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Kill And Kill Again (1981) April 29, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Action, Wacko, Bad Films , 9 comments

Director: Ivan Hall Starring: James Ryan, Anneline Kriel, Bill Flynn, Norman Robinson, Ken Gampu Territory: South Africa

Eminent scientist Dr Horatio Kane has discovered a way to get fuel from potatoes.  Unfortunately, a by-product of the process is a mind-control drug (how did they find out? – the mind boggles!) and it seems a megalomaniac named Marduk (Michael Mayer) has kidnapped the good doctor to work for him in his utopian state of New Babylonia.  There, Marduk is training his army to take over the world for some reason or other.  Head of the army is the Optimus, an impressive figure with a truly fearsome moustache.  The authorities draft Steve Chase (James Ryan) to go in there, sort Marduk out and come back with Dr Kane.  Steve starts assembling his crew for the mission: gadgets man Hot Dog (Bill Flynn), brawler Gypsy Billy (Norman Robinson), the mysterious Fly (Stan Schmidt), and wrestler Gorilla (the late Ken Gampu).  Also insisting on coming along for the ride is Kandy Kane (with a “K”), daughter of Horatio.  But the evil Marduk has one final knockout blow – he’s developed the mind-control drug further and is now planning to introduce is into the world’s water supply in a fiendish plan cryptically titled Operation Water Supply.  Can Steve and his plucky bunch of underdogs stop him in time?

Marduk (AKA Chuckles) was a demon on Karaoke night.

Admit it, you’ve never heard of Kill and Kill Again.  It’s a little-known film from South Africa and follows very loosely on from Kill or be Killed.  However, you don’t need to see that to enjoy Kill and Kill Again in its full glory.  In fact, skip the original, it’s awful. 

Kill and Kill Again is very much a family film (incidentally, the topless catfight scene on the back of the current DVD release of this film does NOT appear – that was a desperate attempt by the company to sell this film!) and they’ve clearly tried to tick every box possible.  For dad, we have the Karate scenes and some gorgeous eye Kandy…er…candy in the shape of the female lead.  Mom has the dreamy Steve Chase to drool over.  Little Johnny has the cool moves he can practice in the school yard to get himself expelled while little Janet has a great role-model in Kandy Kane to look up to – hell, she’s almost as good as a man!  And of course, everyone can laugh at the funny parrot and the group’s low-grade misogyny towards Kandy. 

The A+ Team: Gypsy Billy, Steve Chase, Gorilla & Hot Dog.

The film’s aim is clear.  It’s basically James Bond meets Enter the Dragon.  We have as many one-liners as you’d find in a Moore-era Bond movie – and every one of them falls hilariously flat.  It’s so unfunny, it actually becomes funny – and this was years before Austin Powers shagged his way onto our screens.

The characters are bizarre (for example, Hot Dog is a gadgets expert, but his knowledge seems largely limited to scattering a few tacks across the floor or handing Steve his nunchaku) and the actions of the characters are often highly questionable (at one point, in a tender moment between Steve and Kandy, he inexplicably licks her shoulder).  Plus, on the bad guy side, you have Marduk’s strange relationship with the pink-haired Minerva (Marlowe Scott Wilson) and a way too sentient parrot.  And don’t get me started on the Fly…

How not to be seen - our heroes in stealth mode.

All of this adds up to a whole bunch of fun.  Kill And Kill Again is a film I simply cannot stop watching, simply because it is so well intentioned.  All of the out-and-out wrongness is just the icing on the cake as far as I’m concerned.  And in its own special way, was something of a trailblazer.  The “crack team working together” angle pre-dates the A-Team by a number of years.  And let’s not forget that this film invented Bullet Time.  Yes, that’s right, the Wachowski Brothers learned everything they know from Kill And Kill Again.

