THE ULTIMATE VAMPIRE
(Hong Kong 1991)
Original Title: Jiang Shi Zhi Zun (aka) The Spiritual Family
Directed by Andrew Lau Produced by Wong Ying, Chin Chung Action by Ka Lee, Yuen Miu, Lee Chi Kit Starring: Lam Ching Ying, Chin Siu Ho, Carrie Ng, Lau Shun, Ronald Wong, Karel Wong, Ku Feng, Joanna Chan, Lee Chi Kit, Yuen Miu, Chow Gam Hoi, Chow Gam Kong Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Vampire / Horror / Comedy
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Synopsis: Vampire buster, Lam Ching Ying, returns as Master Gao in this vampire-filled horror-comedy. Joining forces with his students, Master Gao sets out to rid their village of restless ghosts, vampires and zombies while dealing with a beautiful female ghost who has befriended his men.
Views: More Mr. Vampire hi-jinks aplenty as the wonderful Lam Ching Ying and Chin Siu Ho share the screen again, only 2 years after the formers self-directed Vampire Vs Vampire – which was a lot of fun. In The Ultimate Vampire, the pair tread familiar territory and are joined by popular Hong Kong actor, Ronald Wong Ban who stars as Wanchai – a poor substitute for the great Ricky Hui. The story tells the tale of Master Gau's (Lam Ching Ying) village being overtaken by vampires and ghosts, after he tries to free Wanchai from the spell of a ghost opera. Working with his clumsy assistants and a few other Taoist priests, Master Gau sets out to round them up and soon finds bother with Uncle Kin, a master of the Thunder Fist who likes to kill the ghosts off with his lightning strikes. At the same time, Charleson (Chin Siu Ho) and Wanchai, who are getting distracted with their new friend (a female ghost called Li), soon come across Uncle Kin's son who is using his abilities to travel in ghost form into girls bedrooms. The trio try to put a stop to his antics, losing his body in the process when a gang of dogs chase them off and pull the body away. In order to help his spirit return to hi physical body, the boys must find his body before dawn – something which they seem to do quite easily – but it has bee badly mutilated by the dogs. Uncle Kin advises Master Gau and his disciples that, in order to save his son, they must go into Coffin Woods in search of the Coffin Mushroom – a fungus that grows under these particular coffins in the forest. The only catch is that they need to get through a small army of vampires in order to get it and save Kin's son. Soon after, a number of the local townsfolk are found murdered and fingers start pointing at Master Gau. In knowing that Kin's son is not himself, the priest sends Charleson and Wanchai out to keep an eye on him which doesn't go as straight-forward as planned. After an attack by Master Gau, Kin's son returns to his dad for a bit of an upgrade made possible by Kin's Thunder Fist. This transforms him into the ultimate vampire and makes him a much stronger, more blood thirsty demon. On a mission to take Master Gau and his disciples down, Kin resurrects a horde of zombies from their graves so they can follow his demon son to the home of the priest and help kill the trio. It all leads to an exciting and action packed finale as Master Gau, Charleson, and Wanchai try to fight off the army of the dead with a little help from the Hell Police – a group of eternal officials who get rid of the undead with one swipe – the ultimate vampire himself, and the enraged Uncle Kin who's lightning attack proves to be a shock for everyone!
Considered a spin-off as such to the original series, The Ultimate Vampire doesn't really offer too much more that we haven't already seen in the abundance of Lam Ching Ying led horror-comedies, but it still manages to entertain enough to keep fans happy. Cinematographer-turned-actor-turned-director (and producer) Andrew Lau Wai Keung does a pretty decent job in what was only his second directorial effort after the entertaining Against All, which starred Danny Lee and Nick Cheung. Of course, he would go on to become one of Hong Kong's most prolific directors with the likes of the Young & Dangerous series, Storm Riders, A Man Called Hero, and the Infernal Affairs trilogy, behind him! Having already lensed (or partly so) many great titles before this, such as Where's Officer Tuba, Armour Of God, Inspector Wears Skirts, City On Fire, As Tears Go By, and Mr. Vampire 2 & 3, Lau continues as DOP on The Ultimate Vampire – joined by Tony Miu King Fai who worked with him on Against All as well as being behind the lens on many great titles like Red Shield, A Chinese Torture Chamber, Dr. Lamb, The Magic Crane – and modern hits such as Flash Point, Naked Soldier, The Warlords, Monkey King, and more. Saying that, there's really nothing spectacular about the photography of The Ultimate Vampire, although I'm sure that my thoughts could change if I were ever to see it on Blu-ray...
Lam Ching Ying does as great a job as always as the priest who takes on ghosts, vampires, and the undead. By this stage of the game, Lam was able to pull-off these roles with his eyes closed having mastered the character previous in Mr. Vampire 1, 2 & 3, Vampire Vs. Vampire (which he also directed), Encounters Of The Spooky Kind 2, Magic Cop, Shy Spirit, and a cameo in Midnight Conjure. Even after this, Lam Ching Ying would continue to appear as the much beloved Taoist priest in a host of titles both in film and television, before dying of liver cancer in 1997. The handsome Chin Siu Ho, who is always a joy to watch, holds back on the action until the finale, but still entertains throughout with his charm and comedy – playing the character of Charleson a little dumber than that of Chow in the original Mr. Vampire. As mentioned, Ronald Wong Ban plays the third party member of the heroes, offering some entertaining qualities while trying to fill some very big shoes worn by the comic genius of Ricky Hui. Of course, Hui would make-up for this by starring alongside Lam Ching Ying and Chin Siu Ho in the following years Mr. Vampire 1992 (aka Chinese Vampire Story) from original director, Ricky Lau. The delightful Carrie Ng plays Li, the ghost lady friend who helps save the gang a few times from the undead, and plants the lips on Lam a few times. Although it would be another year before the world learned of this femme-fatale when Naked Killer got released, Ng had already appeared in many great titles to this point such as Diary Of A Big Man, Gunmen, Return Engagement, Dragon From Russia, and Bloodstained Tradewind. The same year as starring in The Ultimate Vampire, Carrie Ng would also make a splash in Sex & Zen as well as appearing in the fantastic, A Rascals Tale, with Shing Fui On and Sylvia Chang. Martial arts actor Lau Shun, who started in the industry by playing the bad guy in Cynthia Rothrock and Conan Lee's, Prince Of The Sun, stars as Uncle Kin – the man who, if he shook your hand, would make your eyes light up. Although he was relatively new to the game at the start of the 1990s, Shun was very quickly cast in vital roles of many incredible titles from the Swordsman Trilogy to A Chinese Ghost Story 2 & 3, New Dragon Gate Inn, Once Upon A Time In China 1, 3 & 5, and so much more. While he doesn't get a host of fighting scenes here, Shun still gets in on the action – both in the magical and martial arts sense of things and proves to be quite entertaining. Apart from a fun cameo by veteran actor Ku Feng, in a restaurant scene that homages the original film, Kin's demonic son is played by Karol Wong Chi Yeung – a familiar face to many from the late 80s onwards of Hong Kong cinema. Appearing in titles such as Fight back To School, Angel Terminators 2, To be Number One, and Gambling Baron with Max Mok, Wong also starred in the fantastically fun New Kids In Town with co-star, Chin Siu Ho, just the year before. While he often comes across as just a typical Hong Kong bad guy, he still makes the most of his roles and looks like he's having fun as the titular ultimate vampire.
