Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Daredevils (1979)

I read negative reviews of this movie, but after watching, I must say that I like it... very much.

Lo Meng tried to avenge his dead family, but failed and died. His friends (Lu Feng, Sun Chien, Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng) continued his fight against a corrupted commander division and his thugs. Wait, several ordinary people vs a commander? Yes, it was possible by using a trick. They used the commander's greed against himself.

L-R: Lo Meng, Sun Chien, Chiang Sheng, Lu Feng
What made me like this movie was its acrobatic scenes. They were such a joy to watch. I know that at least three of the actors: Lu Feng, Kuo Chui and Chiang Sheng attended Peking Opera School and were very skilled in acrobatic moves. Here the three played street performers and were able to show off their ability.

The chair gag
There was also a robbery scene which would be seemed slow for kung-fu film fans, but I had watched several French films which also featured robbery scenes like this and in my opinion the robbery scene in this film can be compared to the robberies in 1960's - 1970's French films. What had been gained by the robbery in this film would make you laugh, though.

Trying to impress the Commander

The Master Strikes Back (1985)

This movie should not be watched when one is feeling down because this is not an entertaining movie. It would make one feel depressed.

At Guang Xi's frontier there was a small town named Phoenix Town. Tong Tie-cheng (Ti Lung) came with his only son, Tong Hsiao-feng, to a military camp near Phoenix Town to be the soldiers' instructor. To discipline the soldiers, Instructor Tong forbade them to visit Hang Fa brothel. Instructor Tong didn't realize that this act offended Chief Constable Jin (Chen Hui-min), a sort of small king in Phoenix Town. Forbidding the troops to visit the brothel means taking away Jin's bread and butter.

Chief Inspector Jin welcomes Tong and his son in Phoenix Town
To complicate the matter, there was also this beautiful pr0stitute, Miss Hong (Hu Hui-chung). She was Jin's favourite, but seemed to prefer to be with Instructor Tong. "She is expensive," said one soldier. It took 4 dollars to be with her.

Miss Hong visits Tong in the military camp.
In this still, she is giving a fruit to Hsiao-feng
Chief Constable Jin had good connections at the capital and the governor was his cousin. Even Tong's boss feared this corrupted man. It's not clear what "good connection at the capital" means, but when an eunuch came to Phoenix Town, he seemed to know Jin very well. The eunuch instructed a selection "young eunuchs". Young boys were caught, jailed, and castrated; including Instructor's Tong's only son.

At first Tong tried to plead with Jin and agreed to Jin's demand to leave Phoenix Town, with the condition that Jin freed Tong Hsiao-feng. But Jin broke his promised.

During Instructor Tong's staying in the military camp, the soldiers had grown to be fond of him. They could see what sort of man he was, especially when he saved one soldier's life after a problem in the brothel. In the end they helped him to set the score with Chief Constable Jin.

With a high level of violence and nud1ty, this movie was not for everyone. Perhaps they are lots of curse words, too, but I don't know Chinese language well. I recognize one curse word (consists of 3 syllables) which is usually translated as 'b4stard' and sometimes 'turtle's grandson', but I don't know how rude this word is.

The Magnificent Ruffians (1979)

Starring the Five Venoms (Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Lo Meng and Lu Feng) plus Wang Li, this is an entertaining movie with a light story and can be enjoyed with the whole family.

Three poor martial artists traveled around without money in their pockets. They ate in restaurants and prepared to be beaten afterwards, for not being able to pay the bill. They met another poor one and the four of them became friends.

L-R : Wang Li, Sun Chien, Chiang Sheng
Master Yuan was the richest man in the town. He wanted to buy Guan's property because he owned shops on the left and right sides of the place. Guan refused to sell, but Master Yuan didn't want to use obvious force; so Master Yuan took the four starving martial artists under his wing with the intention to use them against Guan. But when the four met Guan, they became friends.

