviewing: Cineasia UK DVD Release Genres: Disaster / Action / Drama

Rating - 4 / 5

DVD Synopsis: A peaceful town turns into a living hell when friction on the plate of the Indian Ocean triggers a devastating earthquake! A retired railway soldier and his son, an explosive demolition engineer, go deep into a solution cave to rescue trapped survivors. But a second quake is due to follow in a few hours… Will they manage to save themselves and the whole town from being buried by a landslide? (114 Mins)

 

Views: As a small town in China celebrates its decade long success of creating a new vehicle-access tunnel through the mountains, they quickly realise that Mother Nature has taken a disliking to their work. When a shift of tectonic plates trigger an earthquake in the town, a loving couple – one of which is Hong Yi Zhou, an explosives expert – must join forces to help save their friends and family as mud slides, floods, and rockfalls devastate their home. At the same time, Yi Zhou's father is en route to see him until he gets caught up in the quake and immediately jumps into action to help rescue the victims. A retired railroad worker, the old man and those he rescued soon find themselves forced underground and trapped in an undiscovered cave system that runs under the mountain. Now, in learning of his father's predicament, Yi Zhou sets out on a rescue mission to find him with the pair eventually joining forces to create a roadblock for Mother Nature and help save their town from total annihilation – even if it means bringing down a mountain!

 

Directed by Li Jun, who made his debut with the fun action-thriller Tik Tok starring Wallace Chung, this epic mainland movie is pretty impressive for the fairly new director. It's definitely a different kind of disaster movie, offering up a lot more heart than the typical Hollywood outing of the same genre. This wasn't about humanity versus the end of the world, but more about a collection of regular townsfolk coming together to save their home – standing up to the mighty force that is Mother Nature! Renamed Shattered Earth for it's UK release by Cineasia (which is a little more apt for the kind of film it is), Cloudy Mountain kicks-off with an action-packed and thrilling opening that sets the tone of what to expect, with a cocktail of natural disasters that quickly force you to the edge of your seat and keep you there for the most part. From there it's fast pace takes you on nail-biting and sometimes emotional ride, as families are torn apart, sacrifices are made, and we are shown the goodness in humanity with unlikely heroes and what they will do for love. It's a visually impressive ride for the most part and offers decent performances from everyone involved.

 

The handsome Zhu Yi Long, a popular Chinese television star from shows such as Treasure Raiders, Border Town Prodigal, All Flowers Fade Across The Sky, and The Rebel, stars as explosive expert Hong Yi Zhou and does a pretty damn good job in the role. Fellow television and film star Huang Zhi Zhong stars as his judgemental father, Hong Yun Bing, and works well alongside the young star. Having only started his acting career at the turn-of-the-century, Huang made his major film feature debut in Andrew Lau's Infernal Affairs 3 alongside Hong Kong superstars Andy Lau, Tong Leung Chiu Wai, Leon Lai, Anthony Wong, and Eric Tsang. Since then, he has went on to star in films such as Jackie Chan's 1911, The Founding Of An Army, Line Walker 2, The Captain, and the incredible war epic The Eight Hundred. For the film, both of the stars went through some intensive training with rock climbing professionals, spending many hours a day into the production that helped make their performances even more authentic; and it shows. The lovely Jiao Jun Yan stars as the girlfriend of Hong Yi Zhou and actress Chen Shu appears as the project leader who eventually understands the need to destroy her decade-long project. Having started acting in the early 2000's, Chen went on to star in The Founding Of A Republic, The Martian with Matt Damon, and alongside Huang Zhi Zhong in Andrew Lau's aviation-drama, The Captain. And while there are many other bit-players who make quite the impression throughout the whole film, the majority of the story focuses on these four mostly – with the relationship of Hong and his father proving to be the more emotional piece of the drama.

