The Condemned (1976)

The Condemned [死囚] (1976)

Starring David Chiang, Tsai Hung, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Woo Gam, Pai Ying, Kong Yeung, Chan Shen, Yuen Sam, Wong Ching, Shum Lo, Lee Hoi-Sang

Directed by David Chiang

Expectations: Moderate.


At first, The Condemned seems like it will be another in a long line of martial arts films where a hero comes to town and vanquishes the area’s marauding bandits. That is essentially what ends up happening, but the road there is far different than just about any other Shaw film I can think of. Ni Kuang has crafted yet another excellent script, and director David Chiang translates it to the screen quite effectively. It offers a rare starring role to one of my beloved supporting actors, Tsai Hung, and the interplay he has with David Chiang is thrilling to watch. Thanks to all of this, The Condemned is a real hidden gem of a film waiting for a new audience to rediscover it.

Feng Dagang (Tsai Hung) is a righteous martial artist who has been sent by his master to help Mr. Xue (Yuen Sam) with an especially nasty group of bandits. These guys rape, pillage and cause all sorts of mayhem at will, so it will be quite a task to defeat them. Mr. Xue is saddened that only the student has arrived to aid him, and he’s disheartened that Feng will remedy the problem sufficiently. But when the bandits attack Mr. Xue’s home, Feng proves himself to be a stalwart and capable fighter. The only problem is that when the police arrive, the situation looks as if Feng has been the perpetrator of all the death and violence in the Xue home.

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The Spy Next Door (2010)

AKA Spy Daddy, Kung Fu Nanny, Double Mission

Starring Jackie Chan, Amber Valletta, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley, Alina Foley, Magnús Scheving, Billy Ray Cyrus, George Lopez, Katherine Boecher, Mia Stallard, Maverick McWilliams, Quinn Mason, Lucas Till

Directed by Brian Levant

Expectations: I don’t expect much at all.


I don’t know what I expected this movie to be, other than the reasonable assumption that it’d be another in a long line of Jackie Chan spy movies. When the movie began with a montage of old Jackie Chan spy movies, I was surprised and taken aback. Why would a movie open with a montage of movies that it has no chance of matching? But as the story of The Spy Next Door developed, this opening actually makes a lot of sense. By opening with the old, amazing clips, we see how Jackie has defended the world against insurmountable odds throughout his career; he is an indestructible machine capable of taking on literally anything the villains can throw his way. But one thing Jackie has never had to contend with on-screen is the more mundane, everyday task of managing a family and earning the respect and trust of potential step-children. So while this is “another Jackie Chan spy movie,” it is unique among the bunch.

Jackie plays Bob Ho, international spy on loan to the CIA and living life undercover in New Mexico as an importer of pens. His neighbor and main squeeze is Gillian (Amber Valletta), a single mother of three: seven-year-old Nora (Alina Foley), 10-year-old Ian (Will Shadley), and teenager Farren (Madeline Carroll). Bob and Gillian’s relationship is getting serious, and Bob wants to finally divulge his true profession, retire and begin a new life with Gillian. But because it’s a movie, he’s interrupted by an urgent job which complicates matters, and before you know it, Bob is tasked with caring for the three kids on his own while a group of Russians hunts him down.

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Challenge of the Masters (1976)

Challenge of the Masters [陸阿采與黃飛鴻] (1976)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Kong Yeung, Lau Kar-Leung, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Kar-Wing, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Chiang Tao, Wong Yu, Fung Hak-On, Wilson Tong, Shut Chung-Tin, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: High. I love this one.


Challenge of the Masters tells the story of a young, headstrong Wong Fei-Hung (Gordon Liu). His father, Wong Kei-Ying (Kong Yeung), refuses to teach him martial arts, but that doesn’t stop Fei-Hung from attempting to learn and cajole his father’s students into accepting him as one of their own. His father believes him to be too undisciplined and temperamental to be a true practitioner of the martial arts, and true to form Fei-Hung’s headstrong nature gets him into trouble often. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if they kept it within the walls of their home, but Fei-Hung refuses to listen to reason and sneaks into the town’s annual competition between kung fu schools.

