Persona (1966)

persona_6Starring Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jörgen Lindström

Directed by Ingmar Bergman

Expectations: Low.

threehalfstar


I haven’t been brave enough to watch an Ingmar Bergman film since I was a teenager. At that time I watched The Seventh Seal and I didn’t know what the hell to make of it. I pushed on and watched it again… same result. So I decided that Bergman was a filmmaker that just wasn’t for me. As the years have moved on, this decision has gnawed at me. I surmised that it wasn’t necessarily Bergman’s fault that caused The Seventh Seal to be incomprehensible, but instead it was my age and general naivety. I decided that my early 30s was a fair time to reassess this decision, so that’s how Persona made its way to this year’s Blind Spot list.

Persona is about Elizabet (Liv Ullmann), an actress that suddenly stops talking. She is admitted to a hospital where they determine that she is completely healthy and without issue, but because she continues to refuse to speak she is assigned a personal nurse to attend to her needs. For reasons I forget, the doctor sends the pair to her seaside summer home in hopes that the fresh air and being out of the city will help with Elizabet’s recovery. But in actuality, Persona isn’t really about any of this specifically.

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Batman (1966)

Batman (1966)
AKA Batman: The Movie

Starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, Stafford Repp

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson

Expectations: Moderate. I expect to have fun.


I’m sure that anyone sitting down to watch the 1966 Batman film based on the TV series knows what they’re getting into, but just in case you don’t, Batman is pure camp. It’s ridiculous, over the top, and going directly at the laughs. When Batman runs around the pier searching for a place to dispose of a bomb, it’s not nail-biting, it’s hilarious. It’s important to know this going in, because you must leave all expectations and logic at the door. The filmmakers immediately acknowledge this as well, with a rather funny dedication that opens the film.

The plot is somewhat inconsequential as you’re really here for the laughs and the crazy Batman hijinks. I tried my best to follow it through its many twists and turns, but by the end I found myself completely lost in a sea of exploding sharks, dehydrated pirates and Robin shooting a giant raygun into the sea. That’s not to say the film is incoherent, just so overboard and ridiculous that it becomes mind numbing and easy to lose track of exactly what’s going on. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is that the major Batman villains have teamed up so our caped crusaders must face off against not one, not two, but four supervillains!

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Mini-Review: Princess Iron Fan (1966)

Princess Iron Fan [鐵扇公主] (1966)

Starring Ho Fan, Yueh Hua, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Cheng Pei Pei, Pat Ting Hung, Lily Ho Li Li, Cheng Miu, Shen Yi, Ng Wai, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Man Sau

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, I really enjoyed the first film.


Princess Iron Fan is the second in the Shaw Brother’s four film series of Journey to the West films. It’s not nearly as episodic as the first film, this time only containing two stories, with most of the runtime dedicated to the second one. It’s interesting to me that this got titled after Princess Iron Fan, the subject of the first and much shorter tale, instead of after the film’s main villain and trickster the White Bone Demon (or the Lady White Skeleton depending on the translation) played wonderfully by Cheng Pei-Pei. No matter though, let’s get to what matters… is it a competent sequel?

The answer is a resounding yes. Princess Iron Fan doesn’t deal out anywhere near the amount of amazing FX and crazy visuals as The Monkey Goes West, but it does remain enjoyable throughout. Don’t worry though, you get your fair share of crazy shenanigans going on too. One of my favorite of these moments is when Monkey has to infiltrate Princess Iron Fan’s home to retrieve the only thing that can quell the flames impeding their journey, her iron fan. First he transforms into a three-inch tall version of himself and tickles his way through the serving girls to create a distraction. Then as the princess receives her scrumptious ginseng soup, he transforms into a fly and jumps in the bowl. He travels inside her stomach and then announces his presence. When the princess refuses to relinquish the fan, he hits her tender stomach walls with the end of his staff and performs ulcer-inducing somersaults. Her only recourse is to give in and my only option is to enjoy the shit out of this scene. I’ve seen tons of amazing and inventive sets from the Shaw Brothers, but the interior stomach is something completely fresh and very enjoyable.

Princess Iron Fan is a strong enough film on its own to win anyone over, but taken as a sequel it builds on The Monkey Goes West very well. It doesn’t flesh out the character of Sha Wujing (Sandy) at all though, but there’s still a couple of sequels to do that. I don’t need anything deep, but some explanation of him or a show of his powers would be nice. As of now he’s only the dude with the beard and the crescent moon staff. In any case, it’s clear that Monkey is and always will be the main character of these films. Even though he’s only a disciple to the Monk Tang on his quest for the Buddhist scriptures, it is Monkey’s journey that is the most interesting and easily relatable.

The Monkey Goes West (1966)

The Monkey Goes West [西遊記] (1966)

Starring Yueh Hua, Ho Fan, Pang Pang, Tin Sam, Fan Mei-Sheng, Kao Pao Shu, Nam Wai-Lit, Lee Ying, Diana Chang Chung-Wen, Chiu Sam-Yin

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Moderately high. I’m insanely interested in this movie and the novel it’s based upon.


Journey to the West is one of the most influential and famous Chinese works of literature of all time. I’ve never read it myself, but years of watching Chinese cinema introduced me to the character of the Monkey King and the basic theme of the work. My knowledge of the actual book is vague, and a vague understanding of a 2,400 page book isn’t really understanding at all, is it? Due to my enjoyment of the Monkey King character, I’ve always been curious to see where he comes from and read the book. Then I found out that in the late 60s the Shaw Brothers and director Ho Meng-Hua cranked out a series of four films based upon the seminal work. It seemed like just the thing to dip my toes into the work without sitting down for the next couple of years trying to read my way through the over five hundred-year-old tale.

