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Crippled Avengers (1978) May 31, 2007

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

Director: Chang Cheh  Cast: Phillip Kwok, Lo Meng, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, Chen Kuan-Tai  Action Director: Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng, Robert Tai  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Shaw Brothers

AKA: Avengers Handicapped

It all sounds like a sick joke (or an episode of South Park), but Crippled Avengers is a Chang Cheh film reuniting most of the cast from his hit film The Five Venoms.

The plot is easy enough to follow.  Towards the late 70’s, Cheh seemed to have given up on complicated, historically based projects and favoured more direct and fast-moving action films.  This one’s basically about a rogue lord (Chen Kuan-Tai) who, having had his family killed or handicapped in an attack at his home, becomes obsessed with disabling anyone who stands up to him.  He and his son (who had both arms sliced off and replaced with iron prosthetics) basically bully their way around town.  Coming up against him results in one man losing the power of speech and hearing, one man losing his sight, another his legs and finally one man is reduced to having a childlike mentality.  These men group together and go to Eagle Mansion, where they spend three years training and learning to work together to compensate for each others’ disabilities.

The good guys 

Which sounds pretty run-of-the-mill, not to mention slightly crazy and in bad taste.  However, the only truly wacko stuff happens right at the start – after his young son has both arms severed, we immediately cut to him many years later as a grown man with artificial arms and his father saying, “I told you I would give you new arms!”, to which his son says something along the lines of, “Yes, these are the seventh set and by far the best!”  That kind of bad scripting to show a passage of time (there’s probably a name for it, but I don’t know what it is) is just embarrassing to watch.  We also see these new arms, which can fire lethal darts and extend – which is also a bit screwy.  Thing is, all this happens in the first few minutes and I don’t think he ever uses them to any great advantage again in the movie!

Thankfully, the rest of the film is sheer class.  The physicality of these men is truly awesome, and their skill is simply breathtaking.  The exciting and plentiful fight scenes are peppered with acrobatics we’re probably never going to see again in this digital age, and the training scenes are some of the best that Kung Fu film fans can want for.  The four heroes exhibit a great sense of camaraderie and have a very tangible chemistry with each other (although this could be because we know them from The Five Venoms) that at times this enters into “buddy” movie territory. 

What follows is just one of the MANY incredible scenes from this film

I don’t know if it was intended, but there’s also some really good, dark humour in this; in fact, it’s riddled with it.  Again, I’m paraphrasing, but when Dao’s son meets the soon-to-be-blind Avenger, the dialogue goes something like this:

Dao’s son: Fight me!

Avenger: But you have no arms!

Dao’s son: Well, I have no arms and you have no eyes.  It’s a fair fight!

Avenger:  Why would you say that?  I HAVE eyes!


Avenger: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrgghh! (Writhes around on floor in agony) 

You have to admit, he asked for it. 

This is the first time I’ve seen Crippled Avengers, despite its notoriety.  I know someone’s going to tell me otherwise, but I just don’t think it was ever available in the UK.  Which turns out well in the end because I’ve seen something truly fantastic in the genre for the first time and it gives me hope that there’s still more great films out there for me to discover.  It’s films like this that make me proud to be a Kung Fu film fan.  And dare I say it - I thought it was better than the Five VenomsCrippled Avengers: where have you been all my life?

Junk (2000) May 24, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Horror , 2 comments

Director: Atsushi Muroga  Cast: Kaori Shimamura, Shu Ehara, Yuji Kishimoto, Miwa Yanagizawa  Territory: Japan

