Killer Clans (1976)

Killer Clans [流星蝴蝶劍] (1976)

Starring Chung Wah, Yueh Hua, Ku Feng, Ching Li, Wong Chung, Lo Lieh, Danny Lee, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Ngaai Fei, Wang Hsieh, Lam Wai-Tiu, Chen Ping, Ling Yun, Fan Mei-Sheng, Teresa Ha Ping, Kong Yeung, Tin Ching, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ku Kuan-Chung

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Super high. Been looking forward to these Chor Yuen wuxias for a long time.


In the lineage of Shaw Brothers wuxias, Killer Clans represents the dawn of a new paradigm. The number of wuxia films released by the studio had diminished considerably from the early days of the genre, when literally every martial arts film was a sword-swingin’ tale of chivalrous heroes. In the few years prior to Killer Clans, a good portion of the wuxias released by Shaw were actually holdovers from earlier years, finally released and then promptly forgotten. But Killer Clans, based on Meteor, Butterfly, Sword (流星·蝴蝶·劍), a 1973 novel by Gu Long, performed well enough to make the year’s box office top 10 (either #6 or #7, depending on the source).

To say that this new direction in wuxia filmmaking was a success is an understatement, but it almost never was. Like Chang Cheh, ever searching for a subject that would light the fires of passion, Chor Yuen felt stagnant and in need of a fresh style of film. Chor had abandoned wuxia filmmaking for Cantonese comedies (The House of 72 Tenants, etc.) and dramas (Sorrow to the Gentry, etc.), but the diminishing box office takings of these films demanded he look elsewhere for his film ideas. He decided to adapt some wuxia novels in a style unlike the traditional Shaw wuxia film, but Run Run Shaw rejected every one of his pitches saying that they wouldn’t make money.

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Blood Money (1975)

Blood Money [龍虎走天涯, Là dove non batte il sole] (1975)
AKA The Stranger and the Gunfighter, La brute, Le Colt et le Karaté

Starring Lee Van Cleef, Lo Lieh, Patty Shepard, Femi Benussi, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Julián Ugarte, Erika Blanc, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Cheng Miu

Directed by Antonio Margheriti

Expectations: High. I love Spaghetti Westerns and Kung Fu! This sould be a slam dunk, right?


On paper, Blood Money is the kind of movie I should love. A Spaghetti Western starring Lee Van Cleef, co-produced by Shaw Brothers and co-starring Lo Lieh. When I first heard about this movie a few years back, I imagined it as something similar to My Name is Shanghai Joe, only better since it had a great cast and the power of the Shaw Studio’s martial arts behind it. But man… that honestly couldn’t be further from the truth. Blood Money isn’t a horrible movie, but it’s definitely not taking full advantage of all the greatness at its disposal.

Dakota (Lee Van Cleef) comes to town with one thing on his mind: cracking the safe of Wang, a man said to have his fortune stored within. Dakota gets right to work, finding a sequence of locked doors within, each containing a picture of a prostitute who works for Wang. The safe’s final door requires some dynamite, and the blast not only opens the door but mistakenly kills Wang. Dakota retrieves the contents (another photo… and a fortune cookie), but he is arrested before he can get away. Word of Wang’s death reaches China, so Wang’s nephew Wang Ho Chien (Lo Lieh) is sent to investigate and find the missing fortune. His first stop is to question Dakota in jail, but this is just the beginning of the hunt for Wang’s treasure!

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Kidnap (1974)

kidnap_1Kidnap [天網] (1974)

Starring Lo Lieh, Fan Mei-Sheng, Woo Gam, Tung Lam, Liu Wu-Chi, Lam Wai-Tiu, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Li Min-Lang, Fung Ging-Man, Chiang Tao, Wang Hsieh, Chiang Nan, Wang Lai

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Very high. Been lookin’ forward to this one for a while.

threehalfstar


Kidnap opens by stating that it is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental. But this is not the case at all. The film is based on a series of crimes that occurred in Hong Kong between 1959-1962, and came to be collectively known as “The Strange Case of the Three Wolves.” The general points of this true story make up the framework of Kidnap (and its 1989 remake Sentenced to Death — one of the earliest Category III Hong Kong films), so I imagine the disclaimer is merely there to allow the filmmakers to embellish certain elements to make a complete and satisfying film tragedy.

Lo Lieh plays Lung Wei, a soldier struggling to get by as a gas station attendant. He’s sick of his place in life and the constant humiliation from his boss and others. His friends are in similar situations. Chao Hai-Chuan (Fan Mei-Sheng) is a make-up artist for the film industry, but it doesn’t pay enough to cover all of his family’s bills so he has a second job doing make-up at a strip club. He becomes known as Hair-Sticking Chao because he is often asked to glue pubic hair onto the girls. Niu Ta Keng (Tung Lam) is a truck driver, but he can’t hold down a job because of his volatile temper. Finally, Tong Hsiao-Chiang (Lam Wai-Tiu) is a gambling addict who is in deep debt, with no way out in sight. No word on what he does for a living, but I got the impression that gambling was pretty much all he did.

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Five Tough Guys (1974)

fivetoughguys_1Five Tough Guys [五大漢] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Hellcats

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Wai Wang, Shut Chung-Tin, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung, Ku Feng, Lily Ho Li-Li, Ling Yun, Omae Hitoshi, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching, Yeung Chi-Hing, Kong Yeung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but the title is fun.

twohalfstar


There is an abundance of promise in Five Tough Guys. A dense, unique script from the illustrious Ni Kuang deals with the changing times when guns supplanted the years of training and expertise of kung fu masters. A group of excellent actors fill the roles, with superstar Chen Kuan-Tai heading up the cast, Ku Feng as the main antagonist, and Fan Mei-Sheng’s best role since The Water Margin. And the fights are choreographed by the experienced and notable pair of Lau Kar-Wing (brother of Lau Kar-Leung) and Huang Pei-Chih (brother of Tang Chia). The elements for a great film are clearly here, but unfortunately director Pao Hsueh-Li fails to bring them together into a cohesive package.