 

Much of the action, mixing car stunts with physical work and CGI of course, is handled by Hong Kong action legend Bruce Law and his son, Norman Law. With many decades and movies behind him, including titles such as Full Throttle, Mr. Six, First Option, Hard Boiled, My Father Is A Hero, and The Battle At Lake Changjin – as well as helming the fun Extreme Crisis – the Law's deliver plenty of exciting moments that will keep action fans happy. As with Simon West's entertaining Skyfire from 2019, which was another Chinese produced disaster film, Cloudy Mountain offers up some hugely impressive CGI that works a treat mixing the large scale natural disasters of the aforementioned film along with that of Feng Xiao Gang's emotional epic, Aftershock. And while I must advise everyone to avoid the dreadful English dub by all means, I can't deny that Shattered Earth: Cloudy Mountain is a very entertaining piece of cinema. Holding back from the usual overload of 'propaganda' often seen in Chinese epics over the last decade or two, Shattered Earth: Cloudy Mountain gets a double-thumbs up from me and is definitely worth the watch (although I still think that compilation of train footage and railroad history at the end was a bit silly)!

 

Overall: Big on disaster, big on action, and big on emotion, Shattered Earth: Cloudy Mountain is quite epic on many levels and well worth checking out!

 

DVD Extras: Trailer

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SIX STRING SAMURAI

(USA 1998) 

(ak) The Blade

Directed by Lance Mungia Produced by Michael Burns, Leanna Creel Action by Jeff Falcon Starring: Jeff Falcon, Justin McGuire, Kim De Angelo, Stephane Gauger, Clifford Hugo, Monti Ellison, Dan Barton, Lora Witty, Taka Yamada Reviewing: Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Release Genres: Action / Post Apocalyptic / Comedy / Comic Book

Rating - 4 / 5

Blu-ray Synopsis: In 1957, after nuclear war with the Russian, America has become a post-apocalyptic wasteland where Rockabilly reigns supreme and Elvis is the true King. 40 years later, the King has fallen and society needs a new leader. Buddy, a katana wielding guitarist, travels to the city of Lost Vegas where he is determined to prove himself as the new King of Rock and Roll. On his journey, Buddy is confronted by a murderous array of musical outlaws including cannibals, Russians, and even Death himself. Buddy must use both his music and martial arts skills in order to defeat his foes, but his biggest challenge comes in the form of a young orphan boy who won't leave his side after being rescued from bandits. Will the boy be Buddy's downfall or his salvation..? A midnight movie sensation of the late 90s, Lance Mungia's Six-String Samurai is a wild blend of samurai film, spaghetti western, and post-apocalyptic road film, all mixed with a cool 1950s Rockabilly vibe. Written by and starring trained martial artist Jeffery Falcon and featuring an original score by the cult band The Red Elvises, Vinegar Syndrome is delighted to bring Six String Samurai to Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD for the first time, newly restored from its 35mm original camera negative and featuring a wide array of newly produced extras, including an extended making-of documentary! (91 Mins)

 

Views: Jeff Falcon's Six String Samurai had somewhat slipped into obscurity since its release over 20 years ago, which is odd considering how much excitement it made during its screening at the 1998 Slamdance Film Festival where it bagged the awards for Best Editing and Best Cinematography – and rightfully so, as the film delivers some epic looking shots. The film was also praised by most of the influential film magazines, websites and critics on its time of release and went on to gain a small cult following after a limited theatrical release and has only just seen the light of day on Blu-ray and 4K courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome. The post-apocalyptic martial-arts musical is set in an alternate late1990's where, in 1957, the Russians attacked the United States with their nuclear weapons that saw the majority of the land destroyed. With most of the government collapsed, the only safe place left to go is to the futuristic city of Lost Vegas – a safe haven that has been tortured forever by The Red Army and ruled by King Elvis. But 40 years later, King Elvis is now dead and Vegas needs a new King! Enter Buddy, a quick-witted fast-kicking swordsman who has been travelling the wastelands with his trusty guitar – kicking ass and plucking strings. On his journey, Buddy saves a young boy from a gang of bandits who quickly latches onto the hero and becomes the closest thing he has to family. At the same time, Death has been tracking him down, killing off other musicians across the land with the help of his bandmates – determined to get his hands on Buddy's guitar. Battling cannibals, mutants, deadly gangs, fellow musicians, and the Red Army, Buddy and his little sidekick make their biggest journey of their lives in order to reach Lost Vegas!

