First Strike (1996)

FirstStrike_1First Strike [警察故事4之簡單任務] (1996)
AKA Police Story 4: First Strike, Jackie Chan’s First Strike, Final Project

Starring Jackie Chan, Annie Wu Chen-Chun, Jackson Lau Hok-Yin, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Yuriy Petrov, Bill Tung, Nonna Grishaeva, John Eaves, Nathan Jones, Terry Woo, Kristopher Kazmarek

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Very high!

threestar


First Strike released in the US roughly 11 months after Rumble in the Bronx, and in that time I had gone from knowing absolutely nothing about Hong Kong films to a seasoned fan of Jackie, John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Wong Kar-Wai, etc. thanks to my friends and their knowledge of tape trading. In fact, I had already seen First Strike a few times, so seeing it on the big screen was merely a treat instead of a new experience. Well… I suppose it was something new, since 20-something minutes were chopped out for the US release, and the original English & Cantonese soundtrack had been completely re-dubbed into English only (just like Rumble in the Bronx). I haven’t seen First Strike in probably 15+ years, so re-visiting it was in part like reconnecting with an old friend, yet also like seeing it for the first time with a more robust knowledge of Hong Kong film in place.

Jackie’s films had been progressively leaning towards international appeal since Police Story III, and First Strike does that more than any previous film. There are James Bond elements in both Supercop and Rumble in the Bronx, but First Strike throws Jackie into the framework of a James Bond story and lets him loose. It’s a great concept, unfortunately it doesn’t translate to the heights of action movie gold that you might think. Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie, but whenever there’s only one legitimate fight in a martial arts film, I’m always going to be disappointed at some level.

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Friends (1974)

Friends_1Friends [朋友] (1974)

Starring David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Yung-Git, Lo Dik, Matsuoka Minoru, Wai Wang, Helen Ko, Danny Chow Yuen-Kin, Chen Wo-Fu, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wang Kuang-Yu

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: I’m really excited for this one. I’ve really come to love these deliquent youth movies of Chang Cheh’s.

threestar


From a quick glance over Chang Cheh’s filmography, Friends seems to be his final modern-day delinquent youth action drama. And wouldn’t you know it… it feels like it! There is a positive energy running through Friends that isn’t in the other films. Friends notably starts with a scene set years after the main section of the film, when the titular friends are gathered together and reminiscing over their wild, youthful days gone by. They are all successful in their various fields, and can now look back on their earlier struggles and laugh at their absurdity. Chang’s previous youth films were all steeped in angst and an inability to fit in with society in one way or another, so to open Friends showing that these characters have already achieved this goal of assimilating successfully into society (and seemingly doing so without compromising their dreams) immediately announces a different type of film than his other films in the genre.

The film then cuts back in time an indiscriminate number of years, to when the group was just a bunch of unmotivated friends stuck in entry-level jobs. Hua Heng (David Chiang) dreams of being an artist, but for now he has a job painting a mural on the side of the Seiko building. Hua’s girlfriend, Gao Xin (Lily Li Li-Li), is a bar girl deep in debt to her employer, and at risk for turning to prostitution to pay him back. The others work as delivery boys, mechanics, and other similar jobs, but there is one outlier.

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Bleed (2002)

bleed_1Starring Debbie Rochon, Danny Wolske, Allen Nabors, Orly Tepper, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Laura Nativo, Julie Strain, Brinke Stevens, Lloyd Kaufman

Directed by Devin Hamilton & Dennis Petersen

Expectations: Hopefully it doesn’t make my eyes bleed.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


I’m racking my brain for a way to best describe Bleed, but all I’m getting back is the EBS test tone, and that sure isn’t helping me think. Bleed is a poor excuse for a movie, but at the same time it’s an easy movie to get through. Not in a “so bad it’s good” way, it’s just paced well and it shows enough promise to assume it will get interesting. I didn’t like Bleed, but I definitely didn’t hate it either. I wouldn’t call it boring because I was genuinely engaged, but it’s ultimately vapid and not worth watching because it takes all that potential and blows it to oblivion in the final minutes. I’d almost rather be bored than disrespected like that!

Bleed opens with a couple of bros leaving a house party. One is dressed as a cheap streetwalker, the other a maid. They part ways, and soon after someone in all black wearing an expressionless white mask slices the hooker upwards from his balls to his collarbone. It’s surprisingly gory for a Full Moon film, with entrails spilling out of the wound, but don’t get too excited gorehounds. Besides this moment there isn’t much more, but it’s worth noting that what gore there is looks relatively good given the film’s probable very low budget.

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Well of Doom (1974)

WellofDoom_1Well of Doom [吃人井] (1974)

Starring Wang Ping, Chang Chi-Yu, Sally Chen Sha-Li, Sit Hon, Wong Yung, Pao Chin, Wong Yu, Shan Mao, Kong Yeung, Yuen Sam, Richard Tung Chin-Hu

Directed by Ting Shan-Hsi

Expectations: High. The title is very intriguing.

threestar


Well of Doom has all the ingredients for a tense thriller, but it actively avoids fully engaging them in the ways that other films have accustomed viewers to. This could have easily been a Shaw Brothers, period-set version of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, and for a time I thought it was headed in that direction. Instead, Well of Doom is something far more varied and interesting, especially in how it has its characters play so much against expectations. The premise of the film is one we’ve seen before, but director Ting Shan-Hsi handles it in a unique way for Well of Doom.

