Top 10 Film Discoveries of 2016

As always, over the course of the year I run into a number of fantastic older films that I had previously never seen. In 2016 there were more than usual because I watched a TON of stuff, more than I had in many years, and I dug hard into my favorites genres of martial arts and horror. I figured if I was going to focus on watching movies in my limited free time, I might as well further explore the genres that truly excite me. You gotta do what feels right, and nothing feels more right to me than Hong Kong movies and horror.

So here ya go: my top 10 films I saw in 2016 that were new to me. Maybe you like them, too?


#10 Navajo Joe (1966)
Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Sergio Leone is the most well-known director of Spaghetti Westerns, but everyone should know about Sergio Corbucci, too. He made Navajo Joe just a few months after releasing the genre classic Django, and Navajo Joe just might be the better and more entertaining film. Burt Reynolds stars as Navajo Joe, a Native American out for revenge. The film is taut, lean and action-packed; if you’re a fan of westerns, this is a must-see film. And it might even make a non-believer think twice about the genre’s possibilities.

#9 The Grandmaster (2013) – HK Version
Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

In any obsession or addiction, there is always a feeling of chasing that initial high achieved during the discovery phase. When I was first getting into Hong Kong movies in the mid/late ’90s, I watched all of Wong Kar-Wai’s then-released films and really enjoyed them (even though I don’t think I ever really “got” them). I was so excited to watch The Grandmaster when it was first released that I ordered the Hong Kong Blu-ray as soon as it was available. But it sat on my shelf for something like three years because I had heard middling things about it and I couldn’t muster the desire to watch it. But then I did, and not only did I love The Grandmaster, it made me once again feel the rare, sweet bliss that defined my discovery of Hong Kong film. It’s not a martial arts film by the traditional definition, but it is a beautiful film about the martial arts, the philosophies at their foundations, and the difficult pursuit of reaching the pinnacle in a skilled art.
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Shatter (1974)

shatter_1Shatter [奪命刺客] (1974)
AKA Call Him Mr. Shatter

Starring Stuart Whitman, Ti Lung, Lily Li Li-Li, Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Yemi Goodman Ajibade, Ko Hung, Keung Hon, James Ma Chim-Si, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lau Nga-Ying, Huang Pei-Chih, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Michael Carreras (who took over from Monte Hellman), with some help from Chang Cheh

Expectations: Low, but it has Ti Lung so…

onehalfstar


If you’ve ever wondered why the great Ti Lung never really made it big outside of Asia, look no further than the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Films co-production Shatter! I went into this movie assuming that Ti Lung played a character named Shatter, and that he was so named because his fists were so powerful they shattered the bones of his opponents. But no! Shatter is just some boring white dude (Stuart Whitman) who doesn’t really do anything to justify naming a movie after him. The filmmakers do their best in the editing to make Whitman look like Ti Lung’s equal in the fist fights, but the illusion was not convincing. The film flopped hard at the box office, as well, cutting the three-film contract between Shaw and Hammer short at two.

Shatter begins the film in East Africa, where he assassinates a top general with a gun concealed inside a camera (and fired by taking a picture). Shatter flees to Hong Kong to receive his payment for the job, but when he meets with his contact, Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), Hans gives him the runaround and refuses to pay him. This is where the plot kind of lost me. Chinese assassins are trying to kill Shatter, but I don’t know how they fit it exactly. Peter Cushing (in his final appearance for Hammer) and some goons show up to intimidate/beat up Shatter for some reason, and this is where Ti Lung and Lily Li enter the story. They take Shatter in to help him recuperate, and then magically Lily Li is deeply in love with him and Ti Lung is ready to risk his life for Shatter’s cause (which as far as I could tell was just to get paid). I don’t really understand why any of that happens, but it does.

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Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

fiveshaolinmasters_1Five Shaolin Masters [少林五祖] (1974)
AKA Five Masters of Death

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Mang Fei, Leung Kar-Yan, Fung Hak-On, Tsai Hung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Chiang Tao, Li Chen-Piao, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Lo Dik, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: The highest. Chang’s Shaolin Cycle is dope.

threehalfstar


Like Heroes Two and Men from the Monastery, Five Shaolin Masters tells a tale about refugees from the burning of the Shaolin Temple. Hung Hsi-Kuan and Fong Sai-Yuk ended up in Kwangtung in the south of China, but the heroes of Five Shaolin Masters fled north to Central China. Structurally, the film also takes a page from Shaolin Martial Arts in that our five heroes must train tirelessly to defeat seemingly invincible enemies. And like this suggests, Five Shaolin Masters ends up feeling like a blended version of all of Chang Cheh’s previous Shaolin Cycle films.

Due to this repetition of themes and structure, Five Shaolin Masters does not reach the heights of either Heroes Two or Shaolin Martial Arts, though it does come close thanks to power of the action. The complexity and dynamism of the choreography by Lau Kar-Leung and his brother Lau Kar-Wing bring the film’s relentless action to brilliant life, culminating in the five stunning, concurrent fights that make up the film’s finale. This is pure martial bliss, and I can’t imagine a martial arts film fan not getting a huge jolt of enthusiasm from this lengthy section of the film, if not the whole thing.

