"What do you mean we skipped a month?"
"We skipped a month."
"But I wrote my bestest kung fu movie review ever last month, how could we have skipped a month?"
"No, Rob you didn’t write any such thing last month. In fact, around the time we would normally have had a deadline, you apparently slipped off the face of the Earth. Remember? You went off to the Arnold Arboretum to film that documentary about the world’s most dangerous pile of rocks and then mysteriously, no one heard from you for a week. Eventually, you turned up for one of our weekly meetings with a pile of chicken bones covered in Tabasco sauce in one hand and a bundle of twigs in the other. You were muddy, shivering and acting really pretentious. We asked you what happened and all you could say was, ‘those goddamned twigs…’ You must’ve said that a thousand times. Remember?"
"No… you must have me confused with someone else…"
With Yuen Wo-Ping, Donnie Yen Ji-Dan and Michelle Yeoh this one could’ve been better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty entertaining and it’s got plenty of high quality thrills, it’s just got a few problems that hold the film back. The first is Michelle Yeoh’s portrayal of Yim Wing-Chun (the woman who lent her name to the martial art style that Bruce Lee eventually made famous). Yeoh, is… how shall I put this? Stiff as a board throughout the film. She was supposed to be playing it close to vest (she’s meant to be a pretty serious character), but she took it a little too far. Another problem I had was the way Donnie is used in this one. With a screen fighter the caliber of Donnie Yen (in case you’ve just crawled out from under a rock he’s one of the top 10 screen fighters of all-time) you expect to see the guy let loose a little. He didn’t. There are a few moments where he really lets fly (a marvelous kicking combination near the end of the film comes to mind), but for the most part he keeps it under wraps. It’s not a fatal flaw, it’s just a little bit of a let down. All in all, a film to check out. Just don’t expect a classic.
Shaolin Temple vs. Lama
Alexander Lo Rei is in this one and although I just watched it just a few days ago I can’t remember much more than this: there were a lot of really good fights. There was a story, but, if pressed, I couldn’t definitively say what it was. Something about the battle for martial supremacy between Shaolin and a bunch of other martial arts schools (including the Tibetan Lama… hence the title). Worth a look.
You’re probably wondering why I remember so little of this movie. I have no definitive answer, but I do have this theory. I wasn’t really paying attention when they weren’t fighting.
It took awhile for me to admit this to myself and it’s taken even longer for me to admit it publicly, but… I’m a fan of Wong Jing. Seriously, after all is said and done and after everyone takes their shots at the lecherous hack with dollar signs in his eyes a simple truth comes forth. It shines like that laser that shoots out of the middle of the Luxor (the Egyptian-themed hotel in Vegas) and it spells out one simple phrase, "Wong Jing makes some incredibly entertaining movies." As everything from producer to writer this guy has touched a bunch of personal favorites (God of Gamblers, God of Gamblers Returns, My Father is a Hero, Prodigal Son, Magnificent Butcher, Fong Sai Yuk, etc.) and for that I have to give him this public approval.
[All of this is just a set-up for a capsule review of City Hunter, by the way. Let’s see if I can make intro longer than the review itself, okay? This’ll be fun.]
What can I say? I love this movie. Kung fu, Jackie Chan , cheesy special effects, an assortment of lovely young ladies, (including Joey Wong Cho-Yin and Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching), low-brow humor, musical numbers, Ken Lo (in a decidedly Wong Jing-ish cameo), goofy slapstick, Richard Norton (as the diabolical gwailo villain)… this one’s got it all and it throws these outrageous elements around at a hallucinogenic pace. It’s sort of like watching a bizarre cross between Die Hard, The Street Fighter II video game and There’s Something About Mary while someone tickles your neck with a feather duster. Rent it now.
[Hurray! The intro beat the review by a score of 126 to 93]
Snack Break/ Corn Chips
Do any Shovel readers work for Frito-Lay Inc.? Barring that, anyone got a cousin, uncle or grandpa who works for the snack chip giant? If yes, what are the odds we can get a distribution deal for Chili Cheese Flavored Fritos here in the Greater Boston area? I ask because, well… I love the damned things and I’ve only been able to get my hands on them in Southern California and (as much as I would like to) taking trips to Los Angeles just to satisfy my snacking urges is a little more than this young man can handle.
"Master of Disaster"
This is just about the most shameless shit that any video company has ever pulled. If you rent this film, you’ll probably rent it thinking it’s a Jackie Chan movie (thanks to the fact that his picture is on the box). You put the tape in and for a few minutes your idea that this is a Jackie Chan film will be held up by the fact that he’s in it… for a while. Then things change. Chin Siu-Ho starts to show up a lot, the film stock gets a little different and then you start to wonder… "Is this two movies edited together in order to create a new ‘Jackie Chan’ movie?" Well, it is. This tape actually contains about 15 minutes from the Hong Kong version of The Protector mixed with Lau Kar-Leung’s New Kids in Town.
If they’d left well enough alone and just released Lau’s 1987 actioner without the Chan footage, I’d be reasonably happy with the release. New Kids in Town is a rough, goofy little movie with some decent highlights, including a great cameo by the master himself (Lau does a little Wong Fei-Hung themed ass-kicking in the finale.) It’s not 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, but it’s worth a look.
That said, they did put in the Chan stuff and because of that… fuck ’em.
Yep, Michelle Yeoh again. For you gossip hounds this so-so actioner was produced by her then soon-to-be husband Dickson Poon (whose unfortunate English name is off-set by the fact that (a) he was married to Michelle Yeoh and (b) he’s as rich as Midas).
As for the movie… it’s okay. Michelle Yeoh is her regular bad-ass self, there’s plenty of pretty good action and rubber-faced Richard Ng is in it, but aside from that there’s really very little going on. You want specifics? Okay. The story is prototypically bland, the rest of the actors spend a lot of time going through the motions and the dialogue is hokey. Worth the time for a Michelle Yeoh fan, but aside from that… eh.
There’s Dancing in the Streets I tell You…
A little news before I go. File this one under "signs of the coming apocalypse for kung fu movie fans." After years of incessant whining by the likes of me, The Shaw Bros. finally opened the vaults and sold the rights to over 700 of their films to a Taiwanese Film Company. The word on the street is that they want to start a new Taiwanese Cable TV channel devoted to Chinese movies. No word on whether or not we’ll see any legit Shaw Bros. releases on these shores, but at the very least the bootlegs will get a shot in the arm in terms of quality.
Anyone got any relatives in Taiwan?
This article first appeared in Shovel Magazine #16, September 1999