Actually, I hate to piss on anybody’s chips, but this rumour (which is being circulated right now on the internet) is simply rubbish.  The effect in question appears close to what passes for “Bullet Time”, but is simply a bit of slow-motion to try to eke some kind of tension out of the climax – which itself is hilarious.  I mention this as I would hate anyone to watch this thing expecting to see movie history being made.  Just watch it for what it is.

I found Bill Flynn’s website once (he’s still working!) and sent him an enthusiastic email gushing on about my love for the film.  He didn’t reply. Maybe he’s not in the market for a new stalker right at the minute.  Hot DOG!

Sukeban Boy (2006) April 28, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Wacko , 4 comments

Director: Noburu Iguchi  Starring: Asami Miyajima, Emiro Momose  Territory: Japan

Sukeban (Asami Miyajima) is a delinquent boy cursed with a girlish face.  When he is expelled from the final boys’ school that will take him, he is forced to don a sailor suit uniform and attend a girls-only school.  There, he finds there ARE benefits to looking like a girl (seeing girls in their underwear being the primary one.  Actually, it’s the only one, but it IS a damn good one you must admit).  He encounters and befriends Mochicko (Emiro Momose), who shows him the Humiliation Club, and Sukeban’s talent for brawling wins him great respect from the other girls.  However, Mochiko’s feelings could be a little deeper than she’s letting on, and there are more foes waiting around the next corner.

Sukeban finishes off another foe with style.

Sukeban Boy is a lower-than-low budget, shot on video, 60-minute assault on the senses.  Apparently parodying the kind of Japanese fetish film that (at best) completely stumps western viewers, it can be argued quite effectively that it is itself a fetish film.  It should perhaps be pointed out that although almost everyone here appears in a schoolgirl uniform at some point, everyone present is over the age of consent (in some cases, I think well over the age!).

A/V Idol (read: porn star) Asami Miyajima (she really IS female, by the way!) is a woman playing a boy playing a girl.  Which isn’t easy to pull off.  However, she actually does a thoroughly decent job of it.  The best thing you can say about the supporting cast is that you hope they don’t give up their day jobs.  But their stilted, amateurish delivery is perfect in keeping with the tone of the movie.  And the tone is usually insane.  When a movie opens with the line “I may dress in girls’ clothes, but I’m a man with a capital ‘M’”, you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary, but it’s a relatively sane opener for what follows.

Don't ask.

Things start to get really strange upon entering the “Humiliation Club”, a place where young ladies can practice increasing their sense of shame at being watched by others in compromising situations.  For example, we see two girls dressed in a sort of Sumo wrestler’s loincloth, American football padding, jerseys and helmets.  They gently bump into each other proclaiming “it’s so humiliating, I can’t bear it!”

This prepares us nicely for our encounter the “Pan-Suto League” (with their “Bang Bang Pantyhose”), the “No-Bra League” (which should be self explanatory), a masked member of the “Naked League” (who actually wears a thong) and other bizarreness.  Sukeban battles them all in fights with blows that even a blind man can see don’t connect, accompanied by sound effects that seem to be taken from an elderly computer game.  At one stage, Asami is clearly struggling to keep a straight face while reeling from a repeated kick-attack that consistently lands about a foot from her face.  Which just adds to the fun.  And when you have one topless, bullet-clad woman (think Chinamy Yau from the cover of Naked Killer) firing shots from her teeth at a schoolgirl armed with an iron Ping-Pong bat, you think you’ve pretty much seen everything there is to see.  That is, until you meet the girl who can shoot bullets out of the stumps of her severed legs.

The new Grange Hill scriptwriters sure liked their LSD

Of course, there’s plenty of tits ‘n bum nudity, and also plenty of gore.  The gore effects remind me a lot of European horror films from the late 70’s or early 80’s – effective nastiness on a budget.  It’s usually so over-the-top that you don’t forget you’re watching a send-up though. 