 

I first saw Six String Samurai about a year after its release when I lived in Toronto, but on my return to Northern Ireland I found it quite tricky to find a copy. Obviously the internet made that possible, but my point is that this slick little indie-flick just didn't seem to have had the wider release it so bloody deserved. The film was written by director Lance Mungia and leading man Jeff Falcon, with the latter also working overtime as the action-choreographer, costume designer, and co-producer. It's clear that both of them had a strong love for music and movies, as there are many highlighted throughout this fun comic-book story with its blend of Mad Max, The Warriors, Lone Wolf & Cub, The Wizard Of Oz, and any amount of classic kung-fu or spaghetti-western classics - most notable with its distorted opening that confused many projectionists over the years. And while Six String Samurai may not be for everyone, it does make for a fun watch and offers up some gorgeous cinematography, slick editing, and an enjoyable soundtrack by Brian Tyler and the Red Elvises, which just adds to the many homages to US musical legends that include Buddy Holly (the main hero) and Slash from Guns N' Roses (Death). As an independent film director of 7 features, I have always supported and championed indie film-makers from around the world – something that is quite evident with my annual film festival which I launched in 2009 – and after watching the extensive interviews about the making-of Six String Samurai on this Vinegar Syndrome release, I can understand the challenges, fun, struggles, and excitement of making such a film. But I also get the frustration involved when your film doesn't attract the audience you want; especially when you have poured so much blood, sweat and tears into it, which is why I really love and appreciate what Vinegar Syndrome have done with this release – allowing Lance Mungia and his production team the chance to reach a whole new audience with a gorgeously restored film.

 

With inspiration from Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone, George Miller, Federico Fellini and any amount of Shaw Brothers films, Six String Samurai has a lot more going for it than it first appears. Watching the making of documentary and listening to the audio commentary on this release really lets the viewer understand the passion and ideas behind the project, which is why I found it strange that director Lance Mungia hasn't went on to do anything quite as exciting. It would be a good 7 years later before Mungia would make his second feature film, which came in the form of the poorly received sequel, The Crow: Wicked Prayer, which starred Edward Furlong, David Boreanaz, Tara Reid, and Dennis Hopper – although he hasn't really done much since. While the same could be said for most of the first time crew involved, the biggest mystery has to be that of the disappearance of star Jeff Falcon soon after the films release...

 

The American wushu wonder-boy first came to the attention of film fans when he started working in the Hong Kong film industry in the late 1980s, starring alongside some of the greats such as Cynthia Rothrock, Yukari Oshima, Sandra Ng, Lam Ching Ying, and Frankie Chan. With scene stealing appearances in The Inspector Wears Skirts 1 & 2, Burning Ambition, Outlaw Brothers, Blonde Fury, and Prince Of The Sun, as well as roles in Operation Pink Squad, Way Of The Lady Kickboxers, Caged Beauties, and the hilarious Oh! Yes Sir! with Frankie Chan, Jeff was always one of the most impressive Westerners to appear in Hong Kong films and was always a pleasure to watch in action. With Six String Samurai, the plan was to launch Jeff as a new action hero – leaving the persona of the gwailo villain, I guess – and giving him his first major starring role as the leading man. Honestly, and as much as it may lack the showdowns against some Hong Kong action legends, this has to be one of the greatest roles of his career allowing Jeff to express himself as an artist, an actor, and action-choreographer. Falcon nails the role of Buddy perfectly, oozing a coolness and charm that really should have elevated him into something bigger. While there are many fight scenes that owe more to Ashes Of Time than anything else, Jeff gets to show some incredible moves a number of times, blending his wonderful kicks with plenty of fast swordplay that is sure to keep any fan of Hong Kong cinema happy. Unfortunately, it seems that the world just wasn't ready for him or tales of Buddy the samurai – a disappointing result that no doubt hit Jeff Falcon hard.