While not amazing by any means and treading too close to remake territory, The Ultimate Vampire offers a few new niches to its main characters and a story that gets a little more exciting around the half-way point. It's an easy watch, but I have to say it doesn't even come close to the entertainment or production values of the original. That said, it's definitely worth a watch and does have some exciting moments that will keep fans of Lam Ching Ying happy!
Overall: Plenty of vampire fun and Lam Ching Ying in his element, The Ultimate Vampire makes for a fun watch and is definitely one of the better spin-offs from the original series!
(Hong Kong 2001)
Original Title: Chui Hau Tung Dip
Directed by Kant Leung Produced by Peter Ma Action by Lung Sang Starring: Michael Wong, Yoyo Mung, Fu Heng, William Duen, Joe Lee, Yuen Wah, Sunny Luk, Kant Leung Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Action / Drama / Crime
Rating - 1.7 / 5
Synopsis: Two police officers, one from Hong Kong and the other from the mainland, try to stop a deadly assassin from killing again.
Views: After a string of assassinations on triads, mainland cop Detective Wing follows the suspect killer to Hong Kong where he teams up with Chief Inspector Yip. Together, they set out to find the female sharpshooter in a bid to try and stop her. It all results in a deadly game of cat and mouse across the city, that leads to a showdown of bullets and bombs in a local hotel...
I have to say, Kant Leung isn't a director whose name would be at the top of any Hong Kong fans list of favourites. While I've only ever seen a bad English dub of the questionable Roaring Dragon, Bluffing Tiger starring Anthony Wong and Collin Chou, as well as the dreadful Big Boss Untouchable starring Dragon Sek, I've yet to see anything else the man has helmed such as The Demon's Baby, The Legendary, Sexy & Dangerous 2, or Violent Cop starring Patrick Tam. Before he got into directing, Leung spent a decade appearing in a small number of films including Curry & Pepper, Happy Ghost 4 & 5, The Final Judgement, Her Name In Cat, and Chinese Erotic Ghost Story – but I'd hardly say he's ever made a lasting impression. I'd also probably have the same opinion on him as a director, from his work on the two I mentioned that I had seen and this messy action thriller. And even though he had spent many years as an assistant director on many of the aforementioned titles he appeared in, it's clear that Kant Leung Wang Fat never really honed his skills enough to give Hong Kong film fans anything memorable. With cheap-looking artwork and lower production values, Ultimatum proved to be an incredible flop at the box office – even with the great Sunny Luk on-board as assistant director and Michael Wong as the star of the show.
While Michael Wong has always been a bit of a Marmite actor for many Hong Kong film fans, his good looks and cheeky charm have helped bag him over 100 roles since the mid-80s, launching his film career with City Hero alongside Dean Shek and Mark Cheng before jumping into classics like Royal Warriors, Legacy Of Rage, Fury, In The Line Of Duty 4, and many others. The mid-90s would see him appear more as the leading man in hits like First Option, Theft Under The Sun, and Beast Cops, but I've never really took to the guy if I'm being honest. In Ultimatum, Wong plays his role of Chief Inspector Yip with about as much over-acting and enthusiasm as he normally does, but isn't unwatchable. Popular Hong Kong actor William Duen Wai Lun stars as Detective Wing, the mainland cop who must partner with Wong to catch the killer. Hong Kong film fans will recognise this actor for his roles in films like City Hunter, Iron Monkey, Saint Of Gamblers, Future Cops, Police Story 3: Super Cop, Crime Story, A Taste Of Killing & Romance, and High Risk as well as many other Jackie Chan blockbusters. As Wing, he doesn't do too bad a job and holds his own against Wong's typical hero character. The lovely Yoyo Mung stars as May, the deadly assassin that gives both leading men a run for their money. Making her feature film debut in Wellson Chin's The Third Full Moon, Mung went on to star in a few hits such as Expect The Unexpected, A Hero Never Dies, and Running Out Of Time – but it wasn't to last. As the millennium crept in, Mung found herself appearing in more and more low-budget titles that didn't really leave much of an impression with audiences and critics alike. And finally, while directors Kant Leung and Sunny Luk pop-up throughout, I was more excited to see the incredible Yuen Wah co-star and, while brief, he gets to deliver yet another quirky performance as the asthmatic killer Ola. Although loved by fans for his martial arts abilities, Wah is all about the gun-play when it comes to the big finale – but still does a great job regardless. 2001 was hardly a great year for the man having only just starred in this and the so-so Vampire Controller, before leaving the film scene until 2004 when Chow Sing Chi cast him as the Landlord in the box office smash, Kung Fu Hustle – a decision that gave Wah's career a new lease of life, thankfully.
