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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Black List (1972)

U89u7doBlack List [黑名單] (1972)
AKA Ninja Terminator, Ninja Heat, Ninja Blacklist

Starring Chan Sing, Henry Yu Yung, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Si Ming, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Fong Yau, San Kuai, Gai Yuen, James Yi Lui, Lee Man-Tai

Directed by John Law Ma

Expectations: Moderate.

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Black List has the distinction of being one of the top 10 grossing films of 1972 in Hong Kong, but I had a hard time seeing why it would have been so popular. To think that this mediocre film did better than many of the Shaw films, even exceptionally good ones, is hard to fathom. Black List does have a somewhat ahead-of-its-time gritty vibe thanks to the location shooting, something that virtually none of the Shaw films of the era have, so maybe that helped. Golden Harvest was also becoming highly successful around this time by utilizing similar, location-based filming methods. I imagine Chan Sing was something of a big star at the time as well, as he had featured in many Shaw films by this point and had starred in fellow top 10 film The Good and the Bad in the same year.

Black List has one of those ultra-simple storylines that is setup within the opening minute or so. We see Zhao Ying-Long (Chan Sing) released from prison, and his brother Zhao Ying-Hu (Henry Yu Yung) is outside the gates awaiting his arrival. After an embrace, Ying-Hu hands Ying-Long a piece of paper and tells him that over the last six years he has uncovered the men responsible for framing him and sending him to prison. Ying-Long vows to kill every last one of the sons of bitches on his “black list,” and that’s about 95% of the story in the film.

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The Good and the Bad (1972)

TigerVsDragon+1972-76-bThe Good and the Bad [餓虎狂龍] (1972)
AKA Kung Fu-The Invisible Fist, Kung Fu-The Invincible Fist, Tiger Vs Dragon, Death Rivals of Shaolin, Dragon and Tiger Ways

Starring Chan Sing, Yasuaki Kurata, Wong Yuen-San, Gai Yuen, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Chiang Nan, Irene Ryder, Hon Gwok-Choi

Directed by Ng See-Yuen

Expectations: I don’t know anything about this one, but I’m very excited for some reason.

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A bit of context: I’m watching The Good and the Bad and one other (Black List) before I jump back into my chronological Shaw Brothers project and start 1973. (Oooo, it’s so close I can taste it!) These two films were in the Top 10 Hong Kong Box Office for 1972, and I figured they’d add an interesting context to what else was going on in 1972 HK other than Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest/Bruce Lee films that I’ve already seen. I also plan to do this for all future years as well, but in chrono order along with the Shaw films. There’s actually not too many of these, so it only adds a few films to the series while presumably expanding my view of the time (and hopefully also adding to my enjoyment!). After watching The Good and the Bad, all I can say is, “So far, so good.” It delivered on both entertainment and contextual standpoints, so I am happy with my decision to go ahead and tack these extra films on.

The story in The Good and the Bad is as generic as “Kung Fu vs. Karate” plots come. Japan sends in a super badass karate master spy (Yasuaki Kurata) to help take over the docks in Shanghai. China sends in a super badass kung fu master spy (Chan Sing) to stop him. That’s it. If you want more than that, there are lots of movies that will do you a solid. But The Good and the Bad makes up for this lack in story with fights. Lots of fights. No, scratch that — LOTS OF FIGHTS.

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The Way of the Dragon (1972)

wayofthedragon_1The Way of the Dragon [猛龍過江] (1972)
AKA Return of the Dragon, Revenge of the Dragon, Fury of the Dragon

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wong Chung-Shun, Gam Dai, Unicorn Chan, Lau Wing, Jon T. Benn, Chuck Norris, Whang In-Shik, Robert Wall, Malisa Longo, Robert Chan Law-Bat, Chen Fu-Ching

Directed by Bruce Lee

Expectations: High, it’s Bruce Lee!

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With The Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee stepped into the role of writer/director along with the acting and choreography roles he had inhabited on his previous two Hong Kong films. As a result, The Way of the Dragon is much more reflective of Bruce Lee’s personality than his films under Lo Wei. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a good or bad thing. For me (someone who enjoys the work of Lo Wei far more than other kung fu fans seem to), it was somewhere in the middle. I have always thought this was the least of Bruce’s films, and today’s viewing only solidified that for me. But this time, I think I understood why I’ve always been somewhat disinterested with the film.

Taking this film as evidence, it would seem that Bruce Lee’s relationship with Lo Wei was somewhat similar to Lo’s later relationship with Jackie Chan. Both stars wished to express themselves through more than just the traditional notes of what a martial arts film was at the time. Both stars immediately integrated comedy and martial arts in their films away from Lo. Jackie was obviously the more successful in doing so — does anyone know Bruce for his comedy? — but both stars clearly wanted to push the genre beyond what their initial director wanted to let them.