In an old, disused chemical plant sanctioned by a contingent of the US military in Japan, a western doctor is reviving a dead woman using a special concoction called DNX.  The woman does indeed return to life, but unfortunately tends to be a bit psychotic and has a taste for human flesh.  Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a group of amateur jewel thieves and their getaway driver (Kaori Shimamura) are pulling off a heist that will see them comfortably well off for some time.  The robbery is successful, although Akira (Shu Ehara) is disabled after being stabbed violently in the foot.  The gang arrive early at the rendezvous with their Yakuza fence and his mob and take the time to explore the factory a little.  That’s right, it’s the same disused chemical plant where the experiment took place, and there’s a zombie on the loose!  Pretty soon, thanks to some totally irresponsible storage of this DNX stuff on a shelf right next to a row of dead bodies, our heroes are overrun with zombies.  Things only get worse when the Yakuza show up – they decided to screw over the thieves and take the loot themselves.  However, they foolishly ignore the gang’s insistence that the place is swarming with hostile dead and pretty soon you’ve got a situation where the Yakuza are trying to kill the thieves (and vice versa) while the zombies are happily munching on everyone stupid enough to stand still for more than 30 seconds.  Then the military send in a team to try to sort the problem out…

Junk is a low-budget shot-on-video Japanese zombie flick.  It has some really cringeworthy English language acting – there are a fair few Americans in the film and they don’t seem to be able to carry a line of dialogue.  Another problem is one of the Japanese actors is forced to speak in English and he’s unfortunately pretty unintelligible (thankfully, the subtitles are provided for the English language dialogue too, which is usually something I hate but is a blessing here).  It’s also a bit on the unbelievable side (even for a zombie movie) and the inclusion of a super-zombie (Miwa Yanagizawa) isn’t really playing by the rules, in my opinion. 

Ha!  Stupid corpses!  Look, I'm going to give this one a prod...

However, the main problem I had was that the original zombie is brought back to life with a syringe of this DNX stuff.  We see the doctor carefully insert the needle into her arm and administer the shot.  One question: how the *censored* is that going to work?  Seriously, did anyone think this through?  Even the guy playing the doctor should have said, “erm, actually, Mr Director, circulation is a process that ends at the time of death.  I don’t think sticking her with a needle is going to do much good.”  Anyway, it all kind of redeems itself later when some of the corpses are splashed with the stuff and come back to life, but that lapse in the laws of basic biological science did make me groan.

Anyway.  If all this sounds really negative, there are some positives.  Despite how it sounds, a couple of the jewel thieves are actually quite likeable, and you can find yourself rooting for their characters.  I liked the idea of pitting the Yakuza against both the jewel theives AND the zombies – so that essentially you’ve got three factions trying to kill or eat (or both) each other.  Furthermore, there are times when the zombie tension builds quite effectively.  These are the slow-moving, brainless variety of zombie, that only gets its way by sheer weight of numbers – later on, there seem to be hundreds of the buggers!   The gore effects are also quite good for the budget, and the zombie feeding scenes are suitably nasty. 

If you’re willing to put up with a lot of dodgy acting, some rather implausible (and illogical) plotting, and the rather “cold” feel of a film shot on video, you can do a lot worse than Junk.  But be warned that it really is just a bit of low-budget fun and no substitute for the truly great zombie films like Dawn of the Dead.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m now all out of Asian zombie flicks (I’m not watching Bio-Cops again for any price!).  Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Bio Zombie (1998) May 20, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Horror, Comedy, 1990s films , 5 comments

Director: Wilson Yip  Cast: Jordan Chan, Sam Lee, Angela Tong, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Emotion Cheung  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Cameron Entertainment Co

Long before Zack Snyder made the official Dawn of the Dead remake, Wilson Yip (who would later go on to helm the ultra-slick and ultra-stylish SPL) made his own.  Sure, it has more laughs than frights, but the basic premise of a bunch of survivors in a mall over-run with the walking dead remains the same.