To be honest, the action here is probably the best thing about Ultimatum – from stylized shoot-outs to car chases – and is handled by the talented Lung Sang who crafted his skills while working with top action director Tsui Fat on films like Holy Virgin Vs The Evil Dead, Crystal Hunt, Cheetah On Fire, Devil Hunters, The Mighty Gambler, City On Fire, and more. Lung started out in film as a bit-player, although over the course of a decade only starred in 10 or 11 features including A Fiery Family, Killer Angels, Seven Warriors, A Punch To Revenge, and some of the aforementioned titles he helped choreograph. I actually quite enjoyed his work here which, aside from some dodgy CG bullets here and there, had some nice moments and offered up plenty of cool shots that save this generic turn-of-the-century action flick, from being a complete bore-fest with its abundance of dialogue-heavy scenes!
Overall: While it's definitely not the worst film ever made, it's hard to recommend Ultimatum when you know there's so much better out there!
(aka) Rukus 2
Directed by Willy Milan Produced by Pio Lee Starring: Arnold Nicholas, Jeremy Ladd, Patrick Scott, Vincent Griffin, Vivian Cheung, Eric Hahn, Ronnie Petterson, Joe Gruta Reviewing: YouTube Release Genres: Ninja / Action / War
Rating - 3 / 5
Synopsis: A team of highly trained American ninja-commando's are sent back to Vietnam on a deadly mission to rescue some US POW's. They are the Ultimax Force – the first ninja commandos.
Views: Somewhere, in the jungles of Vietnam, some 2490 US servicemen lie in wait for their rescue (apparently). The US government reaches out to some members of The Black Dragon Club who, after a trip to the Ninja Society Of California which is oddly led by Shaolin monks, are sent on a mission to rescue the POW's from Vietnam. These guys are the Ultimax Force – the first ninja commandos, as the VHS sleeve so proudly announced. The team is led by Chris, a foul mouthed American boy that wears a Japanese headband throughout the whole film and looks like he just got out of high school. He is joined by Dick, Mike, and Bill who all bring their own techniques and characteristics to the table. Once in Vietnam the team soon meet their connection in a bar brawl before heading out on a series of subplots, one of which includes Chris taking revenge on the nasty Viet-Cong camp general that imprisoned and tortured him during the war!
The last time I saw Ultimax Force was probably over 30 years ago. I remember that the front cover wasn't too appealing to me, showing a group of white guys in balaclavas with guns – something that usually meant terrorism here in Belfast – but as it turns out, Ultimax Force was packed full of ninja action. The film plays like a blend of Missing In Action with the finer moments of a Godfrey Ho ninja flick (the ninja bits of course), with some over-the-top cast members that could give Stuart Smith, Pierre Kirby, and Mike Abbott a run for their money. The script is pretty crass for the most part, packed with tons of bad language and dodgy lines that were seemingly written by a 16 year old who thought this is how adults speak. But as it turns out, it was actually written by Joe Mari Avellana – a Filipino actor, director, and writer who penned many fun titles such as Final Mission, Equalizer 2000 and Return Of The Kickfighter with Richard Norton, as well as the wild Ultracop 2000 with Yukari Oshima and Philip Ko. As an actor, Joe starred alongside Norton as Papa Fung in Rage, appeared in a number of the Bloodfist movies, Caged Fury, TNT Jackson, and The Hunt For Eagle One with Mark Dacascos. The man at the helm is Willy Milan, a Filipino director with over 40 credits under his belt one of which is the fun, Street Warrior (aka Revenge Of The Street Warrior) that was released on VHS with artwork that was a total rip-off from Michael Pare's Streets Of Fire that came out just a couple of years before. With Ultimax Force, Milan doesn't do a terrible job as such but its pretty run of the mill for an 80s action flick inspired by Rambo and American Ninja...
There's a lot to love and laugh about in Ultimax Force, with one of my favourite moments being the really long scene of the men getting changed into their ninja outfits in the forest. I don't love it because I get to see these men topless, but more so for the fact that it takes so bloody long and involves shots of them applying almost every article of clothing. Of course, for a movie like this that came out at the height of the ninja craze along with films such as Enter The Ninja and the awesome Sakura Killers, Ultimax Force is all about the action – something of which there is plenty of and most of which is quite good. While it's nowhere near as amazing as Corey Yuen Kwai's No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder or Sammo Hung's Eastern Condors (both of which are similar in vein), Ultimax Force keeps action fans happy with plenty of ninja fun for the first half of the film before going into commando territory in the second.
Overall: A lot of fun and typical of its era, Ultimax Force is packed full of ninjas, explosions, and terrible lines – but entertains!
(Hong Kong/Philippines 1992)
Original Title: Magkasangga 2000
Directed by Philip Ko, Joe Mari Avellana Produced by Ricky Wong, Chan Chi Ming Action by Philip Ko Starring: Philip Ko, Yukari Oshima, Melvin Wong, Marcus Fok, Monsour Del Rosario, Gabriel Romulo, Ricky Davao, Ko Chun Kit Reviewing: Screen Power German DVD Release Genres: Martial Arts / Sci-Fi / Action / Comedy
Rating - 1.5 / 5
Synopsis: Two future cops take on time-hopping triads and a couple of feuding, sword-wielding aliens to bring peace to the streets of Manilla.
Views: You have to wonder what happened in Philip Ko Fei's life that made him go from a kung fu superstar to a heavily criticized director, responsible for some insane and terrible movies later in life. Regardless of his career choices, I'm proud to say that I'm still a huge fan of the late Philip Ko and have always been excited to see him on-screen. Ultracop 2000 is a particularly interesting one – hated by many for how crass and cheap it looks, the film was shot in the Philippines and written by the man himself as many of his films were around this period. Taking his cues from movies like Dark Angel, Terminator, and even Clarence Fok's The Iceman Cometh, Ko's sci-fi adventure wants to be so much more, but almost fails on every level. I say almost because there are a handful of things in Ultracop 2000 that still make for an interesting watch, such as particular moments of action or comedy scenes that comes across as if they were penned by Wong Jing. His vision of a futuristic Manilla is probably bang-on, considering the place probably had never changed that much over the film's timeline of 8 years. Even the costumes of the future cops are very much as 90s as they get, with no attempt to make them look like they're from another timeline – even just a little. I honestly don't think it's because Philip Ko was a bad director as such, but I feel that the budget for Ultracop 2000 was hardly a fifth of what was needed for the man to realise his vision here!
