Black Magic 2 (1976)

blackmagic2_3Black Magic 2 [勾魂降頭] (1976)
AKA Revenge of the Zombies

Starring Ti Lung, Tanny Tien Ni, Lo Lieh, Wai Wang, Lily Li Li-Li, Lam Wai-Tiu, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lam Fung

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High, although they are lowered a bit after seeing the first one.

threehalfstar


[Note: Due to the nature of Black Magic 2, the most interesting things to talk about are how it deviates from and plays with the black magic formula, so this review could be considered to be fairly spoiler heavy. I apologize, but if you're interesting in this worm-filled, nasty little horror sub-genre, you really should just watch Black Magic 2 before reading about it.]

Usually you expect a sequel to continue the story of the original film, but director Ho Meng-Hua and prolific screenwriter Ni Kuang decided to do something different with Black Magic 2. Instead of continuing on with the same characters and telling more of their story, Black Magic 2 treats the black magic itself as the “character” worth exploring further in the sequel. Of course, the audience reaps the benefits, as this sequel is nastier, nuttier and a whole lot funner to watch. And since the twisted ways of Southeast Asian black magic are our main focus, it makes sense that the evil black magic practitioner (played wonderfully by Lo Lieh) is essentially the star of the film.

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Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)

Shaolin-Wooden-Men_bcfa0519Shaolin Wooden Men [少林木人巷] (1976)
AKA 36 Wooden Men, Shaolin Wooden Men …Young Tiger’s Revenge, Shaolin Chamber of Death, Wooden Man

Starring Jackie Chan, Kam Kong, Doris Lung Chun-Erh, Chiang Kam, Cheung Bing-Yuk, Miu Tak San, Liu Ping, Li Min-Lang, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Miao Tian, To Wai-Wo

Directed by Lo Wei (per the credits)
Actually directed by Chen Chi-Hwa

Expectations: Moderately high.

threehalfstar


I’ve always enjoyed Shaolin Wooden Men. I generally stayed away from most of the early Jackie films during my youth, because I had grown tired of wasting money on sub-standard prints of sub-standard movies. But Shaolin Wooden Men was always one of the good ones to me, and going back to re-watch it was a great experience. I liked it more than ever, and it’s baffling to me that this one doesn’t have a better reputation. But people’s perceptions are what they are, and I won’t try to break down why they didn’t like it, I can only comment on why I did. And really, there’s so much here to like.

Shaolin Wooden Men opens in thrilling fashion featuring five masters of Shaolin sparring with Jackie Chan in a darkened room, lit only by candles. They spar for a good long while, showcasing different animal-style kung fus (and no, that doesn’t mean a messy kung fu with grilled onions, In-N-Out fans), and when Jackie defeats them all he tries his luck with the chamber of the wooden men. There’s just something about these wooden men that makes me smile, but they have the opposite effect on Jackie in this scene. He tries his best, but his best barely gets him past the first couple of wooden men. He is defeated… but then he wakes up! He is but a lowly, mute student of Shaolin, still early in his training. He has far to go before he will reach the chamber of the wooden men.

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Stay Hungry (1976)

Stay HungryStarring Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger, R.G. Armstrong, Robert Englund, Helena Kallianiotes, Roger E. Mosley, Woodrow Parfrey, Scatman Crothers, Kathleen Miller, Fannie Flagg

Directed by Bob Rafelson

Expectations: Low. I just expect to see some good, young Arnold.

twohalfstar


Geez, what a weird movie. Its tone is pretty heavily in the drama department, but at times it ventures so far into absurd comedy that it’s hard not to shake your head and cautiously laugh. What’s even odder is that the film’s best and most successful bit of comedy comes right amidst the most fucked up dramatic situation, so laughing at it just seems wrong and out of place. It’s genuinely funny (strangely enough in something of a Hercules in New York kinda way), but due to the tone of everything surrounding it, it’s hard to understand what the filmmakers were going for.

Stay Hungry is about Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges), a rich kid who’s had everything given to him his whole life. His parents have just died and now he’s in charge of their estate. For some reason, he’s working for a real estate agency that is buying up properties for some shady reason I didn’t specifically pick up on. They need Blake to convince the owner of the Olympic Spa to sell his place to them, but because he’s got no ambition to do anything, he doesn’t much care about buying the place. Instead, he decides to befriend the people there, specifically Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Mary Tate (Sally Field), and see where that leads. He’s just so carefree, man.

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The Killer Meteors (1976)

KLRMTEORThe Killer Meteors [風雨雙流星] (1976)
AKA Karate Death Squad, Jackie Chan Versus Wang Yu

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Jackie Chan, Tung Lam, Lee Man-Tai, Ma Cheung, Phillip Ko Fei, Ma Kei, Lee Si-Si, Chan Wai-Lau, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Sit Hon, Lily Lan Yu-Li, Yu Ling-Lung, Henry Luk Yat-Lung, Wong Yeuk-Ping, Woo Wai

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

threehalfstar


Right outta the gate: this isn’t a Jackie Chan movie. He plays a villain and has a couple of fights, but this is a Jimmy Wang Yu movie all the way. If you go into this movie expecting anything remotely similar to a Jackie movie, you’ll be sorely disappointed. So set your expectations to Lo Wei/Jimmy Wang Yu classic wuxia, and you should have a grand ole time like I did. My high assessment of The Killer Meteors will likely be an unpopular opinion, but I can only call it like I see it and I had a fantastic time watching this movie.