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The Thunderbolt Fist (1972)

TheThunderboltFist_2The Thunderbolt Fist [霹靂拳] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Chuen Yuen, James Nam Gung-Fan, Wong Gam-Fung, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Chen Feng-Chen, Gam Kei-Chu, Wong Ching-Ho, Chu Gam, Kam Kong, Gai Yuen, Shum Lo, Hsu Yu, Kong Lung, Chow Yu-Hing, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Stephen Tung Wai

Directed by Chang Il-Ho

Expectations: Moderate, but I’m pumped because I haven’t seen a Shaw film in months.

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Up until the last 20 minutes or so, The Thunderbolt Fist is a fairly boring and average Shaw Brothers film. Since I’m a huge fan, I still had a good time watching it, but this definitely isn’t the film to jump into the Shaw Brothers on. I shake my head once again as to how Shaw films like this find their way to a US DVD release, while legitimate classics are still only available in Hong Kong. Anyway, The Thunderbolt Fist!

Since this isn’t an innovative film, The Thunderbolt Fist is a pretty basic Chinese vs. Japanese tale. It begins with the ridiculously evil Japanese riding into a quiet Chinese town. They assault the townspeople, take over their businesses and strong-arm their way into controlling the supply lines, forcing the Chinese to buy and sell their goods from them. When a lowly picker of ginseng pleads for mercy, the wicked Japanese swordsman chops off his hands in one quick swipe!

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Four Riders (1972)

fourriders_1Four Riders [四騎士] (1972)
AKA Hellfighters of the East, Strike 4 Revenge

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Ching Li, Yasuaki Kurata, Tina Chin Fei, Andre Marquis, Lo Dik, Lo Wai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High.

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On one hand, Four Riders wants to be a serious film about how G.I.s deal with the end of a war and what they do with themselves in its wake. But on the other hand, Four Riders wants to deliver all kinds of thrilling, ridiculous action that goes completely against the grain of realism. I expected the over-the-top action — how could I not when the DVD box reads: “…as a kung fu master, combat instructor, explosives expert, and missile specialist must take on a venal drug smuggling gang.” Reading that prior to watching the film really played with my expectations, as I imagined all sorts of mid-’80s action extravaganzas built on similar team-based premises. But this is all a misnomer, as Four Riders has nothing to do with what these men did while they were in the army.

The film opens in the snowy countryside of Korea. The year in 1953 and the Korean War has just come to a close. Chang Cheh spends the first few minutes of the film letting us take in the Korean landscapes, showing us the mountains, the gentle streams of snow water, and eventually the luscious green foliage of spring. This natural progression leads us to a military camp, where Ti Lung is currently stationed… but not for long. As his superior officer drives up, Ti rips off his stripes, throws them in the general’s face and proceeds to start a brawl. In the chaos he steals the boss’s jeep and heads off towards the urban fun of Seoul. The war is over, so he’s indulging his spontaneous, reckless spirit and making up for lost time.

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The Black Tavern (1972)

TheBlackTavern_1The Black Tavern [黑店] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Tung Li, Ku Feng, Kong Ling, Kwok Chuk-Hing, Barry Chan, Yeung Chi-Hing, Dean Shek Tin, Wang Hsieh, Yue Fung, Situ Lin, Law Hon, Lee Ho, Wu Ma, Yau Ming

Directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho

Expectations: Fairly high.

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I can’t say that I’ve seen any other martial arts film with a structure quite like The Black Tavern, and that’s exactly why you should see the film as clueless as possible if you want to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of it. Even knowing that the structure is something unique is probably tipping the film’s hand too much, but it would be hard to write a review without mentioning the very thing that makes it such a notable film. So if you’re a martial arts fan looking for a great under-the-radar gem, stop reading, track down The Black Tavern, and enjoy!

The film begins with its credits over shots of patrons sitting at tables in a small tavern. There’s no sound other than the music, so the diners’ calls for pots of wine or plates of beef noodles are left for us to imagine. Sound enters the picture via a song sung by a beggar monk who ambles around the room, presumably hoping for the charity of others. The tavern’s patrons don’t look too hospitable, though, and largely ignore him. But when the song’s lyrics begin to weave a tale of how the monk happened to see a traveling official’s trunk full of amazing treasures, and how easy it would be to rob this man, the unsavory characters in the restaurant begin to take notice. A pair of bandits leave to find this easy mark, and thus begins one of the great martial arts films of the era.

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