jump to navigation

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin (1978) August 30, 2008

Posted by Cal in : 1970s films, Kung Fu , 10 comments

Director: Chen Chi-Hwa  Main Cast: Jackie Chan; Nora Miao; Kam Kong; Gam Ching-Lan  Territory: Taiwan  Production Company: Lo Wei Motion Picture Co.

Eight masters of Shaolin mysteriously disappear, apparently taking the secrets of the hybrid “Snake and Crane” style of kung fu with them.  When Hsu Ying-Fung (Chan) is seen carrying a book entitled “The Eight Steps of the Snake and Crane”, all manner of interested parties show up wanting the book for themselves.

Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin is seen by many as a bit of a “bridge” in Jackie’s oeuvre, from his straight-faced films with Lo Wei to the comedic films that would make him a star.  What strikes me looking at the film now is the difference in tone between the action scenes (choreographed by Chan) and the rest of the film (directed by Chen Chi-Hwa, who would go on to direct Chan’s full-on comedy Half a Loaf of Kung Fu).  While the action scenes are quite light and sometimes overtly comic, the rest of the film is drowned in its own seriousness.

The film is a confusing tale of gangs and individuals who all want Jackie’s book, and it would probably have worked better as a farce, instead of this attempt at drama and intrigue.  I’ve seen this one perhaps half a dozen times now and I still have trouble working out who wants to do what to whom and why.  It all adds up to a bit of a disappointing mess, in truth, although not as bad as some of Jackie’s other films for Lo Wei.

One of the better moments of Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin

The action scenes are ridiculously plentiful – this is one of the most action packed films I’ve ever seen.  While this sounds like a recommendation, it all gets a bit much after a while and ends up like: meet, fight, talk, fight, meet someone else, fight, talk, get betrayed by former friend, fight, fight, talk, meet someone else, fight them for no reason, talk, fight etc, etc.  Also, I was amused that the martial arts shown in the opening title sequence (as usual, against a red backdrop in a studio) have no relevance to the film.

Like a lot of Jackie’s Lo Wei films, I’ve held off seeing this again until a better version came along, having had to put up with grainy fullscreen VHS tapes or VCDs for a long time.  The “Ultra-Bit” mastering job by the late company Hong Kong Legends is probably the best we’re ever going to get, but the restoration is quite obvious at times, and the colours go completely crazy occasionally.  I don’t know if this is the original audio version (I’ve always had to put up with the English dub until now) but I found the Mandarin track quite strange to listen to.  The voice given to Jackie is one thing, but the voice given to Nora Miao is nothing short of bizarre – high pitched and girlish – when she’s supposed to be a warrior woman not to be trifled with. 

I’ve come to the conclusion I’m never going to like Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin all that much, despite being frequently referred to as one of the better films Jackie made under Lo Wei.  It’s too draining on both the eyes and the noggin, and the 96 minute running time becomes more like an endurance test than entertainment. 

Cub Tiger from Kwang Tung (c.1971) August 27, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Action, 1970s films , 12 comments

Director: Ngai Hoi Fung  Main Cast: Jackie Chan; Chan Hung Lit; Shu Pui Pui; Tin Fung  Territory: Hong Kong

The widely held belief of Cub Tiger from Kwang Tung is that some of it was shot, the production ran out of money and the whole thing was abandoned and forgotten about until Jackie became a star, whereby some new (Jackie-less) scenes were filmed to create Master with Cracked Fingers (AKA Snake Fist Fighter).  Jackie Chan himself, it seems, also holds this belief.

Seeing this title is pretty exciting - this is Jackie Chan before he was Jackie Chan! 

However, the truth is this film was undeniably completed (it has a beginning, a middle and an end), and watching it now is an eye-opener.  This is a pre-New Fist of Fury starring role for Jackie (billed as Chan Yuen Lung – “Yuen Lung” being Sammo Hung’s old opera name) and I’m pretty sure it has no precedent.  The film itself is almost immaterial when compared to its historical significance, and that’s just as well as it isn’t that good.  Following the template made by The Big Boss, Lung (Chan) stands up to a bunch of local hoodlums but is forbidden to fight by his father.  Cue lots of agonising “should I fight, or should I do what my father wants?” internal struggles from the young (and I mean young) star.  The script tends towards sentiment and melodrama too much for my liking, and I sometimes felt I was being repeatedly hit on the head by moral dilemma after moral dilemma. 

