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The Transporter (2002) July 30, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Action, Non-Asian, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Corey Yuen Kwai  Main Cast: Jason Statham; Shu Qi; François Berléand  Territory: France/USA 

Jason Statham stars as Frank Martin, an ex-military hardcase now taking on highly paid jobs transporting illegal goods from one place to another.  On one assignment, he breaks one of his own rules to “never open a package”, revealing Lai – a beautiful immigrant woman who quickly becomes attached to Frank when his contact fails to assassinate him after the job.  Frank takes revenge on his former employer, and finds out that Lai isn’t exactly what she appears to be.

You’ve got to applaud the truly international nature of The Transporter: a French/American production with an English lead, a Taiwanese supporting actress and a Chinese director.  Yuen Kwai is not an obvious choice to direct a film outside his native Hong Kong, and his patchy track record shows in this effort.  For example, there are numerous silly continuity errors throughout the film that sometimes makes this production seem very amateurish indeed.

Statham, you fool!  He's a Frenchman, not one of 'zee Germans'! 

A de-cockneyed Jason Statham (who talks in neutral tones throughout) tries hard to be an action hero, but no amount of quick editing can hide the fact that he has limited skill in the area.  Nevertheless, acting-wise, he gives a decent performance given that he’s asked to deliver some extremely questionable dialogue.  And who really expects him to be the next Jackie Chan anyway?  Alongside him is the lovely Shu Qi, in her first role outside Asia.  From what I remember, she couldn’t actually speak English at all at this point in her life, but you wouldn’t know it as she’s pretty intelligible most of the time.

The Transporter is one of those films whose component parts are pretty bad but ends up being quite enjoyable anyway.  The plot is highly suspect at every level and as mentioned above, the action is not exactly top-notch.  One thing about this does feel like a Hong Kong film, though: the product placement.  This film is quite obviously sponsored by Tiger beer as the stuff’s all over the place.  What’s more, the film’s soundtrack is poor, and the ending song feels strangely retro, as if it came from an 80’s action movie. 

Beer.  Beautiful girl.  Beer.  Beautiful girl.  Which one would YOU rescue? 

But the French locations help in some way, and the film is beautifully filmed.  It also helps that the film is barely 90 minutes long and hardly lets up in that time.  This is one where you definitely must disengage the brain before watching, and you might end up enjoying it. 

Fatal Contact (2006) July 26, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Action, 2000s films , 3 comments

Director: Dennis Law  Main Cast: Wu Jing; Miki Yeung; Ronald Cheng; Eddie Cheung  Territory: Hong Kong

“I want to…be the next Jet Li” says Kong (Wu Jing) with a smile in this Dennis Law directed actioner.  It’s an obvious nod to Wu Jing’s growing popularity and physical similarity to the Jetster.  However, Wu Jing should learn from Li’s mistakes and be very careful about the projects he chooses to take on.

That’s not to say Fatal Contact is a poor film; it is, however, a very mixed bag.  Wu plays a travelling circus performer with his eye on young Tin (Miki Yeung) and gets caught up in the shady world of illegal boxing.  Actually, he gets persuaded into it by Tin, who along with trainer/friend/scrounger Captain (Ronald Cheng) hones the fighter into a fantastic fighting machine.

this scene is reminiscent of Jackie Chan at his peak. 

When Wu dismantles his first opponent in a few seconds, you know things are going to be good.  Sure enough, the action scenes throughout the entire movie are brilliantly executed, and for once Wu takes centre stage and is not some seething psychotic villain.  Not since the 80s has there been such a spectacle as Wu Jing, and the showcase he puts on in Fatal Contact is as good, if not better, than anything else he’s done in the past.  A frantic fight in an underpass at night is shot in a style similar to that of Jackie Chan at his peak and will further endear him to the heart of action film fans worldwide.

However, the glue holding the action scenes together isn’t quite so strong.  Ronald Cheng is great as the tight but friendly Captain, and the sight of Ken Lo as a kind of sci-fi pimp will raise a few smiles, I’m sure.  There has been some attempt to add depth to the script, but there’s only so much you can do with the concept of a fighter moving from fight to increasingly difficult fight, and most of it disappoints. 