Yes, I know, it sounds like I'm trying to defend Ultracop 2000 – but believe me, I'm not. The film is still bland on a visual level and far too talky for it's own good. There are certain scenes that are definitely directed much better than others, which is probably down to Ko Fei sharing directional duties with Filipino director Joe Mari Avellana (who also helped write the script). Joe had been quite popular over the years as a writer and director, but mostly as an actor having starred in films such as Caged Fury, Bloodfist 1 & 2, Rage with Richard Norton, The Hunt For Eagle One with Mark Dacascos, and much more. As if he didn't have enough to do as co-star and co-director, Philip Ko also looks after the action which is pretty questionable for the most part. I can only imagine that he wanted to make this something of a modern-day wuxia piece, with flying alien swordsmen and super-powered fighters – but instead, the martial arts elements come across messy a lot of the time with wire-enhanced moves that are so ridiculous, it reminded me of his follow up project, Lethal Panther 2, which also starred the Osh and was a much better film overall. While there is enough action going on throughout (most of which is gun-toting action if not flying aliens) the last 15 minutes offer some madcap action that lets Yukari Oshima and Philip Ko put their skills to use. But it's just too little too late.
With almost 300 films to his name, there is definitely much better out there from the great Philip Ko Fei. But if, like me, you need to see every Hong Kong action movie ever made then, Ultracop 2000 will certainly test your patience. Yukari Oshima looks as great as always but is slightly wasted given what we know she can do. Around this period she made a lot with Ko Fei including Angel Mission (aka Born To Fight), Hard To Kill, Fatal Chase, Guardian Angel, Deadly Target, and Power Connection which I quite enjoyed. The great Melvin Wong stars as one of the big bad triads – although how he got talked into that role I'll never know – and the rest of the cast is filled out with popular Filipino actors and extras. But all in all, I'd say this one is for die-hard Hong Kong movie/Philip Ko Fei/Yukari Oshima fans only. And even that might be at a push...
Overall: Boring and insane at times, Ultracop 2000 makes for an interesting watch if not just to see Yukari Oshima and Philip Ko in action!
DVD Extras: Trailers
(Hong Kong 2000)
Original Title: Huo Wu Yao Yang
Directed by Philip Ko Produced by Peter Cheung Action by Alan Chan Yiu Lun, Lam Chi Keung Starring: Fan Siu Wong, Roy Cheung, Pinky Cheung, Billy Chow, Philip Ko, Lily Chung, Calvin Poon, Ko Chun Kit Reviewing: Widesight HK DVD Release Genres: Crime / Martial Arts / Drama
Rating - 1.7 / 5
Synopsis: Unbeatables tells the tale of Hong Kong triads Flames and Shiny, as they climb the ranks of the underworld in the Philippines and take on powerful criminals in a bid to become the best.
Views: The gorgeous and underrated Louis Fan Siu Wong stars as Flames, a kick-ass gangster with style who has fought to make something of his life from his time in prison to the streets of Manila. After he is hired by crime lord Li Cho Hung, Flames introduces his best friend and partner in crime Shiny and soon, the pair find themselves as the go-to men for Li's dirty work which includes killing off rival gang bosses. But when the wicked General Ray arrives on the scene to throw his weight around, the trust between Li and his new recruits grows thinner and even more so when Shiny takes a liking to his woman, Pinky – a move that sees the gang boss order a hit on his rival lover. Shiny's life is saved by Flames when he kills Li in a fight which makes the friends the new bosses of Manila's Chinatown, as appointed by General Ray. Soon after, Shiny and Pinky marry but it's far from the life of happiness they had hoped for with Pinky addicted to drugs, and leadership becoming the main focus of Shiny's life. After his sister May comes to visit, she soon falls for Flames and the pair begin dating. Enraged by his own failed love life and angry at Flames for wooing his sister, Shiny attacks the General and his men in a fit of anger that leaves him dead. Now, it is up to Flames to return to Manila and exact revenge for the sake of his brother!
It's been some time since I last watched Unbeatables, and now I can remember why. Directed by the prolific Philip Ko Fei, this film is another of his many low budget disasters after his move to the Philippines. That said, there was definitely more than a few Ko Fei titles from this period that were very enjoyable and while I can see here that he wanted to deliver a stylish flick, with plenty of comic book angles and editing akin to Jingle Ma's hugely successful Tokyo Raiders, Unbeatables falls flat with its low production values and weak script, courtesy of Benny Tam Wai Shing who penned titles like Conan Lee's Scheming Wonders, Joey Wong's Demoness From A Thousand Years, and Moon Lee's Secret Police, before moving on to low budget and lesser-known titles such as Drug Fighters and Vengeance Is Mine with Yukari Oshima, Nightmare Zone with Max Mok, Man Wanted 3 with Simon Yam, The Story Of Freemen for Philip Ko, and the bigger budgeted Virtual Recall with Stephen Fung. The trouble with his script here is that nothing really happens! While it may start with some excitement and bits of action, Unbeatables quickly resorts to a case of having seen it all before with arguing Triad bosses, a drug fuelled gangsters moll, forbidden love, and plenty of back-stabbing all wrapped up in a boring screenplay...
Apart from a strong cast in Fan Siu Wong, Roy Cheung, Billy Chow, and even Pinky Cheung, director Philip Ko pops up as a rival gangster boss although he doesn't really get to do too much except a little over-acting before he is shot up and killed. The incredible Fan Siu Wong leads the way as Flames, a flamboyantly dressed gangster who is the real brains of the operation – although the script would have you think it was Roy. Although he gets to kick ass in a few fight scenes, the camera work and editing is often so tight that most of his great moves are lost. Even the final fight between him and the brilliant Billy Chow is slightly underwhelming due to the aforementioned reasons, although it's probably the highlight of the film to be honest in terms of the action. This was somewhat of a rematch between the pair having faced off in the much more exciting Death Games, from just a few years previous and joined each other on-screen in the well-received television series New Shaolin Temple, alongside Wu Jing as a continuation of Yuen Woo Ping's Tai Chi Boxer (Tai Chi 2). Regardless, Fan is always a joy to watch and it's just a shame that this period of his career saw him stuck in many low budget films (many of which were for Philip Ko) such as The Story Of Freemen, Shadow Mask, Spice Cop, Power King, and The Boxing King with Cynthia Khan and Yu Rong Kwong. Billy Chow wasn't doing too well himself with his choice of film titles, but I do feel that this was all down to the state of the Hong Kong film industry since the handover right into the early 2000's – to be honest. From Iron Monkey 2 and City Of Darkness with Donnie Yen, to Roaring Dragon Bluffing Tiger with Anthony Wong and Hero Youngster with Yuen Biao, many of Hong Kong cinemas finest were on a downward spiral but that's not to say that every film from then was completely unwatchable. Roy Cheung is just okay as Shiny the wannabe gangster boss. It's a role he has played a number of times throughout the years, and I wouldn't say that he brought anything new to the screen in Unbeatables. This would have been his 11th title in 2000 after making a big impression in Johnnie To's The Mission from the previous year, and obviously saved his more exciting stuff for films like White Storm, Born To Be King, and Dante Lam's Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone alongside Sandra Ng and Tony Leung Ka Fai.
