All Men Are Brothers (1975)

All Men Are Brothers [蕩寇誌] (1975)
AKA Seven Soldiers of Kung Fu, Seven Blows of the Dragon II, Seven Kung Fu Assassins

Starring David Chiang, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Danny Lee, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yue Fung, Ti Lung, Chu Mu, Tin Ching, Tung Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Bolo Yeung, Lau Gong, Wong Ching, Chang Yang, Betty Chung, Ku Feng, Tetsuro Tamba, Chin Feng, Chen Wo-Fu, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan

Directed by Chang Cheh & Wu Ma

Expectations: Super high! A sequel to one of my all-time favorite Shaw films? Yes, please!


The Water Margin is one of my all-time favorite Shaw Brothers films (along with all of Shaw’s other films based on the classic Chinese novel —  Delightful Forest, Pursuit, and to a lesser extent The Amorous Lotus Pan and Chang’s segment in Trilogy of Swordsmanship), so All Men Are Brothers had a lot to live up to. The key to my immense affection for each film lies in how they all carry their own style and are therefore able to stand on their own in companionship with the other films, like the 108 Liang Shan bandits themselves. All Men Are Brothers is another very welcome addition to this lineup, taking its own path along the way to dramatizing a section of the illustrious book.

All of the previous films dealt with chapters from either the beginning or the middle of the book, but All Men Are Brothers seeks to tell the end of the tale. It takes material mostly from Chapters 90–100 (out of 100 total chapters), which deal with the redemption of the outlaws through their struggle to defeat the rebellious Fang La and his generals. A couple of flashbacks tell earlier tales to provide some character depth, and the film opens with Yan Qing’s procurement of the bandits’ pardon from the emperor (which is detailed in Chapter 81), but the film is mostly concerned with bringing everything to a close.

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The Accidental Spy (2001)

The Accidental Spy [特務迷城] (2001)

Starring Jackie Chan, Vivian Hsu Jo-Hsuan, Wu Hsing-Guo, Kim Min-Jeong, Eric Tsang, Murat Yilmaz, Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting, Lillian Ho Ga-Lee, Cheung Tat-Ming

Directed by Teddy Chen

Expectations: Moderate.


One of the great things about going through an actor’s complete filmography is discovering films that passed you by at the time of their release. By the early 2000s, my initial passion for Jackie Chan had faded due to my distaste for his American films and the films of the early 2000s in general (thanks in part to the rise of CG). I would love to say that The Accidental Spy is a wonderful film, offering untold delights, but it’s actually quite a mediocre film all things considered. Where it excels is its action, offering up a pair of incredible sequences that recall everything you’ve ever enjoyed about the films of Jackie Chan. They aren’t enough to pull the film out of mediocrity, but they are wonderful and very welcome in an otherwise underwhelming film.

The film begins oddly, as journalists drive through a village in Turkey afflicted with a deadly pneumonia outbreak. They are quickly assaulted and murdered by terrorists, and we are whisked away to the South Korean embassy in Istanbul. A spy is called in to investigate, but before we get too deep into this serious plot line, we are abruptly taken to Hong Kong where Buck Yuen (Jackie Chan) is doing his best to sell some exercise equipment by giving energetic demonstrations. His real test of fitness comes a few minutes later, though, when he daringly thwarts a bank robbery as only Jackie Chan could. The media coverage attracts the attention of Many Liu (Eric Tsang), a private eye looking for orphans about Jackie’s age, which consequently drags Jackie into an international struggle.

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Train Quest (2001)

Starring Donnie Biggs, Tanya Garrett, Cristian Irimia, Ruxandra Sireteanu, Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Keith, Jason Dohring, Shanie Calahan, Luminita Erga

Directed by Jeffrey Porter

Expectations: Moderate. I like trains.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Full Moon doesn’t list Train Quest as an official Full Moon production, but I’m inclined to think this is more of an oversight than anything else. Perhaps it’s a legal issue. In any case, IMDB lists Charles Band as an uncredited Executive Producer and gives Full Moon production credit. If that’s not enough proof, when the young couple are deciding on what movie to see for their first date, the girl suggests Retro Puppet Master! Hahahaha, only in a Full Moon movie would something like this occur, so the jig is up Full Moon! No matter what the situation is, Train Quest is classic Moonbeam, and it’s easily one of their most entertaining films.

August (Donnie Biggs) is a teenager obsessed with model trains and a girl who’s out of his league, Ellen (Tanya Garrett). He works in the local train shop and Ellen’s little brother, Billy (Tyler Hoechlin, who recently played Superman on the Supergirl TV show!), is a frequent visitor. August figures if he can make friends with Billy, he can parlay that into a foot in the door for realizing his dream of dating Ellen. Fate does bring them together, and after their first date August brings Ellen to the train shop to show her the owner’s huge train layout in the back room. What August doesn’t know is that this particular train set is part of a magical ritual, and before they know what’s going on, both August and Ellen find themselves shrunk down to O scale, riding the model train to their possible doom.

