The Excalibur Kid (1999)

excaliburkid_1Starring Jason McSkimming, François Klanfer, Mac Fyfe, Francesca Scorsone, Natalie Ester, Serban Celea

Directed by James Head

Expectations: Not much.

onestar


Many Moonbeam films transport their heroes to a distant point in time with lords and castles and knights on horses, but The Excalibur Kid goes right for the most famous story in all the land: the story of Excalibur, the sword in the stone, and the young King-to-be Arthur who is destined to wield it. But before you get to thinking that this is going to be some wild, inappropriate, Full Moon version of the classic tale, I’d like to nip those expectations in the bud. Against the odds, The Excalibur Kid is actually really tame and straightforward.

The Excalibur Kid begins in the modern day where we meet our hero, Zack (Jason McSkimming). He’s an angsty teenager with a passion for fencing. His family is going to move, forcing him to switch schools, and Zack is simply not having it. After calling his parents “Total fascists,” Zack grabs his rapier and heads into the nearby woods wishing for the good ol’ days of chivalry. Unbeknownst to him, he is being watched by a sorceress, Morgause (Francesca Scorsone), who is about to make his dream come true.

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Flight Man (1973)

flightman_1Flight Man [馬蘭飛人] (1973)
AKA The Ma Lan Flying Man, The Daredevil

Starring Wong Yung, Ivy Ling Po, Shan Mao, Yee Yuen, Tien Yeh, Ling Yin, Sit Hon, Yuen Sam, Tong Chi-Wai, Wu Fei-Song, Yu Lung, Tsai Hung, Tien Shun, Cheng Fu-Hung

Directed by Ting Shan-Hsi

Expectations: None, but I like Ivy Ling Po and look forward to her.

twohalfstar


On one hand, Flight Man is pure fantasy. As the title suggests, there is a man who can fly (in the traditional wuxia sense), but on the other hand, Flight Man presents itself like it’s telling a true story, complete with extensive title cards detailing the back story and the exact locations of the events. I suppose this makes Flight Man something of a realistic fiction tale with mild fantasy overtones. This seems relatively simple, but the fantasy elements (which are basically limited to the flying) don’t really come up much or even matter to the overall story. It would have been a more effective movie played straight, although I definitely wouldn’t have been as intrigued by it had it stayed realistic. I guess I just have a hard time coming to terms with not being able to understand why the film is the way it is.

Flight Man opens in Wu Lung Village, where an old, traveling medicine seller has come to the dojo to peddle his wares. For some reason, a kid plays a trick on him by drugging his tea with a dead frog. Everyone laughs at the old man, but the joke’s on them! The old man spits out the tea they thought he drank, retrieves the frog, eviscerates it and eats it raw. Then our hero, Yang Ah-Bao (Wong Yung), and a bunch of martial arts students come to kick him out of the dojo, but the old dude flies out of their reach onto the rooftop. Yang Ah-Bao is so taken with the feat that he demands to be taught or else he’ll “smash his brain” (after which he bashes his head into a tree trunk). Cut to: Main titles where the old man trains Yang Ah-Bao and his buddies.

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The Twin Dragons (1992)

TwinDragons_1The Twin Dragons [雙龍會] (1992)
AKA Brother vs. Brother, Double Dragon, Duel of Dragons, When Dragons Collide, Dragon Duo, When Dragons Meet

Starring Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Nina Li Chi, Teddy Robin Kwan, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting, Wang Lung-Wei, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, David Chiang, Lau Kar-Leung, Wong Jing, Chor Yuen, Guy Lai Ying-Chau

Directed by Tsui Hark & Ringo Lam

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


I first saw The Twin Dragons as a teenager. It never really captured my attention; I think I only watched it once or twice. There were other, better Jackie films to watch over and over. Roughly 20 years later, I didn’t remember anything about it. I was able to experience the film with completely fresh eyes because of this, and I loved it. What really helped this time, too, is that now I have a more expansive knowledge of Hong Kong film, so I actually noticed that there were a TON of cameos from luminaries of the Hong Kong film industry. I’m sure I recognized Lau Kar-Leung back in the day, but now I noted the subtext of the scene in which his confident, classic style confronts the lunacy of Wong Jing. Recognizing these moments makes the film play much better and much funnier than I ever remember it being, to the point that the lack of action doesn’t even matter… especially when the film then caps itself off with such an incredible explosion of action!