The rest of the cast is made up with Pinky Cheung who stars as Pinky, the gangster's moll who falls for Roy Cheung and has a drug problem. Although she has starred in almost 60 films since the early 90s such as Young & Dangerous 4, Raped By An Angel 3 & 4, Tricky King, and Colour Of The Truth, Pinky has never really did make it as big as the likes of Chingmy Yau, Shu Qi, or Vikki Zhao Wei for example. Saying that, the girl obviously had something and later appeared in Dante Lam's Fire Of Conscience, Clarence Fok's Don't Open Your Eyes, and Dennis Law's Fatal Move, Bad Blood, and Vampire Warriors, as well as The Leakers from Herman Yau. Chan Hiu Kei makes her debut as Roy's sister May and Lily Chung, from films such as Midnight Angel, Die Harder, Eternal Evil Of Asia, Millennium Dragon with Yuen Biao, and many of the previously mentioned Philip Ko projects, stars as the other sibling. Japanese actor Nishikawa Takakazu makes his Hong Kong film debut as gang boss Li, before going on to star in more low-budget flicks like Dragon The Master with Dragon Sek, and Ko Fei's Killing Skill, Spy Gear, The Story Of Freemen, Shadow Mask, and Final Edge. And finally, Hong Kong actor and director Calvin Poon pops up as Ken. I wish I could say that they all made it a little more exciting, but I'd be lying if I did. Philip Ko regular Alan Chan Yiu Lun is joined by Lam Chi Keung as the action directors of the piece that, while they tease some exciting bits here and there, never really wow us given the talent involved losing many great moves with the flashy camera work from Ardy Lam...
Overall: I'll probably never need watch it again, but Unbeatables isn't the worst film in the world!
UNBENDING MR. FANG
(Hong Kong 2021)
Original Title: Tong Pi Tie Gu Fang Shi Yu (aka) Fang Shi Yu: Copper Skin & Iron Bones
Directed by Guo Yu Long, Liu Guo Qing Produced by Yuen Bun, Xu Ning Action by Li Wen Bo, Zhang Qiang Starring: Wang Zhao, Monkey Peng Bo, Wang Ya Bin, Shi Xuan Ru, Rain Lau Yuk Chui, Yue Dong Feng, Yi Long, Tong Hu, Zhang Ya Kun, Li Pie Ze, Tong Ji Min, Bai Jin Cheng Reviewing: Hi-Yah TV Release Genres: Kung-fu / Adventure / Comedy
Rating - 4.3 / 5
Synopsis: After leaving Shaolin Temple, Fong Sai Yuk returns home to find his friends and family threatened by a corrupt official who puts his martial arts skills to the test. (88 Mins)
Views: China's out-put of web movies continues with Unbending Mr. Fang; a new Fong Sai Yuk adventure that actually proves to be a lot of fun. The film opens with Fong's final day at Shaolin Temple where he must challenge the unbeatable Shaolin Wooden Men (as well as the Bronzemen indirectly) in order to leave. After achieving his win, Fong heads back to his home town where he quickly finds himself involved in a host of escapades involving old friends, new enemies, and his over-bearing martial arts mother. But Fong soon finds serious trouble when a corrupt imperial official kills his Uncle and kidnaps his closest friend, holding her hostage until Fong brings them want they want. Enraged, the young fighter sets out to save the day in a deadly fight to the end – although at a great cost!
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Unbending Mr. Fang. It's a film that – had it been made a decade or two ago – would have been called a TV movie, although I'm certain it would not have shared the same production value, effort, or budget. It's been quite a while since I've seen a movie about Fong Sai Yuk, with Corey Yuen Kwai and Jet Li's two popular movies still standing strong as the go-to titles for anyone wanting to see the trouble-making teen in action. Coming in at a fast 88 minutes, Unbending Mr. Fang now joins those movies (for me), and is a film I would happily go back to watch again. It's also been quite a while since I've seen the infamous Wooden Men of Shaolin put to use in a kung-fu film – with most productions opting to use the more appealing Bronzemen instead – but the opening of Unbending Mr. Fang, more than makes-up for this. Blending CGI with real dummies, our hero must pass the final test by taking-down the Wooden Men of Shaolin who run, jump, and fly at him before transforming into a giant Wooden Man which is actually pretty cool. During the battle, we see Fong's skin light-up with a detailed gold-plated pattern to show his inner strength, which is used a couple of times throughout. While some viewers may feel disappointed at this point, it would probably make more sense to know that the film's original title was Fang Shi Yu: Copper Skin & Iron Bones – a title that is more fitting than Unbending Mr. Fang. I must also stress that, while this opening sequence may seem a bit OTT and may seem unappealing to many, it doesn't last and never takes away from how action-packed and highly enjoyable the film is overall.