But Jackie’s litheness startled me after watching latter-day efforts like The Tuxedo – he flips, gambols and jumps about all over the place like the star he would become.  I hadn’t seen this film before, but I had seen Master with Cracked Fingers.  I only saw it once, but rather enjoyed it despite feeling that something wasn’t quite right about it (I don’t think I even twigged that it wasn’t Jackie in the newer material – I was very much a novice at that time).  Maybe the extra material added another dimension (well, Yuen Siu-Tin was involved, so it’s possible) but Cub Tiger from Kwang Tung is a very forgettable entry in the genre if judged on its own merits. 

Young Jackie 

But if you’re a Chan completist like me, you’ll probably find this movie pretty fascinating.  Hong Kong movie information is hard to substantiate, but I think this was made around the time of Not Scared to Die and Police Woman (actually, this film has the same director as the latter) but Chan had relatively minor roles in those films.  Even though the movie is less than stellar, the moves and a little of Chan’s impish humour is there.  If you’re new to Jackie Chan, get his better films first (anything made between 1978 and 1991 would be a good bet), but if you’ve explored his Lo Wei films and want to know where it really all began, then this is a must.

More young Jackie 

No review of the film is complete without at least mentioning the state the film’s actually in.  Even at its best, the picture quality is pretty rough, and the print has severe wear to it.  The screen is cropped (I don’t know why) and this has resulted in the obliteration of some of the original subtitles.  To get around this, the option of watching the film with “extra subtitles” is given on the Rarescope DVD – remastered, removable subs that appear every time the originals are at least partially obscured by the cropping.  It’s a nice touch (I know a lot of companies wouldn’t have bothered) but it can be a little distracting for the eye to keep switching between two sets of subtitles – especially when you can still read the original text and the remastered subs say something quite different!

The damage is more evident at the start of the movie.  Thankfully, this is as bad as it gets! 

The DVD has one surprise up its sleeve – someone’s personal camcorder recording of Jackie’s appearance at a movie screening in Britain around the time of Mr Nice Guy.  This footage made me remember why I like Jackie the man and why I’m slowly getting sick of my own countrymen and our loutish behaviour.  Jackie is heckled throughout the appearance by catcalls of “let’s see some moves” (are these people really fans?) and is asked by Toby Russell (of “Eastern Heroes” fame - I’m pretty sure it’s him anyway) when he’s “going to make Drunken Master 3” (despite the Jackie-less but definitely official Drunken Master 3 coming out the same year as its predecessor).  Jackie smiles and is extremely gracious throughout despite the lack of manners being shown to him and the awkward silences that ensue when it becomes clear he’s not going to start doing his Drunken Monkey routine.  He’s a class act, and perhaps the only good thing to come out of his international success later in that decade was that he wouldn’t have to do crap like that anymore.

The Tuxedo (2002) August 23, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 2000s films , 10 comments

Director: Kevin Donovan  Main Cast: Jackie Chan; Jennifer Love Hewitt; Richie Coster; Jason Isaacs  Territory: USA

A bottled water organisation stumbles onto the idea of holding the world to ransom by producing water that dehydrates the drinker.  Super smooth agent Clark Devlin (Isaacs) is about to step up to the task of halting the operation when he is severely injured in an assassination attempt witnessed by his chauffer Jimmy Tong (Chan).  Tong, collecting effects from Devlin’s house, tries his favourite evening attire on for size, only to find the tuxedo bestows fantastic powers on the wearer.  Assuming Devlin’s identity, he meets with Devlin’s contact Del Blaine (Love Hewitt) and together they fight to stop the bio-terrorists.

There’s a definite sense of “come back Brett Ratner, all is forgiven” about The Tuxedo, a half-baked attempt at a comedy thriller.  Chan was thrilled to work for Spielberg’s DreamWorks studio, but the reality is there are not many positives to be taken from the experience.  The tone of the film is set right from the opening shot of a deer urinating into a river – a shot that has no point to it other than to be totally pointless. 

The Tuxedo 

Some Chan fans were concerned that Jackie’s family-friendly persona would be damaged by him wearing a “Hooters” sweatshirt and his references to a “wet dream” seem out of place coming from his lips.  It’s possible he didn’t understand what he was being asked to do as, like in Rush Hour 3, one out-take has him delivering a risqué line, saying bemusedly afterwards: “must be terrible ‘cos everyone’s smiling”.  It’s also surprising how bad his English is in this film.  I’m guessing his voice-coach wasn’t up to the job, as Jackie is pretty unintelligible sometimes (although that could just be the scripting) and I’d consider myself quite familiar with his English speaking voice.