Like many of Ni Kuang’s scripts from this era, Five Tough Guys is based in part on Chinese history. The story is set during the early days of the Republic of China (around 1915), centered around General Tsai Song-Po (Ling Yun) and his rebellion against General Yuan Shikai. Yuan was the first formal president of the Republic of China, but at the time depicted in the film he was also attempting to restore monarchy to China by naming himself Emperor. He would eventually do this, which led to the National Protection War, but these events don’t occur during the course of Five Tough Guys. The film is just focused on the flight of General Tsai through enemy territory so that he can forward the rebellion’s cause.

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Rivals of Kung Fu (1974)

RivalsofKungFu_1Rivals of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻義取丁財炮] (1974)

Starring Shut Chung-Tin, Sek Kin, Lily Li Li-Li, James Ma Chim-Si, Bruce Le, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan, Cheng Miu, Kam Kwok-Leung, Kong Ling, Chan Shen, Lin Wen-Wei, Tong Chung-San, Keung Hon

Directed by Wong Fung

Expectations: Low. The title sounds good, but I’m wary.

threestar


Rivals of Kung Fu feels like a film that could have been made a few years earlier, especially in terms of how it focuses on story over action. Not that Shaw films of 1974 don’t have good stories, but Rivals of Kung Fu exhibits a unique quality that sets itself apart from just about every Shaw film I’ve seen. It is a cause-and-effect story that slowly moves forward on small details and slight misunderstandings, telling of a rivalry between your favorite Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung (Shut Chung-Tin) and nearby school leader Master Shen Chiu Kung (Sek Kin). It’s very deliberate and purposeful, and I don’t think it’s something that will appeal to everyone. There’s no action whatsoever until a little over 30 minutes in, and after that extended sequence, there’s not a lot that would fall under the traditional umbrella of what we think of when we think “action movie.”

The key to understanding this difference lies in the film’s writer/director, Wong Fung. By this point in his career, Wong had been active in the Hong Kong film industry for nearly 25 years. Many of those years were spent as a screenwriter on over 100 films, with around 40 of these scripts for the original Wong Fei-Hung film series starring Kwan Tak-Hing. Wong Fung directed a few of the later films in that series, as well! I haven’t seen any of those films, but it’s probably not a dangerous stretch to say that Rivals of Kung Fu is probably a stylistic continuation of the series. Also of note: Sek Kin seems to have been the villain in most, if not all, of those Wong Fei-Hung films, so his presence as the villain in Rivals of Kung Fu here is significant.

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The Shadow Boxer (1974)

shadowboxer_1The Shadow Boxer [太極拳] (1974)

Starring Chen Wo-Fu, Shih Szu, David Chung Gam-Gwai, Wai Wang, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheung Pak-Ling, Wang Kuang-Yu, Shum Lo, Yeung Chak-Lam, Chan Shen, Wu Chi-Chin, Lei Lung, Pao Chia-Wen, Li Min-Lang

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate. I don’t know much about it.

twohalfstar


Director Pao Hsueh-Li was one of Chang Cheh’s trusted proteges, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when The Shadow Boxer opened with a short intro detailing the philosophy of Tai Chi and showcasing the art form as performed by noted master Cheng Tin Hung (who was also the film’s technical advisor). It’s not a full-fledged short film like the one that opens Heroes Two, but it serves the same purpose in grounding the feature in a sense of martial reality. But where Heroes Two follows this up with a story that is enhanced and informed by our newfound knowledge of Hung Gar, The Shadow Boxer isn’t as successful at doing the same with Tai Chi.

Like a lot of Pao’s films, there are many elements in play that would be suitable for a Chang Cheh film; they just don’t come together in a way that brings about the deep emotions and excitement that Chang Cheh was capable of. I have hopes that as I delve deeper into the Shaw catalog Pao will eventually prove himself a capable director all his own, but for now, his films mostly feel like lesser Chang Cheh movies with unrealized potential. Pao does utilize something unique in The Shadow Boxer, though. It’s a kind of “fake slo-mo” that’s just regular footage slowed down. This might sound dumb, but it’s really effective. It’s slow, but without the grace of traditional slow motion, so there is an extra brutality to the strikes in these highlighted moments.

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The Bastard (1973)

TheBastard_1The Bastard [小雜種] (1973)

Starring Chung Wa, Lily Li Li-Li, Kiu Lam, Cheng Miu, Lau Dan, Cheng Lui, Chan Chan-Kong, Lee Ho, Wu Chi-Chin, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Chan Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Hopeful.

twohalfstar


Judging by the opening minutes of The Bastard, you’d think it was going to be a fight heavy film. But just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, nor should you judge a movie on its first few minutes. The Bastard might begin with a brief, wuxia-tinged fight, but it is neither an action-heavy film or a wuxia film. It’s closer to a comedy-drama, and I must admit that I was disappointed, but it is a Chor Yuen film so even in disappointment it’s still a pretty good movie.

The context of this opening fight is important: it represents the completion of our lead character’s martial arts training with his master who raised him from birth. Our hero (Chung Wa) was found as a baby on the temple steps, so he has no idea of his parentage or even his name. In fact, we don’t even know his name; the only thing he’s ever called in the film is “Little Bastard,” a moniker bestowed upon him by the first man he meets on his quest for identity.

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