Guan (Lo Meng) and his sister (Liu An-li).
Besides Guan's property, Yuan also wanted his sister
Master Yuan didn't run of ideas. He tampered with one of the four's weapon so he accidentally killed Guan. The three of course turned against this 4th man. At this time Master Yuan felt that the four poor martial artists were useless to him anymore, so he came to get rid of them all. The ending can be guessed: good always wins against evil.

Master Yuan (Lu Feng) - first man from the right - and his men
The final fight was a joy to watch. I watched The Flag of Iron a couple of days ago and the final fight was almost the same: Kuo Chui teamed with Chiang Sheng versus Lu Feng. But in the Flag of Iron they used big flags as weapon. I believe it is difficult to fight with flags as big as those, but for ordinary audience, like me, it's more delightful to watch fighters with swords and sticks - like in this movie, than fighters with flags.

Kuo Chui and Chiang Sheng vs Lu Feng
With swords and sticks, which are not as heavy as big flags, these three men moved more freely and more gracefully.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Flag of Iron (1980)

Eagle Hall, led by Master Mi, was engaged in immoral business like gambling and kidnapping women for their brothel. Luo and Yuan from Iron Flag Clan had a fight with Eagle Hall people to rescue a girl. Then, Master Mi invited people from Iron Flag Clan to apologize, but later ambushed them. Iron Flag Clan's chief died in this incident - along with Master Mi. The most senior disciple of the Iron Flag Clan, Cao, became the new chief.

Luo (Kuo Chui) and Yuan (Chiang Sheng) - best friends
However, the Eagle Hall people put in a charge against the Iron Flag Clan because Master Mi and many of their men had been killed. Luo agreed to shouldered the blame and move away for a year until the matter died down. Cao promised to send money to Luo every month. But after two months the money stopped to come, instead ten assassins came to kill him. Then Yuan came and said that he had been kicked out from the clan.

Luo and Yuan returned to Iron Flag Clan and found that Cao now handled Eagle Hall's immoral business. One of the ten assassins, The Rambler, told Luo that it was Cao who had paid him to kill their chief months ago.

Yuan (Chiang Sheng) and The Rambler (Lung Tien Hsiang)
The story of this movie is similar to The Duel (1971) starring Ti Lung and David Chiang. Although both movies were directed by Chang Cheh, IMDb credited different writers. The Duel was written by Chiu Kang Chien, and Flag of Iron written by Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang.

Kuo Chui, Lu Feng and Chiang Sheng in the final duel
Comparing both movies, I myself prefer The Duel, which in my opinion has more fighting scenes, and more tragic because Ti Lung's girlfriend was sold to the brothel. Flag of Iron, although starred by Kuo Chui, Chiang Sheng, and Lu Feng [a.k.a. three of the Five Venoms], I feel that the fighting scenes are too short and  that these three people could have been used better. Ti Lung only fought 'small' thugs in The Duel; but in Flag of Iron, although they had added 10 assassins (or 9 assassins - because The Rambler only fought Luo after he was forced in the end), it didn't give much impression.

Shaolin Intruders (1983)

I like this movie because of its good story: revenge with a bit of detective work. It's one of the best Shaw Brothers films.

A mysterious murderer was killing off members of four big clans: Tiger, Wind, Cloud and Dragon. Two friends, Lei Shun (Erl Tung-shen) and Qiao Yiduo (Pai Piao) got involved in this case because their friend, the beautiful Yeh Ching-hua (Liu Yu-po) was the main suspect. Her signature weapon was found in one of the victim's body. However, Lei Shun saw that the people had actually been killed with Shaolin Jingang Palm.

Golden Tiger Armed Escorts
What are they escorting? Usually this kind of company uses carts, not backpacks.
Yeh Ching-hua claimed that she had seen the face of the 4 murderers, they were monks and she could recognize them again. The three friends went to Shaolin, but the Abbot would only let Yeh Ching-hua picked out the 4 guilty monks if they could pass three challenges.