For a sidekick, he gets Jennifer Love Hewitt.  Now, I must admit I’ve not seen her in anything before and I know next to nothing about her, but I’ve been told her breasts are a pretty big deal, a fact that’s reinforced by several nudge-nudge references throughout the whole movie.  Maybe I’m missing the joke - I know this is a PG rated film and I don’t wish to be crude, but I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.  Worse, she fails to generate any chemistry where Chan’s concerned, and I wondered that perhaps they didn’t get on behind the scenes.  However, the out-takes show she seemed to have had the time of her life with Chan, hardly able to keep a straight face for more than a few seconds at a time.

Admittedly, this scene is quite funny, 

The story attempts to be a kind of James Bond-esque romp (Jackie even utters the line: “the name’s Tong – James Tong” at one point), but ends up being flat.  The storyline about a kind of water that dehydrates as it is being drunk could have come out of a Moore-era Bond tale for sure, and Peter Stormare hams it up as the mad doctor Sims.  But the execution of all aspects of the film lets it down.  For instance, Tong is told by his new employer not to touch his tuxedo, and Tong seems to be the kind of guy who’ll keep his word (plus there’s a budding mutual respect growing between them).  Upon his hospitalisation, Tong goes back to Devlin’s place and immediately tries the damn thing on – no explanation, nothing.  While seeing him flail about destroying Devlin’s priceless collection of objet d’art is the highest point of the movie, the fact that he put the tuxedo on in the first place still mystifies me.  As well as a totally pointless cameo by James Brown.

With Jackie getting on in years, I suppose we should be thankful if we get a shot of him even tying his shoelaces without using wires or CGI, but there really isn’t a lot here to impress.  Apparently, Brad Allen was in amongst the stunt crew, but if he appears on screen, I missed him.  Which just goes to show what a wasted opportunity this film was.  Avoid.

The Medallion (2003) August 20, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Comedy, Action, 2000s films , 5 comments

Director: Gordon Chan  Main Cast: Jackie Chan; Lee Evans; Claire Forlani; Julian Sands Territory: Hong Kong 

The unholy trinity of star Jackie Chan, director Gordon Chan and action director Sammo Hung return from their less than stellar outing with Thunderbolt for this action comedy with a supernatural flavour.

The plot is extremely simple and highly derivative – I’ll just throw the words “chosen one”, “innocent child” and “bestows immortality”, and you can probably join the dots yourself.  In this one, Jackie dies about halfway through and is resurrected as a kind of supernatural superman, battling evil in the form of Snakehead (Sands) and his lackeys (which include a dubbed Anthony Wong).

The audience can breath one huge sigh of relief on one front with this film – the acting here is actually quite passable, with only a couple of wooden moments from henchmen spoiling the show.  The largely British cast do a thoroughly decent show, and the addition of John Rhys-Davies lends the production an air of class it probably doesn’t deserve.  The film is mostly in English (a few lines here and there are dubbed, but reasonably unobtrusively) and this makes the film an even greater achievement.

Look, some funny cats I found on the internet - they want cheeseburgers, I think... 

However, there are some problems.  Lee Evans is a funny comedian, and a fairly decent actor, but his character here is completely all over the place.  He heads a crack team of Interpol agents trying to bring Snakehead to justice, and his character switches from hard-arsed professional who takes no crap to bumbling British idiot in a matter of seconds – and usually right back again.  The character is sometimes so confusing to watch that you hope the old “identical twin” ploy will reveal that there in fact two Lee Evanses.  Jackie has a sidekick in the form of Claire Forlani, who gets to show what she’s got to good effect, and thankfully doesn’t let the side down, acting-wise. 

The script (which boasts no less than five writers – including Bey Logan) is also a little scatterbrained, and the humour is entirely hit-and-miss.  One routine between Evans and Chan has their characters arguing in front of an office full of people.  The horribly contrived innuendo-laden dialogue makes the pair appear like a gay couple having a tiff to the onlookers, and the gag is pushed to breaking point…and beyond.  The best line in the film is delivered later on by Chan when looking down at his recently deceased mortal body.  He is resurrected, immortal, and disbelieves it’s his body on the slab, saying to Evans: “my nose isn’t that big!”

