Na Cha and the Seven Devils (1973)

NaChaandthe7Devils_1Na Cha and the Seven Devils [梅山收七怪] (1973)

Starring Ching Li, Tina Chin Fei, An Ping, Wai Wang, Chen Hung-Lieh, Yu Lung, Got Heung-Ting, Yeung Oi-Wa, Chang Feng, Yueh Yang, Got Siu-Bo, Ho Fan, Lam Lam, Ngai Chi-Wong, Aai Dung-Gwa, O Yau-Man, Law Bun

Directed by Tetsuya Yamanouchi

Expectations: Moderate, but I think it’s gonna be fun.

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Na Cha and the Seven Devils is the type of movie that only certain people will like. It’s essentially an FX movie — nearly every scene has some form of supernatural shenanigans going on — and while the FX are quite ambitious, they don’t necessarily hold up well to modern standards. To be honest, they don’t even necessarily hold up to 1973 standards; everything looked at about a similar level to the work seen in Ho Meng-Hua’s four-film Journey to the West series, and those were all made 5–7 years prior to this. But when a film considered low-budget by American standards has such a plethora of supernatural delights, it’s unfair to think that they’re all going to look fantastic to someone 43 years in the future. And besides, I love these sort of special effects, especially in Hong Kong films, so I loved every minute of Na Cha and the Seven Devils. I merely seek to give you an idea of what we’re talking about here.

Our story begins on Mt. Kunlun, existing high in the sky between heaven and the mortal world, where there is a peach tree that only blossoms every thousand years. It takes another thousand years for the peaches to appear, and another thousand years still for the them to ripen. But, if it’s not already apparent, these are no ordinary peaches! We get our first taste of their power when the mischievous child god Na Cha (Yu Lung) decides he’s hungry. He devours a peach, his eyes glow a bright yellow, and suddenly he can see right through the clouds and into the mortal world! He can also crack rocks & trees in half and cause earthquakes with a single blow! The only problem is that when Na Cha shook the tree to get his peach, he knocked loose the remaining seven peaches. These rogue magical peaches landed on the Earth, and now Na Cha and a pair of his brothers are tasked with retrieving the peaches before the devils can eat them and become immortal.

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The Villains (1973)

villains_1The Villains [土匪] (1973)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shih Szu, Chen Hung-Lieh, Cheng Miu, Chin Feng, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Betty Pei Ti, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.

threestar


I went into Chor Yuen’s The Villains without knowing whether it fit within the purview of my Shaw Brothers martial arts series or not, but I decided to give it a go anyway based on my affection for Chor Yuen’s previous films and that Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan were listed as Action Directors on HKMDB. That same HKMDB listing also cites the film’s genre as action, but I had heard that it was actually more of a drama. Turns out it’s a bit of both, but drama is definitely the dominant genre. The action is merely there for flavor and color; it is not the focus in any way.

The film opens at a train station where Fang Zheng (Yueh Hua) is to pick up his cousin, Lin Xiao Hong (Shih Szu). Lin is coming to stay with Fang’s family after the death of her parents, even though there has been much turmoil and strife between the two sides of the family. And little does she know, she’s stepping into a hotbed of Fang household drama, too, where Master Fang (Cheng Miu) supports his delinquent, gambling son Fang Feng (Chen Hung-Lieh) and is somewhat ashamed of his honorable son Fang Zheng.

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Redbeard (1971)

Redbeard+1971-84-bRedbeard [紅鬍子] (1971)

Starring Lee Hung, Wang Yin, Chen Chiu, Chen Hung-Lieh, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Cheng Miu, Suen Yuet, Cheung Kwong-Chiu, Siu Gwong-Po, Lo Dik, Man Man, Wong Yu, Liu Chik, Chang I-Fei

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: High.

twostar


I apologize if this review turns out a little strange; I think it’s mostly going to be me trying to make sense of what I just watched. My confusion isn’t exactly the film’s fault; it’s more to do with the film’s presentation. As an extremely rare Shaw Brothers film, I was only able to track it down as a badly discolored VHS that’s gotta be at least 4th or 5th generation. I can usually deal just fine with this kind of ugliness, but Redbeard is an incredibly talky film, so when half the subtitles are cut off it makes it kinda hard to keep up. I don’t think a beautiful remastered version with full subtitles would fix all the film’s issues, but it would definitely make for a more pleasant experience.

The film opens with a group of people on horseback, led by Little White Snake (Lee Hung), chasing down a train. They assault the moving train in order to rescue their chief, Chow Tian-Hua (Wang Yin). While making their escape, Tian-Hua is wounded, but they make it out alive and to their hideout. From what I could gather, Tian-Hua and his rescuers are the redbeards of the title, although I don’t really have a clear understanding of what a redbeard is. It seems that Tian-hua and his redbeards are some kind of outlaws in opposition of the army, but as the redbeards seem to only want to take care of their own and farm their land, I’m not entirely sure what the conflict is about.

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Master with Cracked Fingers (1979)

masterwithcrackedfingers_1Master with Cracked Fingers [刁手怪招] (1979)
AKA The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Kwan Yung-Moon, Chiang Kam, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung-Lieh, Dean Shek Tin, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam, Tiu Yun-Ban, Cheung Sek-Aau

Directed by Gam Yam

Expectations: Curious.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Master with Cracked Fingers really has no place in the spotlight along with Jackie Chan’s proper films, but I thought it would be worth a look for a couple of reasons. It was a film always readily available during Jackie’s late-’90s period of high fame in the US, so there’s bound to be thousands of copies out there littering thrift store shelves. I also kicked off my Jackie Chan series with his first starring role, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, and since that’s the movie that’s getting cannibalized to make this one, I thought it would be an interesting endeavor to see how it was butchered, and perhaps if the added scenes made it better or worse. I enjoyed that film for what it was, but there was definitely room for improvement.

