This month I’m sliding back into capsule review mode. Why? Well, (a) I’ve seen a lot of cool new stuff (b) I’m still in the middle of researching a (hopefully) pretty interesting "topic" article and (c) capsule reviews are good clean fun!
I’m going to just jump right in now, OK? Everyone ready? Take a big breath with me….
…let it out. And we begin…
The Storm Riders
Ever wonder what film holds the record for the biggest opening weekend in Hong Kong? Well, thanks to me you now know that it’s this film, The Storm Riders. Probably the most expensive HK production ever, this Chinese man-gua (comic book) adaptation toppled the mighty Titanic from the top of the box office charts. Say it with me, "Yeah! Down with Hollywood cultural colonialism! Rose and Jack– kiss my ass!"
Anyway, box office records and pokes at Cameron’s bloated piece of crap aside, The Storm Riders is a heck of a film. It’s not perfect, but for what it aims to be, an effects-heavy action picture, it sure as hell hits the mark for me. First off, it’s eye candy. Imagine Tsui Hark’s classic Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain done with Lucasian resources and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect. Flying swordsman, hallucinogenic landscapes, and wild explosions of energy are par for the course in this tale of love, revenge and power. Throw in some beautiful Mainland locations, superb art direction, lush cinematography and Storm Riders goes down in my book as a visually thrilling film. Add to that a workable cast (including a personal favorite, Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba), and an epic (if dense) story. And you’ve got the makings of a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.
It does have faults. For example, as was previously noted the story is a little dense (it attempts to pack an enormous amount of continuity into 2 hours) and some folks have been turned off by that. I think folks were looking a little too hard for something that was never meant to be there, namely depth. That said, I’m still not sure what those folks were watching because I followed what I thought was a pretty damn interesting the story the first time around. Also, a couple of the performances are a little hollow, but, like I always say, that’s nothing a little super-powered swordplay on top of a gigantic Buddha can’t fix. Definitely recommended.
Enter The Fat Dragon
This and the following two films are new releases from Crash Cinema, a new outfit that is putting out wide-screen releases of 70s kung fu classics. I for one am excited about this development, because if the quality of their releases so far is any indication, good quality copies of some classic films are going to be coming down the pipeline.
The first of the trio, Enter the Fat Dragon, was the film that I was most excited about when I first learned of these releases and as it turns out my excitement was justified. Sammo Hung directs and stars in this homage to Bruce Lee and his performance alone is worth the price of admission. Sammo, who knew Lee and fought with him in his last screen fight (actually the first fight in Enter The Dragon), manages to simultaneously parody and pay respect to the master’s trademark style in this classic. The sight of a younger Sammo (he was never svelte) doing a spot-on imitation of the legend is both funny and amazing via it’s uncanny precision. To put it simply, when Sammo fights in this movie he’s a fat Bruce Lee with an ugly bowl cut. Re-read that last sentence. Worth a rental, no?
For best effect watch it right after Enter the Dragon.
Shaolin Master Killer (36th Chamber of Shaolin AKA Master Killer )
Well, I already did a long review of this one in an earlier issue of this very magazine (anyone know which?) so I’m gonna keep this short. Hopefully I won’t sound like a complete nut.
It goes like this. Go to your local, "hip" video store, rent it, watch it and then, since you just picked your brains up off the floor, go back to the store and buy a copy to add to your collection. (Put it right next to Titanic!) Then, when folks come over and you want to sound like someone "in the know" say, "You see this? This is one of the ten greatest martial arts movies ever made. San Te is my hero! Lau Kar-Leung is a genius!" You’ll look like a veritable film connoisseur.
Got it? Solid.
Return of the Five Deadly Venoms (Crippled Avengers)
Not to be confused with the carnival sideshow that is Crippled Masters (the kung fu version of Todd Browning’s controversial Freaks.) Crippled Avengers is a great example of the kind of lurid, vibrant, visceral films that hook folks on the work of Shaw Bros. legend Chang Cheh. From it’s gruesome set-up (legs are chopped off, hands are cut, folks are blinded and brains are squeezed to create the titular "Crippled Avengers") to it’s bloody finale this movie is a ride through What-the-Fuck!?-Land. Nasty, badass stuff.
As an added bonus it features some of the heaviest of heavyweights from the Shaw Bros. stable; folks like Philip Kwok (Kuo Chui), Chiang Sheng, Lo Meng, Sun Chien, Lu Feng, and Chen Kwan-Tai (As a note the cast and the director are the only ties to Five Deadly Venoms. The stories are completely unrelated. I assume the re-titling is meant to capitalize on the popularity of the cult classic.)
Not for the squeamish or the PC, but it works in my book.
Shaolin and Wutang
I’m returning to a popular capsule review topic, Lau Kar-Fai, to end this month’s ramble. Shaolin and Wutang is his directorial debut and it proves that he picked up a thing or two from the feet of the master, Lau Kar-Leung (who’s his adopted brother, by the way).
Here’s the overall skinny; it’s a pretty good film featuring Lau and Adam Cheng as best friends who end up on opposite sides in a battle for martial supremacy between Shaolin kung fu and Wutang sword style. All in all it’s good stuff, but the bit that pushes this one over the top for me is the credit sequence.
Let’s see if I can do it justice in a paragraph.
First off, it looks like it was shot on the set of Zoom, which is a big plus if you know what the hell I’m talking about. Secondly, it features a "fight" that is so highly stylized that it blurs the line between kung fu battle and Broadway dance number. Think Rockettes. I know this might sound a little oddball, but I give my word it’s 100 percent fun. Finally, it ends with the Wutang representative setting the stage for the rest of the film by jumping up and destroying a huge "Shaolin" character (well, I assume via context that it says "Shaolin." In other words don’t quote me on this, for all I know it could say "Pumpkin".)
For my final thoughts on the matter, I’ll again reach into my bag of tricks and pull out a quote from schizophrenic rocker Wesley Willis, "Rock over London, Rock on Chicago!! "
Thanks Wesley, I couldn’t have said it better myself!
Originally published in Shovel Magazine #12, May 1999