I have a sneaking suspicion that this film was originally quite a bit longer than the 80-odd minutes we’re given here.  Evans’s wife, played by Christy Chung, gets almost nothing to do until, with no explanation, she reveals a kick-ass side to her and a knowledge of Evans’s secret life as an Interpol agent.  However, seeing her go into barefoot action mode is quite pleasing, so I’m not complaining too much.

Some New Zealand bloke just phoned me.  He wants me to play a DWARF!  Fool! 

The action scenes are split into two styles, with the early scenes supposed to be more realistic while the latter half is more fantastic and stylised.  This doesn’t come off too well, however, as the choreography uses wires quite extensively even when Jackie is still a mere mortal.  Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t find the film’s use of CGI too intrusive and I thought some of the effects were quite good.  Another popular criticism of the film is Jackie’s reliance on wires, which is sadly a reality we must all face these days.  The super-Jackie action scenes are typical of the kind we’re used to these days and are not particularly good or bad, but you can see why Chan fans are crying into their hands at the sight of so many wire-assisted moves.

Although the story isn’t up to scratch (these chosen ones are everywhere these days, aren’t they?), and Sands’ well spoken but predictable villain won’t stay long in the memory, I found The Medallion quite enjoyable this time around.  It helps to have low expectations these days when it comes to Jackie Chan movies, and if you go in with the right attitude, it’s entirely possibly you’ll enjoy the experience.  The end credit out-takes, which come all too quickly, are indicative of Chan’s move away from “real” action as most of them are dialogue fluffs.  The best are those between Forlani and Chan, when she gives him a (genuine) slap across the face and then promptly loses her nerve at having hit the star.  Chan, ever the good-natured gent, laughs as he chides: “I got hit for nothing!”

The pairing of Chan and Evans is an inspired one, even if it doesn’t turn out the way I imagine it was intended.  I still think they could pull off a great double act, but I doubt we’ll see them together on-screen again.  Which is a genuine shame.

Thunderbolt (1995) August 16, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Action, 1990s films , 7 comments

Director: Gordon Chan  Main Cast: Jackie Chan; Anita Yuen; Thorsten Nickel; Michael Wong  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Golden Harvest

 “I saw this movie very shortly after its Asian release, and no amount of banging my head against a brick wall will allow me to forget this fact.

Fellow Brits of a certain age will remember a fellow called Benny Hill, and the silly sped-up chases that he used to perform. This film is pretty much like that (except it’s supposed to be deadly serious and there are no saucy, scantily-clad women involved). I’d give anything to erase all memory of this film from my mind. I’d even watch The Medallion again (twice, if necessary) if I could, just once, sleep the whole night through without waking up screaming, “This is the man that gave us Police Story! This is the man that gave us Project A! Hell, even his Lo Wei films were better than this!” while images of dumbly undercranked cars run feebly across my mind.

Suffice to say, this was not one of the more accomplished films in Jackie Chan’s career. Surprisingly, at the time of writing, no sequel has been planned.” 

The above review of this film appears on the HKMDB, and if you don’t already recognise the “style” of the writing, it’s one of my contributions.  Thunderbolt has always been a bit of a watershed film for me, and something that made me finally realise that Jackie Chan was no longer a god of action cinema.  I despised the film with a passion and truly wanted it to go away and never be mentioned again.  Although the above review was intended to be humorous, I did genuinely feel offended and betrayed by the film.

Jackie opening a can of whoop-ass on Benny Lai. 

Almost thirteen years passed between my first viewing and the one I sat through recently to write this review.  A lot has changed in the world, and in my own personal life.  Thunderbolt is a film I always knew I’d have to come back to sooner or later, so do I still hate it?

The answer is curiously no, and I’m not sure what that means, if anything.  True, it’s still as dumb as a bag of spanners.  The plot makes no real sense at all, the undercranked race at the end is still silly (although not as bad as I remember it and I now understand the mitigating circumstances behind it), it’s almost completely devoid of humour, the gunfight is too violent and seems out of place in a Jackie Chan movie, the acting by the English language cast is truly abominable and Michael Wong definitely calls Jackie “Jackie” at one point (his name of the character in the film is “Foh”).  And that’s not even mentioning the extensive doubling (Jackie was still injured from Rumble in the Bronx and couldn’t perform as much as usual), a fact I wasn’t even aware of when I watched this on grainy ol’ VHS first time around.