His girlfriend is another source of concern.  She actually persuades Kong to start fighting for money and eggs him on to take greater and greater risks, which is a complete turnaround from the archetype.  While this could be seen as refreshing, in the end it just seems strange.  She comes across as a cynical manipulative bitch, even giving a former friend who has fallen upon hard times some tips on how to be a better prostitute.  Without giving anything away, this point is addressed, but we as the audience are obviously supposed to get behind her as the unwavering girlfriend of the hero and this just doesn’t feel right from the very start.

Despite his obvious and undeniable skills, Wu Jing is middling as a leading man.  It’s not that he’s bad at acting (he’s not), it’s just that he doesn’t yet have much of a screen persona to exploit the way, say, Jackie Chan did with his clowning underdog.  Maybe this will develop in time, but in the meantime his scenes of a less active nature are quite forgettable.

Now you're just showing off!  This flip is phenominal 

Despite the rather long running time, this movie flies by, which is always a good sign.  But the film winds up with a very unconvincing climax that feels like Law ran out of time.  As it stands, the ending of Fatal Contact is the most disappointing I’ve seen in an action movie for a very long time.

Still, the fight scenes are fantastic, and for many that will be good enough.  Personally, I hoped for something a little bit more substantial.  Maybe next time…

Lam Suet-o-meter: Low.  But he’s right there at the start, almost in the first frame!  Mr Lam plays Soo, part of the gang running the illegal boxing racket.  Although the second person to deliver a line in the film, he only pops up sporadically.  Best moment: he does the old dig-and-sniff ear to nose manoeuvre when he thinks no one’s watching:

Lam Suet.  I'm trying to get the top result on Google search for Lam Suet, and I'm not going to quit until I do.  Lam Suet, Lam Suet, Lam Suet!

The Avenging Fist (2001) July 23, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Action, Sci-Fi, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Andrew Lau; Corey Yuen  Kwai  Main Cast: Wang Lee-Hom; Stephen Fung Tak-Lun; Kristy Yeung; Sammo Hung; Yuen Biao  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Sil Metropole Organisation

The initial hype on Avenging Fist was extremely positive: if you were interested in Hong Kong action movies, this was going to be the biggie.  Then, the Tekken license was lost and a few rumours started to break through: this isn’t going to be too good after all.

'I'm keeping this one...' 

It turns out that Avenging Fist went from being the Holy Grail of Hong Kong movies to being a complete also-ran.  Having now, after owning it on DVD for close to a decade, finally watched it, I can see why it fell flat on its face: despite the great special effects, the film itself is incredibly vacuous.  The first impression reaction I had when the movie opened was: “uh-oh, someone’s been watching The Fifth Element”.  While some leeway has got to be given to the makers for at least attempting science fiction (a subject quite alien to the territory), the result is still a hodgepodge of dire warnings on the future, a hackneyed “love is stronger than hate” message and wild speculations on how technology is going to be so much different from how we know it now.  Sadly, the film’s entire premise is based on the enduring urban myth that we only use 10% of our brain.  The remaining 90% of our brain’s capacity, the film tells us, can be unlocked with the help of a Power Glove and can give us fantastic super powers.

Kong (Wang Lee-Hom) is a troubled young man who wants to buy a black market Power Glove and be just like his apparently dead father (Yuen Biao).  He has serious physical potential, and his mother (Cecilia Yip) trains him when he’s not out causing trouble with his friends.  There is also a pseudo-fascist dictator to be overthrown in the form of Combat 21 (Roy Cheung), who has turned Kong’s father into one of his henchmen.  Policeman Dark (Sammo Hung) somehow gets mixed up in all this, despite having a premonition of his own impending death.

Up, up and awaaaay!! 

When Kong’s mother gives him the dire warning not to use his “power moves” in public, the game is finally up: Avenging Fist is simply an updated kung fu picture using many of the same plot devices as so many 70s actioners.  The shiny new coat of CGI simply isn’t enough to disguise the more corny moments and tired storytelling.  The action scenes are particularly poor, with lots of motion-blur and special effects added in.  With no human element to the fight sequences, it’s damn near impossible to engage with them.

I quite liked Andrew Lau’s other CGI-driven movies, but this one leaves me cold.  While it is to be congratulated on trying something new, the results are paradoxically over familiar and this is one movie that must simply be labelled as a failed experiment and forgotten about.