 

This restoration of Six String Samurai has definitely breathed new life into the film, allowing fans to see and learn so much more about the production than we could ever have caught in its original SD release. As mentioned, the award winning cinematography from Kristian Bernier is just gorgeous with almost every shot in the film offering-up something wonderful, capturing some stunning landscapes from the films locations in Death Valley National Park. I've always enjoyed Six String Samurai, but now I love it! It's a film that gets better with every watch and should have done so much more for those involved. So for something a little different, a little unique, and a film that leaves a lasting impression, grab yourself a copy of Six String Samurai (preferably this one from Vinegar Syndrome) and see what the independent film world has to offer!

 

Overall: Stunningly shot and packed with some beautiful fight scenes, Six String Samurai is great fun and one of Jeff Falcon's finest moments!

 

Blu-ray Extras: 4K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Lance Mungia & Kristian Bernier, Audio Commentary with Lance Mungia, Extensive Making Of Documentary, Extensive BTS Photo Gallery, 'Garden Of Rio' Short Film by Lance Mungia

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SPIRITWALKER

(South Korea 2021) 

Original Title: Yu-Che-I-Tal-Ja

Directed by Yoon Jae Geun Produced by Jang Won Seok Action by Park Young Sik, Chung Seong Ho

Starring: Yoon Kyesang, Lim Ji Yeon, Park Yong Woo, Hong Gi Jun, Lee Sung Wook, Park Ji Hwan, Yoo Seung Mok

Reviewing: Cineasia Private Screening

Genres: Action / Thriller / Sci-fi

 

Rating - 4 / 5

Synopsis: A fantasy action film that revolves around a man who loses his memory and subsequently wakes up in a new body every twelve hours.

Views: South Korean action-thriller Spiritwalker tells the tale of Ian, a man who has lost his memory but also finds himself waking up in a new body every 12 hours. Of course, as he confusedly learns the truth of his curse, Ian must do what he can to piece together the puzzle of who he is and what he must do to get back into his own body – no matter what it takes!

Although it was originally released back in 2021, Spiritwalker has finally come to it's UK audience courtesy of Cineasia via streaming platforms on March 28th 2022. Thanks to them, I had the chance to get a sneak peek of the film and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Once it has done the rounds and a few months have passed, I'll re-visit this review with a more detailed 'spoiler-full' account of my thoughts. The film is directed by Yoon Jae Geun, and is only his second feature after his directorial debut way back in 2010 with the well received Heartbeat starring Kim Yun Jin and Park Hae Il. For having waited a decade before getting back into the industry, Jae Geun does an amazing job as a director in creating an exciting watch, that puts to great use the excellent production design, gorgeous cinematography, and strong cast. The handsome Yoon Kyesang, who was a member of popular late-90s K-Pop group 'GOD', stars as leading man Ian – offering up a fantastic performance as the amnesiac body-hopper in both the drama and action department. Yoon started acting in 2004 in television shows such as My Sister-In-Law Is Nineteen and its follow-up show She Is Nineteen. His first feature role was in teen-drama Flying Boys the same year, before going on to star in a host of movies and shows including Crazy In Love, The Executioner, High Kick, The Outlaws, The Secret Mission, and more. He is joined by a fantastic supporting cast including Lim Ji Yeon from High Society and Luck-Key, Park Yong Woo from Musa The Warrior, Blood Rain, and Hwayi: A Monster Boy, and Lee Sung Wook who starred alongside Lim Ji Yeon in Luck-Key, as well as starring in the impressive sci-fi show The Silent Sea on Netflix.

