Monday, July 27, 2015

Phoenix Dances on the Ninth Level of Heaven (Lu Siao Feng) - Gu Long

First published in 1978, there is a 1996 movie version of this book, the [english] title is the same as Shaw Brothers' Liok Siau-hong movie made in 1978 with different story (the SB one is about the Embroidery Bandit): Clan of Amazons. I wonder why the marketing people liked the idea of giving an impression that they were lots of s3xy girls in both movies.

103 martial art heroes and 35 million gold taels disappeared in one night. The only witness at first was found alive, although gravely wounded, but later he was murdered in a tight guarded room, along with two trusty guards. The shipping expeditions (such a big job couldn't be handled by one company) responsible of course had to reimburse the lost, but they didn't have such money. One of the leaders decided to ask Liok Siau-hong's help before the deadline ended. He couldn't find Liok Siau-hong because our hero had sailed away to Japan.

But did Liok Siau-hong really go to Japan? The ship he had boarded swept away by a violent storm and he was stranded in a deserted island. After a month living like Robinson Crusoe and eating banana, he found a village (ha-ha!). The people there were high-level skilled heroes, led by a genius little old man. This old man was the brain behind the disappearance of the 103 heroes and 35 million gold taels. After meeting Liok Siau-hong, the old man wanted to hire him to assassinate the recent emperor, because none would believe Liok Siau-hong would do such a thing, therefore Liok Siau-hong would never be caught. The old man wanted Liok Siau-hong to become an invisible killer. Our hero refused to cooperate, of course, so the bad guys kidnapped his lover, a beautiful woman named Sha Man, whom he met in the island. Liok Siau-hong must save Sha Man and find the missing men and gold taels, because now the imperial guards wanted him, for they had thought he was the one who had stolen the gold taels.

The old man had a son and a daughter. The daughter loved to cook and eat beef soup. The son, Kiong Kiu (Kiu=nine, see the title. Phoenix refers to 'hong' in Liok Siau-hong), was more genius and dangerous than his father, but he had this strange s3xual problem: he liked to be wh1pped. Kiong Kiu would became the Emperor after Liok Siau-hong assassinated the recent one. Liok Siau-hong would use Kiong Kiu's problem/weakness to get rid of him.

This story also told that one of Liok Siau-hong's friends, known as Honest Monk, was not honest. Honest Monk joined
the old man to seek pleasure of life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Blood Brothers (1973)

Starring Ti Lung, David Chiang, Chen Kuan-tai dan Ching Li; Blood Brothers was loosely based on an historical event in Nanking 1870: the assassination of Ma Shin-yi, a regal official who contributed in destroying Taiping rebellion.

Huang Chang (Chen Kuan-tai) and Chang Wen-hsiang (David Chiang) initially were petty bandits. They met Ma Shin-yi (Ti Lung) and wanted to rob him, but he was stronger than them. Then they joined forces and since Ma was the most intelligent and ambitious, he became their leader. The three killed the leader of a nearby group of bandits and became the new leaders. Huang's wife, Mi Lan (Ching Li), saw that Ma was a real man with bright future, unlike her illiterate husband. Ma realized that his relationship with Mi Lan would become dangerous, so he left the group early to take the royal exam. Ma passed the exam outstandingly and became a royal officer. He was promoted again and again.

L-R: Huang, Mi Lan, Chang
Two years after Ma left Huang and Chang, he finally sent emissaries to pick them up. Now a general, Ma needed their help to defeat the long-hair bandits. All this time, he turned down every marriage proposals because he could not forget Mi Lan. He believed they were in love. Like the story of King David and Uriah, Ma sent Huang in a mission and on the way, Ma's henchmen killed Huang. Chang, who knew about the forbidden love affair, killed Ma to revenge his sworn-brother.

The last supper:
Ma tried to avoid Mi Lan by leaving earlier for the royal exam
Chang was arrested for killing a high-level official. He told the story to the judge, but the judge gave him to Ma's men. Ma's men tied Chang to a post and disemboweled him. Mi Lan watched this punishment from her room while remembering the happy times.

If only Ma was not wounded after helping Huang,
Mi Lan would not have an opportunity to seduce him.
The movie was told in flashbacks. In the beginning of the movie, Chang was already arrested. The story was told in Chang's point-of-view.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Clan of Amazons (1978)

I think this movie is a good adaptation from Khu Lung's book 'The Embroidery Bandit', considering there are other adaptations which are messy. Although there are changes, important elements and plots were still used. I don't like the English title and I fail to grasp the marketing's idea why they thought The Embroidery Bandit was not as magnetic as Clan of Amazons.