The twist here is that the survivors want to get out of the mall as it has become the centre of the zombie activity thanks in no small part to our two heroes.  Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and Crazy Bee (Sam Lee) are two slackers who run a dodgy VCD stall in the mall (having seen the quality of their stock, I think I may have purchased some of their VCDs in the past), while Woody’s would-be girlfriend Rolls (Angela Tong) is a vacuous beautician who strings along “Sushi Boy” (the wonderfully named Emotion Cheung), a well-meaning chef in the Mall’s Japanese restaurant just to get a discount.  Rounding out the crew are Woody and Crazy Bee’s scumbag boss Mr Kui (Lai Yiu-Cheung) and his beautiful but downtrodden wife (Tam Suk-Mui).  It is a testament to Lai’s skill as an actor that he pulls off such a vile role so well after playing the kindly, gentle “Piggy” in TVB’s Journey to the West!  From this essentially unlikeable cast of characters we have what passes for Bio Zombie’s heroes – but it’s best not to pass judgement on them until they show their mettle in a crisis situation. 

There’s a plot in here, but for the first forty minutes you’d hardly know it.  A biological agent is stored in a bottle of Lucozade (surely a recipe for disaster right from the start!) and is being sold illegally nearby.  This agent can turn people into killing machines – albeit very slow, shuffling killing machines with a taste for human flesh.  The deal goes horribly wrong when the test case escapes and eats the weapons dealers.  A survivor is picked up by the two slackers when they inadvertently knock him over in their car – and is given a drink from the Lucozade bottle to perk him up!  The survivor, left for dead in the boot of Woody’s car, goes on a rampage when they reach the mall and thus kicks off the zombie invasion.

Something tells me these are zombies... 

There’s some weird stuff in the first half of Bio-Zombie that has nothing whatsoever to do with zombies and has no place in a horror film.  The comedy factor is so high early on that you actually forget what’s going to happen, and when it does, it’s quite a shock.  The acting is quite remarkable at times, and much higher than you’d expect in a movie like this.  The preliminary scenes setting up the heroes and villains pay off big time come the final reel because of all the goofing around earlier, not despite it.  It even conjures up a fair bit of tension at times, particularly when the pair are handcuffed in the Security Guards’ office during an attack. The zombie make-up is not terribly complex or groundbreaking, but this doesn’t hamper the fun in any way.  The zombies themselves are straight out of Romero’s world, and the same rules apply: only severe head wounds (preferably a headshot with a firearm) will stop them, and anything else is just going to fail.   

The Mei-Ah DVD is a bit of a travesty, it has to be said.  There is a US version, I believe, that has a very entertaining dub, but that sort of thing goes against the grain for me and I can’t see myself ever watching it.  The problem with the Mei-Ah disc is the sound – it’s probably the worst I’ve ever heard on DVD.  The picture is no more than adequate, but the subs throw up some strange “Chinglish” on occasions – such as when Woody and Sushi Boy burst into the gents’ toilet to find Crazy Bee in there.  When asked what he was doing, he shouts back, “I am stooling!”.  There are quite a few nuggets like that in here.  The main selling point seems to be the very short alternate ending, but it is rather pointless and seems to have been filmed without serious consideration of actually being used. 

Sam Lee would return (as a different character) in Bio Cops – an unnecessary and unsatisfying sequel that should have taken a headshot in the planning stages.

Versus (2000) May 19, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Horror, Action, Supernatural , 5 comments

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura  Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Kenji Matsuda, Chieko Misaka  Territory: Japan

AKA: The Forest of Resurrection

A couple of recently escaped convicts (including Tak Sakaguchi) rendezvous with their Yakuza cohorts on the outskirts of a forest.  The convict is not too pleased that they’ve brought along a female they’ve kidnapped (Chieko Misaka) for no readily apparent reason.  Shots are exchanged, and the convict’s partner goes down.  And gets back up again.  It turns out that anyone who dies in the Forest of Resurrection (which is placed over the 444th portal to the land of the dead) will return to an undead state.  The trouble is, the Yakuza have been using the forest to bury the bodies of their dead victims, and when they return to life they’re not in a forgiving mood.  Which in itself is bad enough, but then the boss of the Yakuza shows up and it becomes apparent he’s more than he appears to be, and holds the answer to why the convict and the girl have been brought here.