But the crucial fact remains: I just couldn’t whip up any hatred for Thunderbolt.  And I sat through it quite happily, much to my surprise.  That’s not to say I enjoyed it all that much, but I can see how it might have made a decent film had certain things gone differently.  The aforementioned undercranked race finale was a victim of circumstance when the filming moved from Japan to Malaysia and the team were forbidden to race at speed.  This has resulted in the now-infamous silly ending to the movie.  The whole sequence is weirdly surreal anyway, with some major accidents going off all over the place on the track and nobody seeming to find it worthy of comment or stepping in to stop the race.  And the practice of putting a pit-stop timer on-screen breaks the fourth wall as far as I’m concerned – attempting to make the film appear like a televised race is a major mistake. 

I think they should have called the safety car out after this incident.

The haphazard and highly implausible story follows Foh, an upstanding member of society who happens to be good at fighting and racing, who ultimately gets challenged by “Cougar” (Nickel) to race when he kidnaps Foh’s sisters.  And that’s pretty much it, although the film takes the best part of ninety minutes to even get around to thinking about a climax.  Nickel’s acting is truly dreadful, and I’m pretty sure no one’s going to disagree with me on that point.  It’s always the same in these “international” productions when Chinese directors direct dialogue in English – it just doesn’t work out.

On the plus side, the early car sequences are actually pretty decent – although not really what the average Jackie Chan fan was looking for in a movie in the mid 90’s.  The Sammo Hung directed fight scenes are pared down to a certain extent, but what’s here is pretty good.  In this age of digital media it’s pretty easy to spot where Jackie was doubled, but he does do some of his own stuff.  Hung seems intent on blurring the action and producing very short, choppy action scenes, presumably to hide the fact that the star wasn’t present during some sequences, and this does seem quite un Sammo-like.  That said, the Pachinko parlour scene is quite watchable, with Jackie going head to head with his own stunt crew and a group of near-naked Yakuza. 

The fact that I’ve even noticed that Thunderbolt has some redeeming qualities is saying something, although I’d still prefer any of his 90’s films over this one (except perhaps First Strike).  If you’re after, say, a Jackie Chan film that’s serious, you will be far better off with the superior Crime Story.  And as for my comments about The Medallion, well, it’s funny you should ask…

Le Cercle Rouge (1970) August 13, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Thriller, 1970s films, Non-Asian , 10 comments

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville  Main Cast: Alain Delon; Gian-Maria Volontè; Yves Montand; André Bourvil  Territory: France/Italy

“The Buddha took a piece of red chalk and drew a circle, saying: “When men, though unaware of it, must meet again some day, anything can happen to any one of them and they may follow diverging paths to the given day when, ineluctably they will be reunited within the red circle.”

This quote, attributed to Rama Krishna (but, like the quote opening Le Samouraï, was entirely made up by Melville) starts Le Cercle Rouge, a heist thriller attempting to emulate the great American crime thrillers but with a uniquely French flavour.

Alain Delon is Corey, a man given information prior to his release from prison about a possible heist target.  Meanwhile, Vogel (Gian-Maria Volontè) escapes from custody from Le Commissaire Mattei (André Bourvil) and sparks an extensive hunt.  The two men don’t know each other, but are thrown together when Vogel hitches a ride in the boot of Corey’s car.  Together with Jansen (Yves Montand), an alcoholic sharpshooter with some severe personal demons, they execute a daring jewellery heist.  Always one step behind, though, is Mattei.

Alain Delon - coolness despite 'tashe 

Melville does another fine minimalist job here.  The recurring theme seems to be that all men are guilty.  One character opines: “They [men] come into the world innocent but it doesn’t last”.  With comments like that, it’s not surprising the film has a very dark, nihilistic feel to it.

All of the characters seem damaged in some way.  Corey is obviously nursing a broken heart on release from prison – although he never utters so much as a word on the subject during the entire film, Vogel is on the run from the law and might in fact be innocent of the crime he is supposed to have committed, and Jansen sees a menagerie of nasty creepy-crawlies and reptiles every night coming out of his bedroom cupboard.  Even the policeman Mattei seems to have a very limited private life with just his three cats for company. 

