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Heroes of the East is taking a short hiatus December 6, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized , 9 comments

I will be taking a short break from Heroes of the East to concentrate on other exciting ventures.  Rest assured, I will be back - either in a couple of weeks or a couple of months.  To all readers, thanks for your continued support over the last three years, and keep on watching!

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Shogun’s Samurai (1978) September 1, 2010

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

Director: Kenji Fukasaku  Starring: Hiroki Matsukata; Teruhiko Saigo; Sonny Chiba; Etsuko Shihomi  Territory: Japan

Notable for being the only film in history to have more than one million people named in the opening credits*, this film (which is also more accurately called Intrigue of the Yagyu Clan) is a feudal-era tale of backstabbing, warring brothers vying for the role of Shogun following the sudden and suspicious death of their father.

Epic and not a little confusing, Shogun’s Samurai is not a film to dip in and out of.  The ensemble cast is indeed massive, and features the legendary Toshiro Mifune in a relatively minor role.  The movie’s greatest strength is the character development, and the fact that you genuinely don’t know who is going to take the seat of power in the end.

Shogun's Samurai

But a rather unfair comparison springs to mind about halfway through and sadly just doesn’t go away: Kurosawa would have done it better.  Although being sub-Kurosawa (but what isn’t?), Shogun’s Samurai is more than worthy of a viewing.  I would have liked a tighter script with the trimming of a few of the more minor characters, but there is still much to recommend about the movie.  Not least Sonny Chiba running around in an eye patch cutting people up left, right and centre.  Oh yes…

*This is not true, but it certainly feels like it.

Competition time! Win Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid August 5, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized , add a comment

Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu KidTo celebrate the August 9th release of martial arts action drama; Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid we have two copies to give away.

Following on from the success of martial arts flick The Karate Kid comes the “The real Karate Kid,” Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid. Featuring Jackie Chan, the family-friendly film is the story of a 15-year-old Chinese boy who dreams of meeting the martial arts superstar.  Unable to concentrate in school the boy heads to his grandparents’ in the city and devotes himself to tracking down the Kung Fu legend.  The biggest test awaits, however, when he is kidnapped by a torn apart family that has suffered a tragic loss.  Can the dreamer become a Kung Fu hero himself?  And can Jackie Chan rescue him from his nightmares?

For your chance to win just answer this question:

What is the comedy Jackie Chan starred in with Chris Tucker?

A.   Rush Hour

B.   Rat Race

C.   The Tuxedo

This competition has now ended, but to order your copy, just click here

 

Kaiji competition - five copies to be won! July 21, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized, Blogroll , comments closed

KaijiOn July 26th Japanese anime series Kaiji is brought to life on DVD. The film brings together a young and talent cast who are famed for their roles in cult films Death Note, 20th Century Boys and Battle Royale; creating a gripping tale relevant to a generation lost in the recession. To celebrate the release of Kaiji we have 5 copies to give away.

Kaiji is the story of Ito (Tatsuya Fujiwara - Death Note/Battle Royale) who moves to Japan after graduating from high school. Unable to find a job and frustrated with society at large, Kaiji spends his days gambling, vandalising cars, and drinking. Two years later and his life is no better. A debt collector named Endo arrives to collect payment. She then offers two choices to Kaiji: spend 10 years paying off his loan or board a gambling boat for one night to repay his debt and possibly make a whole lot more. Meanwhile, the unscrupulous Endo is actually conning Kaiji, believing he won’t come back from his voyage. Kaiji is then up for the night of his life……

This competition is now closed.  But to order your copy, please click here.

For further information on 20th Century Boys or to order your copy of the trilogy, please click here.

A full review of Kaiji will be coming here soon!

