The Drug Addict (1974)

drugaddict_1The Drug Addict [吸毒者] (1974)
AKA The Drug Addicts

Starring Ti Lung, Wong Chung, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Paul Chun Pui, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Lee Hoi-Sang, Fung Ngai, Ling Fung, Tang Tak-Cheung

Directed by David Chiang

Expectations: I’m curious to see how David Chiang is as a director.

threestar


1974 was a year of newfound freedom for the biggest stars in the Shaw stable. Chang Cheh established Chang’s Film Co. in Taiwan, and coinciding with that he gave his biggest stars a shot at directing their own films. The Drug Addict was David Chiang’s debut in the director’s chair, but if you didn’t know it, you might think he already had a number of films under his belt. It has its issues, but it largely overcomes them by delivering effective and engaging drama. Chiang went on to direct another 14 films over the next 21 years, so I think it’s safe to say that directing fit well with his personality.

The Drug Addict opens in a slum filled with fiending junkies and filth. Tseng Chien (Wong Chung) is a drug dealer delivering a package when a distraught and strung-out Kuan Cheng-Chun (Ti Lung) asks him to lend him some dope so he can get a fix. When asking doesn’t win Tseng over, Kuan turns to more violent methods. It’s nothing savage or with any real malicious intent behind it, his actions are driven by the intense desire to get a fix at any cost. Even when Tseng calls Kuan less than human and a dog, Kuan merely agrees, hoping that he might agree his way into Tseng’s generosity. Instead, the struggle represents the final straw that pushes Tseng into acting on his misgivings about his profession, so he takes Kuan by force, locks him in a room Man with the Golden Arm-style, and helps him get his life back as a martial arts instructor.

Continue reading The Drug Addict (1974) →

Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

RumbleintheBronx_1Rumble in the Bronx [紅番區] (1995)

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Bill Tung, Francoise Yip, Marc Akerstream, Garvin Cross, Morgan Lam, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Kris Lord, Yueh Hua, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Carrie Cain-Sparks

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Very high!

All things considered:
threestar

Just the action:
fourstar


If I had to point to a single movie that changed my life, it’s without a doubt Rumble in the Bronx. While I had seen some Bruce Lee films as a kid, Rumble in the Bronx was my first real taste of the Hong Kong movie. Even in its somewhat watered-down form as released in the US, the film completely and utterly destroyed my brain. I became immediately obsessed with Jackie Chan, to the point of not being able to watch American action films for years because they didn’t have the reckless, dangerous, “real-life” quality to the action that typifies the Hong Kong films of the ’80s and ’90s. This obsession even led me to dig deep into classic films, researching the work of Buster Keaton (a major influence on Jackie), which would eventually evolve all the way to me starting up this very blog as a way to express my unique and eclectic taste in film.

Roughly 20 years has passed by now, and re-watching Rumble in the Bronx for the first time in at least 10 years has given me a new understanding of the film (especially after reviewing my way up through Jackie’s filmography). I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, or that it failed to live up to my personal legacy with it, but it definitely has its issues. I experienced a similar feeling when I reviewed Police Story III: Supercop, and within the films’ shared creative team the reasons for this emerge.

Continue reading Rumble in the Bronx (1995) →

Chinatown Capers (1974)

ChinatownCapers_1Chinatown Capers [小英雄大鬧唐人街] (1974)
AKA The Chinese Enforcers, Back Alley Princess in Chinatown

Starring Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Sylvia Chang Ai-Chia, Don Wong Tao, Idemura Fumio, Pamela Pak Wan-Kam, Melvin Wong, Wong Sam

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Low. I didn’t like the first one.

twostar


Chinatown Capers was a big box office hit in Hong Kong when it was released. This is a little hard for me to understand, considering the strength of some of the films that didn’t do nearly as well, but that’s the way these things go. Successful mainstream fluff will often fades as time passes, while artistic work generally stays potent and powerful. And it’s hardly a stretch to call this film pure fluff. Like the first film, Back Alley Princess, it’s highly episodic and without much of a story. It works better in Chinatown Capers, perhaps because the culture clash brought on by the setting makes the film more entertaining and relatable to Western viewers such as myself.

You could easily watch Chinatown Capers without having seen Back Alley Princess. Honestly, the only benefit is already being familiar with the main duo of Chili Boy (Polly Shang-Kuan Ling-Feng) and Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui Koon-Kit), so you know what kind of movie you’re in for. None of the other characters return, because they’re all back in Hong Kong. Yes, Chili Boy and Embroidered Pillow have flown to San Francisco to… I don’t know… I guess they got tired of Hong Kong! The actual reason they’ve arrived in the US isn’t mentioned until much later (that’s the “story” I mentioned), but it doesn’t matter for my purposes here.

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Stephen reviews: Project A-ko: Versus (1990)

projectakovs_1Project A-ko: Versus [A-ko The ヴァーサス] (1990)
AKA Project A-ko: Uncivil Wars, Project A-ko: Versus Battles, Project A-ko: VS, A-ko the Versus

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Saeko Shimazu, Hiroshi Takemura, Sho Hayami, Masami Kikuchi

Directed by Katsuhiko Nishijima


Don’t tell me you’re surprised that there’s another Project A-ko. You do remember my reviews of the Urusei Yatsura series, don’t you? Just ‘cuz it’s got “final” in the title doesn’t mean they stopped there. As with Project A-ko 4, I only have my likely incorrect guesses to go by for why Nishijima, director of the original film, came back to make Project A-ko: Versus. Whether it was intended to revitalize the franchise or if it was only ever intended to be a one-off side story is beyond me, but if it was intended to restart the series it failed. No more official Project A-ko projects were made except the American comic book adaptations and tabletop RPG (yes, A-ko was that popular in the States).