Again, the film has little dialogue, and whole minutes go by without anyone uttering a single word.  Although the film is essentially about a jewellery heist, this does not actually happen until quite late in the film.  Until then, it’s all about the characters as they travel from Marseilles to Paris (oh, and there is one shot of the Eiffel Tower in this film!).  The actual heist section reminded me for some reason of the underrated John Woo film Once a Thief, although this is obviously a lot darker in tone than Woo’s light comedy thriller.

The walk home from the pub was hell on Delon's £50 shoes. 

The performances are top notch, with Delon looking suave despite an ill-advised moustache.  Gian-Maria Volontè will be familiar to anyone who has seen the first two films in Leone’s Dollars trilogy, and turns in a fine performance here.  The real star, though, as far as I’m concerned is Montand as Jansen, who, after pulling off a spectacular feat of shooting, denies himself a drink but instead is content with a sniff from his hip flask. Le Cercle Rouge is great to look at, with fantastic cinematography and great camerawork.  It’s also great to listen to, with a memorable jazzy soundtrack typical of the period that always invokes warm pangs of nostalgia from me even though I didn’t actually live through the period. 

Dark, nihilistic, subtle, and oozing class, Le Cercle Rouge is a crime thriller unlike anything I’ve seen before and will probably reveal even more gems on future viewings. 

Lam Suet-o-meter: Zero - for now.  However, with Johnny To directing a remake, I’d be disappointed if he doesn’t show.  With it being an English-language movie, though, I’m not sure how big his role could be.  Fingers crossed…

Actually, the prospect of To directing a remake of this film conflicts me a bit.  I hate remakes as a rule, but the prospect of To doing it does interest me a bit.  I would have preferred it if it was a Hong Kong movie, though.

Lethal Irritation: Rage against the meaningless two-word movie title August 10, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Articles, Humour , 5 comments

There’s a blight in the world of action movies and for once it’s got nothing to do with the stars, the directors, the product placements, the stunts, the scripts, the choreography, etc.

I’m talking about the proliferation of the meaningless two-word film titles.  It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but because the practice has been going on so long and there are only a finite number of appropriate “tough words” to choose from, it’s getting ever more difficult to sort them out in my brain.  And for a genre often accused of being generic, the last thing we need is generic film titles too.  Not learning from spoof titles like Naked Gun, Loaded Weapon and more recently Hot Fuzz, film executives are still trundling out the two-word monstrosities and there seems to be no end in sight.

According to Amazon.co.uk, there are only five copies left in stock.  BUY BUY BUY!What’s more, the practice has now become more commonplace in Hong Kong when they decide upon on English title for their film.  I know for a fact I’m going to be on some internet forum at some point in the future and there’ll be a discussion on Fatal Contact and I’m going to say, “yeah, good film, one of Ringo Lam’s best” and someone will gently point out that that film was Full Contact while making a vulgar hand gesture into their monitor.  And I can hardly wait for the Fatal Contact discussion: “hopeless film,” I’ll probably say, “CGI blood and Sammo was completely wasted,” while someone corrects me that the film I’m talking about is Fatal Move.  See what I mean?  All I need is someone to come up with a film called Full Move and I’ll be completely screwed.  I had enough trouble in a recent post getting Island of Fire (about a prison) mixed up with Prison on Fire (also about a prison, I’ll admit) and that’s got three words.

 

'SPL' becomes 'Kill Zone' - shit on it.As we’ve seen with SPL: Sha Po Lang (good title when you hear the explanation at the start of the film) being turned into Kill Zone for its US release, someone somewhere obviously thinks the two-word title sells, especially if it’s got absolutely bugger all to do with the film in question.  I think it might be something to do with the trailers we’ve been force fed for so long.  Imagine the Voice of God coming up with this for my upcoming masterpiece Fatal Termination:

“Bruce Chow is Jim Wu [action shot of actor with gun], a cop who plays by his own rules.  He’ll do whatever it takes to bring to justice the government agency that left his nephew severely colour-blind [shot of sickly young kid in a wheelchair].  By any means he can [explosion].  A deadly secret [shot of actor in stealth mode].  A beautiful girl [starlet tosses her hair in front of another explosion].  A rookie partner from Greenland [Wu shouting at the Superintendent: “I don’t have time to train no wet-behind-the-ears Eskimo!”].  The roughest justice imaginable [more action shots and a few more explosions just to establish we’re not into Merchant Ivory territory].  From the deadly shores of Hong Kong [night shot of city: traditional oriental music plays over the top] to the frozen wastes of the north…to the sprawl of New York [Inuit sidekick: “man, it’s colder here than back home!”]. [Music swells and then silence] Fatal Termination [credits flash impossibly fast on screen.  Then blackness].”