Dreadnaught (1981) November 3, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized, Comedy, Kung Fu, 1980s films , 7 comments

Director: Yuen Woo-Ping  Main cast: Yuen Biao; Leung Kar-Yan; Yuen Shun-Yi; Kwan Tak-Hing  Territory: Hong Kong

Cowardly laundry boy Mousy (Yuen Biao) unwittingly draws the interest of twisted serial killer White Tiger (Yuen Shun-Yi) while an elderly Wong Fei-Hung (Kwan Tak-Hing) finds himself facing jealous rival Tam (Phillip Ko-Fai) and his hired help.

By 1981, the Kung Fu comedy cycle started by Yuen Woo-Ping’s twin hits Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master was clearly running out of steam.  Nevertheless, Golden Harvest’s Dreadnaught is still better than most of the dire comedies that came out of the Shaw studio around this time, even if it falls somewhat short of being an all-out classic in its own right.

By my reckoning, this was the very last time Kwan Tak-Hing played Wong Fei-Hung after appearing as the legendary doctor in many, many, many films.  Despite being doubled in a lot of scenes and with the remainder being fairly stationary affairs with just upper body movement, he still looks fairly convincing.

I hope that's your belt buckle, mister!

The story is pretty perfunctory (and littered with Lion Dance scenes, which were popular at the time), with a strange killer with the name of White Tiger being introduced at the beginning as the film’s obvious villain.  Played by Yuen Shun-Yi (every Kung Fu film fan’s favourite nutter), the character is enraged by the sound of small decorative bells since his wife was killed in an ambush at a restaurant.  Apart from this scene, there’s not a lot of explanation of his character, and all we know is he’s severely screwed up over his wife’s death.

Mousy, as played by Yuen Biao, is not exactly the most memorable character in the genre.  Like in the 1982 movie Dragon Lord, the hero can’t actually fight, but rather bumbles along and wins the day through sheer spirit.  This is a shame as we never really see Yuen’s considerable agility.  Leung Kar-Yan puts in a rare beardless performance as Ah Foon (who was previously played by Yuen Biao in another Yuen Woo-Ping film, Magnificent Butcher), and actually gets to show off his stuff more than the film’s star.  The rest of the supporting cast appears to be filled out by Yuen Woo-Ping’s entire family, and you can’t go very long without spotting one of the director’s relatives.

Sadly, this was the only time Yuen Biao had top billing in one of the legendary director’s films and Dreadnaught always strikes me in as a film that doesn’t really live up to its potential, despite being quite enjoyable.  But then, I feel that way about a lot of Yuen Woo-Ping’s films.  As far as I’m concerned, if you want to see Yuen Biao on top form, check out Knockabout instead, and if you want to see the director at his best, see the aforementioned Drunken Master.

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) on Blu-ray November 7, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized, Comedy, 2000s films , 3 comments

Director: Stephen Chow  Main cast: Stephen Chow; Yuen Qiu; Lam Tze-Chung; Bruce Leung Siu-Lung; Yuen Wah; Danny Chan  Territory: Hong Kong

Pig Sty Alley is a small rural settlement on the outskirts of 1930’s Shanghai.  Insignificant, it is left to its own devices by the crime organisation known as the Axe Gang.  That is until hopeless wannabe gangster Sing (Chow) shows up and draws attention to the place.  However, the Axe Gang has its work cut out for it when gang boss Sum (Danny Chan) finds out that every inhabitant of Pig Sty Alley is a master martial artist, and to cross the Landlady (Yuen Qiu) is foolish to say the least.

Ever since 1995’s Sixty Million Dollar Man, it has occurred to me that Chow has been increasingly preoccupied with special effects, and Kung Fu Hustle was his most overtly effects-driven movie at this point.  The whole premise is pretty much a one-joke affair (the town full of supernaturally-endowed fighters) but, even though Chow stretches the material somewhat, the film is entertaining enough for the most part.

Sing having a bad day.