The dead return to life in Versus

Versus is a bit of a “difficult” film for a number of reasons, not least because no one is ever referred to by name.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film in which not one name is uttered by anyone for the entire length of a film.  Another problem is that I’m sure there are some cultural references I’m still just not getting.  The final one I’ve started to come to terms with – Versus has some blacker than black comedy that will leave some completely nonplussed.  Comedy is perhaps the hardest thing to translate and put across to a foreign audience, and on first viewing I thought this was as straight a film as you could make.  Now, I find it hard to believe I ever had that view – at times, Versus is bloody hilarious.

It’s also one of the goriest films I’ve seen, and the gore effects are pretty damn good.  An army of zombies is dispatched early on in a bloodbath that would turn Romero green with envy.  And it doesn’t stop there – with Yakuza, immortal swordsmen and zombies about, you can be sure there’s enough of the red stuff thrown around to keep even the bloodiest gorehound happy.  It also has a lot of Kung Fu (yes, in a Japanese film) which is pretty effective most of the time, but is let down by poor wirework.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the Achilles heel of the action scenes in that the wires are pretty much always visible.

Hehe - you should see the OTHER guy!

It’s also a little overlong (at just under 2 hours) and the relentless woodland setting (apart from a brief car interior shot and the coda, the entire film takes place outdoors in the forest) can be a bit much.  And it can still be a trifle confusing.  But I’d have to say that Versus worked a hell of a lot better second time around.

I Love Maria (1988) May 18, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, Sci-Fi, 1980s films , 1 comment so far

Director: David Chung  Cast: John Shum, Tsui Hark, Sally Yeh, Tony Leung (Chiu-Wai), Lam Ching-Ying  Action Director: Ching Siu-Tung  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Win’s Film Workshop

Hong Kong has never been a great producer of Sci-Fi.  I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing or simply a case of they never had the budget and technology (until relatively recently) to create credible films in the field.  I Love Maria puts a typical 80’s Hong Kong spin on the genre - brutal gun violence goes hand-in-hand with family-friendly humour, the occasional hint of romance rears its head and scenes of touching redemption warm the heart.  Except this time there are bloody big robots all over the place.

The misleadingly named Hero Gang is terrorising Hong Kong with bank robberies carried out by a seemingly invincible robot called Pioneer I.  Curly (John Shum – I think all of his characters were called Curly), a member of the Special Weapons branch of the police, and Whiskey (Tsui Hark), a former member of the Hero gang, team up when they are both accused of betraying their respective factions.  They are attacked by Pioneer II – an android modelled on the Hero Gang’s main female boss Maria (Sally Yeh) by her lover who is looking for a permanent replacement that will never age or deteriorate.  Curly and Whiskey, who are occasionally aided and abetted by reporter TQ Zhuang (Tony Leung), get the best of the droid purely by accident and begin to reprogram her to do their bidding, leading to a showdown with the Hero Gang, a master who wants to switch sides (Lam Ching-Ying), Pioneer III, the Real Maria and the Boss himself (Ben Lam).

Does this Predicament Scenario make my bum look big?

What surprises most about I Love Maria is that the effects aren’t too bad.  They’re nowhere near Hollywood standard, but they generally don’t look too cheesy and there’s no over-reliance on low shots of fragile-looking miniatures that you would have expected.  It probably goes without saying, but Sally Yeh plays both the human Maria and the android version.  She spends most of her time in the android form, and her costume and actions make her look like a cross between C3PO, Robocop and something from Metropolis.  Tsui Hark, one of Hong Kong’s most respected directors, takes a co-starring role in this and shows his flair for comedy and makes a good partnership with John Shum, both looking as though they’re thoroughly enjoying themselves.  Again, this sort of thing can only be found in Hong Kong – you couldn’t imagine Steven Speilburg appearing in Short Curcuit, could you?  I’m slightly puzzled by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (who incidentally looks almost unrecognisably young in this) - I’m still not sure why he was there, but he does kick-start the plot sometimes and provides even more comic relief. 