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Na Cha the Great (1974)

nachathegreat_1Na Cha the Great [哪吒] (1974)

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Lin Jing, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Li Chen-Piao, Yuan Man-Tzu, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, Lee Wan-Chung, Fung Ngai

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Pretty high. I enjoyed Na Cha and the Seven Devils and I hope this is equally fun.

twohalfstar


When I think of words to describe the films of Chang Cheh, “fantasy” is not even remotely within the brainstorm. Elements of the fantastic enter many of his films, but Chang rarely handles them in a way that inspires the imagination like typical fantasy. The idea that a man could cut off his own arm and then become a fearsome one-armed swordsman (The New One-Armed Swordsman) is definitely within the fantasy genre, but Chang grounds the idea to the point that it’s not about suspending disbelief. So when I watched Na Cha and the Seven Devils a few months ago, knowing that I had Chang Cheh’s take on the character in my future, it was hard to imagine how Chang would handle the incredible fantasy of an adaptation of the Chinese classic novel Investiture of the Gods.

Turns out that he ambitiously reaches in both directions, bisecting the film into a largely grounded first half and a wildly fantastic second half. I’d love to tell you that my favorite Shaw Brothers director handles both halves well, but unfortunately I can’t even say that he does so with either half. The whole movie feels half-baked and without the usual thematic sharpness that is evident in his other films around this time. The groundwork is there, but there’s little artistry pulling it all together into a pleasing, emotional package. My feeling is that the abundance of special effects hindered Chang’s abilities somewhat. A separate special FX director, Lam Kwok-Cheung, is credited, and according to Chang Cheh’s memoir, Lam led a team from Japan to achieve the film’s many photographic effects.

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The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 2 – The Delightful Forest / The Amorous Lotus Pan

cat_podcast

Episode 2, y’all! Now with more rambling! Take a listen as I talk about a couple more Shaw Brothers movies: The Delightful Forest and The Amorous Lotus Pan.

The Delightful Forest is available at: Amazon DVD, Amazon Blu-ray, Amazon Instant, iTunes, YouTube, Microsoft, Google Play
The Amorous Lotus Pan is available at: Amazon DVD (Region 3), eBay (Region 3)

Music Notes

Intro:

  • John C. Reilly & Mark Wahlberg – Intro (Feel the Heat)
  • Emotions – Best of My Love
    • Both tracks from Boogie Nights Soundtrack Vol. 1 (iTunes, Amazon)

Incidentals:

  • Kinuyo Yamashita – Game Over
  • Kinuyo Yamashita – Stage Clear
    • Both tracks from the soundtrack of the 1986 NES game Castlevania

Outro:

  • Spinal Tap – Stonehenge

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using, such as iTunes.

The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 1 – Come Drink With Me / Golden Swallow

cat_podcast

Yep, you read that right… I’ve started a podcast! I was hesitant to do a “guy alone in a room talking to himself” podcast, but some encouraging words from an old friend made me give it a shot. And it turned out pretty OK! So give it a listen and let me know what you think.

This first episode I dive into a couple of Shaw Brothers movies I recently re-watched, Come Drink With Me and Golden Swallow.

Come Drink With Me is available at: Amazon DVD, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, Microsoft, Hulu, Google Play
Golden Swallow is available at: Amazon DVD, Amazon Instant, iTunes, YouTube, Microsoft, Hulu, Google Play

Music Notes

Intro:

  • Pace-Setters – Freedom and Justice
    • Push On Jessie Jackson / Freedom and Justice 45RPM, 1971

Outro:

  • Willie Mitchell – My Babe
    • My Babe / Teenie’s Dream 45RPM, 1969

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using, such as iTunes.

Shaolin Martial Arts (1974)

shaolinmartialarts_2Shaolin Martial Arts [洪拳與詠春] (1974)

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Leung Kar-Yan, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Yuan Man-Tzu, Lo Dik, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Lau Kar-Wing, Lee Wan-Chung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Extremely high. I love the first two Shaolin Cycle films, and have wanted to see this one for years.

fourstar


Shaolin Martial Arts is a brilliant evolution of the kung fu movie that features a huge and incredibly talented cast. They really brought out the big guns for this one, including Shaolin Cycle stars Alexander Fu Sheng and Chi Kuan-Chun, Leung Kar-Yan (AKA Beardy) and Johnny Wang Lung-Wei in their film debuts, Gordon Liu in his Shaw Brothers debut (his only previous credit was as an extra on the 1973 independent film The Hero of Chiu Chow), Lau Kar-Wing, even Simon Yuen shows up as a cranky old master. And that’s just the bigger names, as the film also boasts wonderful performances from Chiang Tao, Fung Hak-On, Chiang Nan, Fung Ngai, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Irene Chan Yi-Ling and Yuan Man-Tzu. But despite this varied and well-used cast, not a single one of them are the true star of the film.

The monumental cast is but one half of the creative puzzle, and the matchless team of writer/director Chang Cheh, co-writer Ni Kuang, and action choreographers Lau Kar-Leung and Tang Chia have truly created something special and unique with this film. Where Heroes Two and Men from the Monastery told dramatic tales of folk heroes running for their lives after the burning of the Shaolin Temple, Shaolin Martial Arts is about the passage, preservation and impermanence of knowledge. Shaolin itself is the star of the movie, and more specifically: the Shaolin martial arts. The film’s Chinese title translates to Hung Gar and Wing Chun, so this focus on style and martial technique is even clearer in the original language (similar to how Heroes Two is called Fang Shih-Yu and Hung Hsi-Kuan in Chinese).

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