Twin boys are born in a Hong Kong hospital to a Chinese couple visiting from the US. In a wonderful series of crazy Hong Kong action moments, a criminal takes one of the twins hostage and the infant finds its way into the hands of a childless, alcoholic woman who raises it as her own. Meanwhile, when the missing child was never found, the couple returned to New York and raised the other twin as an only child. The Hong Kong twin is named Die Hard (in my copy’s subtitles), and he a martial artist who works as a shady mechanic who likes to take his customers’ cars out to race with. The twin in New York, Ma Yau, is raised with a thorough education and becomes a world-class pianist and conductor. Ma Yau has recently arrived for a performance in Hong Kong, leading to mistaken identity hijinks and hilarity.

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The Master of Kung Fu (1973)

masterofkungfu_3The Master of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻] (1973)
AKA Death Kick, Shaolin Death Kicks, Wong Fei-Hung

Starring Ku Feng, Chen Ping, Lam Wai-Tiu, Hui Siu-Hung, Wang Hsieh, Wong Hon, Chan Shen, Law Hon, Shi Lu-Kai, Yuan Man-Tzu

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Wong Fei-Hung! I’m stoked.

threestar


Wong Fei-Hung films will always hold a special place in my heart. In the late ’90s, when I was first getting into Hong Kong films and digging past the US releases of Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop, my friends introduced me to Once Upon a Time in China and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master films. To hold The Master of Kung Fu up to these lofty standards is not fair, so purge those memories of Jet Li’s Shadowless Kick and Jackie’s drunk antics and let’s get down to business. Although, I will say that if I were to compare them, The Master of Kung Fu is much more inline with Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China, to the point that it could have been an influence on the later film.

The Master of Kung Fu begins with a New Year’s celebration, complete with a lion dance competition. The students of Wong Fei-Hung (Ku Feng) are clearly the better team, but Wong’s cousin Mai Gen (Chan Shen) tricks them into a fight, making Wong’s students lose the dance and forcing Wong to apologize publicly to Mai Gen. This might seem like kind of a petty move on the part of Mai Gen, but he does have a purpose.

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Stephen reviews: Short Peace (2013)

shortpeace_1Short Peace [ショート・ピース] (2013)

Starring Fuka Haruna, Koichi Yamadera, Saori Hayami, Masakazu Morita, Mutsumi Tamura, Daisuke Namikawa, Keikou Sakai, Takehiro Murozono, Issei Futamata, Tomoyuki Dan, Shigeru Ushiyama, Akio Otuka, Ryutaro Okiayu

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, Shuhei Morita, Hiroaki Ando, Hajime Katoki


Last time I reviewed one of the oldest anime anthology films, so this time I’m reviewing one of the newest. As with Robot Carnival, Short Peace was orchestrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. Unlike Robot Carnival, though, there really aren’t any connecting themes to Short Peace. The title suggests something regarding war and how easily it can begin, but that isn’t delved into at all. I feel like they wasted a good title here, as well as an interesting premise that might have made for a better film.

The anthology is also made completely in CG (the main character of the opening segment appears to be the only exception), which annoyed me, but I do have to admit that it is some of the best CG I have seen in an anime. But it isn’t the CG that bugged me as much as the stories themselves. They’re not bad really, but they lack the spark of joy that I got from Robot Carnival. I couldn’t connect to them in the same way, and the film felt a bit stale because of that.