Like so many films from this period, I Love Maria is mainly played for laughs, and it’s hard not to find it likeable at least some of the time.  The drama is dropped in sporadically and always feels a bit forced and a little hackneyed, but the fun factor never dips too low and the sight of Sally Yeh encased in metal will always be enough entertainment for some people.

I’ve always loved the title of this film: it’s one of the rare instances where the theme or nature of the piece isn’t given away by the title.  It sounds like a romance or at least a cheerful and bright bit of rom-com fluff.  But a film about bloody big robots?  That’s class.

Today’s trivia question: Tsui Hark appeared in another film involving robots.  What was it called?

The Millionaire’s Express (1986) May 15, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 1980s films , 5 comments

Director: Sammo Hung  Cast:  Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Richard Ng, Kenny Bee, Eric Tsang, James Tien, Jimmy Wang Yu, Lydia Shum, Sek Gin, Rosamund Kwan, Emily Chu, Pauline Wong, Richard Norton, Cynthia Rothrock, Hwang Jang-Lee, Kurata Yasuaki, Oshima Yukari, Lam Ching-Ying Action Director: Sammo Hung  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Golden Harvest

The plot revolves around a ne’er-do-well named Chin Fong-Tin (Sammo Hung), who deliberately derails the titular train on its way to Shanghai so that the wealthy passengers will have to stop at the nearby village and visit his “hotel”.  Which sounds straightforward, but there’s a group of people who want to rob the train and they’re the kind of people you really don’t want to mess with.  Added to that are problems with local upstanding citizen and Fire Chief Tsao (Yuen Biao), who endeavours to thwart Chin’s efforts at every opportunity, and a hostile local population who remember Chin’s conniving nature from when he was a kid.  As if that wasn’t enough, Chin also has to deal with his troublesome but well-intentioned prostitutes (which include Rosamund Kwan, Emily Chu and Pauline Wong).  Oh, and there was a bank robbery earlier and the fugitives are on the loose and they also want to rob the train.  And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a lothario on board the train who’s brought his wife and his mistress and must keep them from meeting each other.  And none other than Wong Fei-Hung himself (Jimmy Wang-Yu) is feuding with a fellow master (Sek Gin) and their young protégés and that’s not to mention the three Japanese swordsmen (and woman) who are after a national treasure…and…and…

If you think the above must make for some horrific Hong Kong throw-everything-at-the-screen-and-hope-something-works type of experience, you’d be wrong.  The Millionaire’s Express is, for me if no one else, pretty much the pinnacle of Hong Kong action comedy cinema.  While some films have better action sequences, and other films are perhaps funnier, none bring together the elements in one movie better than this.  It may well be broad farce and little more than a Hong Kong version of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, but when the results are this much fun, who cares?

The Chin Fong-Tin Hotel - Comedy underwear optional, hats obligatory.

The cast includes pretty much everyone involved in Hong Kong cinema and television at the time (apart from Jackie Chan, who is very conspicuous by his absence) and all work together beautifully.  Although nobody gets much screen time apart from Sammo and Yuen Biao, you rarely get the feeling that people are simply being rolled out for a quick cameo (apart from Bolo, perhaps) and some, like Richard Ng as an unlikely Don Juan, have incredibly memorable (and hilariously funny) parts.

Picking out standout events in the film is pretty much impossible, and I’m not even going to try except to say the almost cartoon-like way Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao knock seven shades of crap out of each other is a joy no fan should miss.  Sammo Hung excelled himself in his directorial duties, and the three scriptwriters (the late, great Barry Wong, Alfred Cheung and Wong Wang-Gei) should have been given medals for creating such a coherent whole out of the sum of so many parts.

This is definitely one film you can watch again and again and again and still get immense enjoyment out of.  This film was the first of what many fans consider a trilogy of films linked by nothing other than their sheer quality (the others being Eastern Condors and Pedicab Driver).  While the other two certainly are great, this is probably the one that bears repeated viewings best.