By Hook Or By Crook (1980) July 20, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, 1980s films , add a comment

Director: Karl Maka  Main Cast: Sammo Hung; Dean Shek; Wu Ma; Karl Maka  Territory: Hong Kong 

Another post, another obscure Sammo Hung film!  In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s likely only the hardcore Sammo fans would have seen this one as the focus is most definitely on comedy.  The plot (such as it is) centres on a mysterious Robin Hood-esque thief called the Flower Kid, who the authorities want to capture.  The Sheriff (Karl Maka – also the film’s director) enlists the help of Skinny Gee (Dean Shek) to track him down.  In the course of his travels, he comes upon Fatso (Hung, obviously) who is masquerading as the Flower Kid.  They strike up a friendship of sorts and together go in search of the real Flower Kid to help rid the town of a nasty villain in the form of the Golden Killer (Chung Faat) and his gang.

By Hook Or By Crook doesn’t start too promisingly and it gets a lot worse before it gets better.  The comedy is extremely broad, crude and base, not to mention dated and basically unfunny.  This goes on for quite a while and it is pretty much an endurance test to get through it.  At various times I was sorely tempted to reach for the “off” button, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t now.

Although it never really redeems itself, the movie gets significantly better with the introduction of Wu Ma’s character about halfway through.  I don’t think I’ll be accused of giving too much away if I reveal he’s the real Flower Kid – an old hero who’s given up robbing the rich and giving to the poor and is more than a little cowardly these days.  I’m not really a Wu Ma fan – he tends to play slimy unsympathetic characters (and I’ve never forgiven him for making fun of Sammo in Heart of the Dragon or directing the God-awful Circus Kids) but there’s some mileage to be got out of a rusty old hero coming out of retirement.  He’s made up as old man, but when he comes out of retirement, Sammo and Shek make him up to hide his advancing years, so you end up having a fairly young man playing an old man made up like a young man…well, it made me laugh, anyway.  There are also some wacky costumes that made me smile and a good cameo by Eric Tsang as an unbeatable gunman (cue The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme!).

Dean Shek & Sammo Hung from a glorious VCD edition of the film! 

The mark of a good comedy is when you’re still laughing after the movie’s over and in that respect By Hook Or By Crook is a winner - I was belly laughing for hours after the movie ended.  Trouble is, I was laughing at the one moment in the whole movie that was supposed to be serious.  A man stumbles into a family’s garden, whips out a knife and stabs a young woman in the back, killing her instantly.  The family are understandably distraught at the killer, who sticks around after the event while the grief-stricken father admonishes him with an emotional tirade translated in the subtitles as: “You are too rude!”

The more physical side of the movie doesn’t impress too much either.  Everyone who has watched Warriors Two will remember the movie was nearly ruined with some ill-placed slapstick humour right at the end with the Dean Shek character, and that’s the tone that’s used throughout this film.  The end fight is handled in pure cartoon style – Sammo gets beaten to a pulp and regurgitates a battery and a table is pulled from under Dean Shek, who remains floating in the air until he realises there’s nothing underneath him and then comes crashing down to earth.  Funny when it happens to a cartoon cat and mouse, less so in a live-action environment. 

So while By Hook Or By Crook is not the complete write-off it appears to be at first, it is far from being a classic movie and I can’t honestly see the point of ever watching it again.  One thing that bothered me was the fact that there was a lot of “borrowed” music for this film and I know I’ve heard it in its original setting but can’t quite place it.  It sounds a lot like Morricone to me, but if anyone can clear this up, I’d be very grateful.

Enter the Fat Dragon (1978) July 16, 2008

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

Director: Sammo Hung  Main Cast: Sammo Hung; Peter Yang; Luk Chu-Sek; Leung Kar-Yan; Lee Hoi-Sang; Lam Kin-Ming; Ankie Lau  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Fung Ming Motion Picture Co.

Rotund swine-handler, country bumpkin and Bruce Lee fanatic Lung (Sammo Hung) comes to Hong Kong to help out at his uncle’s street cafe, where he inadvertently causes more trouble than he’s worth.  Throw in a counterfeiting gang, a disturbed Mr Big with some issues of his own and a trio of “international” fighter bodyguards and you have Enter the Fat Dragon.