The film opens by introducing us to a poor family living in the mountains of Taiwan. None of them particularly enjoy their hard life away from civilization, but they make do. An old monk, the previous owner of the home, told the father that he would one day return and give the father a large sum of money. That was about six years ago, with no sign of the monk. The father refuses to move away because of this, even though Da-Niu (Sally Chen Sha-Li), one of his three adult daughters, needs ongoing medical attention to deal with her childlike mental capacity. The eldest, Er-Niu (Chang Chi-Yu), is levelheaded and resigned to her life of seclusion and solitude, but her sister San-Niu (Wang Ping) longs for a husband above everything else. One day the father goes to town to buy some supplies, and unbeknownst to him the bandits Copper Head Eight (Sit Hon) and Iron Gun Six (Wong Yung) are traveling through the mountains with their apprentice, One Hundred (Pao Chin).

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I’m on a Podcast — Forgotten Filmcast #75: The Satan Bug

vintage-cat-headphones

After almost a year and a half, I’m back on a podcast! That’s how it goes when you don’t actively pursue those kinds of things. Anyway, you can hear me talk with Todd Liebenow of Forgotten Films on the 75th episode of his Forgotten Filmcast! We got together to discuss the 1965 John Sturges film The Satan Bug, a movie far less entertaining than its title. Commune with the pod and enjoy! I’ve embedded it below for quick listening, but if you wanna subscribe to the show or listen on a portable device you can head to iTunes, PodOmatic or Your Listen.

As always, I love feedback, so if you listen to the show let me know what you think! Thanks for listening!

Thunderbolt (1995)

thunderbolt_1Thunderbolt [霹靂火] (1995)
AKA Dead Heat

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen Wing-Yee, Michael Wong Man-Tak, Dayo Wong Chi-Wah, Thorsten Nickel, Ken Lo, Chor Yuen

Directed by Gordon Chan

Expectations: Very high!

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

Just the action:
threehalfstar


The one-two punch of Drunken Master II and Rumble in the Bronx is an incredibly tough act to follow, and Thunderbolt is not up to the challenge! Hahahaha, but really it’s kind of a mess of a movie. This is where your love of simple entertainment and Jackie Chan come in! By all normal metrics, Thunderbolt should be a disjointed failure, but it’s actually an entertaining, offbeat gem in the Jackie catalog. I enjoyed it so much as a teen that I actually thought showing it to my grandma was a great idea, choosing it specifically because I thought other, better films would be a harder sell. What’s funny is that re-watching the film now, I can kind of understand what I was thinking.

Thunderbolt continues the trend of Jackie Chan films attempting to appeal to the wider international audience, like Police Story III and Rumble in the Bronx. Thunderbolt goes a step further by limiting the martial arts and replacing it with cars, something more inclusive in a general sense than hand-to-hand fighting. The story retains a slight Hong Kong flavor, but overall the film barely feels like a Hong Kong production. It’s also more in the serious vein of Crime Story than the standard Jackie action comedy, thus avoiding some of the inherent cultural differences in humor. This is my long-winded way of saying that I must have thought my grandma would respond better to something a little closer in sensibility to US films than something like Drunken Master II. I was trying to ease her into the world of kung fu. Hahahaha… it didn’t work.

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Virgins of the Seven Seas (1974)

VirginsoftheSevenSeas_1Virgins of the Seven Seas [洋妓, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen] (1974)
AKA The Bod Squad, Enter the Seven Virgins, Foreign Prostitutes

Starring Sonja Jeannine, Diana Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Yueh Hua, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Li Min-Lang, Kong Yeung, Wang Han-Chen, Law Hon, Chan Lap-Ban, Chu Yau-Ko, Sai Gwa-Pau, Aai Dung-Gwa

Directed by Ernst Hofbauer & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Low. I’m expecting something trashy.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


In addition to being the year of newfound freedom, 1974 was the first year the Shaw Brothers partnered up with some other international studios to co-produce films. I imagine they did so in hopes of reaching new markets, perhaps in an attempt to replicate what Golden Harvest & Warner Bros. had done with Enter the Dragon. Virgins of the Seven Seas was the first of these Shaw co-productions to be released, and it also holds the distinction of being the trashiest Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen yet. And to be honest, I don’t know that I expect any future film to unseat it!

The film features a simple tale of human trafficking and revenge, but mostly it features a lot of nudity. These poor actresses spend almost the entire film topless, tied up or having simulated attempted rapes inflicted upon them; I can’t imagine it was a great filmmaking experience for them. But these are the sacrifices you have to make when filming a movie about five German women kidnapped by pirates who learn kung fu and take revenge on their captors. The film is not shy about being as trashy as it wants to be, but I must admit that the nearly non-stop nudity does give the film a quality of reality that it would not otherwise have. Is it gratuitous? Of course, but because of the gratuity and the relentless aggression of the villains, the women’s fear and vulnerability never left my mind. The film is an exploitation sex comedy with kung fu, so it’s about as far from a message movie as you can get, but regardless it made me reckon with the horrors of human trafficking and the the victims of the sex trade in a heightened, visceral manner.

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