Sukeban Boy is probably not the kind of film you’ll stumble upon by accident and buy on impulse (if you do, I want to know where you shop!), but it IS possible to track down (the Hong Kong version comes equipped with English subs).  This little nugget came to my attention via another Hong Kong film fan by the name of Brian Thibodeau, who also has an eye for the more outlandish type of film from the east.  For more information about Sukeban Boy, and other inspired madness, check out his Blog at: http://column.hkmdb.com/brian

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) April 24, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Horror, 1970s films, Kung Fu , 3 comments

Director: Roy Ward Baker  Starring: David Chiang, Peter Cushing  Action Director: Lau Kar-Leung  Territory: UK/Hong Kong  Production Company: Hammer/Shaw Brothers

Dracula is visited in his Transylvanian lair by a Chinese man hoping to resurrect his vampires.  Instead, Dracula possesses and takes over his visitor (you really can’t trust these evil types, can you?) and travels to a small village in China to escape his exile.  Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is given a lead to Dracula’s whereabouts by Hsi Ching (David Chiang) and they embark on a trek across China to rid the world of Dracula and his 7 unholy brothers.

By 1974, the once proud Hammer studio was starting to falter.  In an obvious effort to latch on to the martial arts “craze” started when Enter the Dragon made it big, they decided to join their usual horror house style with that of the new-fangled eastern type of action.  To their credit, at least they went to the Shaw Brothers and tried to do it properly.  Hammer and Shaw were quite similar in some respects, and they both eventually went into television when their glory days were over (although the Shaw studios’ decline occurred a few years after Hammer’s).

Unfortunately, Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (AKA Dracula and the Seven Golden Vampires and many, many other titles) doesn’t really work.  The action scenes seem bolted on, and the horror scenes are pretty ineffective.  There’s a fair amount of talent on the Hong Kong end of the production - Lau Kar-Wing has a very visible role, Si Si is lovely as Hsi Ching’s sister, and none other than Lau Kar-Leung directs the action.  But it’s David Chiang that’s supposed to drive the film.

I know what’s it’s starting to look like – this is the third David Chiang film in a row I’ve written about.  I assure you all that much as I admire the guy, this is all purely co-incidence.  It’s not like I’m in love with him or anything.

Anyway.  It’s a bit of a shock to hear his real voice, which is higher in pitch than I’d have expected.  Although not able to speak English, he learned his lines phonetically, and doesn’t come off as badly as you might imagine (although I strongly suspect he says “destroyded” at one point).  It’s quite a novelty to hear him speak in English, and one that doesn’t wear off.  Unfortunately, he is given very little to do on the action front, and what’s there isn’t all that thrilling. 

The horror aspect is lacking, too.  It might have turned out great if Chrispopher Lee played Dracula, but instead you have a guy who really doesn’t look the part.  Having said that, the titular seven Vampires actually aren’t too bad.  I mean, they look pretty ropey, but there’s a semi-neat plot device linking their powers to their medallions.  They also have an evil lair where young ladies are drained of blood and killed, but I’m not sure if this was included for its horror factor or was just an excuse to show some nipple action.  Both, probably. 

David was beginning to regret choosing the cheaper dating agency.

The supporting cast (Julie Ege and Robin Stewart) tries to add a bit of romance and depth to the film, but once again it falls flat on its face, and I found I couldn’t give a toss about any of them.  It’s such a shame that the only UK/Hong Kong collaboration didn’t work out, as the mixing of the genres could have produced a real cult classic.  Instead, this vampire movie just sucks – and not in a good way.