The only real criticism you can make of Enter the Fat Dragon is that it could have been even more fun if a little more effort had been put into it.  The plot is a little random, but everything else is so much fun it’s positively infectious.  In an age where Bruceploitation movies were still being churned out on a production line, this parody is a breath of fresh air.

An action highlight 

Actually, parody is not quite the right word – it’s not a straight send up of Lee’s movies (although most are referenced at some point) but rather a loving homage.  Sammo’s facial expressions are spot on as he imitates the Little Dragon throughout the film and ironically does some of the best impressions I’ve seen of the man.  The character of Lung is one of Sammo’s more likeable creations; a country bumpkin who tries not to be gullible but always ends up being taken advantage of. 

The humour for the most part is some of the best you’ll find in Hong Kong films from this period, and there are many comic set pieces that deliver the chuckles.  Straight-faced Roy Chow is an obvious highlight, as well as a bizarre turn by Peter Kwan as the villainous but troubled Professor Pai.  The usual sight gags and misunderstandings are all here but delivered in such a way as to be entertaining despite the predictability of it all.  One memorable gag sees Kao (Luk Chu-Sek), after being lured into the underworld, take Sammo on a taxi ride.  However, Sammo doesn’t get in the car and has to chase the cab on foot, periodically catching up with Kao who is oblivious to the situation and keeps up a steady steam of dialogue with the increasingly out of breath Sammo.  Another highlight occurs when Sammo takes on a “real” Bruce Lee-alike in a film studio – an unusually surreal scene as two men take the guise of Lee to fight each other.

Bruce Lee imitator Vs Bruce Lee imitator - funnier than it should be!

Sammo’s fight choreography is perhaps not as polished as it would become in the 80s but the film does not suffer as a result and there are many highlights.  Frequent Sammo collaborator Leung Kar-Yan appears as a henchman as does a blacked-up Jim Kelly-esque Lee Hoi-Sang.  The appearance of an actor in black face is sure to raise eyebrows these days but I think the motives were pretty sound here and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious negative stereotyping.  In reality, it wouldn’t fool anyone and is actually pretty funny.  Also look out for an appearance by Yuen Biao, Mars and Mang Hoi as stuntmen in the opening sequence.

Enter the Fat Dragon is one of the increasing number of Sammo’s films that are difficult, if not impossible, to get hold of these days.   Although not as obvious a career highlight as films like Millionaire’s Express, Pedicab Driver or Wheels on Meals, it is still a hell of a lot of fun and should be seen by anyone with a fondness for the portly pugilist.  Oh, and if you can track down the original English dub, that’s worth looking at too if only for one deadpan line delivered on behalf of Roy Chow that had me laughing out loud with its dryness.

“You stinky!” - Hong Kong’s funniest subtitles July 13, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Articles, Humour , 10 comments

One peculiarity of Hong Kong films has always been the territory’s tradition of subtitling their films in Chinese and English.  Chinese subs are necessary as dialects vary from place to place but the written form can be understood universally (theoretically, at least) and English subtitles seemed to have been law at one point but the practice still continues even though the colony is no longer under British rule.  As the people who do the subtitles are Chinese, it’s not surprising that the translations can go awry at times – sometimes with hilarious consequences.

My introduction to Chinese subtitles probably came later in life than most fans.  My first exposure to Hong Kong films was on TV, where they were subtitled perfectly; after that, I had to make do with horribly dubbed VHS tapes, and it wasn’t until I saw a freshly pirated copy of City Hunter that I became aware that Hong Kong subtitled its own films into English.  It was a bit of shock after watching Channel 4’s meticulously worded subs to be faced with a line like: “oh, are they chewing gums or my hearing’s wrong?”

But it wasn’t until I saw Police Story 2 that the potential for comic interpretations became apparent.  One bad guy shouts a command to his colleagues when Jackie gets the best of them: “Beat him out of recognisable shape!”  From then on, I’ve been looking at Hong Kong subtitles in a different way…

The best ones aren’t necessarily the ones that are completely wrong or weird.  In some ways, you can see that the subtitle makes perfect sense in itself; it’s just that no native speaker of this language would phrase it in such a way.  And why the Chinese seem to think we have a bodily function we call “stooling” is beyond me.  It’s odd because such things as typos are relatively rare, and when was the last time you read a Chinglish subtitle that mixes up “you’re” and “your” or “there” and “their”?  I believe I’ve only seen one such mix up, and as native English speakers get them muddled up every day, that’s quite an achievement.