With strong action and exciting car chases, Spiritwalker offers up some wonderfully choreographed fight scenes reminiscent of the John Wick films courtesy of award-winning fight choreographers Park Young Sik and Chung Seong Ho - with certain moments coming across like a blend of The Bourne Identity and A Bittersweet Life, respectively. But I really liked Spiritwalker. It had something of a unique premise and while the amnesia storyline has almost been done to death in films over the last 20 years, it still manages to keep things interesting enough so that its audience certainly doesn't get bored. Be sure to catch it before it's Hollywood remake reaches the screens!

Overall: A highly enjoyable and action-packed thriller, Spiritwalker delivers plenty of tension, great direction, and Hollywood level action that is worth the watch!

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THE STORY OF RENJIE:

DI'S REBIRTH

(China 2018) 

Original Title: Di Renjie Zhi Lun Hui Tu (aka) Di Renjie: The Painting Of Samsara; Di Renjie: The Map Of Reincarnation; Di Renjie's Reincarnation Directed by Chen Huai Fu, Xu Jing Wen Produced by Zhao Xiao Ding, Zhang Wei Action by Qian Zheng Zhong Starring: Ocean Wang, Zhang Ye, Ariel An Wei Ling, Sang Xun Hua, Huang Yan, Lu Yan, Ding Jian Jun, Gao Yang Reviewing: Hi-Yah TV Release Genres: Mystery / Fantasy / Historical

Rating - 2.3 / 5

Synopsis: Di Renjie is an investigator looking into a seemingly dull murder case. But when his superiors start opposing his tactics, he starts to believe there must be a larger conspiracy at play. (79 Mins)

 

Views: Tsui Hark's blockbuster film Detective Dee & The Mystery Of The Phantom Flame starring Andy Lau as the titular character, inspired a new thirst for the historical name that led to a host of web-movies (TV movies) from production studios in mainland China and a couple of prequels from the man himself. The Story Of Renjie: Di's Rebirth is one of those web-movies, and while it may have been made for a fraction of the budget that it's big screen peers would have benefited from, it still proves to be a decently made and watchable film. As usual, Di (or Dee) gets himself so wrapped up in his investigations that he lands himself in prison. But even from his cell, the detective continues to work on the case – this time, a seemingly simple murder – where he soon figures out the connection between the murderer and the legendary Samsara paintings. Unfortunately, in comparison with the Tsui Hark movies, there just isn't the same amount of excitement on offer with the solving of the case – instead offering up a little more melodrama than I had hoped for, with a few scenes and edits making it look like it was cut together from a television show. There is a bizarre little moment of homo-erotism when Di escapes prison with the help of a young fan called Chen Tian You. After they return to Chen's home, they start to exchange flirty glances while Di insists that the young man sleeps beside him. Although he refuses and opts to sleep on the floor, Tian You rolls over to position himself so that he can watch the detective sleep. Of course, it never amounts to anything, but manages to bring Di to tears later in the story when he loses his young muse in a deadly ninja attack. As expected (and without spoiling too much) there is a final twist to their story that kind of explains why...

 