Lau Kar-Leung slowly builds the character of Wong Fei-Hung during this early phase of the film, as well as building up the martial world that surrounds him. Fei-Hung’s father is a teacher, but he is largely uninterested in the petty struggles between schools. He spends his days at home, living a quiet life of kung fu and pleasantries. Kei-Ying’s teacher, Lu Ah Tsai (Chen Kuan-Tai) similarly lives quietly outside the hustle and bustle of the town’s martial politics. They keep to themselves, but for some reason — perhaps old grudges — Master Pang (Shut Chung-Tin) and his school seem determined to undermine and devastate the Wong school at every opportunity. Meanwhile, Officer Yuan (Lau Kar-Wing) has come to town looking for the fugitive Ho Fu (Lau Kar-Leung), who has recently just arrived to visit Pang’s school. These sub-plots are part of Wong’s story of growth, but they also exist outside of it, showing us that the martial world is complicated and ever-moving.

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Out of the Dark (1995)

Out of the Dark [回魂夜] (1995)

Starring Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Wong Yat-Fei, Lee Lik-Chi, Lo Hung, Ben Wong Chi-Yin, Lee Kin-Yan, Heung Dip, Chow Chi-Fai, Tam Suk-Mui, Hau Woon-Ling, Leung Kar-Yan

Directed by Jeff Lau Chun-Wai


Out of the Dark is a great horror comedy to watch during the Halloween season, but describing it is going to be a little difficult. The film moves at absolute breakneck speed, and if you’re not ready the jokes, characters and plot alike will all fly past you before you even have time to notice they were there. I watched the first 15 minutes three times and I noticed new things and developed a better understanding every time. At this point, I’ve seen hundreds of Hong Kong films but this one really threw me! It is with movies like this where the language barrier hinders enjoyment the most, but if you’re able to lock into the groove of Out of the Dark, it’s a truly hilarious and transcendent film experience.

Out of the Dark centers around a Hong Kong apartment building and its inhabitants. An elderly resident has recently died, but her spirit is not ready to leave the building just yet. She haunts the apartment she shared with her son and his family, and she’s looking for revenge on those that caused her death. Enter Stephen Chow’s character Leon (one of the film’s references to Luc Besson’s The Professional), an odd guy who dresses in all black and talks to a lily plant he carries around in a pot. Together with the building’s ragtag security team and a few residents, Leon looks to help the spirit achieve her goal of justice.

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Corpse Mania (1981)

Corpse Mania [屍妖] (1981)

Starring Wong Yung, Tanny Tien Ni, Yau Chui-Ling, Walter Tso Tat-Wah, Tai Kwan-Tak, Eric Chan Ga-Kei, Lau Siu-Kwan, Gam Biu, Jenny Leung Jan-Lei, Wong Ching-Ho, Fong Ping, Shum Lo, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Very high.


A title like Corpse Mania suggests a pretty high-octane horror film, but this particular Kuei Chih-Hung film has more in common with Hex than it does his maniacal black magic films (Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen). It’d be wrong to call Corpse Mania tame, though. It exists in a sort of middle ground between the two styles, utilizing the look of Hex (swirling fog and moonlit studio streets) and the gross-out horror of the black magic films. Corpse Mania is full of horrific delights, but above all the defining element is that it’s more of a Hong Kong giallo than anything else, building mystery and intrigue as the body count piles up. There’s even a classic Argento “Killer POV” shot!

Corpse Mania begins when Li Zhengyuan (Eric Chan Ga-Kei) moves into an old house with his sickly wife. When they arrive, they only have a single bag of luggage and Li’s wife must be carried inside, raising the suspicions of the neighbors. Li also wears sunglasses and covers his face like the Invisible Man, which definitely doesn’t help the situation. A few days later, a horrible smell emanates from the Li’s home, and when the police investigate they find the body of Li’s wife, naked and covered in mealworms. Upon further detective work, they determine that sexual intercourse had been performed after her death. As disturbing as that is, it is only the beginning of the mystery surrounding Li Zhengyuan!