The film opens with quite a nasty bit of violence with the Axe Gang wreaking havoc in one part of town and killing without mercy.  This tendency to use violence in comedy is typical of Chow (see my comments on From Beijing With Love), but this is the first time I can recall Chow starting a movie this way.  Thankfully, the tone lightens considerably later on, but as usual there’s also some dark touches to the humour all the way through.

Sing is a hapless wannabe gangster trying to prove (mainly to himself) that he’s a ruthless criminal, but his crimes always backfire on him in spectacular ways.  In an inspired flashback to his childhood, he is duped by a beggar into buying a kung fu manual promising unbeatable power.  He trains, and believes that his Qi is so strong that he can disturb the leaves on the trees (the viewer realises, of course, that it’s just the wind) but this leads to a fierce drubbing that sets up the love interest character played by Huang Sheng-Yi.  This sub-plot manages to feel touching, superfluous and darkly tragic by turns and doesn’t really gel with the rest of the story.

Chow has imbued Kung Fu Hustle with an assortment of odd, wacky and just plain bizarre characters on both sides of the law.  The chain-smoking Landlady (who, I was surprised to learn, was one of the kung fu schoolgirls in Roger Moore’s second Bond outing The Man With the Golden Gun) and her long-suffering hen-pecked husband (Yuen Wah) take centre stage, but there are all kinds of outlandish figures on the periphery too.  “The Beast” (Leung Siu-Lung) is suitably seedy and typical of Chow’s more unsavoury and surreal characters.

The film does turn into a special effects showcase at times, and the section where two guqin players attack the town goes on far too long in my opinion.  The humour seems concentrated in certain areas, a bit like the occasionally hilarious King of Comedy rather than Chow’s previous mega hit Shaolin Soccer.  The bit where Sing and his rotund sidekick start throwing knives around had me in stitches, as did the part where he calls out members of the town to fight only to find they’re not as puny as he thought.  The rousing score, played by a Chinese orchestra, is also worthy of note.  It sounds like a lot of the film’s budget went on the music, and it’s rare to hear such aural sumptuousness in a Hong Kong film.

The Landlady about to let rip.

 

I have to admit that Kung Fu Hustle, despite its technological proficiency and fitful hilarity, is not among my favourite Stephen Chow movies.  It relies a little too much on special effects setpieces to be a truly great comedy in my opinion.  Mind you, I can’t argue with the millions of people around the world who found it the best thing since sliced bread, and a more than worthy successor to Shaolin Soccer.  Me, I still prefer his more comedy-orientated films like Forbidden City Cop and Love on Delivery

The Region B Blu-ray disc from Columbia presents the film in HD, and it looks fine and a definite improvement over my standard definition DVD.  I’m a little confused over certain cuts and alterations made to the film in its Region 1 DVD release and whether the same tampering happened over here in the UK, but this edition seems complete and appropriately bloody.  This edition shines with a few good extras including a cast and crew commentary (including subtitles, of course), some outtakes and so on.  There’s a featurette that looks like it was a TV special and it’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds, recounting tales from the set about troublesome hair gel and giving before-and-after shots of the special effects scenes.  The best extra, though, is an interview with Ric Meyers talking about the film.  In it, Chow is noticeably uncomfortable and ill at ease for reasons that are not immediately obvious (possibly only through conducting an interview in English), but Meyers certainly asks a few good questions.  He starts by asking Chow about the violent and dark opening to the film, to which Chow seemed genuinely surprised.  This, to me, suggests that Chow really doesn’t realise that his films often have jarring and unpleasant juxtapositions of comedy and violence.  Elsewhere, he talks about the recruitment of Yuen Qiu, who is seen in the background of her friend’s audition video smoking and looking bored, and Yuen Wah, who Chow idolised because of his connection with Bruce Lee.  Chow also talks about the inspiration for the Axe Gang, which he took from folklore and from the classic Shaw Brothers film Boxer From Shantung (incidentally, the next film to appear on these pages).  Despite Chow’s discomfort, this interview is greatly informative and one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen on a Chinese star. 