Lei Shun vs The Abbot in the 3rd challenge
I like how Lei Shun and Qiao Yiduo prevailed over the Shaolin monks in the three challenges. Their kung-fu skill was not better than the monks', but they could won anyway by using tricks. [In many kung-fu films, usually if one can not win over the enemy, he/she usually will go away first to find a better teacher.]

The story was not as simple as it looked. Yeh Ching-hua pointed the 4 monks out and they were punished, yet Lei Shun was not satisfied.

L-R : Lei Shun, Yeh Ching-hua, Qiao Yidou
I like how the friendship between Lei Shun and Qiao Yidou described here. We really care for them and hope the best for them. This kind of impression is not easy to built considering this movie running time is only 90 minutes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Golden Shallow (1968)

Golden Shallow is different from other director Chang Cheh's works. Usually his movies are about brotherhood, but here there is a beautiful love story. I love the poetic image of Wang Yu in white with dark big tree in the background, with chinese characters hanging from the tree.

With a sword I travel alone...
Cheng Pei-pei played Golden Shallow. In the beginning of the movie she was wounded and helped by Iron Whip, played by Lo Lieh. This scene was shot from an old woman's view as she witnessed the incident from her house's ventholes.

Cheng Pei-pei as The Golden Shallow
The whip used by Lo Lieh is rarely seen in movies. When I hear the word 'whip', what I have in mind is a strap. But the 'whip' here is a rod.

Iron Whip vs Silver Roc
While Golden Shallow was being recuperated from her wounds, Iron Whip gradually fell in love with her. However Golden Shallow could not forget her childhood sweetheart, Silver Roc, played by Wang Yu. Golden Shallow and Silver Roc had not met for years, but the man in front of one's eyes was hard to compete with the one on one's mind only. The image of Silver Roc had been planted in Golden Shallow for long that she had shaped the image to perfection. Silver Roc had become her idol.

Wang Yu as Silver Roc and Lo Lieh as Iron Whip
Silver Roc was also looking for her. He killed bad people using her name to lure her out. [One of the cases was similar to the case of King Ahab vs Nabot: a rich man wanted his neighbour's land, but the neighbour refused to sell so the rich man used an evil trick to obtain the land.] He also had a lover in a brothel, the one he could trust with his sad story of his lost love. A strange way to express his love for Golden Shallow, I say.

Because this is a kung-fu movie, when someone dies, there will be another who seeks revenge. Since Silver Roc killed people using Golden Shallow's names, many people looking for Golden Shallow, wanted to avenge their loved ones. Iron Whip tried to protect Golden Shallow and stop Silver Roc from killing more people.

Boxer Rebellion (1976)

This movie jogged my memory about a part of world history I had learned in junior high school. Thanks to director Chang Cheh for making this story easier to remember.

Near the end of Qing dinasty, Li Chung-ching, a sort of priest, gathered young fighters and made them believe that they were invincible: they were immune to swords / sharp weapons and bullets. Liu Chia-liang made a movie about this in a lighter tone, the title is 'The Spiritual Boxer'.

The country was ruled by Empress Dowager. Her officials deceived her that she believed the Boxers were really bulletproof and could handle the foreigners' attacks.

In the first fight after Li Chung-ching gathered the Boxers, for their first attempt, they attacked a Japanese camp. It didn't work well, but because a hero named Chang Chen-chiang sacrificed himself to stop the Japanese soldiers' machine gun, our three heroes - played by Bryan Leung, Chi Kuan-chun and Fu Sheng - won this war. After all had been done, Li Chung-ching appeared and claimed that he himself had killed the Japanese soldiers. There were about 9 dead bodies around, but his followers spread the news that Li had killed 90. When this news reached the empress's ear, the number became 9000.

L-R: Fu Sheng, Bryan Leung, Tang Yen-tsan, Chi Kuan-chun
With this success, the Boxers gained power and anything with the word 'yang' (foreign) would be confiscated. In Chinese language, the word 'yang' could be combined with another word and the meaning would be entirely different, it didn't have anything to do with foreign or foreigners anymore; but the Boxers didn't care. Most of the confiscated things would go to Li Chung-ching.