This time, Detective Dee is played by Ocean Wang Hai Xiang; a television movie actor who has also appeared in films such as Jackie Chan's Little Big Soldier and Police Story 2013, as well as the Jackie Chan produced 2015 remake of Who Am I? alongside Ken Lo and Yu Rong Guang. As the titular character, it's clear that Wang is certainly no Andy Lau and even lacks the charm and fun persona of Mark Chao in the prequels – but he still delivers a decent performance, offering up a much more serious version of the Dee we have seen in his big screen outings. The cute Sang Xun Hua stars as Chen Tian You, with Huang Yan – from Painted Skin: The Resurrection – joining the cast along with a host of young Chinese actors such as Gao Yang, Zhang Ye, Lu Yan, and Ding Jian Jun; all of whom would share the screen again in the fantasy web-movie Demon World later that year. This was also made by directors Chen Huai Fu and Xu Jing Wen, with action-director Qian Zheng Zhong on-hand for the fight sequences once again. While Hark's aforementioned films delivered a wide range of exciting and amazing fights, The Story Of Renjie: Di's Rebirth is somewhat lacking in the action department – offering two major battles with the ninja attack on Di and Tian You, and the lacklustre finale between Di and the main villain of the piece. While both have a few good moments, there's certainly nothing overly memorable about them and actually reminded me more of the fight scenes seen in Hong Kong television shows from late 1990's. It's worth noting that this was the directorial debut of directors Chen and Xu, with both going on to deliver a few movie web-movies since – so I can see past a few of the flaws in knowing that.

 

All-in-all, The Story Of Renjie: Di's Rebirth did manage to hold my attention for the most part – although probably because I was waiting for something a bit more exciting to happen – and while I'd never need to see it again, it actually wasn't the worst thing in the world I've ever watched. It's just not the greatest Detective Dee story ever told!

 

Overall: While I wanted to like it more, The Story Of Renjie: Di's Rebirth just doesn't really go anywhere exciting, although it didn't feel like a complete waste of time!

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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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SUPER DYNAMO

(Taiwan 1982) 

Original Title: Long Hu Shuang Ba Tian (aka) Super Dragon's Dynamo; The First Exposure

Directed by Chung Ching Woon Produced by Joseph Lai Action by Blacky Ko Starring: Champ Wang, Sherman Chow, Suet Lee, Danny Lee, Paul Chang, Wang Sun, Tin Ching, Shih Chung Tien, Chin Po, Wang Hsieh, Lung Fei Reviewing: WMM German DVD Mediabook Release Genres: Crime / Action / Martial Arts

Rating - 2.3 / 5

Mediabook Synopsis: Chung, son of the industrialist Tom, has fallen in love with gambling. His bad reputation and high gambling debts prompt Chung's father to fire him from the company. But the group owner has other concerns. Some of the executives fell victim to a conspiracy and were mercilessly assassinated. Tom hires his right-hand man Chi to convict those behind these assassination attempts. What Tom doesn't know is that by this time a professional assassin is already set on him. That same night, Tom dies in the killer's hail of bullets. While Chi makes all the preparations to take over the management of the company. Chun swore merciless revenge at his father's grave. (82 Mins)

 

Views: A wealthy and corrupt business tycoon is murdered by his closest aid, Cheng – an influential member of the feared International Criminal Group. After he takes over all the businesses and properties, Tang's son Champ starts to smell a rat and sets out to find his fathers killer. But Cheng is always one step ahead and does what he can to stop Champ, which includes having him framed for attempted murder and put in jail. Two years later, once he released from prison, Champ continues to search for the truth which leads to many fights at the risk of his own life!

 