Lam Suet-o-meter: low to medium.  Mr Lam in HD!  He plays a gang boss, a role he could play with his eyes closed, probably.  He has a few good moments before meeting an untimely, but funny, end.

(screenshots from a standard definition source)

Machine Girl (2008) October 28, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized, Horror, Comedy, Action, Exploitation, Bad Films, 2000s films , add a comment

Director: Noboru Iguchi  Main cast: Minase Yashiro; Asami; Kentaro Shimazu; Nobuhiro Nishihara  Territory: Japan

After schoolgirl Ami’s (Minase Yashiro) younger brother gets killed by a gang of bullies, she stumbles on a list of his tormentors and goes on a rampage of vengeance.  Even after losing an arm, Ami hardly misses a beat – especially after a huband and wife team of mechanics fix her up with a replacement in the form of a high-calibur machine gun.  But the final revenge will not be easy – the head bully’s father is a Yakuza chief, expert in the use of a katana.  But even he is no match for his psychotic wife…

Machine Girl is the latest film from Noboru Iguchi, the man responsible for the ultra-mad Sukeban Boy.  As you would expect, it’s another blend of gore, bad acting and unconvincing fight scenes, but this time it looks like he had a budget for the film.  There are even a few bargain-basement CGI effects thrown in for good measure, and it’s got more of a cinematic feel to it. 

L-R: Asami Miyajima, Minase Yashiro 

With lines like: “Wash your hair in your son’s blood!”, random ninja attacks and a soundtrack that sounds like your typical 80’s straight-to-video action film, you know you’re talking major-league exploitation revenge-flick trash, and this is probably as good as it gets.  In fact, I’m really surprised not to see Tarantino’s name anywhere on the Region 1 release, and I imagine it’s already up there as one of his favourite films. 

It seems pointless to talk about characterisations, but there has been an effort to give mechanic Miki (Sukeban Boy’s Asami) some character developement from her initial hostillity towards Ami (she believed Ami’s parents were murderers) to being a strong friend when her son is killed alongside Ami’s brother.  Even bully Sho’s father is a more interesting character than at first appears due to his villainy being trumped at every turn by his demented wife. 

Athough the acting is generally poor, this guy really nailed the part. 

Which brings us back to the gore.  This really is a showcase for old-school effects, and like Sukeban Boy, it reminded me of the video nasties from the late 70’s or early 80’s.  Whether you think the gore effects are stupid or not probably depends on your fondness for those films, I suppose, but I thought they were a lot of fun.  I wasn’t quite sure whether the whole film is actually a satire on these kinds of films, and whether it was in fact a lot more intelligent than it appears at first glance.  It’s definitely possible.  But the important thing is that it’s a fun, mad little film that rips along at a breakneck speed ideal for those times when you want to see something completely over the top.

Oh, and that drill bra…!

Bruce Lee Vs Elvis: more “Game of Death” footage found April 1, 2008

Posted by Cal in : Uncategorized, Articles, Humour , comments closed

A recently discovered film can containing a mere 10 minutes’ worth of material has already been hailed as the Holy Grail for both action film fans and music fans.  The contents show the King of Kung Fu fighting the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in a life and death struggle set inside a Pagoda. 

The footage is believed to be yet more material from Lee’s unfinished film Game of Death, shot in 1972.  The project was only in its infancy when Lee was called upon to film Enter The Dragon for Warner Brothers, and Lee died before he could go back and complete the film.  However, it has always been claimed that more material was shot than was ever seen, even taking into consideration the newly restored material that surfaced in recent documentaries on the subject.

The idea of Bruce Lee starring alongside Elvis Presley is not as far fetched as it sounds.  Presley was a huge fan of Lee, and was himself a Karate practitioner under the tutelage of Lee’s friend Ed Parker.  Presley expressed a wish to work with the Kung Fu star on a film project, but it had always been assumed that the two legends never met.  However, the footage comes as no surprise to the Presley estate.  “We know Elvis went to Hong Kong in 1972 to meet Bruce,” says a spokeman for the singing star, who died in 1977.  “He wanted the visit to be very low-key as he was mindful of the hysteria that would follow if the Hong Kong people knew the two were meeting.”