In this chaos, the allies - led by Waldersee from Germany - attacked and Beijing fell. Waldersee ordered to kill Chinese men and Beijing became a dead city, and our heroes would try to make him stop the massacre.

I think Kuo Chui played 2 minor characters: a boxer and a Japanese soldier

Knockabout (1979)

Yuen Biao and Bryan Leung played a pair of brothers who cheated people. One day they met a master kung-fu who defeated them, so they asked him to be their teacher. They didn't know that their teacher had been a criminal wanted by the authorities. When Yuen Biao accidentally found out their teacher's secret, the teacher fought them both and killed Bryan Leung. Yuen Biao then looked for a better kung-fu teacher so he could avenge his brother.

Yuen Biao and Bryan Leung
After watching the movie for an hour, I felt so bored. The acting was over the top. The first fight in the casino, for example, when Bryan Leung went under the table and the henchmen beat him on his way out, this move was repeated for five times. It was too many. I think twice was enough to make the humour worked.

Yuen Biao, been introduced. 
Sammo Hung directed the movie. So I blamed him for using too many close-ups, with the actors trying to be funny by making facial expressions. It's like watching cheap soap operas.

However, the movie started to be very interesting after Sammo Hung took Yuen Biao as his student. Their relationship was like cat and dog at this stage so the teacher used as many uncomfortable methods as he could to punish his student. There was this scene when he punished his student to flip 10 times.

Sammo Hung's monkey style
The most incredible parts were the both rope jumping scenes: the stamina training and the final fight. Although at first it seemed to waste my time watching this movie, as soon as it got to the training sequence, it all paid off. This movie was a must see.

The beginning of the rope jumping scene
There was also a scene when Sammo Hung cooked Beggar's Chicken. It exactly like Gu Long described in Swordsman Journey (Wu Qing Bi Jian): a whole chicken - complete with feathers - was wrapped with clay, and put in a stove.  

Preparing Beggar's Chicken

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Savage Five (1974)

People compare this movie to The Seven Samurai because of its similar theme. A village was being attacked by bandits. I can't remember exactly the story in The Seven Samurai, but I think the villagers invited outsiders to help them. In The Savage Five, the ones who would rescue them were insiders.

The first one was a thief, played by David Chiang. The people in the village don't have the heart to beat him although they had caught him, so he was happy to stay there.

The 2nd was a kungfu fighter, played by Ti Lung. He couldn't do anything than practicing kungfu, so all day long he just sat lazily and sang songs. He stayed at a wood-cutter's house, the wood-cutter played by Chen Kuan-tai. In this house also lived a beautiful woman, San Niang, played by Wang Ping-ping. San Niang was either the wood-cutter's wife or girlfriend.

Danny Lee played the village's silver-smith. He was handsome and village-girls had a crush on him. The 5th man was a street acrobat, played by Wang Chung. Among the 5 perhaps he was the most capable and the strongest during a fight, but he was gravely sick when the bandits came. He was actually an outsider, but when the bandit came he had been staying in the village's inn for days [because he was sick].

The head village and the savage four (minus Danny Lee)
Twelve bandits came to the village and forced the silver-smith to open a safe they had brought with them. The silversmith left the village to alert the authorities and the bandits started to kill villagers one by one. The sick street-acrobat, who barely couldn't get out of bed, persuaded the thief, the kungfu fighter and the wood-cutter to gather the villagers to fight against the bandits. 'There are so many of us and only 12 of them.' Even San Niang sacrificed herself to save young girls from the bandits.

The savage four (minus Chen Kuan-tai)
When they thought they had been saved, the silver-smith came back with more bandits. And he thought he had invited the authorities...

The movie is very good with perfect pace. Most harrowing part is when San Niang returned to her home after she had sacrificed herself: the scene was accompanied with a haunting music. Recommended!