Bio Zombie 

It’s not just the dialogue that can come to grief - sometimes the blurb on the back of the DVD box can raise a belly laugh or two.  The following is taken verbatim from the back of the Hong Kong Universe DVD of The Protector (with apologies to all who have read my comments about this nugget before on the HKMDB):

“Super action star Jackie Chan being the Director and actor this time* in “The Protector”, co-starring Sally Yip and other action actress**. 

New York policeman Billy Wong (Jackie Chan) chase after the gangsters who killed his partner on the ground, on the ramparts and in the air***.  He investigates a kidnapped case to Hong Kong and discovers Mr. Big is the leader of the gangsters****.  Finally, a big fireball lights up the beautiful harbour of Hong Kong”

*Erm, actually, James Glickenhaus is the Director, as it says elsewhere on the box.

**I guess the blurb writer wasn’t a fan of Moon Lee, who co-stars alongside Jackie…

***Jesus, what a day: first killed on the ground, then killed on the ramparts and then again in the air.  No wonder Jackie’s after revenge.

****This completely ruins the tension in the movie: all along I was thinking Mr Henchman was the leader.

Some of the best Chinglish subtitles can be found in the book Sex and Zen & A Bullet In The Head by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins, and I’ve tied to avoid duplication where possible.  As this book is now twelve years old, I think it’s high time for some new ones to be copied and pasted throughout the Internet!  I plan to write new articles with new subs when I’ve got enough together, and if any readers have got a howler they’d like to see on here, please email me on drunkenmaster42@hotmail.com.   In the meantime, I present the following for your amusement.

Unreasonable requests and outlandish orders:

“Bump him to death” – From Beijing with Love

“Sock him, Fatty” – Pantyhose Hero

“Let me see how rude are you!” – Forbidden City Cop

“Carry a gun!  Armed Rubbery!” – People’s Hero

“You’re under our encirclement” – Fatal Move (whatever happened to “we have you surrounded”?)

“Bastard, bump against me” – Pantyhose Hero

“Doctor, are you rude?” – Forbidden City Cop

“Follow that fatty!  Run him down” – Pedicab Driver

“Let me rape you once and for all” – Pantyhose Hero

“Jin Si, your belly is open.  Run” – The Heroic Ones

“Let’s gay” – Pantyhose Hero

 

Insults, abuse and fighting talk:

“Can I slap her heavily?” – Forbidden City Cop

“You stinky!” – Fatal Move

“Auntie, you talk like a whore” – Pedicab Driver

“Frankly, are you a girl or a pervert?” – Pantyhose Hero

“You want to beat me, I do want to hit you hardly with rod too” – Forbidden City Cop

“Fatty, how can you piss on the street?” – Enter the Fat Dragon

 

Just plain wrong:

“Keeps delaying rascally” – Fatal Move

“Damaged, it’s sharp” – Pantyhose Hero

“I really recognise his scent of smell” – Ebola Syndrome

“You have a gun, return him with a bullet!” – People’s Hero

 “No, I have just stooled” – Lawyer, Lawyer 

“Slash the boys like greens, you serious” – Fatal Move

“Cut off the crabs, I will kill you if you don’t pay” – Fantasy Mission Force

“Sorry, my orgasm” – Pantyhose Hero

“I am stooling” – Bio Zombie

“Was beaten up when I just walked in.  Someone expelled me out” – Fatal Move

“It Banged, and a lot of people stooped down on the street” – People’s Hero

 “What for? I don’t chew gums” Interpol 009 

“Those bastards drank the urine which I’ve added with cathartics” – Lawyer, Lawyer

I’m off to do some stooling now.  Until next time, enjoy those subtitles!

    

Pantyhose Hero (1990) July 6, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 1990s films , 6 comments

Director: Sammo Hung  Main Cast: Sammo Hung; Alan Tam; Joan Tong; Jaclyn Chu  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Bojon Films

A serial killer is targeting the Hong Kong gay community, so the local police decide that two cops should go undercover as gay lovers to track down the murderer.  Enter Jeff (Sammo Hung) and Alan (Alan Tam), two “real men” who are less than pleased with their new assignment.