Rouge (1988) May 13, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Drama, Romance, Supernatural , add a comment

Director: Stanley Kwan  Starring: Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung, Emily Chu, Alex Man  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Golden Harvest/Golden Way

In 1934, 12th Master Chan (Leslie Cheung) is a son of a wealthy, high profile businessman.  He becomes increasingly infatuated with concubine Fleur (Anita Mui), who succumbs to the 12th Master’s charms leading the pair to fall hopelessly in love.  However, the match is not blessed by Chan’s parents, who understandably wish for their son to find a more respectable woman to share his life.  Meanwhile, in 1987, a news printer runs into a mysterious woman who is searching for her lost love.

ROUGE won a boatload of awards on its release in 1988 with its sharp script, interesting leads and haunting theme.  It is often regarded as an “art-house” film (whatever THAT means) but the truth is it’s just a superior film that tells a great story in quite a unique way.  Some of the techniques and plot devices are a LITTLE heavy-handed VERY occasionally, but other than that it is free of the usual “arty” clichés that can bog a film down.  In fact, it’s refreshingly free of sentiment and melodrama, and moves at a cracking pace.

Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung - sadly, neither are still with us.

Alex Man and Emily Chu are brilliant as the modern day couple – with the type of practical relationship characteristic of modern times.  The contrast between them and the passion and earnestness of the 12th Master and Fleur is one of the driving points of the film – and definitely one of the elements that really make it work.  The lead characters played by Cheung and Mui are, of course, the focal point of the piece, and it has to be said that they make a convincing couple.  Obviously these days the film is lent a special kind of poignancy as neither of them survived to reach old age, but it remains that this was a classic well before tragedy struck in real life.

One word of warning to newcomers: if you buy the Fortune Star DVD of this film, do not read the back of the box as it gives everything away.  It’s not The Sixth Sense, but this film definitely works better when you know as little as possible about the plot.  When I first saw the film, I knew literally nothing about it, and was blown away.  What I’ve written in the first paragraph of this review is enough (or indeed too much) for you to enter the world of Rouge and come away from the experience knowing that you’ve seen something truly different.

Love on Delivery (1994)

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Comedy , add a comment

Director: Lee Lik-Chi  Starring:  Chow Sing-Chi (Stephen Chiau), Ng Man-Tat, Christy Chung  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Cosmopolitan Film Productions 

Hapless delivery boy Ho (Chiau Sing-Chi) falls for pretty Judo student Lily (Christy Chung).  However, his advances are spurned, as she believes Ho to be a coward.  All is not lost though, as Ho makes the acquaintance of a seedy looking kung fu master (Ng Man-Tat), who isn’t all he seems to be.  Ho must overcome his innate cowardliness and take on all his love-rivals – and face a brutal showdown with a martial arts master who most definitely IS the real thing!

Stephen Chiau’s comedies from this period (before he found worldwide fame) tend to be very Hong-Kong orientated and some are downright unfathomable to western audiences (take Justice, My Foot for instance).  However, Love on Delivery uses no discernable trickery with the Cantonese language as far as I can see, and the jokes work in English quite well (although a working knowledge of Chinese pop-culture is highly recommended).

I’d even go as far as to say that pound for pound, for non-Cantonese speakers, Love on Delivery is probably the funniest film Chiau has ever made. 

Look, I can explain everything...

It may be low budget, but it certainly packs the gags in.  Some are obvious (yes, even blindingly obvious), but you’ll be surprised at the subtlety of some of the visual gags.  It “misses” more than it “hits” I suppose, but with the sheer amount of jokes thrown at it there’s usually something you can have a chuckle at.  Highlights are plenty, but mention has got to be made of the Terminator 2 parody and the scene where Chiau becomes a Garfield-masked superhero.  Crazy stuff, but Chiau has never been more likeable than in this film.

Love on Delivery has recently been remastered by Celestial and released as part of the legendary Shaw Brothers catalogue – a move that is long overdue for this classic comedy.  The previous release by Mei-Ah was just a VCD port with the customary burnt-in subtitles (which go missing for the fight commentary at the end) and was noticeably worse than my old VHS version.  There are a few odd moments (there’s a reference to Brokeback Mountain here – some eleven years before it was made!) but on the whole, they work well.