Blood Brothers (1973) April 22, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, 1970s films, Kung Fu , 3 comments

Diretor: Chang Cheh  Starring: Ti Lung, David Chiang, Chen Kuan-Tai  Action Diretor: Lau Kar-Leung, Tong Gai  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Shaw Brothers

Two small-time bandits, Chang Wen-Hsiang and Huang Chung (David Chiang and Chen Kuan-Tai) meet and befriend another by the name of Ma Hsin I (Ti Lung).  The three – along with Huang’s wife Mi Lan (Ching Li) overtake a bandit hideout and set up base.  All seems well, but Ma aspires to become a Qing officer.  Furthermore, he develops strong feelings for Mi Lan, although Huang is completely oblivious to the fact.  We find that Mi Lan married Huang when she was young and now regrets the decision, thinking that Huang would grow as a person when in fact he was always destined to be shallow and unambitious.  Driving himself hard, Ma achieves his dream and eventually becomes a well-respected general in the Qing army and, mindful of the promises he made to his brothers, enlists Chang and Huang.  However, the reunion also means meeting Mi Lan again, and neither party’s feeling have changed.  In fact, Mi Lan now thinks she’s found the man she’s always wanted…

This is by far the most widely seen film by western audiences of a Chang Cheh starring his two favourite leads – and for a good reason: it’s fantastic.

Told in a series of flashbacks following the capture of Chang Wen-Hsiang for the assassination of Ma, we are shown the doomed friendship from start to finish already knowing the final outcome.  He sits resignedly throughout the movie writing his confession in front of his captors, wanting nothing except the truth of the matter to be brought to the world.  It’s a device that works brilliantly, and you find yourself engrossed in the story, wondering why exactly things went so wrong for them.

This film surprisingly flirts with symbolism and shows great restraint – we do not get nearly as many buckets of blood here, the emphasis more on the story and characters.  It is excellently scripted throughout (although the subtitles do fall below expectation on a number of occasions on the Celestial DVD) and the pace remains constant with no “flat” moments that can appear in such productions of the time. 

This is also the film that won Ti Lung deserved recognition when he received the Golden Horse award for Outstanding Performance.  Although none of the main characters are two-dimensional (with the exception of Huang Chung – who is SUPPOSED to be two-dimensional!), Ti Lung really does shine. 

 Foreground L-R: Chen Kuan-Tai, Ti Lung, David Chiang

 SPOILER WARNING FOR THE REST OF THIS REVIEW!

His character is complex as he copes with his inappropriate feeling towards his brother’s wife.  Furthermore, does he order Huang to be killed because he wants him out of the way so he can be with Mi Lan forever, or because Huang is a liability as an officer and does not appreciate his wife?  Although Ma insists repeatedly that he will crush anything that stands in his way, I find it interesting that he only gives the order after discovering that Huang frequents brothels and bad-mouths his wife.

David Chiang is also superb as Chang Wen-Hsiang.  He shows great range as he finds himself between his brothers, faced with almost impossible decisions.  After his final confrontation with Ma, rather than gloating over his victory at bringing justice to a brother betrayed, he says to his dying friend: “you can rest in peace.  I will not try to escape”, before peacefully giving himself up to the inevitable torture and execution at the hands of the government.

Powerful stuff.

Have Sword, Will Travel (1969)

Posted by Cal in : Wuxia, 1960s films , 6 comments

Diretor: Chang Cheh  Starring: David Chiang, Ti Lung, Li Ching  Action Diretor: Yuen Cheung-Yan, Tong Gai  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Shaw Brothers 

Engaged couple Siang and Yun Piao Piao (Ti Lung and Li Ching) help an aging and decrepit Kung Fu master transport some silver.  However, lone swordsman Yo Li (David Chiang) inadvertently gets involved.

Have Sword, Will Travel is a typical Chang Cheh movie – buckets of blood, honour and nihilism going hand in hand. And like many Shaw Brothers films from the time, the first hour or so is pretty actionless – a deliberate attempt to give the final reel more emotional impact.  While most of the early part of the film is preamble, it does set up the love triangle that is created when Piao Piao takes a shine to Yo Li - much to Siang’s annoyance.  Also, the scene where Yo Li is forced to sell his horse is surprisingly moving.