Chinese actor, fitness coach and martial artist, Wang Zhao stars as the titular hero Fong Sai Yuk, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Jet Li in a number of scenes with his smile and charm. Having starred in movies such as Derek Yee's epic Sword Master, The Demon Fox, Wars In Chinatown, Bloody Nameless River, and more – Wang Zhao does a damn good job as the teenage folk hero who, in my honest opinion, looks just as amazing as Jet Li did when in action (if not, even better). From his aforementioned introductory scene in Shaolin to his many one-on-one battles with almost every villain of the film, Wang looks fantastic as he kicks, flips, and punches his way through the story. But it's quite clear that Fong Sai Yuk meets his match when he comes up against the corrupt official known as Lord Erdo; a man determined to get his hands on an important ledger that could bring him down. Chinese kick-boxer and actor Yi Long stars as the dastardly villain, and got his big break as one of the super soldiers in the MCU box-office hit, Captain America: Civil War. While he hasn't appeared in too many since, Long definitely works the bad-guy role pretty well and gave me vibes of Andy On's character in Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend. He is supported by two brutish right-hand men called Zhou Feng and Tu He Zhuo, with the former played by Li Peize – an actor who has appeared in Donnie Yen's Ip Man, The Bravest Escort Group, and Ip Man & The Four Kings – and the latter by Tong Hu. I suppose, if I'm to be honest, Tong's character of Tu He Zhuo is perhaps one of my few gripes with the film. Cursed as a child, Tu grows up to have one large hairy arm that represents that of a wolf; complete with deadly claws and a distorted voice that carries a bass-heavy growl. While it's really not a lot to complain about, I just felt that his character seemed a bit out of place for the most part and brought more of a comic-book element to the story with his look – although he does get in on quite a bit of the action which is great. Television and movie star Yue Dong Feng does a brilliant job as Tiger Lei, the father of Fong's new love interest and likeable rogue, who delivers a look and performance that had me convinced I was watching the great Leung Kar Yan himself. New actress Peng Bo stars as Fong's new love Lei Ting Ting while Shi Xuanru stars as his good friend Zhou Rong, and popular actress Rain Lau co-stars as his wild mother Miao Cui Hua. Having started in the Hong Kong film industry in the early 90s, Lau went on to star in films such as It's Now Or Never, Tri-Star, Troublesome Night 3, Little Big Master, and a host of television shows, and does a great job here in her role – although is no Josephine Siao respectively...
The film is directed by two relatively new directors, Liu Guoqing and Guo Yulong. Since making his debut with the pretty decent 2017 film, Return Of Wong Fei Hung, Guo has went on to deliver a number of Chinese web-movies including Exorcist Judge Bao, Taoist Master with Fan Siu Wong, Battle Of Chinatown, and others – all of which have been quite enjoyable for different reasons. With Unbending Mr. Fang, the pair definitely deliver one of their best to date with plenty of nods back to Jet Li's films such as fighting in a tournament for a wife, battle on horse-back, angry corrupt officials, and then some; not to mention the fact that they offer up a decent script, gorgeous cinematography with stunning lighting, and a great score. But it has to be fight choreographers Xin Chao, Luo Jie, Yuan Fang, Wang Xiao Dong who really make things memorable with a host of fantastic fight scenes which boast such creativity and power, it's clear their action design has been inspired by the classic works of Yuen Woo Ping such as Tai Chi Master, Iron Monkey, and Once Upon A Time In China for example, with each of the action-directors having worked on a number of decent mainland web-movies lately including Ten Tigers Of Guangdong, Fighters Of The Town, Master Zhang, Phantom Killer, Sniper, and more. It's safe to say that fight fans will not be disappointed with what's on offer in Unbending Mr. Fang – a film that takes us back to the best of the 90s Hong Kong New Wave cinema – and is most definitely well worth checking out!
Overall: Well made, neatly directed, and packed with creative fight sequences, Unbending Mr. Fang is one of the best Chinese web-movies out there!
(Hong Kong 1990)
Original Title: Sheng Zhan Feng Yun 圣战风云
Directed by Ringo Lam Produced by Ringo Lam Action by Chris Lee Starring: Danny Lee, Olivia Hussey, Tommy Wong, Vernon Wells, Peter Liapas, Rosamund Kwan, Mars, Victor Hon, David Hedison, Louis Roth, Mark King, Jonathan Isgar, Stuart Smith, Wong Gwong Fai, Dean Harrington Reviewing: Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Release Genres: Action / Thriller / Drama
Rating - 4.3 / 5
Vinegar Syndrome US Blu-ray Synopsis: After a Polish diplomat and his family are murdered by a radical terrorist organization, CIA agent Gary Redner tracks the violent extremist group to Hong Kong on a personal mission of revenge. Once in Hong Kong, the 'rough-and-ready' Gary is reluctantly partnered with 'by the book' Special Branch Inspector Bong,in order to track down the terrorists before their next horrific attack. While the two men do not see eye to eye professionally nor culturally, they must put aside their personal differences and work together in order to take down the terrorist organization as well as the group's mysterious and ruthless leader, known only as Hannibal. Featuring the signature bloody violence that director Ringo Lam (City on Fire, Burning Paradise) has become known for, UNDECLARED WAR is a dark and uncompromising neo-noir that doesn't pull its punches. One of the rare Hong Kong productions featuring a mix of international actors speaking multiple languages, UNDECLARED WAR stars American actor Peter Liapis (Ghoulies),Hong Kong actor Danny Lee (John Woo's The Killer), renowned Australian character actor Vernon Wells (The Road Warrior), and acclaimed British actress Olivia Hussey (Black Christmas), Vinegar Syndrome Archive is proud to present this stylishly directed slice of Hong Kong action on Blu-ray for the first time in the United States,newly restored from studio supplied masters. (107 Mins)
Mei Ah HK DVD Synopsis: The movie is designed to deliver an action-packed suspense-thriller with ingenious plots that tells the story of a worldwide intrigue devised by an international terrorist organization. (107 Mins)
Views: When you watch Ringo Lam's fantastic Undeclared War, you realise what a mistake Raymond Chow made when he put James Glickenhaus in the directors seat for Jackie Chan's U.S. cop-thriller, The Protector. Had he acquired the services of Mr. Lam Ling Tung, we may have seen a better film overall – which also may have saved Jackie some reshoots down the line. Of course, I'm only speculating with what could have been (and we may never have gotten the incredible Police Story had it been done right), because after watching this incredible 2K restoration of Undeclared War on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome, it's quite obvious that Lam puts the aforementioned Hollywood director to shame with what he can do with an international thriller. After his family are killed in Poland by an international terrorist organisation, CIA agent Gary Redner tracks down the killers in Hong Kong and finds himself placed under the watchful eye of Hong Kong super-cop, Inspector Bong. Together, and at times reluctantly, the law enforcers chase down the terrorists to bring them in, no matter what it takes, in a bid to find their leader – the global terrorist known as Hannibal!