Versus is actually a mini series, not a movie, however it only spans two episodes, “Battle 1: Grey Side” and “Battle 2: Blue Side.” Together they tell a single story, so it’s easy to cover them both in one review. A-ko: Versus takes place in the distant future where A-ko and B-ko are friends who hunt giant turtles on Tatooine (or whatever the hell they decided to call the planet here), and neither of them have ever met C-ko before. C-ko is the daughter of a wealthy businessman, and she gets kidnapped by the series’ antagonists, space pirates that want to use C-ko’s body to resurrect Xena. No, that time I wasn’t pulling out a pop culture reference for ease of comprehension. Xena is a long-dead sorceress that has the power to destroy the universe, so it’s a pretty big deal.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko: Versus (1990) →

Shadowzone (1990)

shadowzone_1Starring David Beecroft, Louise Fletcher, James Hong, Frederick Flynn, Shawn Weatherly, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Lu Leonard, Maureen Flaherty, Robbie Rives

Directed by J.S. Cardone

Expectations: I’ve purposely put this one off for years, so that’s a good indicator of how good I think it’ll be.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Shadowzone is upfront about its influences, citing both Alien and The Thing right on its current poster at Full Moon Streaming. This is pretty bold for a low-budget movie that has no chance to match those films’ excellence, and it was one of the reasons why I stayed away from the film. I deeply love both Alien and The Thing — what self-respecting horror fan doesn’t? — so I had no interest in seeing a lesser version. As the pool of available Full Moon films dwindles, confronting Shadowzone was inevitable, and thankfully it wasn’t the painful experience I thought it might be.

At a remote and otherwise abandoned research facility, a man from NASA, Capt. Hickock (David Beecroft), arrives to investigate a death possibly caused by the project leads: Dr. Van Fleet (James Hong) and Dr. Erhardt (Louise Fletcher). The scientists are exploring the link between sleep and death, studying Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) by cutting the brain stem off from the brain… not literally, but through the blockage of electrical signals. Don’t worry if doesn’t make sense; I didn’t really get it, and I was watching the movie! The characters in Shadowzone talk so much scientific mumbo jumbo that it literally put me to sleep a couple of times.

Continue reading Shadowzone (1990) →

Men from the Monastery (1974)

MenfromtheMonastery_1Men from the Monastery [少林子弟] (1974)
AKA Disciples of Death, Dragon’s Teeth

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chiang Tao, Lo Dik, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wu Hsueh-Yan, Wong Ching, Fung Ngai, Wu Chi-Chin, Fung Hak-On

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, I like this one.

threehalfstar


Men from the Monastery was the second film in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle, and it serves as both prequel and sequel to Heroes Two. The story is broken up into segments like an anthology film, except it’s more like being fed pieces of the narrative in chunks that eventually add up to something. The first two segments occur prior to the events of Heroes Two, while the third and forth segments act as the continuation of the combined stories of both films. It’s a structure unique to Men from the Monastery (at least up to this point chronologically), and while I’d generally prefer a standard narrative, it works very well here, especially with the events of Heroes Two fresh in my mind.

We begin with Fang Shih Yu (Alexander Fu Sheng) while he is still a student at the Shaolin temple. Within a few minutes, he’s challenging the “Wooden Men Alley” to prove that he has the skills to leave. At this point, Chang Cheh also subtly introduces us to Shaolin’s perennial villains: Wu Dang (better known in the Western world as Wu Tang) and Pai Mei, the White Eyebrow Priest (who only appears in shadow for a moment). Flashes of Fang’s wooden-man trial and his subsequent battle on poles are shown in Heroes Two when we first meet him, but it’s great fun to see these sequences play out as full scenes. It’s almost like Chang Cheh originally had a three-hour cut of Heroes Two and decided to split it up into two complimenting films. I honestly think this may have been the case, as there are possibly some other indicators of this (such as Chi Kuan-Chun’s inclusion in the Hung Fist intro to Heroes Two). So feel free to add “out-of-order, chapter-based films” and “splitting a long film in two” to the list of things Tarantino co-opted from the Chang Cheh playbook. 🙂

Continue reading Men from the Monastery (1974) →

Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 4: Final (1989)

projectako4_1Project A-ko: Final [プロジェクトA子 完結篇] (1989)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto, Yoshitada Ohtsuka

Directed by Yuji Moriyama


I can’t say why the filmmakers decided to call it quits at part 4. Perhaps they ran into funding trouble or just ran out of ideas. Maybe it was a case of staff arguing over the direction of the series. Since I’ve never seen any behind-the-scenes info on the Project A-ko sequels (and probably never will), I can only rely on my own unsubstantiated guesses. For whatever it’s worth, I think they realized there wasn’t anywhere else for the series to go and wanted to end the franchise gracefully rather than milk it until it became a stale echo of its former glory.

One of the reasons I say this is because Project A-ko 4 is basically a rehash of the first film. It once again mainly involves an alien invasion that interrupts A-ko and B-ko’s bickering. In fact, the great feud between the two has become so routine that even the other characters are unfazed by it at this point. The big difference this time is that their teacher, Miss Ayumi, is getting married to Kei, so the fight is over him rather than C-ko. This makes C-ko feel abandoned, and she spends much of the film rather depressed.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 4: Final (1989) →

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