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Dr. Alien (1989)

dralien_2Dr. Alien (1989)
AKA I Was a Teenage Sex Maniac, I Was a Teenage Sex Mutant

Starring Billy Jayne, Judy Landers, Olivia Barash, Stuart Fratkin, Raymond O’Connor, Arlene Golonka, Jim Hackett, Robert Jayne, Julie Gray, Scott Morris, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Not much.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Looking at the poster, it would be easy to assume that Dr. Alien is nothing but ridiculous, low-budget trash. Even with that weird alien face, it doesn’t look especially interesting to me. But over the last six years of reviewing films here at Silver Emulsion, one truth has continued to resonate: Keep an open mind. It’s a good piece of advice in general life, as well; being closed off to the unknown corners of the world doesn’t allow for much personal growth. I’ve also come to look forward to the David DeCouteau movies, as they are generally some of the better and more interesting offerings among the Full Moon catalog. So I started Dr. Alien hopeful and optimistic, despite not expecting much.

When the film ended 80-some minutes later, with a big grin plastered on my face and my commitment to pursuing artistic, creative endeavors bolstered, I was shocked. Dr. Alien might be one of DeCoteau’s best films; it’s certainly one of my favorites. Sure, it’s got all the dumb jokes and female nudity you’d expect of an ’80s sex comedy, which will definitely turn off some viewers (and keep the film out of the Criterion Collection), but it is a real achievement on DeCoteau’s part to craft a film that satisfies on both a lowbrow and intellectual level. Perhaps I’m overselling it, as the morality only comes in at the end, but regardless, the film excited me thoroughly. I expected sex comedy and nudity, but to leave the film reinvigorated in my appreciation of art as a vital component of the human experience, that’s something special.

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Na Cha and the Seven Devils (1973)

NaChaandthe7Devils_1Na Cha and the Seven Devils [梅山收七怪] (1973)

Starring Ching Li, Tina Chin Fei, An Ping, Wai Wang, Chen Hung-Lieh, Yu Lung, Got Heung-Ting, Yeung Oi-Wa, Chang Feng, Yueh Yang, Got Siu-Bo, Ho Fan, Lam Lam, Ngai Chi-Wong, Aai Dung-Gwa, O Yau-Man, Law Bun

Directed by Tetsuya Yamanouchi

Expectations: Moderate, but I think it’s gonna be fun.

threestar


Na Cha and the Seven Devils is the type of movie that only certain people will like. It’s essentially an FX movie — nearly every scene has some form of supernatural shenanigans going on — and while the FX are quite ambitious, they don’t necessarily hold up well to modern standards. To be honest, they don’t even necessarily hold up to 1973 standards; everything looked at about a similar level to the work seen in Ho Meng-Hua’s four-film Journey to the West series, and those were all made 5–7 years prior to this. But when a film considered low-budget by American standards has such a plethora of supernatural delights, it’s unfair to think that they’re all going to look fantastic to someone 43 years in the future. And besides, I love these sort of special effects, especially in Hong Kong films, so I loved every minute of Na Cha and the Seven Devils. I merely seek to give you an idea of what we’re talking about here.

Our story begins on Mt. Kunlun, existing high in the sky between heaven and the mortal world, where there is a peach tree that only blossoms every thousand years. It takes another thousand years for the peaches to appear, and another thousand years still for the them to ripen. But, if it’s not already apparent, these are no ordinary peaches! We get our first taste of their power when the mischievous child god Na Cha (Yu Lung) decides he’s hungry. He devours a peach, his eyes glow a bright yellow, and suddenly he can see right through the clouds and into the mortal world! He can also crack rocks & trees in half and cause earthquakes with a single blow! The only problem is that when Na Cha shook the tree to get his peach, he knocked loose the remaining seven peaches. These rogue magical peaches landed on the Earth, and now Na Cha and a pair of his brothers are tasked with retrieving the peaches before the devils can eat them and become immortal.

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