I just love this movie! It gives me nostalgic vibes of the amazing 80s Hollywood action-thrillers and offers some wonderfully brutal action that just screams the directors trademark. If there was ever a Hong Kong title that was criminally underrated and ignored by fans, I'd have to say it was this one – yet I can't understand why! Ringo Lam serves up a slick action thriller using an international cast with intense and realistic shoot-outs, brutal action scenes, and plenty of painful looking stunts. For me, Undeclared War is the original Rush Hour – minus the Hollywood cheese and loud comedy. In fact, it would be only fair of me to say how well Lam sprinkles moments of humour throughout this dark thriller without ever tainting the more-serious tone of it all. In a nutshell, Ringo does an amazing job in delivering the excitement of films such as Lethal Weapon, Tango & Cash, and 48 Hours, only with his typical Hong Kong flair and brilliance in brutal action – and I don't think I've ever seen a Cantonese movie from this period with so many decent Western actors involved. If Hollywood had caught wind of Ringo Lam and his directing skills when Undeclared War first came out, we may have seen him making waves in the West long before Maximum Risk came about. Of course, in the seven years prior to this, Lam had served up many incredible titles from his fun 1983 debut Esprit D'amour, Aces Go Places 4, Wild Search, and his super-popular 'On-Fire' series such as City On Fire, Prison On Fire, and the intense School On Fire (which really needs the same Blu-ray treatment as this film). I've long been a huge fan of his with Lam going on to deliver more great titles including Sammo Hung's Touch & Go, the amazing Full Contact, epic Burning Paradise, Prison On Fire 2, Andy Lau's original and underrated The Adventurers, Full Alert, and more – including a co-directing credit on Jackie Chan's Twin Dragons. Unlike many of Hong Kong's other filmmakers, Lam made a surprisingly small amount of films during his time in the industry – directing just 24 films in 37 years – and I can only imagine what we could have got had he been around a bit longer...
Presented by the wonderful Karl Maka, director/producer Ringo Lam secured the services of Jackie Chan Stunt Team members Chris Lee, Nicky Li, and Rocky Lai to choreograph the action; as well as the infamous Mars who also plays a great role as one of the bad guys in Hong Kong. Widely known as one of the stunt guys who survived the famous 'bus stunt that went wrong' in Police Story, Chris Lee started his acting career in the early 80s with a small appearance in Once Upon A Mirage, followed by roles in Ching Siu Tung's amazing Duel To The Death, Chow Yun Fat's Blood Money (ironically about Hong Kong stuntmen risking their lives in the industry), and Chang Cheh's Attack Of The Joyful Goddess which helped to gain him the attention of Jackie Chan who brought him on-board with Project A – going on to appear in films such as Police Story 1 & 2, Project A 2, and Miracles, as well as starring in other classics like Eastern Condors, Killer's Nocturne, In The Line Of Duty 3 and 5, Ringo Lam's Full Contact and Full Alert, and more including Cynthia Khan's rarely seen Queen's High; which was also his directorial debut. Going on to direct 5 titles over the next 12 years, including the brilliant Crystal Fortune Run of which he also produced and co-starred in, Chris Lee kept himself busy as a producer and choreographer on films like Drunken Master 3, My Flying Wife, Wicked City, Burning Paradise, China White, Twin Dragons, Heroic Duo, and Max Zhang's brilliant thriller, The Brink. Nicky Li Lung Chi would follow a similar path, albeit joining the film industry and Jackie's team a good 5 years after Chris. Starring in many of the same titles and working with Lee many times over the years, Nicky Li also appeared in films such as Gangs '92, Project S, Thunderbolt, Mr. Nice Guy, Shanghai Knights, Around The World In 80 Days, and Rob-B-Hood, among many more. As well as co-directing Legendary Assassin with Wu Jing, the highly sought after stuntman would gain much attention for his work as an action-choreographer, having lent his talents to titles like the Young & Dangerous Series, Gen-X Cops, The Medallion, Fatal Contact, Invisible Target, Fatal Move, Shaolin, Bad Blood, Ip Man: The Final Fight, SPL 2, Rumble In The Bronx, and many of Jackie Chan's Hollywood outings. Similar again in story and timeline, Rocky Lai joined the team with his brother and has went onto star in almost 3 times as many movies as his team-brothers. Working on most Jackie Chan vehicles – either with Chan as the star or as the producer – Lai has also appeared in films such as China White, Into The Fire, God Of Gamblers, Angel Terminators, Project S, Queens High, Storm Riders, Body Weapon, Anna In Kung Fu-Land, and others. And then, of course, there's the ever-popular Mars; stuntman and double to Jackie Chan as well as one of his closest friends and an action star in his own right. Starting as a child actor in the late 60s for the Shaw Brothers studio, Mars first crossed paths with Jackie Chan on the fun Cub Tiger From Kwantung. While they would meet again a number of times over the years as stuntmen and bit-players, it would be Sammo Hung that Mars would work with most until Jackie became a superstar; with Mars joining him for the fantastic Dragon Lord before Project A and Police Story. By the time he joined forces with Chan, Mars had already appeared/starred in around 80 films – over double that of Jackie himself – and fast became known as one of the bravest stuntmen on the JC team, making an impression in the industry and with film fans worldwide. In Undeclared War, Mars stars as one of the Hong Kong bad boys that gets more than a bit-part and a few brilliant action scenes to play around in. But I have to say that all of them together, provide an amazing number of incredible set-pieces that are stylishly done and definitely add to the thrill of it all. From the opening brutal shoot-out in the church to the fight at the funeral home, and the explosive showdown in the apartment block that sends most of our heroes flying out a window and onto some bamboo scaffolding, Lee, Li, Lai and Mars do an incredible job in delivering some memorable action sequences that make the main cast members work hard for their money.