Funnier than Shaolin Soccer, less pretentious than Kung Fu Hustle, and easily less offensive than some of his 90’s films, Love on Delivery is still worth a look.  But beware, the humour is dating fast.  See it while it’s still funny.

Black Samurai (1976) May 11, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Blogroll, Action, Blaxploitation, 1970s films, Bad Films , 8 comments

Director: Al Adamson  Starring: Jim Kelly, Bill Roy, Marilyn Joi  Territory: USA  Production Company: BJLJ International Corp.

Agent of D.R.A.G.O.N Robert Sand (Jim Kelly) is ordered by his shadowy bosses to save his own girlfriend from certain death at the hands of the ruthless drug lord Janicot who has kidnapped her and is holding her hostage in a tower.  Although he’s on holiday at the time, Sand grudgingly agrees to save her.  What a guy.  Blah blah voodoo rituals blah villain has own personal army blah blah blah overwhelming odds etc etc.  You know the story.

There certainly are a few revelations in this film.  The first is it’s apparently based on a novel by a guy called Marc Olden, and amazingly some of his books appear to be still in print – even after this film.  The second is that this Blaxploitation picture is a bit of a departure for the director, who was more at home in the horror/ B-movie field.  A quick glance at his filmography makes me want to go and see his films, with titles such as: Blazing Stewardesses, I Spit on your Corpse! (You’ve got to include the exclamation mark or the title just doesn’t have the impact), Lash of Lust, Blood of Ghastly Horror, Dracula Vs Frankenstein, Horror of the Blood Monsters and Satan’s Sadists.  Sadly, I understand he was murdered and hidden under the floor of his own bathroom in the 90s. 

Anyway, the film.  Everyone should know by now I like the occasional “bad film” and I don’t think they come any worse than this.  It’s utterly utterly hopeless.  The acting is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, with some delightfully bad dialogue thrown in.  The open-air end fight is strange, too: the trash talking dialogue between the two combatants seems to have been dubbed on later from a small room.  There are also some crazy ideas in here – a couple of wrestling dwarfs and an attack vulture to name but two.  But rest assured, there’s more where that came from.

Kelly hated it when the staff forgot to wear their name tags.

You’ve just got to love an organisation that calls itself D.R.A.G.O.N – you can’t help thinking of the head of the organisation sitting around at a board meeting saying, “I want an acronym, and make it sound TOUGH!” And of course we never get to find out what D.R.A.G.O.N (God, I hate typing that) stands for.  Or what it does…

Jim Kelly was expected to be a big star of the seventies after his “introduction” in Enter the Dragon, but when he made stuff like this, it’s not hard to see why it never happened.  That being said, Kelly himself is reasonably OK most of the time – it’s just the film itself that’s a stinker.

Sadly, the only currently available version of this film has many problems.  The transfer is awful.  Sub VHS, even.  Secondly, it seems to be quite badly cut (either that or the editing is worse than I thought).  There even appears to be some dubbing or obscuring of swearwords in places too.  If someone were to remaster this in its uncut form, stick a “Quentin Tarantino Presents” sticker on it and put it out on sale, I think we’d have a winner on our hands.  But presumably Jim Kelly will be too busy lookin’ goood on the tennis court to do any promotion for it.

Curse of the Movie Collector May 7, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Articles, Humour , 6 comments

No, this isn’t a review of a horror movie, although horror does play its part.  Even if you’ve never seen a Hong Kong movie, you’ll probably find something familiar in the insanity that follows…

I was trawling through Play.com the other day when I noticed that a film called Fearless Hyena has recently been released by those nice folk at Hong Kong Legends.  Hong Kong Legends (hereafter referred to as HKL) generally release the definitive versions of classic Hong Kong films (as the name implies, funnily enough) here in the UK.  I tutted my annoyance as I’d only bought the HK version of this film only a few months ago.  Then I thought, “hang on, I bought that on DVD before.  And wasn’t this the film that…” and after a few minutes had this array on the floor by my PC:

I ought to be doing shop window displays...