The final half an hour is a brilliant showcase set in a magnificent old tower.  The setting imposes some great atmosphere, although it has to be said that the frequent switches between exterior and studio shots is not particularly effective and are quite obvious.  The swordplay here is extremely impressive for its day, and the usual buckets of blood are employed to great use.  I’m sure Freud would have had something to say about all the ejaculations of blood on show here!  Add to that the obvious needle between Siang and Yo Li, and it makes for quite an intriguing finale.  Will Siang relent and let Yo Li help him when faced with insurmountable odds in the tower?  Who will finally walk off with Yun Piao Piao?

A Disney remake seems unlikely.

This was clearly a major influence on the new wave of HK Wuxia films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers et al.  But with all the fancy CGI and high production values, the new crop of HK swordplay films aren’t particularly better than the originals.  Those that look down all HK films (except those embraced by Hollywood as being “not just a chop-socky but with an actual STORY”) would do well to check this out, providing they can stomach the intensely graphic (and still quite convincing) violence.

Come Drink With Me (1966)

Posted by Cal in : Wuxia, 1960s films , add a comment

Diretor: King Hu  Starring: Cheng Pei-Pei, Yueh Wah  Action Diretor: Han Ying-Chieh  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Shaw Brothers  

A general’s son is taken hostage as leverage to free a bandit leader.  The general’s other offspring, Golden Swallow, is sent to retake the son.  When the bandit gang encounter the Golden Swallow (Cheng Pie Pei) in a local inn, they are taken aback by his martial arts ability and are swiftly defeated.  With the help of local beggar Fan Da-Pei (Yueh Hua), the Golden Swallow keeps the bandits at bay.  But everyone has a trick or two up “his” sleeve…

It’s been mentioned before, but it does seem to be true that King Hu was Hong Kong’s answer to Akira Kurosawa and Come Drink With Me is one of the seminal Hong Kong Wuxia movies (only his own A Touch of Zen and Dragon Gate Inn are in the same league).  Although by today’s standard the action scenes appear more stylised and less natural, there is still plenty of things to admire.  Besides, it’s the drama, splendour, character and story that is memorable and I’m sure Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou et al would give a major body part to be able to achieve what this film achieves – and with no CGI and relatively few trick shots.  I’m talking about genuine mood and feeling, which Come Drink With Me has by the bucketful.

Those who still aren’t convinced that Shaw Brothers films went down the pan production-wise during the mid seventies should take a look at this 1966 movie.  In fact, the first ten minutes should be enough to convince.  The outdoor scenes are fantastically filmed and the interior sets are breathtaking – all standard for a King Hu movie.  A lot of credit should also go to the lighting department who never fail in keep everything looking top-notch with lots of great mood lighting.

The film is a series of stand out scenes and set pieces.  In Golden Swallow’s introduction scene, we see “him” surreptitiously humiliate a whole clan of bandits.  Forget Bruce Lee, THIS is the art of fighting without fighting!  Incidentally, a bald Yuen Siu-Tien (who later became famous as Jackie Chan’s Sifu in Drunken Master) can be seen in this scene.  The only leap of faith required really is the fact that anyone could take the Golden Swallow for a man.  Seldom have I seen such a pretty man…!

Cheng Pei-Pei catching some spare change in an iconic moment from Come Drink With Me.

We also have some real sexual tension between Golden Swallow and Fan Da-Pei.  When she (for her secret has been revealed!) gets into a fight at the temple (another cracking location, by the way), her vest briefly becomes visible – leading to a short burst of giggles from the bad guys and Golden Swallow’s acute embarrassment.  This sets up the scene later where Fan Da-Pei is forced to suck the poison from her chest wound.  It may seem tame by today’s standard, but this is really intimate stuff here, and should be taken in context of the era in which this film is set.  To have a man see, let alone touch, such an intimate part of a woman’s body was not to be taken lightly in those days.

Surprisingly, subsequent viewing reveal more than the odd instance of intentional humour – and in particular a sense of irony.  This is not quite as straight-laced as it first appears, and not as doom-laden as films by, say, Chang Cheh, who would pretty much dominate Shaws during the early 70’s.