Everything about this package screams qualityIt can’t just be me that’s getting irritated and confused by these two-word shenanigans, but just to make sure, I’ve collected a bunch of the best (i.e. worst) together with some old favourites.  The twist is, I’ve added a few creations of my own – mainly by just mixing the other titles up a bit.  Some are obscure Hong Kong movies, some are well known, while some are your typical straight-to-video Seagal/Van Damme efforts.  Can you tell which are the real titles and which are the bogus ones?

Flash Point

Extreme Challenge

Dragon Target

Full Contact

Renegade Force

Lethal Weapon

Fatal Move

Final Alert

Attack Force

Kill Shot

Fatal Contact

Maximum Weapon

Lethal Termination

Ballistic Kiss

Fatal Decision

Sudden Death

Terminal Velocity

Final Death

Black Eagle

Flash Shot

Dragon Heat

Hard Target

Attack Point

Sudden Target

Renegade Justice

First Risk

Full Alert

Dragon Weapon

Kill Zone

Final Decision

Body Weapon

Hot War

Excessive Force

Renegade Vacation

Terminal Invasion

Sudden Impact

Extreme Decision

Maximum Risk

Fatal Vacation

Excessive Heat

Final Justice

First Shot

Executive Decision

First Strike

Full Move

Moving Targets

As far as I know, there are twenty-eight genuine titles in amongst that lot.  Happy hunting.

The films rights to Fatal Termination are still available.

The Savage Five (1974) August 7, 2008

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

Director: Chang Cheh  Main Cast: David Chiang; Ti Lung; Danny Lee; Chen Kuan Tai; Wang Chung  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Shaw Brothers 

A small township’s sleepy and peaceful existence is brought to a brutal end when a gang of bandits happen to stop there after raiding a major bank. Their prize - a large safe - is brought in with the idea that someone can open it for them and burn off the seal from the gold bars held within. The bandits terrorise the town with ruthless efficiency, raping and killing with wonton abandon until their wish can be fulfilled. Against this, a few men band together to save the town from a devastating fate: a failed kung fu practitioner (Ti Lung), a woodcutter (Chen Kuan-Tai), a blacksmith (Danny Lee) and a kung fu acrobat from out of town who is recuperating from illness in the town’s inn (Wang Chung). There’s also a petty thief with an elusive past (David Chiang), who seems to have made a home in the township stealing chickens and generally making a minor nuisance of himself. But he’s a coward and can’t be much use to them - unless the secret he’s hiding proves to be the key to the township’s survival…It’s said that the inspiration to the Savage Five lies with Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (which is no bad thing), but this also has a lot of similarities with the Spaghetti Westerns of the early 70s. In fact, the style of the score of this film is slightly reminiscent of the genre, and wouldn’t have been out of place in one of Sergio Leone’s classics.

Ti Lung; Danny Lee The pace of the film is excellent, and is tense and exciting throughout with just one predictable twist along the way. I just love the characters and what they bring to the film, but particular mention must go to Wang Chung’s kung fu acrobat. When we meet him, he’s ill (probably with the ‘flu) and being chucked out of the town’s inn by the bandits (who want the place to themselves). He misunderstands the situation and thinks the innkeeper wants him out because he’s ill. The resulting dialogue between him and the innkeeper really helps the viewer bond and sympathise with the townsfolk’s fate.No-one lets the side down in this film, and I truly believe there’s no more exciting experience in Hong Kong cinema during the early 70’s than to see Chen Kuan-Tai going completely apeshit on a bunch of bad guys with some sharp piece of hardware. And guess what? He doesn’t disappoint!

You DO know I'm going to kick your ass for this, don't you?