Yes, I’ve got four different versions of this film.  The first (on the left) was a VHS tape bought at an ex-rental shop for the princely sum of £5.00 back in 1993 (it was the only way you could get a copy then).  The tape was quite worn and the transfer was pretty ropey, so after a year or two I took the unprecedented step of ordering a copy of the film from a mail-order firm in a magazine (this being long before the days of internet shopping and the global market).  I sent off my cheque and waited the required 28 days for delivery.  The result (see second from left) was a brand spanking new copy of Fearless Hyena.  I was chuffed.  However, upon watching said opus, I was rather disgruntled to discover that the film broke down about fifteen minutes from the end.  There was then about five minutes of a blank screen and then the film came back, sort of showing a fast rewind until it got to the part where it left off.  Not exactly conducive to a good viewing experience, this.  Anyway, fast forward to the digital age (hurrah!) where I learn that Eastern Heroes have released the film.  It’s still dubbed into English (booo!) but the box proclaims that it’s “Colour Enhanced & Digitally Re-Mastered for Higher Picture Resolution” (it isn’t) and a “16.9 Anamorphic version enhanced for widescreen television” (it isn’t that either – the top and bottom bits of the picture have simply been masked to give the impression of widescreen).  Now I could probably go on for days about the frankly criminal shortcomings of Eastern Heroes, but as they have now gone the way of the dodo, there seems little point.  Anyway, the box also proclaims “Interactive moving menus”, and this it has got, so we can all feel a little better about the situation.  Needless to say, this particular version (see third from left) I never even bothered to watch.  The fourth (right) is the Fortune Star version I bought last year.  It’s in the original language (hurrah!), subtitled (double hurrah!) and genuinely remastered (gasp!).  However, I noticed that the remastering process rendered some of the colours a little “artificial”, and of course the subtitles can’t match that of a western release.  That HKL disc sure looks promising. 

So there I am, my finger hovering over the “Add to Cart” button for the HKL DVD.  And do you know what I’m thinking?  I’m thinking, “you know what?  I’m not even sure I like the film anymore”…

So did I buy the film for the fifth time?  No, not yet.  But when the sale comes…

It’s one thing to deliberately double-up on certain titles when better versions come along (besides, I find a pile of old/unwanted DVDs makes a nice place to hide all your Hsu Qi “modelling” discs and suchlike) but over the past year or so I’ve been increasingly troubled by the possibility of buying the same film again by accident.

Using doubles as a discrete way of hiding those special items.

Now this will probably only resonate with other fans of Hong Kong films as all of their English language titles seem to come from a vocabulary of only about 150 words.  When browsing through lists I look at something like Shaolin Drunken Vole Vs The Evil Dead and I have to think to myself “have I got that?”  It might be me getting older or something, but I’m not retaining the information as well as I used to.  Next item on the list, Naked Cop 3 or whatever, and I’m sure I’ve got that.  I even remember bits of it in my mind.  But lo and behold, it’s nowhere to be seen and I realise I’ve been thinking about something else entirely.  Likewise My Flying Auntie and We Love Deadly Dancing Millionaires.  So I opt for the DVD version of Legendary Weapons of China as I haven’t upgraded from VHS yet…and then look up to see it on the shelf next to me.  So I decide to quit while I’m ahead and have a lie down for a bit.

I’ve so far only bought the same film by accident once: Sammo Hung’s Spooky Encounters.  For some reason, I thought it was going to be the sequel (which I soon discovered was called, rather confusingly I feel, Spooky Encounters 2).  But as time goes on and the old grey cells disappear, it’s inevitable that this kind of thing is going to happen again sometime. 

When it does, I hope I can be philosophical about it and think of it as just another ringer to help hide my pile of eastern nudeyness.

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