All Men Are Brothers (1975)

All Men Are Brothers [蕩寇誌] (1975)
AKA Seven Soldiers of Kung Fu, Seven Blows of the Dragon II, Seven Kung Fu Assassins

Starring David Chiang, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Danny Lee, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yue Fung, Ti Lung, Chu Mu, Tin Ching, Tung Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Bolo Yeung, Lau Gong, Wong Ching, Chang Yang, Betty Chung, Ku Feng, Tetsuro Tamba, Chin Feng, Chen Wo-Fu, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan

Directed by Chang Cheh & Wu Ma

Expectations: Super high! A sequel to one of my all-time favorite Shaw films? Yes, please!


The Water Margin is one of my all-time favorite Shaw Brothers films (along with all of Shaw’s other films based on the classic Chinese novel —  Delightful Forest, Pursuit, and to a lesser extent The Amorous Lotus Pan and Chang’s segment in Trilogy of Swordsmanship), so All Men Are Brothers had a lot to live up to. The key to my immense affection for each film lies in how they all carry their own style and are therefore able to stand on their own in companionship with the other films, like the 108 Liang Shan bandits themselves. All Men Are Brothers is another very welcome addition to this lineup, taking its own path along the way to dramatizing a section of the illustrious book.

All of the previous films dealt with chapters from either the beginning or the middle of the book, but All Men Are Brothers seeks to tell the end of the tale. It takes material mostly from Chapters 90–100 (out of 100 total chapters), which deal with the redemption of the outlaws through their struggle to defeat the rebellious Fang La and his generals. A couple of flashbacks tell earlier tales to provide some character depth, and the film opens with Yan Qing’s procurement of the bandits’ pardon from the emperor (which is detailed in Chapter 81), but the film is mostly concerned with bringing everything to a close.

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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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The Enchanted Chamber (1968)

EnchantedChamber+1968-1-bThe Enchanted Chamber [狐俠] (1968)

Starring Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Feng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Kwan, Goo Man-Chung, Pang Pang, Tung Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Fang Mian

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: High, for some reason. Probably because I couldn’t see this one for a long time and now its mystique is all built up.

threehalfstar


Wuxia films always contain some supernatural elements, but The Enchanted Chamber is a true supernatural wuxia. Powers and the spirit world inform nearly every scene in the film, creating a fantastically entertaining film that is a hybrid of wuxia, spooky horror and a tale of star-crossed lovers. Thinking about the other Shaw films from 1968, The Enchanted Chamber also feels quite unique in this regard, flawlessly blending genres together where other films of this era have a rough time presenting one genre as well.

Based on a tale from the classic Chinese collection Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, The Enchanted Chamber opens by introducing us to Chiang Wen-Tsui (Margaret Hsing Hui), a trickster fox fairy. We watch as she thwarts an adulterous couple mid-coitus, and a few minutes later she sings a wonderful song while providing pears for some hungry children in town. It would appear that she is to be our main character, but about 20 minutes in, the film takes a hard turn away from her story. While she does return to play a very important role in the film, her introduction also serves double duty by introducing us to the type of world we’re dealing with. This is a world where mischievous fairies are very much a real thing, and if someone says their house is haunted, you better not stick around.

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Young People (1972)

youngpeople_6Young People [年輕人] (1972)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Agnes Chan Mei-Ling, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Wu Ma, Chin Feng, Lo Dik, Wong Chung, Bolo Yeung, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Very interested, but I don’t know what to expect.

threehalfstar


Young People is a movie that I can see a lot of people hating, especially those who notice the combo of Chang Cheh directing Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai and David Chiang in the lead roles and expect a heroic struggle of martial brotherhood. Young People is definitely not that, although oddly enough it is about brotherhood (or at least working together). Different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but as an offbeat musical comedy from 1972, it’s pretty much exactly the type of movie that will put a lot of people off. For me, it brought huge smiles to my face throughout. There were a couple of groans, I can’t lie, but for the most part I smiled.

The story of Young People is quite loose and free-flowing in an effort to reflect the young people of its title. At a college in Hong Kong there are three clubs: the Music & Dance club, the Sports club and the Martial Arts club. David Chiang plays Hung Wai, the head of the Music club; Ti Lung plays Lam Tat, the captain of the sports club; and Chen Kuan-Tai plays Ho Tai, the leader of the martial arts club. Each student is like a star among their fellow club members, garnering respect and admiration, but the other groups do not return the favor. They tease one another and fight for ridiculous, petty reasons. Y’know… like young people do. So the “story” involves each of the three clubs competing in a tournament, only each club is unable to win on their own.

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The Casino (1972)

TheCasino+1972-60-bThe Casino [吉祥賭坊] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lily Ho Li-Li, Chin Feng, Chiang Nan, Fan Mei-Sheng, Tang Ti, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Chan-Kong, Sek Kin, Ma Chien-Tang, Yee Kwan, Yi Fung, Wu Ma

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: Optimistic.

threehalfstar


The Casino was one of the earliest Hong Kong gambling movies. It’s not a full-on gambling film, though, it’s more of a martial arts/gambling hybrid. But don’t despair, that mix makes for some truly exciting, tense entertainment. At only 77 minutes, The Casino is jam-packed full of intense melodrama that never lets up. It’s definitely an unsung gem of this era of Hong Kong film, as prior to researching it for this review series, I had never heard of this one.