The Killer Meteors is about a martial artist so badass that other martial artists come and pay him tribute. He wields the infamous Killer Meteor, a weapon with unparalleled power that no living person has ever seen in action. This martial artist (Jimmy Wang Yu) is hired by Hua the Hearty AKA Devil Meteor (or Immortal Meteor, depending on the translation) to kill his wife. She has poisoned Hua and is refusing to give him his yearly dose of the antidote. Hua is sick of the games, so he sends in the one-man wrecking crew of Jimmy Wang Yu to settle the score. But as this is a wuxia in the classic sense, the final tale is not so cut and dry as that.

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The Hand of Death (1976)

KMJ0246The Hand of Death [少林門] (1976)
AKA Countdown in Kung Fu, Dragon Forever, Strike of Death, Shao Lin Men

Starring Dorian Tan, James Tin Jun, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, John Woo, Chu Ching, Yeung Wai, Wilson Tong, Gam Kei-Chu, Ko Keung

Directed by John Woo

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


From what I could gather, The Hand of Death was actually made well before New Fist of Fury, but for some reason it didn’t get released until after. According to his autobiography, Jackie Chan had made this film and then moved in with his parents in Australia, taking jobs as a construction worker. Months later, he received a telegram asking him to be the lead in New Fist of Fury. His father allowed it on one condition: that Jackie had a two-year time limit to “make it,” or else Chan must come back for good. And two years after New Fist of Fury, Chan had indeed become a star. But not with this film (and also not with Lo Wei), so I’ll hold that story for later!

The story in The Hand of Death is simple, yet multilayered and oddly structured. At the heart of the film is the often-told struggle between the Shaolin Temple and the Manchu. In this version, an evil warlord names Shih Shao Feng controls the region with an iron fist (not a literal one), and his group of eight badass bodyguards. The Shaolin priests know that he is looking to intercept a man named Zhang Yi (John Woo) who holds a map important to the cause, and who must not be allowed to land in enemy hands. So they send Yung Fei (Dorian Tan) to save Zhang Yi and kill Shih Shao Feng. Along the way there’s a number of sidetracks and flashbacks as new characters are introduced, but that’s the gist of it. The way characters were introduced and given ample time felt like a wuxia film to me, while the rest of the film is definitely straight-up kung fu.

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New Fist of Fury (1976)

NewFistOfFury_GoldenSwallow_SC36New Fist of Fury [新精武門] (1976)
AKA Fists to Fight

Starring Jackie Chan, Nora Miao, Chan Sing, Henry Luk Yat-Lung, Yi Ming, Suen Lam, Lau Ming, Cheng Siu-Siu, Hon Siu, Han Ying Chieh, Chiang Kam, Liu Ping

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


New Fist of Fury opens with Lo Wei helping Nora Miao and the remnants of the Ching Wu school to flee Japanese-occupied Shanghai, by way of a boat to the also Japanese-occupied Taiwan. That might seem like it’s not the best place to find refuge, but Nora Miao specifically wants to go there to show the Japanese what for. There they meet a delinquent thief (Jackie Chan) who mistakenly steals Bruce’s nunchaku, thus getting himself wrapped up in the middle of a Chinese vs. Japanese martial arts struggle.

During my super passionate Jackie Chan years, I always did my best to avoid his early films. I got burned a couple of times and there’s nothing worse for a budding, teenage JC fan than wanting to kick back and watch Jackie kick ass only to kick back and watch Jackie in a two-minute cameo. So I mostly stuck to what I knew was great and left it at that. I do remember seeing New Fist of Fury before, but that’s about all I remember about it. Clearly it didn’t scratch that undying Jackie itch back then. But now I am a different person, and I realize much better what to expect out of different directors and martial arts periods, so I’m able to appreciate these early films for what they are instead of what they aren’t. New Fist of Fury is never going to be Armour of God, so there’s no reason to be disappointed when it’s not.

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Mansion of the Doomed (1976)

Mansion of the Doomed (1976)
AKA Massacre Mansion, Eyes of Dr. Chaney, Eyes of the Living Dead, House of Blood, The Terror of Dr. Chaney

Starring Richard Basehart, Gloria Grahame, Trish Stewart, Lance Henriksen, Al Ferrara, JoJo D’Amore, Donna Andresen, Marilyn Joi, Katherine Fitzpatrick, Katherine Stewart, Vic Tayback

Directed by Michael Pataki

Expectations: Pretty high for some reason. This one looks fun.

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:


Here’s a movie that just gets more and more fucked up as it goes on, which could go either way, but I found Mansion of the Doomed to only get better as it moved along its tortured path of eye trauma. It’s not going to win any awards (even the genre ones), but it definitely packs in a lot of twisted, fucked-up thrills for those in the audience that can find entertainment in such things.

Richard Basehart plays Dr. Chaney, an eye surgeon who one day accidentally blinds his own daughter in a car crash. Being an idealistic doctor with a God complex, he takes it upon himself to correct her eye sight at all costs and researches different methods and techniques until he stumbles upon a doctor who has successfully transplanted entire eyeballs from one animal to another of the same species. Chaney knows that animal eyes won’t work in a human, but if only he could get some live, human specimens, it could work! The horror movie literally writes itself from this point on.

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