The Shaolin Avengers (1976)

The Shaolin Avengers [方世玉與胡惠乾] (1976)
AKA Fong Sai-Yuk and Wu Wai-Kin (literal translation), Incredible Kung Fu Brothers

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Lung Fei, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Shan Mao, Leung Kar-Yan, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Chan Wai-Lau, Tsai Hung, Lo Dik, Ma Chi-Chun, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Pumped for more Shaolin.


The greatness of The Shaolin Avengers lies in its structure. The film opens with its finale, fading in and out into flashbacks that show how our heroes and villains all came to this particular battle. It could have been told in chronological order and the audience would have similarly understood the characters’ journey to the finale, but introducing us first to the final struggle colors the flashbacks in ways that chronological order could not. It may be called The Shaolin Avengers, but I found the structure to remove a lot of the tension inherent in a traditional revenge story. Instead, I pondered the nature of life, how small moments remind you of people or places, and how important preparation is to success. You don’t simply wake up bad ass, you must be dedicated and willing to endure hardship so that you can emerge a better, streamlined version of yourself.

The Shaolin Avengers re-tells the stories of Fang Shih-Yu AKA Fong Sai-Yuk (Alexander Fu Sheng) and Hu Huei-Chien AKA Wu Wai-Kin (Chi Kuan-Chun), as previously seen in Men from the Monastery. It removes Hung Shi-Kuan’s character altogether, which allows for more time devoted to the early days of Fang before he sought training at the Shaolin Temple. In Men from the Monastery, there is a slight mention of Fang’s mother bathing him in rice wine, but here in The Shaolin Avengers we see the circumstances that led to this, as well as the hardship involved with the bathing itself. Hu Huei-Chien’s story is virtually unchanged, though, and in comparing scenes — such as the death of Hu’s father in the gambling house — they might have even used the same script (or very close to the same script) for these scenes. The main difference is that now the two characters’ stories are fully intertwined and dramatically complete, instead of the disjointed, episodic quality that Men from the Monastery has. So you could say that The Shaolin Avengers is essentially a remake of Men from the Monastery, but I hesitate to write that because it seems reductive to classify The Shaolin Avengers as a mere remake.

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Marco Polo (1975)

Marco Polo [馬哥波羅] (1975)
AKA The Four Assassins

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Richard Harrison, Shih Szu, Lo Dik, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Leung Kar-Yan, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Li Tong-Chun, Carter Wong, Tang Tak-Cheung, Ting Wa-Chung, Chang I-Fei, Lee Ying, Chan Wai-Lau, Han Chiang

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very high. New Chang Cheh always gets me excited.


It’s fair to assume that a film titled Marco Polo would be centered around Marco Polo, the trader who became a trusted advisor to Kublai Khan, the Mongol leader who completed the conquest of the Song Dynasty and established the Yuan Dynasty. In Chang Cheh’s film, though, Polo is merely a small component. He is at the heart of the plot, but he honestly doesn’t do much more than glare at some people now and then. This really bothered me, and I spent a good portion of the movie trying to understand why the film might be titled after a character who does so little. I eventually came to a conclusion (which I’ll get around to), but it’s one that will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. At this juncture, I’d call it an uncharacteristically weak film for Chang Cheh, which is to say that I liked it a lot instead of flat-out loving it. 🙂

Upon returning from a three-year mission, Marco Polo presents a report of his travels to Kublai Khan. Meanwhile, a pair of Chinese rebels make their way into the court and attempt to assassinate the Khan. One is killed, and the other, Zu Jianmin (Carter Wong), manages to escape. Since he is injured and cannot move too quickly, the Khan asks Marco Polo and his three personal bodyguards (Gordon Liu, Leung Kar-Yan & Johnny Wang Lung-Wei) to kill Zu and his allies when he reaches his home. This proves to be a bit harder than anticipated, as Zu’s four sworn brothers (Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan & Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung) escape and begin harsh training to improve their martial arts skills.