The film opens in the titular casino, following the frustrations of a down-on-his-luck gambler (Wu Ma) as he attempts to win at the dice game. He ultimately leaves with less than he came in with, as completely strapped for cash, the man offered up his hand as collateral for his final wager. Didn’t work out so well for him. On his way out of the casino, he runs into Luo Tianguang (Yueh Hua). Luo is suave and well-dressed, but he watches the fleeing gambler with a knowing look. I initially imagined that the tale might end up with Luo succumbing to the evils of gambling and ending up like this man he encounters at the start, but it isn’t like that at all. No, Luo Tianguang definitely has other things on his mind, and this quick glance of what gambling can do to people seems to steel his resolve.

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The Water Margin (1972)

watermargin_10aThe Water Margin [水滸傳] (1972)
AKA Seven Blows of the Dragon, Outlaws of the Marsh

Starring David Chiang, Tetsuro Tamba, Toshio Kurosawa, Ku Feng, Chin Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Ti Lung, Lily Ho Li-Li, Pang Pang, Tung Lam, Wu Ma, Cheng Lui, Paul Chun Pui, Chen Kuan-Tai, Danny Lee, Wu Chi-Chin, Lee Hang, Lau Dan, Lei Lung, Zhang Yang, Leung Seung-Wan, Lo Wai, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Cheng Miu

Directed by Chang Cheh, Wu Ma & Pao Hsueh Li

Expectations: High.

fourstar


The Water Margin is a classic of Chinese literature, a novel written in the 14th century that has inspired and entertained the Chinese people ever since. That’s quite the run for a novel, and judging by the amount of quality storytelling in Chang Cheh’s The Water Margin, it’s with good reason. The novel, also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, is about a group of 108 men and women who came together at Liang Shan Mountain in an effort to fight the corrupt Imperial ruler. Chang Cheh’s adaptation attempts to bring a small slice of the overall story — chapters 64-68 — to the silver screen, focusing on the tale of how Lu Junyi the Jade Unicorn (Tetsuro Tamba) and his protégé Yen Qing (David Chiang) came to join the group. At the same time, Chang casts virtually every actor employed by the Shaw studio, resulting in a true martial arts epic that feels huge and sprawling. Certain characters might not get much screen-time or development — Chen Kuan-Tai is on-screen for less than 10 seconds, drinking a bowl of wine — but it is made very clear that this is a teeming world full of rich characters. We may not be privy to all the details, but you can rest assured that every character has a motive and a rich backstory.

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Mini-Review: King Cat (1967)

King Cat [七俠五義] (1967)

Starring Chang Yi, Kiu Chong, Pat Ting Hung, Lo Lieh, Carrie Ku Mei, Cheng Miu, Fang Mian, Yeung Chi Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Wan Chung, Tung Choi-Bo, Ching Li, Chin Feng, Helen Ma Hoi-Lun

Directed by Hsu Cheng Hung

Expectations: Low. Hsu Cheng Hung has burned me too many times.


King Cat is another of Hsu Cheng Hung’s opera action films and is probably the worst of the ones I’ve seen yet. It’s not that it’s poorly made or acted, it’s just boring. Mostly filled with scenes of talking officials and their swordsman bodyguards, King Cat should have been the fun assassin vs. assassin tale the script wanted it to be, instead of the slow-moving and tedious film it is. This is the type of movie I would gladly see remade if in the hand’s of a skilled team, because at its heart, it has good potential. You could probably say something similar about most of these really early Shaw Brothers films, but it is especially apparent on King Cat.

Chang Yi plays the King Cat, dubbed this by the Emperor after heroically saving the Empress from assassination. The guy deserved the title because in order to save her he caught an arrow mid-flight, leapt across an insane distance to thwart the assassin, and when some evil accomplices pushed the Empress off a balcony, he jumped to the street below to catch her as she fell. And what rescue like that would be complete without sideways wall-walking the saved girl back up to the balcony? King Cat is an understatement of how awesome this guy is. The problem is that after this awesome and daring sequence, the film languishes about as Kiu Chong, the Brocaded Mouse, attempts to sabotage the King Cat’s reputation because he feels threatened by Chang Yi’s new title. Y’see, Chong and his brothers make up the famous Five Mice of Xiankong Island and they don’t like cats poking their noses into their affairs. If nothing else, this film does offer up some great wuxia names!

The last half hour picks up a bit with a good, but much too short fight between Kiu Chong and Chang Yi, culminating in a wonderful set of traps. It wouldn’t be a Hsu Cheng Hung film without a bunch of traps! The final battle continues to feature various fun traps, and more of the extremely floaty wirework on display throughout the film. Each floaty jump is accompanied by a fluttering sound effect, which is fun the first few times, but thirty jumps later, it’s not quite the same. If you’re looking for a fun action movie, look elsewhere. King Cat has its moments, but they are very few and far between.




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