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Micro Mini Kids (2001)

Starring Chad Gordon, Kyle Chaos, Jessica Taylor, Debra Mayer, Sam Page, Lauren Petty, Robert Donavan, George Cost, Tyler Anderson, Rhett Fisher, Colin Bain

Directed by Bruce McCarthy

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Micro Mini Kids was one of Full Moon’s final kid-focused productions, and it’s a shame because it’s actually one of the good ones! The performances are fun and the characters are oddly well-defined (relatively speaking in terms of Full Moon). The FX sequences are also imaginative and enchanting (despite the seams being quite apparent at times). And probably most importantly in a film directed at kids, it teaches a nice double lesson of learning to accept yourself as you are, and that you shouldn’t assume you know what other people are thinking. The major stumbling point is that it’s very formulaic so the ending is obvious once the pieces are in place, but this doesn’t matter so much because the journey is fun.

Micro Mini Kids was started under the direction of the prolific David DeCoteau, but according to the IMDB trivia he left after only four days of production. Regardless of this, the film feels more like a DeCoteau film than anything else. The movie is credited to Bruce McCarthy but as soon as I saw the bodyguard duo in shades and black vinyl I knew DeCoteau was lurking around somewhere in the film’s development. No one ends up in their underwear, though; a clear sign that DeCoteau did not complete the film. 😀

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Stephen reviews: Patema Inverted (2013)

Patema Inverted [サカサマのパテマ, Sakasama no Patema] (2013)

Starring Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shintaro Ohata, Shinya Fukumatsu, Masayuki Kato, Hiroki Yasumoto, Maaya Uchida

Directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura


This is the first of Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s films that I have seen, and if this film is any indication then he will certainly be a major part of the new era of anime we’re in. Patema Inverted fits neatly in the list of recent family friendly anime films by Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, and others. In tone and style, Patema Inverted leans more towards Makoto Shinkai. While it certainly cannot match Shinkai’s visuals, it has a fair amount of beautiful images to dazzle the eyes. Yoshiura seems to have picked up the science fiction torch that Shinkai set down after The Place Promised In Our Early Days, and I’m happy to see that it hasn’t been abandoned.

The premise of Patema Inverted is that some science experiment went horribly wrong and reversed gravity for a bunch of people who then fell up into the sky, never to be seen again. However, some of these people managed to survive underground, where they live separated from the rest of humanity. Now a young girl named Patema explores a bit too far astray and winds up in a land where she falls upward towards the sky. There she meets a young boy named Age (not the way I would have chosen to spell his name, but I’m not the translator here), and we run into the age-old concept of two people from opposite worlds falling in love with each other.

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Five Tough Guys (1974)

fivetoughguys_1Five Tough Guys [五大漢] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Hellcats

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Wai Wang, Shut Chung-Tin, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung, Ku Feng, Lily Ho Li-Li, Ling Yun, Omae Hitoshi, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching, Yeung Chi-Hing, Kong Yeung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but the title is fun.

twohalfstar


There is an abundance of promise in Five Tough Guys. A dense, unique script from the illustrious Ni Kuang deals with the changing times when guns supplanted the years of training and expertise of kung fu masters. A group of excellent actors fill the roles, with superstar Chen Kuan-Tai heading up the cast, Ku Feng as the main antagonist, and Fan Mei-Sheng’s best role since The Water Margin. And the fights are choreographed by the experienced and notable pair of Lau Kar-Wing (brother of Lau Kar-Leung) and Huang Pei-Chih (brother of Tang Chia). The elements for a great film are clearly here, but unfortunately director Pao Hsueh-Li fails to bring them together into a cohesive package.

Like many of Ni Kuang’s scripts from this era, Five Tough Guys is based in part on Chinese history. The story is set during the early days of the Republic of China (around 1915), centered around General Tsai Song-Po (Ling Yun) and his rebellion against General Yuan Shikai. Yuan was the first formal president of the Republic of China, but at the time depicted in the film he was also attempting to restore monarchy to China by naming himself Emperor. He would eventually do this, which led to the National Protection War, but these events don’t occur during the course of Five Tough Guys. The film is just focused on the flight of General Tsai through enemy territory so that he can forward the rebellion’s cause.

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Na Cha the Great (1974)

nachathegreat_1Na Cha the Great [哪吒] (1974)

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Lin Jing, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Li Chen-Piao, Yuan Man-Tzu, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, Lee Wan-Chung, Fung Ngai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Pretty high. I enjoyed Na Cha and the Seven Devils and I hope this is equally fun.

twohalfstar


When I think of words to describe the films of Chang Cheh, “fantasy” is not even remotely within the brainstorm. Elements of the fantastic enter many of his films, but Chang rarely handles them in a way that inspires the imagination like typical fantasy. The idea that a man could cut off his own arm and then become a fearsome one-armed swordsman (The New One-Armed Swordsman) is definitely within the fantasy genre, but Chang grounds the idea to the point that it’s not about suspending disbelief. So when I watched Na Cha and the Seven Devils a few months ago, knowing that I had Chang Cheh’s take on the character in my future, it was hard to imagine how Chang would handle the incredible fantasy of an adaptation of the Chinese classic novel Investiture of the Gods.

Turns out that he ambitiously reaches in both directions, bisecting the film into a largely grounded first half and a wildly fantastic second half. I’d love to tell you that my favorite Shaw Brothers director handles both halves well, but unfortunately I can’t even say that he does so with either half. The whole movie feels half-baked and without the usual thematic sharpness that is evident in his other films around this time. The groundwork is there, but there’s little artistry pulling it all together into a pleasing, emotional package. My feeling is that the abundance of special effects hindered Chang’s abilities somewhat. A separate special FX director, Lam Kwok-Cheung, is credited, and according to Chang Cheh’s memoir, Lam led a team from Japan to achieve the film’s many photographic effects.

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