A Deadly Secret (1980)

Based on Chin Yung's book, this movie version is not as good as the book. The book, although it's not as thick as Chin Yung's best works, was captivating and I almost couldn't put it down. It was about the story of a swordsman named Ti Yuen (Tik Hun), who was honest and ignorant, who lived in a village with his teacher Jik Tiang-hoat and his teacher's daughter, Jik Hong. As they grew together, it could be hoped that Tik Hun would marry Jik Hong in the future.

One day, Jik Tiang-hoat's martial brother, Ban Chin-san, who lived in the city, invited them for his birthday party. Ban Chin-san had eight students. They saw how beautiful Jik Hong was, and thought that she should not waste her time with the stupid Tik Hun. That night, Jik Tiang-hoat went missing after attacking Ban Chin-san - they fought over a sword lesson book called Soh-sin-kiam; and Tik Hun found himself thrown in jail with a false accusation and his fighting skill had been destroyed. Months later he heard a news that Jik Hong had married Ban Chin-san's son. [In the movie, Jik Tiang-hoat's relationship with his two martial brothers was better than in the book. The three gathered together to get the secret.]

The movie version began with Tik Hun being thrown in jail and met his strange cellmate, Ting Hian. Once every month, Ting Hian would be taken out to be tortured. We could guess that they wanted him to reveal a secret. Thus the title: Ting Hian possessed a secret so deadly it could make him dead. After Tik Hun trying to commit suicide in jail  (being heart-broken because Jik Hong married another man), Ting Hian believed that he was not a spy and these two became friends. Tik Hun spent 5 years in jail.

Ting Hian (Pai Piao) and Tik Hun (Wu Yuan-chun)
Ting Hian's girlfriend was the daughter of Magistrate Leng. It was his girlfriend's father who threw him in jail. Magistrate Leng believed that Ting Hian was the only person who held the key to the treasure of late Emperor Yuan of Liang Dinasty.

At this point I was confused: Jik Tiang-hoat and his martial brothers, were they after the sword lesson book or the lost treasure? In the movie, Jik Tiang-hoat put his own student Tik Hun in jail, hoping that Tik Hun could befriend Ting Hian and get the secret. [In the book, it was Ban Chin-san's son and students who put Tik Hun in jail.]

From his cell-window, Ting Hian could see Miss Leng's window where she put a pot of fresh flowers everyday. Both Miss Leng and Ting Hian loved flowers [they met at a flower exhibition]. One day, Ting Hian saw that she hadn't changed the pot anymore and realized that she had been dead. He asked Tik Hun to go out with him, went to the Magistrate Leng's house and found Miss Leng's coffin. The coffin had been laced with poison and because Ting Hian touched the coffin, he died. He didn't even have time to tell the secret to Tik Hun.

Yueh Hua as Magistrate Leng
As Tik Hun had promised to bury Ting Hian and Miss Leng together, he dug Miss Leng's grave and found that she had written the secret on the inside of coffin's lid. In the book, the secret was a key code: there were numbers to unlock the hidden code in sword lesson's book - it was actually a poetry book by a poet from Tang Dinasty. Ting Hian and Miss Leng knew the numbers by heart; but in the movie the numbers had been changed into several lines of poetry - which was much easier to remember.

The treasure was found, but it was not a happy ending. I don't really understand why all those swordsmen in this story wanted the treasure, just like I don't get why people in the Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre story wanted the sabre. This is typical Chin Yung's stories.

I think the movie is not a good adaptation. As it begins when Tik Hun being thrown in jail, it lacks the tragic atmosphere of the ruined relationship between Tik Hun and Jik Hong. I recommend the book as the adventure of Tik Hun would continue to how he meet another girl, how he has been slandered as a rapist and how with his big heart he can win the girl and sort his misunderstanding with Jik Hong. Also, in the movie, most of it was the jail scenes, and it was not very interesting to watch two dirty men in a dark cell.