Originally called The First Exposure before it joined the IFD catalogue, Super Dragon's Dynamo is a dark crime thriller that has some pretty decent moments of action, cinematography, and acting, yet still veers clear of ever becoming a true classic of the genre. Oozing the feel of many Hong Kong exploitation films from the late 1970s to early 80s, the film looks pretty good in this widescreen release with clear picture quality and strong colour. While this better version only comes with the German or English dub, it was nice of the distributors to include a lesser quality version of the original Mandarin language film (The First Exposure) on the same disc which runs for about 4 minutes longer – although without English subtitles unfortunately. This would be the last directorial effort of Chung Ching Woon (also known as Joseph Tsung), who made his debut with fun Triumph Of Two Kung Fu Arts starring Michael Chan Wai Man in 1977. In between he would direct The Great Cheat which starred Angela Mao Ying, Champ Wang, and a number of other actors from this; as did his 3rd feature, The Stunning Gambling, albeit without the latter star. It's not that Chung does a terrible job directing, but he never seems to bring anything overly exciting to Super Dynamo and while the film itself isn't a complete disaster, modern viewers may tire of its slower pace – although I hardly found it off-putting. In between the lengthy melodrama and gambling scenes, there are a number of fun fight scenes to keep things moving courtesy of Hong Kong movie veteran Blacky Ko Shou Liang. One memorably gross scene has two men attacking a woman in a dark alley. One guy tries to turn her on by removing his right eye and swallowing it, then insists that he can move his left eye with his teeth before he spits out a jaw-full of dentures. Oddly enough, once our hero arrives and starts kicking ass, his eye are teeth are back in place no problem! Starting his acting career as an extra in the early 70s, Ko went on to star in over 180 films including hits like One-Armed Boxer, The Deadly Silver Spear, Wheels On Meals, City Kids '89, Curry & Pepper, Crime Story, My Father Is A Hero, Black Rose 2, God Of Gamblers Return and many more. The late 70s would see him double-up as an action-choreographer where he would work on films such as The Boxers Adventure, Shanghai Massacre, Days Of Being Dumb, A Better Tomorrow, Legend Of Wisely, and The Last Blood, as well as moving into vehicle stunts for many Hong Kong titles. In 1990, Blacky Ko would make his directorial debut with Whampoa Blues starring Max Mok and the fantastic Curry & Pepper with Jacky Cheung and Chow Sing Chi. His final project would be Life Express of which he would also co-star alongside Richie Ren, before his death in 2003...

 

Taiwanese star Champ Wang Kuan Hsiung became a popular kung-fu star in the early 70s after making his debut in Chao Chow Guy, alongside the equally popular Roc Tien and aforementioned Blacky Ko. For the next 2 decades, Wang would go on to star in almost 80 films which included titles such as Iron Ox: The Tigers Killer, One Arm Chivalry Fights Against One Arm Chivalry, Lady Constables, Shaolin Heroes, Devil Killer, Pink Force Commando, The King Of Gambler 1 & 2, and The Killer From China. He would also direct two films, both of which he also starred in, with Seven Steps To Showdown and Yellow Skin – eventually bringing his film career to and end in the early 90s. While he wasn't the most handsome star of his era, or the most physically impressive, Champ Wang still made enough of an impression to keep his filmography going and does a fine job as the revenge-seeking son in Super Dynamo. He is joined by a host of familiar faces including Sherman Chow Shiu Dung – a Leslie Cheung lookalike who is recognisable from films such as Seven Magnificent Kung Fu Kids, Monkey War, Demon Strike, and The Story Of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. The lovely Suet Lee stars as the woman caught between them both, playing the sister to the former and lover of the latter. Also known as Sidney Yim, Lee would also make a bigger splash the same year as Jackie Chan's love interest in his kung-fu comedy, Dragon Lord. The legendary Danny Lee pops up as a double-crossing lawyer, although it's hardly the greatest role of his career, and stars such as Paul Chang, Lau Dan, Wang Sun, Tin Ching, Shih Chung Tien, Chin Po, Wang Hsieh, and Wang Yu film regular Lung Fei also appear throughout.

 

Perhaps overshadowed by the amount of bigger budgeted and more polished productions coming out of Hong Kong at the same time, Super Dynamo (and it's many titles) still makes for an interesting watch – if not at least once – and wraps things up with an exciting enough finale that makes its short running time of 82 minutes, manageable. That said, there are plenty of other amazing titles I would put ahead of this one before ever getting back to it again – but it wasn't a complete waste of money and time!

 

Overall: Dated and slow at times, Super Dynamo still has a little something to give to save its viewers losing interest!

 

Mediabook Extras: Original Film Version of The First Exposure, Alternate German Opening, Photo Gallery, Trailer (plus a Bonus Disc featuring War City: Die To Win)

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