Travelling under the name of Vince Everett, Presley spent a total of two weeks in Hong Kong filming with Lee.  Full details of the found footage are being kept secret, but it is believed that the scene starts with Presley singing a musical number while Lee and co-star Nora Miao dance the Cha Cha – Lee was a spledind dancer in his youth and was even crowned the Hong Kong Cha Cha Champion of 1958.  Unfortunately, the film was shot without sound, so the song Elvis is singing remains a mystery – for now.  “There is dialogue, and it’s in English,” says another spokesman.  “We’re working with lip-readers to discover what is being said and sung.”

After the song ends, it appears Lee and Presley have an argument, and the two start fighting, with Presley using Karate against Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.  In all, the footage lasts just under ten minutes and contains fight choreography that one privileged viewer has said “will stun fans.  It’s simply outstanding stuff, and Elvis is on fine form.  When he breaks his guitar over Bruce’s head, it all goes nuclear.  I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

So why has the world not seen this amazing footage, and why did neither Lee or Elvis mention it?  No one knows for sure, but one theory is that Lee was unhappy with the dancing element of the scene and wanted to reshoot it before presenting it to the world.  As for why the footage was lost, there appears to be a simple explantion.  “We have a large vault in which we store all our films,” explains an employee at the archive vault of Golden Harvest studios, where Lee made all his Hong Kong movies.  “This particular reel was in a can where the writing on the label was completely obscured by a substance that looks like hamburger mustard.  It was simply left in the vault until we were doing a cleanout and we decided to have a look at what was on it.  Imagine our surprise when we found what it contained.” 

And what will happen to the film now?  Columbia Pictures distributed the Golden Harvest film Game of Death in 1978, five years after Lee’s death using stand-ins and archive footage to seemlessly build a new movie around the footage Lee had shot before leaving for the States to make Enter The Dragon.  The result was so astonishingly successful that hardly anyone noticed that Lee was being played by a series of other actors and stuntmen.  Columbia Pictures now wants to buy the film outright and insert the found footage – and shoot new scenes to explain the Presley character.

“We have found that we could not simply add the Elvis scene to the Pagoda section of the movie Game of Death,” said one high-ranking Columbia official.  “His character needs explaining.  We are therefore going to shoot new footage to help the flow of the revised film.”  One problem is that many of the cast, and director Robert Clouse, have passed away since making the film, and the aging process makes it impossible to use the services of the surviving cast.  “We have already aquired the services of an Asian-American actor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Tai Chung Kim [Lee’s stand in for the 1978 shoot] to play Billy Lo, and we will use archive footage and outtakes to fill in the gaps with the other actors.”

Columbia have gone even further by hiring an unknown actor to direct the new material.  Matt Conroy was given the job as he looked eerily similar to Robert Clouse in the late 70’s.  Conroy has not directed a single frame of film, and after studying Clouse’s back catalogue, which includes such genre classics as Gymkata and China O’Brien 2, was initially worried he may have been over-qualified.  However, he has now embraced the challenge: “There’s no getting around the fact that I look like the guy,” says Conroy, “and the producers are insisting that they want someone as close, physically, to Bob Clouse.  I will do my best and try not to let anyone down.”

It is not known at this point who will play Elvis in the re-shoot, but with an estimated 85,000 professional impersonators in the world there shouldn’t be too much trouble finding someone for the role.  As for the outcome of the duel, executives are keeping their lips firmy sealed.  “You’ll have to wait and see,” says an excited official.  “But this is going to be huge!”

The revised version of Game of Death is scheduled to hit cinemas worldwide exactly one year from today – on April 1, 2009.

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