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Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017)

Starring George Appleby, Tonya Kay, Paul Logan, Kevin Scott Allen, Tania Fox, Alynxia America, Lilou Vos, Daniele Romer, Kyle Devero, Allen Perada, Jean Louise O’Sullivan, Kip Canyon, Rob Vardaro

Puppet Cast: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Women, Six Shooter, Blitzkrieg, Bombshell, Weremacht

Directed by Charles Band

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


If I remember right, sometime around the release of the last Puppet Master movie, 2012’s Axis Rising, Charles Band announced that Full Moon would give the people what they want and deliver a new Puppet Master film every year. They do it with the Evil Bong films, but with Puppet Master I thought it was an especially ambitious claim. It is one they did not make good on, but given the attention paid to the production of Puppet Master: Axis Termination it definitely ended up better for everyone. Five years is a long time, but a good movie is worth more than five half-ass ones with a meager handful of tepid thrills. So yeah, the new Puppet Master is a fantastic addition to the series.

The story is not the film’s strong point, but I doubt anyone would’ve expected it to be. It’s basically just Toulon’s puppets vs. the Nazi puppets like the previous Axis films, but now with better characters! Not in terms of their depth or anything high-brow like that, more like the vanilla-white couple of Danny (Kip Canyon) and Beth (Jean Louise O’Sullivan) are immediately killed off and replaced with a musclebound soldier (Paul Logan), the dwarf magician Dr. Ivan Ivanov from Decadent Evil (now played by George Appleby) and a voodoo priestess (Alynxia America). The Nazis boast a powerful magician of their own in Sturmbahnfurher Steiner Krabke (Kevin Scott Allen), as well as his boss, the strong-willed puppet master Doktor Gerde Ernst (Tonya Kay). Maybe I’m just rusty with my Puppet Master knowledge, but I don’t ever remember this kind of purely magical stuff in the series, but regardless I loved the flavor it added to the film.

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The Bride from Hell (1972)

The Bride from Hell [鬼新娘] (1972)

Starring Margaret Hsing Hui, Yang Fang, Lui Ming, Got Siu-Bo, Kong Ha, Chang Feng, Carrie Ku Mei, Pan Chieh-Yi, Chang I-Fei, Chiu Keung

Directed by Chou Hsu-Chiang

Expectations: For some reason, I’m not expecting much.


Prior to its Blu-ray release from 88 Films, The Bride from Hell barely registered on my radar. Anything titled The Bride from Hell is surely worth a look, especially to a big fan of Hong Kong horror like myself, but this was a film that I literally never heard anyone talking about. Coupled with a production year in the early ’70s, I kind of wrote it off as a tame example of early Shaw horror before the gross-out glory days of Kuei Chih-Hung. But then here it is, receiving a Blu-ray release before many other, well-known Shaw horror films, and it came with a rather loving and excited endorsement from 88 Films. My expectations remained muted, and perhaps because of this, I really, really enjoyed this one. The title is perhaps a little misleading, and a Google translation of the Chinese title says that it means “Ghost Bride” which makes a lot more sense.

The Bride from Hell is relatively slow, but I was hooked from the first moment. A coffin sits in a marsh of swirling fog and tall grasses. It opens and a woman emerges, twirling and bathed in the time-honored traditional green light of the Hong Kong horror film. Then we meet a pair of fellas walking by a lake, Nie Yun Peng (Yang Fang) and his servant Da Huo Zi (Got Siu-Bo). A woman stands forlornly at the edge of the water, but when they approach they fear she is a ghost and run off. They seek refuge in a country home, where Anu (Margaret Hsing Hui) lives with a servant of her own (Kong Ha). During the night, both of the men decide to peep on their female counterpart, but when they’re caught they propose marriage to make it right. So begins the supernatural shenanigans of The Bride from Hell.

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