If you really wanted to poke holes in the film, you could do – it’s not perfect.  The bandits are a bit of a weak spot, admittedly, as you never do know what it is they stand for.  They’re certainly nasty enough (they kill a small child, leading one monk to bemoan: “You’re too ruthless!”). However, on the whole, it has stood up remarkably well.

There are quite a few groundbreaking films from Hong Kong that shaped the industry.  In the sixties and early seventies, you have a veritable bucket load (including The One Armed Swordsman, The Chinese Boxer, Vengeance, The Big Boss, and King Boxer).  But Come Drink With Me is one of the more entertaining, and definitely the best looking, of the lot.

As a footnote, the sequel (which was helmed by Chang Cheh) was extremely disappointing but seems equally influential.  Chang’s drenched-in-blood style does not sit well with its elegant antecedent, and the whole mood of the film is vastly different.  Alas, King Hu had left Shaws by this time and had gone on to make his masterpieces in Taiwan.  More of which later…

The Street Fighter (1974) April 21, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Action, 1970s films , add a comment

Diretor: Shigehiro Ozawa Starring: Sonny Chiba Territory: Japan  Production Company: Toei Productions 

The Street Fighter (not to be confused with a certain film starring a tiny Australian singer and a man from Belgium) is an undeniably slick 1974 production trying to capitalise on the success of the US/Hong Kong collaboration Enter the Dragon.  Sonny Chiba plays Takuma Tsurugi, a kind of mercenary/bounty hunter/hitman.  When he decides to turn down the offer of kidnapping a wealthy oil Heiress, his would-be employers (a pair of Hong Kong Chinese with ties to the Mafia) decide he knows too much and endeavour to wipe the hitman out.  Which obviously proves difficult, as Tsurugi was chosen because he’s so tough.  Wave after wave of assassins come and go in an orgy of bloodletting hitherto unseen by western audiences – prompting the first “X” rating in the US for a film simply on its violent content.

I'll have those!  Sonny Chiba castrates a would-be rapist.

And violent it is.  I’m more familiar with Hong Kong martial arts films, and it has to be said, the styles are completely different.  Even the bloodiest Chang Cheh film doesn’t really equal this (although a few come close).  By today’s standards, it all looks pretty funny, but you can see that at the time it must have been a bit much!  I found it difficult to acclimatise to “karate” rather than “kung fu”, which is certainly more aesthetically pleasing to me.

I also found the film’s moral base a little hard to take at times: Tsurugi is a bit of a bastard, it has to be said.  After rescuing a condemned man from the gallows, the man’s relatives (a nephew and niece) turn up at Tsurugi’s flat.  Tsurugi then demands the balance of payment from the job, only to be told that they have no more money.  Whereupon Tsurugi then kicks seven shades out of the nephew (ending in him taking a fatal plunge from his apartment window) and selling the niece into prostitution.  Nice.

What I find most interesting about The Street Fighter is its obvious influences: Sonny Chiba seems to play a Japanese Bruce Lee – even having his own facial contortions and freaky vocalizations.  Certain scenes recall Fist of Fury quite strongly.  But the weirdest thing of all is that I finally see the Japanese/Chinese rivalry (if that’s the right word) from the other side.  Since I started watching Hong Kong films, I have seen countless films portraying Japanese as murderous villains, with Chinese actors badly made up to look the part.  With this, the reverse is true, and it’s pay back time!

There’s so much fun to be had in all of these 70’s action movies, with their bell-bottoms, old cars and funky soundtracks, and on this level The Street Fighter certainly doesn’t disappoint.  I always thought it was a shame that Hong Kong actioners of the day didn’t use contemporary settings more often.  However, given that when they DID, it often went seriously awry (Chinatown Kid, anyone?) it becomes clear that they simply weren’t as comfortable in the “modern” setting as in the familiar period pieces that still get made on a huge scale to this day. 

Anyway, lovers of big collars and sideburns will be kept happy here.

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