Before I get into the nitty gritty this month, I’m compelled to drop a little news and then do a little editorializing.
First, the news; New Line Cinema announced this week that they are doing a remake of Ringo Lam Ling-Tung’s Full Contact starring Pras from the Fugees. Yep, that’s a rapper playing a role created by the God of Actors himself, Chow Yun-Fat… I don’t envy Pras in this situation.
Now, the editorializing; this one wins the award for stupidest project of the year and is currently doing pretty damned well in the race for stupidest project of all time. First off, part of the charm of Full Contact is the fact that it’s completely and utterly unforgiving. If it were released in the States it would, without a doubt, receive an NC 17 rating and even that deadly rating (in the eyes of the studios at least) doesn’t accurately describe the depth of this film’s depravity. I can honestly say it’s one of the most brutal films I’ve ever seen. Taking away that brutality is kind of like taking the jokes out of Stir Crazy. In other words, pushing the envelope is pretty much what this movie is all about.
I won’t even mention the twisted psycho-sexual relationships floating around….
Add to the mix above the overt games Lam plays with the conventions of the culturally specific Heng Dai films (e.g., A Better tomorrow, The Killer, Moment of Romance, etc.) and I can’t really see any reason at all to make this movie for an American audience. By doing so (Americanizing it), you are pretty much taking away all of the things that make the movie unique and interesting and replacing it with just another reason to sell a soundtrack…
A lame project from New Line, a studio I normally dig.
Just wanted to get that of my chest. Let’s do a couple of reviews…
8 Diagram Pole Fighter
Maybe the best of the batch this month. Good story, plenty of action and a hint of the bizarre make 8 Diagram Pole Fighter a true genre classic. Lau Kar-Fai is the star* and, as usual, he pretty much tears up the place from start to finish. Beginning with the intro (a real gem) and continuing through to the bloody finale this classic tale of revenge is stuffed to the gills with great martial arts action. The film’s director, Lau Kar-Leung, even makes a cameo appearance and provides two of the films most memorable sequences (including a nice spear v. trident match with Lau Kar-Fai, his adopted brother.)
Oh yeah… this film is really bloody. Seriously bloody… People are skewered, stabbed, impaled, chopped, hacked and bludgeoned to death with regularity and the finale features a bunch of monks who train with the specific intent of knocking people’s teeth out. Is that enough of a disclaimer?
*That wasn’t the plan. The film’s original star, Alexander Fu Sheng, died in a car accident during production and only appears in the film’s earlier scenes. For a full example of Fu Sheng’s work, check out Chang Cheh’s excellent modern day actioner Chinatown Kid.
Fists of the White Lotus
Yep, another Lau Kar-Fai film (he shows up a few times this month.) Directed by Lo Lieh (star of the groundbreaking Five Fingers of Death), Fists of the White Lotus is an easy film to like. It’s pretty much a standard story (intro/ good guys lose/someone dies/train/fight/train some more/fight/train some more/get revenge/end credits), but the creativity with which this standard plot is handled more than makes up for any of the film’s shortcomings. The training sequences alone are enough for me to recommend this film and the finale is even better. It features Lau trying to defeat Lo Lieh’s invincible kung fu by utilizing a mixture of 3 different kung fu styles and acupuncture. If that doesn’t excite you… well, you should probably get a little rest.
This is a sequel to Executioners from Shaolin, by the way.
In case the above appraisal wasn’t clear enough, here’s a mini-play designed to illustrate exactly how I feel about this particular film.
Random stranger: "Hey Rob! Fists of the White Lotus? Whaddya think?"
Rob: "It’s a keeper."
I hope that clears up any confusion.
Tiger on Beat
The third film this month featuring Lau Kar-Fai is the first in which he isn’t the star. Chow Yun-Fat takes that position in this oddball buddy cop action romp. He’s teamed in the formula by Conan Lee and Lau Kar Leung takes his shot at the modern day thing as the film’s director. Lau Kar Fai? He bounces around as a villain with really bad hair.
All in all this is a pretty enjoyable movie. Chow and Lee make a pretty good team, the fights and action sets are creative and plentiful and some of the jokes work really well. It’s not the kind of movie you rush home and search for critical analysis of (you guys do that don’t you?), but it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Take Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, Yuen Wo-Ping and Dick Wei, put them in a movie together and what do you get?
A high-powered kung fu classic?
A Cantonese port of Breakin?
It’s true. Imagine Yuen in the role of Turbo and Donnie in the role of Ozone and you’ve got a pretty good handle on some of the more bizarre elements in this, Yen’s second film. Watch in wonder as you witness the early and uncomfortably forced Hollywood "hip hop" image of the mid- eighties collide head on with Hong Kong’s cinematic humor. Add to that the particularly abominable costumes and Mismatched Couples begins to pulse around the edges with a hallucinogenic glow. Crazy stuff.
Anyway, lest I get an angry letter or two after this thing goes to print I ought to add that there are plenty of moments in this film that work as intended. Yuen Wo-Ping, for example, turns in a really solid comic performance (which isn’t surprising considering his father’s comic chops) and Donnie Yen displays his amazing natural physical ability in an almost kung fu-less role. He breaks (it really is a break- dancing movie), plays tennis with a BMX bike and generally wows the audience from start to finish with one neat little physical gag/ stunt after another. After watching this you’ve got to question whether or not Donnie is in fact the most naturally gifted performer the genre has ever seen.
That said, I’m still trying to figure out what Dick Wei was doing in this movie…
Black City (City of Darkness)
Donnie Yen floats in and out of this movie with such perfect randomness you start to wonder whether or not the script was encrypted before shooting began. There are twenty minute sections where he is absolutely nonexistent, he’ll then saunter into the scene, kicks some ass and then disappears. This must happen five times.
Pretty entertaining movie regardless. Billy Chow’s appearance is fun and the finale is a real classy affair as heavyweights Donnie Yen and Ngai Sing face off in a nice duel that’s full of some creative, technical choreography. It’s a good fight to rewind.
Well, that’ll have to do. I actually had a couple more reviews planned (Legend of the Wolf and Warriors 2), but I guess they’ll just have to wait until next time as I’ve gone and written myself out of space.
Before I sign off, I guess I’ll toss out a little good news to balance out the ranting I did to open this installment. Jet Li Lian-Jie, a long time favorite around these parts, went and got hitched in recent weeks. He married his long-time girlfriend Nina Li Chi in a quiet ceremony in LA. Let’s all wish them the best of luck doing that marriage thing.
See, I can be nice…
This article first appeared in Shovel Magazine #17, October 1999