Another huge bonus of Undeclared War is the fantastic cast that Ringo Lam had pulled together. The amazing Danny Lee shares the lead with American actor Peter Liapis – star of cult classics such as Ghoulies, Ghost Warrior/Swordkill, and Fast Getaway 2 with Cynthia Rothrock. Here, Liapis plays CIA agent Gary Redner; the man out for vengeance to take down his family's killers. After following them to Hong Kong, Redner finds himself clashing with Hong Kong's finest and is put under the care of Inspector Bong (Lee). This, as I previously mentioned, is where I see the comparison of Undeclared War to Brett Ratner's Rush Hour; with Peter Liapis in the role of Jackie Chan and Danny Lee to that of Chris Tucker. Of course, this is a much more serious affair than its Hollywood counterpart, with Peter delivering a great performance and holding his own against Lee in, what would have been, a pretty big foreign production for him. There were times that I felt Peter's look and acting came across like a late-80s Kurt Russell – as seen in Big Trouble In Little China or Tango & Cash for example – and it just makes me think of what could have been had the budget been bigger, and Hollywood were more aware of Ringo Lam's work! Regardless, Liapas does a great job and doesn't disappoint. Of course, next to him, Danny Lee was a superstar by comparison (and especially in his home turf) and had already starred in almost 100 films by this stage. From many Shaw Brothers classics including The Blood Brothers, Super Inframan, Killer Clans, Battle Wizard, The Mighty Peking Man, The Brave Archer Series, and many more, to modern hits like Law With Two Phases, City On Fire, Final Justice, The Killer, Road Warriors, Tiger On The Beat 2 and Unmatchable Match, Danny Lee Sau Yin was a force to be reckoned with. Not only was he in high demand as an actor, but Lee had already directed 7 features by 1990, including Oh, My Cops, Cop Busters, and the aforementioned Law With Two Phases and Road Warriors, as well as producing a number of his own starring vehicles. I really loved Lee in this role which allowed him to flex his acting chops, as well as get in on plenty of action. I also enjoyed how he delivered over 50% of his lines in English, and with the same amount of enthusiasm as he would in his native tongue. But it would be Australian actor Vernon Wells who, theoretically, would be the more internationally known star of the show. Recognised for his role as Wez in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and the blood-thirsty Bennett in Arnold Schwarzenegger's action hit, Commando, Wells also appeared in Hollywood movies like Weird Science, Innerspace, Fortress, and Space Truckers – as well as securing a long term role on the Power Rangers Time Force show as Ransik. In Undeclared War, Vernon plays Hannibal; the brutal terrorist leader and stone-cold killer who is intent on causing as much damage as possible. I quite enjoyed him in this role, and found that he brought the same type of menace to the character like that of many James Bond villains – which oddly worked. Award winning British actress, Olivia Hussey, adds to the strength of the cast and co-stars as one of Hannibal's radicals. Gaining critical acclaim for her role in 1968's Romeo & Juliet, Hussey went on to star in films such as Black Christmas, Summertime Killer, Death On The Nile, The Cat & The Canary, and Psycho 4, as well as voicing characters on many DC and Star Wars animated shows. The great Tommy Wong Kwong Leung stars as Danny Lee's partner and does a brilliant job once again, and it was great to see Louis Roth appear in a much stronger role than usual – although being one of the screenwriters for the movie may have helped that. Having started in the Hong Kong film industry in the mid-80s with roles in Godfrey Ho movies such as Ninja Operation 3: Licensed To Terminate, Ninja Commandments, and Ninja In The Killing Field – as well as a brief role in Brandon Lee's Legacy Of Rage – Roth went on to become a recognisable face in over 30 Cantonese productions including A Better Tomorrow 2, Police Story 2, Burning Ambition, Miracles, Casino Raiders, Black Cat, City Hunter, and more. Unfortunately, Louis would pass in 1994, with notable roles in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master 2 and Moon Lee's Little Heroes Lost In China marking his final appearances. The beautiful Rosamund Kwan also appears, this time as a reporter pulled into the mix and harrassed by Hannibal, and the great Victor Hon Kwan who appeared in films such as Final Justice, Dragon In Jail, Lee Rock, Operation Scorpio, My Flying Wife, Peace Hotel, and Ringo Lam's 'On Fire' series, stars as the bad-ass partner of Mars and, like most of the Hong Kong cast, does a great job in delivering a lot of his lines in English. And finally, I was pleasantly surprised to see the infamous IFD ninja, Stuart Smith, pop-up as another one of Hannibal's lackeys. While many of us have laughed at his roles in Godfrey Ho's ninja epics, including The Ultimate Ninja, Ninja Hunt, Golden Ninja Invasion, and others, it was great to see him get the chance to deliver a decent performance here that, unfortunately, would also prove to be his last.
Lau Hung Cheun, director of the wild horror film Devil Fetus, as well as The Ghost Informer, A Chinese Legend, and Those Were The Days, serves as the cinematographer for Undeclared War and delivers some stunning shots – made even better thanks to this restored Blu-ray release. Starting behind the camera in the early 70s, Lau has shot many great titles over the years including Tsui Hark's We're Going To Eat You, Return Of The Deadly Blade, Duel To The Death, Iron Angels, Ringo Lam's Full Contact, Jackie Chan's Thunderbolt, and many more. It's also worth noting the great score and original music in the film which is thanks to Noel Quinlan, a composer who worked on Hong Kong titles like Aces Go Places 3: Our Man From Bond Street, The Man From Hong Kong, Inspector Wears Skirts 2, Carry On Yakuza, and Ringo Lam's Touch & Go. Having grown up in Belfast during a time when terrorism was rife, I can see many similarities to that of the story in Undeclared War and understand the fight from both sides of the story. In fact, it's very similar in tone to Jackie Chan's amazing film, The Foreigner, which I also very highly recommend. Regardless, I feel that Ringo Lam has been robbed of praise for his work here. Undeclared War is wonderfully made, slickly directed, brilliantly violent, and packed with exciting action and is a forgotten gem of Hong Kong cinema!
Overall: An underrated classic from the late Ringo Lam, Undeclared War is a brutal action-thriller that's well worth seeing!
Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray Extras: 2K Restoration, Audio Commentary with Samm Deighan, Interview with Vernon Wells, Interview with composer Noel Quinlan