The changes made for Master with Cracked Fingers are interesting, and they are clearly made in the effort of transforming an early-’70s serious kung fu movie into a late-’70s kung fu comedy. In this way, the two films seen side by side are something of a quick and dirty history lesson on just how much the genre had changed over the eight years in-between the two releases. Now, instead of Jackie’s character merely practicing kung fu on his own or with his sister, he is trained by Simon Yuen himself! This is facilitated by a few added scenes at the beginning, with Jackie as a child of about eight or nine years old. Too poor to afford proper kung fu lessons, he enlists the help of an old beggar who promptly asks Jackie to meet him in the forest in the middle of the night. And what does he ask Jackie to do once he gets there? Take off all his clothes and jump into a burlap sack full of snakes and other scary critters, of course! Yikes!

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Mission Impossible (1971)

missionimpossible_5Mission Impossible [劍女幽魂] (1971)

Starring Ching Li, Chen Hung-Lieh, Chiang Nan, O Yau-Man, Su Chen-Ping, Ma Kei, Yee Yuen, Ngai So, Tsai Hung, Yuen Sam, Law Bun, Lui Jun

Directed by Joseph Kuo Nan-Hong

Expectations: Moderate.

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Mission Impossible is a rare Shaw Brothers film. When Celestial Pictures acquired the rights to the Shaw catalog and they undertook the massive project of remastering and re-releasing the films to DVD, there were a number of movies that somehow slipped through the cracks. Perhaps prints were lost or some such unavoidable circumstances occurred. Some films were remastered but never transitioned to DVD for unexplained reasons, only appearing on the Singapore-only Zii Eagle set-top box that contains hundreds of Shaw films. Mission Impossible is one of those slip-through-the-cracks, unremastered movies, so the print is pretty bad. Not the worst I’ve seen, but still a huge step down from what I’ve become accustomed to while making my way through the catalog. I’ve definitely become spoiled.

But sometimes it’s good to revisit your roots, so I actually kind of enjoyed watching Mission Impossible in its damaged form that reminded me of how most Shaw films used to look before Celestial took over. They were neglected, dingy prints that were incredibly hard to come by in the US (exacerbated by the fact that the Internet was in its infancy and I was still a teenager with limited resources). But there is a special charm to watching old, faded prints. Are the dark, shadowy visuals just the print, or was the cinematography specifically designed to achieve this look? The fun of a bad print is that it is up to you to deduce the filmmaker’s intent from the context clues. Definitely not a task that everyone will get a kick out of, though. 🙂

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Swordsman at Large (1971)

SwordsmanatLarge+1971-66-bSwordsman at Large [蕭十一郎] (1971)

Starring Wai Wang, Tina Chin Fei, Margaret Hsing Hui, Chow Sam, Got Siu-Bo, Liu Ping, O Yau-Man, Pak Lam, Yue Fung, Chu Jing, Chang Yi, Chen Hung-Lieh

Directed by Hsu Cheng-Hung

Expectations: Pretty low, based on it being a Hsu Cheng-Hung movie.

twostar


As much as I’d like every movie to be made specifically for me, that just isn’t the case. Swordsman at Large is a great example of this, as it’s a handsome production of a rich, character-driven wuxia film in the old tradition of the genre’s roots, but as someone who highly values the changes and the advancements that Chang Cheh (and to a lesser extent Lo Wei) brought to the genre, I don’t care how handsome the production is, this is one movie that I just could not get into.

It must have been something of a big deal at its time, though, as it featured big name guest stars in glorified cameos. The stars in question are Chang Yi and Chen Hung Lieh, who basically come on-screen and promptly get killed. They mean absolutely nothing to the story of the film, but this is not the only moment in screenwriter Ku Lung’s script that is convoluted and meaningless in unnecessary ways. But this was Ku’s first credited script, so I can cut him some slack. He later went on to work with Lo Wei during the “Lo Wei Motion Picture Co., Ltd.” era, otherwise known as “the years Jackie Chan would rather forget” (and that I also just so happen be reviewing my way through currently!).

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The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung (1973)

cub tiger 150 dpiThe Cub Tiger from Kwangtung [廣東小老虎] (1973)
AKA Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Master with Cracked Fingers, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Chen Hung Lieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam

Directed by Ngai Hoi-Fung

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


So it begins. The long-awaited and exciting chronological review series of the films of Jackie Chan. Words cannot express how excited I am to finally do this, as Jackie Chan is simply one of the most important film figures to me as an audience member. He is single-handedly responsible for my Hong Kong movie obsession, stemming directly from the US release of Rumble in the Bronx, and his love and homage to Buster Keaton through his own crazy stunts led me to discover silent films and delve deep into classic cinema during my teenage years. I simply wouldn’t be the same person without Jackie Chan films (and Uncle Jasper’s friendship and well-established HK movie collection), so the series is loaded with a lot of emotion for me.

But much of that emotion will have to be held back until later films, as it took this Jacky a while to develop into the Jackie we know and love today. The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung was his first starring role, but it had something of a strange release. Filmed in 1971 when Jackie was a tender, stubble-faced 17-year-old, but held for release until 1973, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung did not light the world on fire. In fact, its release in 1973 was supposedly so small and limited that many never saw it and it is regarded as one of the rarer Jackie Chan films. After he became a sensation in the late ’70s, the film was re-cut with brand new, non-Jackie footage to create the “new” film, Master with Cracked Fingers, and that’s the version most Chan fans have likely seen of the film. God knows it’s been on too many budget-priced Jackie collections to count. But this review is for the original release version, unearthed and released to DVD a few years back in absolutely horrific print quality. Good thing I cut my teeth on equally dodgy HK bootlegs!

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