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Fearless Hyena Part II (1983)

fearlesshyena2_1Fearless Hyena Part II [龍騰虎躍] (1983)
AKA Superfighter 2

Starring Jackie Chan, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Yen Shi-Kwan, Kwan Yung-Moon, James Tin Jun, Chan Wai-Lau, Hon Gwok-Choi, Dean Shek Tin, Ma Cheung, Peng Kong, Wong Chi-Sang, Pearl Lin Yin-Zhu

Directed by Chan Chuen

Expectations: Pretty much none.

twostar


There’s no doubt that the circumstances under which Fearless Hyena II was made are exploitative, but who said exploitation wasn’t fun? Sure, it re-uses scenes from Spiritual Kung Fu and The Fearless Hyena, it has Jackie body doubles, and it has a plot that jumps around in order to make sure that Jackie “I Just Left Lo Wei’s Company to make Good Movies” Chan doesn’t need to be in every scene. It has all of these “problems” and more. But in terms of the bad movies that Jackie made with Lo Wei, Fearless Hyena II is surprisingly one of more entertaining ones. With things like jungle spike traps and two-character team-up attacks, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.

The story is surprisingly deep, original and heartfelt your standard kung fu movie plot: The Heaven and Earth Devils, two dudes with evil beards and hairdos, are attempting to eradicate the Ching family’s 6-8 Magic kung fu style from existence. Only two Ching brothers and their two sons remain of the family, and even after they have been in hiding for over 15 years, the Heaven and Earth Devils have remained stalwart in their villainous quest. These are some seriously evil dudes. Well, to be fair to the Heaven Devil (the always awesome Yen Shi-Kwan), does say that he’s taking out the Ching brothers to avenge his father’s death. So maybe they’re actually the “good” guys. After all, we can’t judge people solely by their evil eyebrows — sorry, I meant to say maybe-evil-maybe-good-who-can-really-know-the-content-of-a-man’s-soul-from-an-eyebrow eyebrows.

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The Fearless Hyena (1979)

fearlesshyena_1The Fearless Hyena [笑拳怪招] (1979)
AKA Crazy Monkey, Revenge of the Dragon, Superfighter 3, The Shadowman

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Yen Shi-Kwan, Lee Kwan, Chan Wai-Lau, Cheng Fu-Hung, Ma Cheung, Wong Chi-Sang, Wong Yiu, Eagle Han Ying, Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, Dean Shek Tin

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


The Fearless Hyena was chronologically the next movie that Jackie Chan made after the smash hit Drunken Master. Jackie left the Lo Wei studio a struggling performer and returned a mega-star, Hong Kong’s latest screen obsession. This gave him a good amount of room to bargain with Lo Wei, and even though the stubborn Lo didn’t like relinquishing control, after some cajoling he allowed Jackie to direct his first film, also the final film of Jackie’s original contract with Lo Wei.

The Fearless Hyena follows the same basic structure as Jackie’s Seasonal films, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. The film opens with the requisite “bad guy killing a good guy” scene that serves as a reminder that there is a plot, even though the first hour of the film largely avoids actively engaging it. But like Drunken Master, The Fearless Hyena has enough going for it that the lack of a strong narrative is only a minor issue. I’m hesitant to even call it an issue, as the film works fine as is. What holds everything together are the amazing, tightly choreographed, hilarious fights. They aren’t up to Drunken Master standards, but they’re quite impressive.

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To Kill With Intrigue (1977)

10_gkaals1004To Kill With Intrigue [劍花煙雨江南] (1977)

Starring Jackie Chan, Hsu Feng, Sin Il-Ryong, Yu Ling-Lung, George Wang Jue, Tung Lam, Ma Kei, Kong Ching-Ha, Chan Wai-Lau, Lee Man-Tai, Chan San-Yat

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Coming off of one of the best early Jackie Chan films, here’s one of the worst! To Kill With Intrigue is one of the most convoluted and hard-to-follow wuxia films I’ve ever seen, saved only marginally by its grouping of fun, well-choreographed fights. The “intrigue” in the film’s title refers to the many needless and overly complicated plot points, but, y’know… To Kill with Needless and Overly Complicated Plot Points just doesn’t have that same je ne sais quoi.

And how will I sum up the gist of To Kill With Intrigue‘s plot into one paragraph? It’s just not possible, but the basics are: Jackie’s parents are murdered by the Killer Bees clan (is this where Wu-Tang got the name?), but just as Jackie is about to kill the one responsible, she outs Jackie’s father as the murderer of her parents! They spare each other, and thus begins a weird love/hate relationship that exists to further the plot where it shouldn’t be able to go, and also to overly complicate things (of course). Anyway, the real story is Jackie searching the countryside for his pregnant girlfriend who he sent to safety with his friend right before the Killer Bees attacked.

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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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