A Buddhist monk begins a perilous journey to the West, in search of important Buddhist scriptures. The only problem is that all the denizens of the dark, the demons and the undesirables, want one thing. To eat the flesh of the monk, as they believe it will provide them everlasting life. Along the way the monk Tang picks up three protectors to thwart these flesh-eating attackers: Monkey, a mischievous and magical creature that must learn to control his powers for good; Pigsy, an overweight glutton concerned primarily with any fine young females that come his way; and Sandy, a banished general of Heaven who now lives underwater. And let’s not forget the evil Dragon Prince transformed into the monk’s horse for the journey!

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Mini-Review: The Magnificent Trio (1966)

The Magnificent Trio [邊城三俠] (1966)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Cheng Lui, Chin Ping, Margaret Tu Chuan, Fanny Fan Lai, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Lui Ming, Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate.


Only the second martial arts film directed by Chang Cheh (the first being the lost black and white film Tiger Boy), The Magnificent Trio delivers glimpses of many traits that would carry Chang directly to the top within the Shaw Brothers studio. Don’t go in expecting copious bloodletting though, as what’s here is all fairly minor compared to what came later. Even still, The Magnificent Triois a mostly engaging martial drama about a group of oppressed farmers that kidnap the daughter of the county magistrate. They are aided by a hero returning home from war (Jimmy Wang Yu) and eventually by two more (Lo Lieh & Cheng Lui) in their struggle for equality among the fields.

Together with The Knight of Knights, The Magnificent Trio explores the heroic bloodshed and brotherly bonds of combat that would become staples of Cheng Cheh’s later, more popular works. The Magnificent Trio is one of the better of these early Shaw efforts thanks to this and Chang’s solid direction. Even with only a couple of previous films under his belt, Chang shows that he has a firm grasp on how to shoot action sequences, letting the choreography play out in front of a well-placed moving camera. The editing works hand-in-hand with the camera, highlighting the action in all the right places. The first forty minutes are a little dry, but it gets a lot more fun after that, as Jimmy Wang Yu surrenders himself which allows for some fun rescue action.

Genre fans will definitely want to check this one out, but newcomers will be better served by a later, more exciting Chang Cheh film.

Mini-Review: The Knight of Knights (1966)

The Knight of Knights [文素臣] (1966)

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kiu Chong, Cheng Lui, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lily Li Li-Li, Chen Hung Lieh, Lee Ying, Tang Ti, Feng Yi, Lee Wan Chung

Written by Chang Cheh

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: Low.


The Knight of Knights features an early take on martial arts chivalry with its multi-layered story of evildoers masquerading as monks capturing women and raping them and the men that do what they can to stop them. It’s no surprise to see that the script comes from legendary director Chang Cheh, who worked and re-worked the martial chivalry plot throughout his career. Unfortunately Chang Cheh does not direct here, the duties falling instead to Hsih Chun. Hsih Chun’s work is capable but does nothing to excite or intrigue the viewer. Enjoyment of The Knight of Knights comes strictly from your love and tireless desire for old Shaw Brothers movies and their reused sets and gory dismemberments.

Yes, within the first three minutes there are two severed limbs and a sword slicing a guy’s face down the middle, so at least the film delivers on that promise. Kiu Chong is good as our main hero, but the real star of the show is Tang Ti who plays the Abbot of the temple and the leader of the raping villains. His on-screen presence is full of vigor and charm, made even more exciting by his final duel with Kiu Chong. The fight is short, and it may be kind of sloppy, but when Tang Ti controls his breathing to enlarge himself and starts leaving handprints in the bricks, you can rest assured that there’s a smile on this reviewer’s face. In the end that’s what really matters, no? Recommended to kung fu junkies looking for an origin movie to all those other chivalrous kung fu tales.

Mini-Review: Come Drink With Me (1966)

Come Drink With Me [大醉俠] (1966)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Chen Hung Lieh, Yam Ho, Yeung Chi Hing, Simon Yuen Siu Tien, Ku Feng, Lee Wan Chung, Kok Lee Yan, Han Ying Chieh

Directed by King Hu

Expectations: High.


There’s a reason why Come Drink With Me is more readily remembered as the first Shaw Brothers color martial arts film and not Temple of the Red Lotus. Quite simply, it is leaps and bounds better, in addition to being a unique film unlike any other Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen up to this point. Credit must be given to director King Hu, as the differences and clever touches are predominantly found in the distinct style of camerawork and the excellent lighting, utilizing shadows to great effect.

The plot involves a group of bandits kidnapping a noble in hopes that they can exchange him for the release of their leader from prison. Instead, the Gold Swallow (Cheng Pei Pei) is sent to claim the kidnapped man. If these bandits only knew the shit they were about to be in when the Gold Swallow takes action! Her introduction scene in the barroom when the bandits challenge and test her is excellent, electric cinema; reaching similar heights of taut intensity that Leone achieved in Once Upon a Time in the West.

The fights are fairly well done, with spots of brilliance throughout, but it’s the end fight that is especially great. There is also a surprising amount of blood and gore and it all plays out realistically and effectively, heightening the mood of the picture. The combination of slow, precise sword strikes with the quick motions of Chinese martial arts beautifully couples the feel of a Japanese samurai film with the contained chaos of Hong Kong action cinema. Come Drink With Me is stunning to watch, thanks in part to King Hu’s inspired camerawork and solid acting from Cheng Pei-Pei, Yuen Hua and the wonderful supporting cast of bandits, most notably Chen Hung Lieh as the pasty-faced featured villain. Highly recommended to junkies and new fans alike, as it is well worth your time.

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