The movie began with a shipping expedition met a bandit who was doing needlework on their way. The bandit not only could embroider flower on cloth, but also embroider the blind. The bandit used his needles to blind the shipping men. He also broke into The Pingnan National Treasury which was heavily guarded and blinded the guards.

Number One Constable Kim Kiu-leng asked Liok Siau-hong to look into the matter. The only lead was a piece of red cloth with embroidered flower which had been left in the national treasury. Liok Siau-hong went to visit one of his girlfriends, Sih Peng, because her mother knew all about embroidery. Sih Peng's mother told him that the flower was made by a woman. This clue was not explained until the end, why Sih Peng's mother said so, because the bandit was certainly not a woman.

Sih Peng eats with healthy appetite on this date.
Liok Siau-hong has a phoenix accessory on his hair.
(Siau-hong means 'Little Phoenix')
Sih Peng accompanied Liok Siau-hong in his investigation, until she was kidnapped. Sih Peng's part was to explain the progress of the investigation to the audience since there were question-answer session between her and Liok Siau-hong.

The investigation would lead our hero to the Red Shoes Society, which its members were seven women (who wore red shoes). Red Shoes Society was supposed to be a secret group, but they had this big headquarters, complete with its name sign. The Embroidery Bandit was not The Red Shoes, but someone else, although in the Red Shoes there was a traitor who worked with the bandit.

Name sign on the Red Shoes 'secret' headquarters
Liu Yung played Liok Siau-hong, who had lost his famous moustache from the beginning of the movie. It seemed that he felt himself too tall, because he hunched his back and couldn't stood straight.

Liok Siau-hong and Red Shoes members
Clan of Amazons was better than its sequel Duel of The Century. Liok Siau-hong was lazy, but on screen if it was portrayed closely - like how Liu Yung played it on Duel of The Century, it could get irritating.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

In my opinion Five Deadly Venoms is one of the best Shaw Brothers movies ever made. The storyline is very good. Although among SB movies I've seen, I think The Kid With the Golden Arm has best fight scenes. [What I love in fight scenes is somersault. I admire actors who do somersaults themselves.]

The dying master of the Five Venoms House asked his sixth (or last) student, Yang, to look for the other five students. They were nicknamed after poisonous animals: Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Gecko and Toad. Some of them didn't know each other. Yang's skill was less than any of them, but if he teamed up with one of them, he could beat the rest. He had to find the bad students and absolved the name of Five Venoms House from bad reputation. The master also had a martial brother who possessed some precious treasure, now lived in a small town. The treasure should be used for charity. Yang went to this small town to start his investigation.

Yuan, a 60 year-old book keeper in a government office was found murdered with his whole family. Justice Wang gave Constable Ma and He 10 days to solve the case. A young gambler, Menfa, saw Tan in Yuan's house at the time of the killing. Menfa told Constable He. Constable He asked his friend Li to help in arresting Tan. During the arrest, Yang became to know that Tan was the Centipede and Li the Toad. While the audience had an extra knowledge who the Snake was.

Tan's friend, a wealthy man named Hong, bribed Justice Wang to put the blame on someone else. They chosed Li. Therefore, Justice Wang sent Constable He to deliver a letter out of town. Before leaving, Constable He asked his friend Constable Ma to take care of his friend Li. Meanwhile, Menfa changed his testimony and pointed Li. As soon as He left, Li was poisoned and tortured. He lost his power and forced to sign a statement. In jail, Li was hanged by a corrupted constable, who later was also killed by Tan and Hong. Tan and Hong also killed Menfa, the only witness.

Hong conspires with Wang to put the blame on Li
When Constable He returned, he teamed up with Yang. At this point the audience had known that Hong was Snake and He was Gecko. In order to do their master's order, He and Yang had to remove Tan and Hong, and found the Scorpion, who had been working in secret. The Scorpion had the treasure map and was the culprit behind the Toad's demise. Who was the Scorpion? My guess when I was watching the movie was between Sun Chien (Constable Ma) and Wang Lung-wei (Justice Wang), because they would not have been cast only to be a decor.

L-R : Yang, He, Ma
It ended with good students beat evil students. Although Justice Wang had a significant part in Li's death, He and Yang decided to let the matter go."Killing the governor is useless. Another corrupt man will replace him. How could we eradicate all of them?"

Monday, July 6, 2015

House of Traps (1982)

This is a very interesting movie, actually, as one can tell from its title.

Prince Siang-yang wanted to revolt because he wanted to revenge his father, who had been killed by the recent emperor. He built the House of Traps, which stored stolen imperial treasures and the list of the rebels.

Lord Bao sent Inspector Yan To investigate the matter. Prince Siang-yang sent killers to remove the inspector, but the inspector was helped by Bai, who had been sent by Lord Bao to protect him along the way.