In amongst all of this you also have some great heroics. For this, you’ve got Ti Lung and Danny Lee, who serve as the film’s underdogs who are willing (if need be) to sacrifice themselves for the town. And then there’s the wildcard – Mr David Chiang – who appears to be a no-good thief from out of town who is content to steal chickens and trick the farmers with a winning smile and a few conciliatory words.There’s your “Five” from the title, and you have to wonder what the bad guys were thinking, going against such a crowd. My only gripe with this is that the townsfolk are rather robotic and unemotional (they tend to “gang” together and don’t really exhibit human behaviour at times). Everything else is just sheer class, from the script to the performances. The action scenes kick in after about the half hour mark – this is mainly a story-driven film up to this point. After that, they are plentiful and damn good for their day (as usual, Lau Kar-Leung is one of Chang Cheh’s choreographers).But it’s simply the few-against-many angle that really satisfies. The good guys are very good, that bad guys are VERY VERY bad, and you are left with no doubt as to who you want to win this clash.Highly recommended!

Le Samouraï (1967) August 2, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Thriller, Non-Asian, 1960s films , 5 comments

Director: Jean-Pierre Melville  Main Cast: Alain Delon; François Périer; Nathalie Delon; Cathy Rosier  Territory: France/Italy

Contract killer Jef Costello (Alain Delon) carries out a hit on a nightclub owner during opening hours, and is spotted upon exiting the crime scene by the house pianist Valérie (Cathy Rosier).  However, when rounded up for a police line-up by the Superintendent (François Périer), Valérie denies that she’s ever seen Costello.  Reluctantly, the police release him, keeping him under surveillance until they can get proof.  Pursued by both the police and his employers behind the hit on the nightclub owner, Costello is also curious as to why the pianist didn’t give him away…

When you consider that this is apparently Johnnie To’s favourite film and John Woo practically gushes throughout the booklet of the Criterion DVD release, you’d have thought I’d at least have heard of this film.  But it wasn’t until a fellow Hong Kong film fan mentioned him in this very blog that I became aware of the existence of Melville and Le Samouraï.  Certain things are beginning to click now though, like why Chow Yun-Fat was always referred to as the Alain Delon of Asian cinema.  Well, Chow Yun-Fat loses out on the style stakes but it’s not really his fault – the 60’s were a much more stylish era than the 80’s and I’m looking to get me a fedora and trenchcoat in the vain hope of pulling off a Delon. 

 Ah, this would be Film Noir, then?

Despite Jef Costello’s unquestionable cool, his lifestyle is not too enviable.  He lives in a hovel of an apartment with a canary as his only companion (and even here, you get the impression he only keeps the pet because it serves a practical purpose).  There are no nick-knacks or diversions in his spartan flat, and the only thing that comes close to decoration is a collection of empty mineral water bottles on top of his wardrobe.  His only real contact in the human world is his “alibi” Jane Lagrange (Delon’s then-wife Nathalie), but he treats her so casually and indifferently you can’t tell if they are friends, lovers or just working together as a means to an ends.

The Unusual Suspect - Alain Delon 

The film has style outside its main star, though, and the film has a chic that was only achievable for a short space of time in the mid-to-late sixties.  The colours used are mainly just varying shades of grey, often making you think Melville might as well have shot the film in black and white.  It is a very minimalist film, and the lack of dialogue in many scenes (it’s almost ten minutes before the first line of dialogue is delivered) adds to the distinctive style.  The exterior shots of the city of Paris are also excellent.  This is the only film I’ve seen set in Paris where the Eiffel Tower is not even in a single shot – probably because this is a French film and it’s only us foreigners who need those establishing shots to show we’re in the City of Light and not, say, Istanbul.

It’s not all style and no substance, though.  The plot is compelling enough, although the pace is a trifle more pedestrian than is fashionable today with a surprisingly lengthy section where suspects are gathered at the police station for an identity parade.  He wonders why the pianist Valérie didn’t shop him straight to the cops and suspects she’s up to no good.  That doesn’t stop him obviously developing feeling for her though, even if she’s working for the organisation behind the hit on the nightclub owner.  Like Jef’s flat, there’s little in the film that is superfluous, and the urge to find out what’s going to happen is strong.

Alain Delon & Cathy Rosier 

At the end of the day, it’s the character of Jef Costello that intrigues most.  His solitude, and his abstinence from the most basic human comforts make us want to know more about him.  That he’s a killer (and a damn fine one) adds to his mystery.  Where did he learn his skills, for instance, and what made him become the way he is?  When he refuses his ticket when checking in his hat, we suspect we’re never going to find out.  But although we have few answers to our questions, the ride was worthwhile.

Login     Film Journal Home     Support Forums           Journal Rating: 5/5 (10)