If you were being charitable, you could simply describe the humour of Pantyhose Hero as “sneering”.  It’s full of the kind of humour that schoolboys normally grow out of in their teens, and at worst is probably one of the most offensive films you could see.  Seemingly every sentence and joke is made from a position of supreme ignorance.  Even the English title implies that all gay men are transvestites (and presumably vice versa) and has no bearing on the film’s plot.

Let's not.

Pantyhose Hero presumes all gay men are rapists, or at the very least sex-obsessed perverts.  It’s hard to choose specific examples of dialogue when the entire script is full of clichés and the worst kind of stereotyping possible, but the training sequence in which Jaclyn Chu lectures Sammo and Alan in the art of acting gay is probably the most ignorant speech you will ever hear in a movie.  They are taught to mince about while given such advice as “cultivate the mentality of disliking girls” and that there are “three types of gays” and that the third kind are “born gays and have to sell themselves to sate their lust”.  There’s much talk about who’s “male” and “female” in a male gay relationship (incidentally, there are no lesbians in Pantyhose Hero’s universe) and a “psychological test” that is so pathetic a schoolboy probably thought it up.  Perhaps trumping that is the scene where the police raid a gay bar and separate the men from their “girlfriends” for searching purposes.  Ironically, it’s clear that this scene was meant to be somewhat “pro gay” in showing the police to be piggish, and even more ironically, ignorant.  It’s a great disappointment that the script for this film was co-written by the late Barry Wong, who was responsible for so many great action comedy scripts in the 80s.

To give some credit, there are about two funny moments in the film: one dialogue between Sammo and Alan with much punning in Cantonese on the word “gay” which is completely lost in translation, and the scene where Sammo chats up the wrong man in a sushi bar.  And, like a lot of Sammo’s comedies, the heterosexuals don’t come across too well either (he and Tam are so sex-crazed they can barely keep their hands off Jaclyn Chu).

You could do a lot worse, Alan...

This being a Sammo Hung film, there are fights and stunts included of course.  These are definitely overshadowed by the “comedy” and it seems obvious that Sammo was hoping this was going to stand in its comic merits as the action is pretty sparse.  Where present, the action is sporadically brilliant, and the finale with a tacked-on drug smuggling sub-plot (even now, I can’t think where that came from) is Sammo at his frenetic best.  He does what he always does and makes an ordinary non-performer (this time Alan Tam) look great at action.  It doesn’t last long though and as it does literally seem to come out of nowhere it feels like it came from another film. 

At the time, there was considerable backlash against this film for its blatant homophobia, but I’ve noticed in recent times that the backlash itself is getting some backlash.  It should be realised that the humour of Pantyhose Hero has nothing at all to do with modern “politically incorrect” comedy, which is conscious of the sensitive issues it jokes about.  This is just an exercise in sneering superiority and lacks the most basic human decency.  It’s amazing that for a performer who made so many great things in the 80s, Sammo pissed it all against the wall in such a spectacular way as soon as the decade was over.  This was the first (and by no means last) seemingly deliberate attempt to sabotage his own career by alienating his audience. 

Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By a Thread (1974) July 2, 2008

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

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi  Main Cast: Etsuko Shihomi, Masashi Ishibashi, Yasuaki Kurata  Territory: Japan  Production Company: Toei

The next Sister Street Fighter film off the Toei production line is Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By a Thread (a title that doesn’t seem to have any real relevance, incidentally).  Already, you can see the formula: beloved relation/friend of Koryu kidnapped or working against their will, heinously evil crime lord with crazy henchmen, fights galore and sexploitation.  What sets Koryu off this time is the murder of a police detective in Hong Kong, who kept evidence in a role of microfilm in his false eye (no, seriously!).

The villain in this instalment is a diamond smuggler, who uses young ladies to hide diamonds in their…well, let’s just say these ladies are sitting on a lot of money.  He collects martial artists to do his dirty work, and employs them to eliminate Koryu when she starts to get too close to his operation.  And if the bad guys weren’t weird enough in the original, the ante has been upped in this episode with the inclusion of an alcoholic parrot-wearing freak of a doctor who I couldn’t tell was wearing blackface or not.