Meanwhile, two thieves were competing against each other to steal imperial treasures and they both joined Prince Siang-yang, but one of them was Lord Bao's spy.

Easy to guess that Lord Bao's people would win, destroy the House of Traps, and restore the stolen treasures.

I wanted to take this movie more seriously, but some of the costumes really made me laugh. First, it was the yellow sailor uniforms. Then the guards from the other side had black-yellow uniforms which opened at the chest. The designer seemed to prefer to show off the chests. The two thieves also had weird head accessories that it looked like they were suffering tooth-ache. Did they have a cold? - but their chests were exposed.

The great Bai also made me chuckle. He was undercover, so he wore an ordinary robe; but when he was in action, suddenly he needed to change his costume, like Superman. He did it very fast as well.

sailor uniforms

exposed chest

Thief 1 - ears have to be covered
Thief 2 - same as above

Bai - undercover (left) and in action (right)

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Kid With The Golden Arm (1979)

The title seemed familiar and after a few minutes watching it, I knew I had watched it before... but a long time ago. I remember the  sand palm, 'golden arm' with his gold bracelets and the hero with double axes, especially the latter because the costume was unique. It was black with white shoelaces. I think almost all the costumes in this movie are interesting.

The story was simple, thus gave the movie an opportunity to have as many fight scenes as possible. A shipping company led by Yang was given an order to ship chests of gold. A gang of 4 bandits: Golden Arm, Silver Spear, Steel Robe and Brass Head; were after the gold. Yang hired more guards: Swordsman Li and his girlfriend Miss Leng, duo Short Axe - Long Axe, and wine-lover Hai To. It was easy to guess, that there were troubles on the way. Like all Shaw Brothers movies, this one also ended with a happy ending: means all bad guys dead and the good guys win.

Golden Arm. His hands are his best weapon. Bandit no.1
His costume is actually similar to what's used in wayang orang
Silver Spear. Bandit no.2
Iron Robe - bandit no.3 (left) and Brass Head - bandit no.4 (right). I remember Iron Robe because of his unique costume. He also carries a steel fan. In wuxia books, fan as a weapon is described being made of steel; not paper like Ti Lung or Cheng Shao-ciu usually carry.

Left: Iron Feet, a dangerous opponent who also sets eyes on the gold. Right: Imperial agent Hai To, well played by Philip Kwok. Hai To is the main hero. Hai To saves Li's life after being hit with a poisonous sand palm.

Left : Miss Leng. I think her blue costume is beautiful. Right : Swordsman Li. Li is handsome, but cold and arrogant. My impression is that he is a very skilled swordsman because to reach such a level he must pay attention to his swordplay and ignore others, including his poor girlfriend. Probably he is based on Gu Long's Sebun Jui-soat or Yap Koh-seng. He dresses all in white.

I didn't remember the story, but I remember this costume.

Phantom Manor [Lu Siao Feng] (1977) - Gu Long

I really enjoyed reading this book. One of the characters was a master of disguise who was so clever that he could transform himself into a dog.

The movie 'Perils of the Sentimental Swordsman' (1982) was based on this book, but the main character was changed from Lu Siao-feng to Chu Liu-hsiang. The book was much better, though, in my opinion, with more complex plots.

It was said that Liok Siau-hong had committed adultery with Sebun Jui-soat's beloved wife. Sebun Jui-soat had reached perfection with his sword, so perhaps he could kill Liok Siau-hong. Scared to death, Liok Siau-hong ran to the mysterious Phantom Manor, a secluded place where he met many swordsmen whom thought to be dead. There they had been hiding to evade their enemies. The Phantom Manor was led by a mysterious person who was arranging a scheme to kill leaders of the martial world. Liok Siau-hong had been given the most difficult task: to steal a gold cap being worn by Wu Tang's leader in a meeting.

The conclusion was good. Liok Siau-hong did a wonderful detective job here.

The parts with the dog character were amusing. The master of disguise knew that if he had done his part, he would be killed. So he asked Liok Siau-hong's help to take him along when Liok Siau-hong went out to do his task. When the time came, Liok Siau-hong left the Phantom Manor as an official with a wife, a son, several servants, and a dog. Because he was being watched all the time, he met with his 'dog' in a toilet. Once a day he would ask someone to walk the dog. Until the time when his watchers couldn't take it anymore and killed the dog, but what they killed was really a dog. The master of disguise had fled. Nevertheless the watchers wrote a report to their leader: 'Today we covered two hundred kilometers. The dog suddenly dead.'

Liok Siau-hong loved making friends. It was safe to guess that the bad guy in every Liok Siau-hong story was one of his friends.