Recently, I’ve lived an odd existence. I’m either extremely busy and don’t have time to shave, forget about enjoy myself, or I’m sitting around with enough time on my hands to build a scale model of the Titanic out of toothpicks. To fill those hours I’ve relied on a few old standby’s and have been loving every minute of it. I’ve been reading again, I’ve finally gotten around to screening some of the films of Anime wunderkind Hayao Miyazaki, I played (and am still playing) the Blade Runner video game and, of course, I’ve watched a lot of movies. As you would expect, that pile of films featured a rather large proportion of the kung fu variety. Because of this I’m suffering from a sort of information overload and am going to have to release a little of it in this article. Therefore, there’ll be absolutely no theme this month. None. Just reviews of varying length and clarity. Also, since there’s no theme I’ll be panning some stuff in the words that follow. That’s history for this particular corner of the Shovel-verse. Anyway on to it then…
One of the best films I watched this month. Hwang Jiang-Lee and John Liu, two super-kickers, star in this film and it now stands as one of my favorite films from the period (it was made in 1977). There are few negatives attached to this film and the positives were such that I was practically jumping out of my skin to recommend this film to anyone who would care. Simply, it’s a well-handled intrigue/revenge tale with skillfully-executed, athletic fights (choreographed by big shots Yuen Kwai and Yuen Biao). It also features an ending that I can only describe as brilliant. Brilliant in a really visceral, mean-spirited school- yard kind of way, but brilliant nevertheless.
Mostly horrible. I saw a dubbed version, which didn’t help, but generally this film was absolutely wretched whenever violence was absent from the screen. When there was violence it wasn’t much better. The one thing that I did like (and the only thing that kept me from absolutely damning the rental) was a scene with Billy Chow in a kickboxing ring. Chow was a champion kickboxer and it was interesting seeing him in his element. Still, a two minute scene ain’t much to write home about after an hour and a half.
The Chinese Feast
I’m cheating to get this one in here, but bear with me, it’ll turn out okay. I’ll get right to it, this film (which actually features two kung fu film heavyweights, Xiong Xin-Xin and Zhao Wen-Zhao) doesn’t contain a single fight… No, the places where the fights would be are filled with a boatload of wonderful cooking scenes. That said, everything else is set up like a kung fu movie; rival masters, an eager student and a huge final (cooking) battle, so I’m going to include it. An honestly wonderful film from director Tsui Hark that sports great performances across the board from a cast that also includes Leslie Cheung, Kenny Bee, and the incredibly charming Anita Yuen..
Note: Watch this only if you’re able to get good takeout directly after.
Crazy Shaolin Disciples
>Woof. A goofy, stupid, perfectly unfunny waste of talent and time. Featuring the remarkable skills of Lau Kar-Fai (Gordon Liu), a couple of random Venoms and a young Chin Siu Ho this film only works when folks are fighting. Thing is, as good as the fights are, the rest of the film is so perfectly embarrassing that walking away from it thinking about anything other than how bad the downtime was is almost impossible. Wouldn’t be funny if you were drunk. Try and catch some of the fights on a compilation or something.
Shaolin Drunken Monk
Another woof-shit bad film from the 70s (80s maybe). Again Lau Kar-Fai wastes his time in a clunky amateurish piece of crap. It also features the normally composed Lau in a love scene. For me, this was about as appealing as watching a chimpanzee give birth. This scene lingers. There was a wonderful drunken style training sequence in the middle, and a few good fights, but the image of Lau "getting it on" is just too fucking much for me to shake. If you’ve seen 36th Chamber of Shaolin avoid this movie (or more specifically this scene) at all costs.
Good Cannonball Run style movie (i.e., let’s get a bunch of "names" and make a film) from Sammo Hung. Cynthia Rothrock is in it and her ass appears to have been stuffed with a turkey throughout. She should have shot whoever came up with her costume. Oh and Yuen Biao does a flip off of a burning three-story building. "Big deal", you say? You think he landed on one of those big mattresses? No, in a single, long shot he just jumps off the damn thing onto the ground below, quickly hopping up (again, it’s all in the same shot) to comfort the woman he had just saved. Camera never moves. Craziest damn thing I’ve ever seen.
Once Upon a Time in China V
The only of the two non-Jet Li films in this series that I’ve seen and I liked it more than I thought I would. Zhao Wen-Zhao is disappointingly noncommittal as Wong Fei-Hung, but the rest of the cast (including OUATIC returnee "Fatty" Cheng) is superb and Tsui Hark, as usual, serves up quite a few interesting bits. Also, there is a scene in which long-time series punching bag Fu is treated as a great hero that ranks as one of my favorite examples of melodrama in recent memory. It’s like watching Rudy.
Blade of Fury
Sammo made this one in 1995 and it stands, at this time, as his last really good work. It’s like a cross between a good Shaw Bros. flick and the art-fu of films like Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time and Tsui Hark’s The Blade. Oddly enough, for a Sammo Hung film, the fights are at times its weakest part. The worst culprit is actually Sammo’s cameo. Imagine that The Shovel Magazine in your hands is the right amount of undercranking that should have been used in this particular scene. Now imagine that the amount of undercranking they used is roughly the size of an L.A. phone book.. It’s a joke. Good movie regardless.
You watch enough movies from Hong Kong and you get used to seeing an occasional film that looks like it was made in a weekend. They shoot quick over there and usually the frenetic pace at which they work translates itself to the screen in a positive way. Well, this film looks like it was put together in a weekend and it translates itself into utter chaos. There is only the barest of stories (something about a golden crystal, hence the title), and each and every line of dialogue has this entirely unwelcome make-it-up-as-you-go feel. Oh, and avoid the dubbed version at all costs. It’s apparently voiced, off-the-cuff, by mental patients. Good one to fast-forward through though if you dig that 80s/early 90s style action. It’s sometimes sloppy, but it still delivers a few great moments. Donnie Yen, in particular, puts on a bravo kicking clinic and Michael Woods copies Hwang Jiang Lee’s "triple kick" (in which the guy jumps up and throws a three kick combination, in the air). A sight to see.
Well, the Eric Cartman magnet on my filing cabinet is telling me that that’s about enough. 5 thumbs up, 4 thumbs down seems fair. Good triumphs over evil, that sort of thing…
This article first appeared in Shovel Magazine #10, January 1999.