Mr Big's secretary regretted not using the spell checker on that important letter to the diamond smuggler's hideout

Toei certainly liked to recycle their actors a lot, and a staple of this series seems to be recurring performers returning to play different roles.  Masashi Ishibashi returns as lead thug in a role almost identical to the last movie.  A real shot in the arm, though, is the inclusion of Yasuaki Kurata as a kind of rock star-styled thug for hire.

Etsuko Shihomi gets intense in the woods 

You are probably thinking it all sounds a little too similar to Sister Street Fighter, and you’d be absolutely right – and it suffers from much the same problems.  The script is unengaging and derivative of its predecessor (most of the time, this feels like nothing more than a remake of the first film) and the same shaky camerawork gets in the way of the fight scenes.  However, I enjoyed this sequel slightly more than the original and this is mainly down to Yasuaki Kurata’s involvement.  His character is the only one to have any kind of depth (although I’m using the word “depth” very loosely) and his abilities are astounding.  I’d go as far as to say he’s never looked better.

Mr Kurata shows his disco moves

Etsuko Shihomi also has some great fight scenes, and again handles the nunchaku like a demon.  Plus there’s more sleazy 70s sexploitation in this as well as some nasty gore and torture scenes.  That, coupled with the bizarre plot of the film and the freaky characters makes me doubt the sanity of the makers of these films.  But that’s always the appeal of these crazy 70s actioners.

Sister Street Fighter (1974) July 1, 2008

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

Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi  Main Cast: Etsuko Shihomi, Masashi Ishibashi, Emi Hayakawa, Sonny Chiba  Territory: Japan  Production Company: Toei Company

I’ve been quite looking forward to seeing this series of films since seeing Etsuko Shihomi in action in the relatively weak final entry of the Street Fighter series.  She was, for me, easily the best thing in that film, and I was wondering how she’d fare given top billing.

The usual problem of poor scriptwriting get things off to an inauspicious start when we see a stock shot of Hong Kong followed by a cop telling Koryu Lee (Shihomi) that her brother has gone missing in action while investigating a drug lord’s island fortress.  I really find these films that don’t have plotting “foreplay” a real grind.  There’s no introduction of character, no preamble, and basically no way for the viewer to engage in the film.  The first part of the film is a collection of scenes and fights without much cohesion or meaning. 

In her spare time, Koryu worked in the sausage factory. 

This is more or less countered, however, by the craziness of events later on.  It’s evident the scriptwriters were more than a little familiar with Enter the Dragon, and Sister Street Fighter is a wacked-out version of the Bruce Lee film with a plethora of screen crazies.  It’s hard to decide to whom the title of weirdest character should go, but I’d have to settle for a whole team – the Quentin Tarantino-sounding Amazon 7, who wear leopard skins, boxing boots, fishnets and white masks (well, presumably if you go out dressed like that you’re not going to want people to know who you are).  There must be something weird in the air at the moment throwing all these Amazon women at me (see Fantasy Mission Force), but I’ll tell you one thing for sure – one of this gang is definitely not a woman!

Street Fighter stalwart Masashi Ishibashi appears as does Sonny Chiba himself, although neither in their previous roles.  Sonny Chiba’s appearance here seems mainly to endorse the new franchise, but his scenes are some of the best of the film.  That’s not to say Shihomi can’t handle herself well, it’s just that some of the fight scenes are so badly shot it draws the attention away from the action.  When the camera’s wobbling around so much, it’s hard to focus on what’s going on.  However, there are some gems here, including a blistering nunchaku duel that ups the adrenaline level nicely.  But this doesn’t seem to quite resolve itself as the scene ends rather abruptly and her foe doesn’t show up again.

The cafe would pay dearly for leting hair into Koryu's Danish. 

When Koryu discovers her brother’s being used as a pharmaceutical guinea pig, along with the plan to smuggle drugs in wigs (and the less said about that the better), she decides to storm the drug lord’s fortress and this starts the big climax.  Again, while competent (if a little bizarre and fragmented), the culmination isn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped, with a very strange wirework finale.  What I really loved though was the brilliant show-stopping back-to-front man (fans will know what I mean) that was hilariously sick. 

It definitely gets more fun as it goes on, and the menagerie of weirdoes on display will ensure it will get an occasional viewing, but Sister Street Fighter is all surface and no depth, and feels every inch the speedy production it was.

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