The Golden Lion (1975)

The Golden Lion [金毛獅王] (1975)

Starring Chiu Hung, Li Ching, James Nam Gung-Fan, Fang Mian, Wang Hsieh, Lee Man-Chow, Pang Pang, Chan Shen, Wong Ching-Ho, Law Hon, Chai No, Goo Chim-Hung

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Low.


In the United States, when we hear that a movie has been held unreleased for any extended length of time — in this case, four years — the natural assumption is that irreparable artistic or financial issues exist with the movie preventing its release. Some of these concerns might carry over to the 1970s Hong Kong industry, but with the Shaw Brothers studio I feel like their continuous production methods led to lower priority films being abandoned, regardless of any fault in the film itself. The changing landscape of the Hong Kong industry from wuxia to hand-to-hand kung fu is the most likely culprit, causing the once flourishing wuxia genre on to the back burner for both studios and audiences.

Looking into the box office records of Ho Meng-Hua’s previous films also sheds some light on the issue. Neither of his two 1971-released wuxias, The Lady Hermit and The Long Chase, did very well, with The Lady Hermit specifically underperforming at 75th place out of 83 films released that year. Ambush was filmed in 1971 like The Golden Lion, and when it eventually released in 1973 it also did poorly, ranking 77th out of 87 films. Both Ambush and The Golden Lion star Chiu Hung & Li Ching, and while Li Ching was a great part of many Chang Cheh films, neither Li or Chiu were big enough stars to carry films on their own. In 1975, The Golden Lion also performed poorly, coming in at 84th of 92 films. Ouch. Poor wuxia. 🙁 Thanks to Celestial Pictures and the passage of time, though, we are allowed to find the hidden gems that failed to resonate in their day. The Golden Lion is one such film… in fact, I’d say it’s one of Ho Meng-Hua’s best and most satisfying wuxias.
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Heroes of Sung (1973)

HeroesofSung_1Heroes of Sung [龍虎會風雲] (1973)

Starring Shih Szu, Lo Lieh, Chang Pei-Shan, Fang Mian, Tong Tin-Hei, Richard Chan Chun, Lee Ga-Sai, Yue Fung, Chan Shen, Lee Wan-Chung, Cheng Yin, Erh Chun, Cheung Ban, Cheung Hei, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderate. Shen Chiang has been hit or miss in the past.

threehalfstar


As much as I try to watch the Shaw Brothers films chronologically, there are always discrepancies. The specific date of release for Heroes of Sung has been lost in time, so who knows where it actually came in the 1973 release cycle. In my series it’s the final film of 1973, and honestly, it’s a perfectly rousing and entertaining little movie to close out the year with. It looks back as it moves forward, recalling the style of wuxias past (like late ’60s/early ’70s), while also containing excellent action that would have never graced screens in those years.

What makes Heroes of Sung interesting is that it’s a wuxia filled with all kinds of supernatural wuxia feats, but it’s also based around Chinese history. Like Iron Bodyguard, Heroes of Sung doesn’t tell its audience about the story’s foundation in reality. Makes sense, I guess. Seeing a dude roll around in a combat wheelchair fighting off a villain wielding a steel eagle claw on a chain doesn’t really say “Based on a True Story,” now does it?

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Payment in Blood (1973)

PaymentinBlood_1Payment in Blood [血証] (1973)

Starring Yueh Hua, Liu Wu-Chi, Lau Dan, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Chiang Tao, Chan Shen, Li Min-Lang, Lin Wen-Wei, Ku Wen-Chung, Lam Fung, Luk Chuen, Chin Chun, Sai Gwa-Pau

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High. I love Kuei Chih-Hung.

threehalfstar


Payment in Blood is one hell of a revenge film, unfortunately it’s also extremely rare and the only known-to-exist version is from a German-dubbed VHS without subtitles. Kuei Chih-Hung is quite the dynamic visual filmmaker, though, which makes the experience visceral and engaging even without understanding a single word of dialogue. It helps to have a general idea of how revenge films work, but seriously just about everything you need to know about the movie is communicated visually, so there’s little lost in this less-than-ideal experience. I will say that watching the film in German is somewhat odd, and it also seems like they changed the score to music less conducive to creating the familiar Shaw Brothers feel. But whatever, I’ll take it over never seeing the film!

The film opens at night, with a car chasing a man and trying to run him down. Meanwhile Yueh Hua is leaving his job, but as he is about to get into his car he sees the villain’s car run over the man multiple times. A villain willing to do this isn’t the kind to leave any witnesses, so naturally he turns his attention to Yueh Hua. Before the villain can kill Yueh, the cops shows up and scare him off. Yueh is then placed into some kind of lazy witness protection where a few cops tag along with him and hang out at his house. But since this is a movie, the cops are ineffectual at thwarting the criminals, and Yueh and his family are subjected to all kinds of horrific events.

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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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The Thunderbolt Fist (1972)

TheThunderboltFist_2The Thunderbolt Fist [霹靂拳] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Chuen Yuen, James Nam Gung-Fan, Wong Gam-Fung, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Chen Feng-Chen, Gam Kei-Chu, Wong Ching-Ho, Chu Gam, Kam Kong, Gai Yuen, Shum Lo, Hsu Yu, Kong Lung, Chow Yu-Hing, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Stephen Tung Wai

Directed by Chang Il-Ho

Expectations: Moderate, but I’m pumped because I haven’t seen a Shaw film in months.

twohalfstar


Up until the last 20 minutes or so, The Thunderbolt Fist is a fairly boring and average Shaw Brothers film. Since I’m a huge fan, I still had a good time watching it, but this definitely isn’t the film to jump into the Shaw Brothers on. I shake my head once again as to how Shaw films like this find their way to a US DVD release, while legitimate classics are still only available in Hong Kong. Anyway, The Thunderbolt Fist!

Since this isn’t an innovative film, The Thunderbolt Fist is a pretty basic Chinese vs. Japanese tale. It begins with the ridiculously evil Japanese riding into a quiet Chinese town. They assault the townspeople, take over their businesses and strong-arm their way into controlling the supply lines, forcing the Chinese to buy and sell their goods from them. When a lowly picker of ginseng pleads for mercy, the wicked Japanese swordsman chops off his hands in one quick swipe!

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Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972)

IntimateConfessionsofaChineseCourtesan_1Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan [愛奴] (1972)
AKA Ainu

Starring Lily Ho Li-Li, Betty Pei Ti, Yueh Hua, Tung Lam, Man Chung-San, Fan Mei-Sheng, Goo Man-Chung, Chan Shen, Fang Mian, Chan Ho, Sze-Ma Wah-Lung, Lee Ho, Hoh Gong

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Very high.

fourstar


If you boil it down to its bare elements, Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan is a simple revenge story. At the same time, it’s something of a revisionist version of the simple revenge story, as the film’s plot plays out far different than any previous Shaw Brothers revenge film (and believe me, there were a lot of those!). The film is also gorgeously well-directed by the one and only Chor Yuen, who is able to construct an artful, rousing melodrama from the base elements of a trashy genre film. It’s something to behold.

The film begins with a green-tinted sequence where an investigator (Yueh Hua) questions a man who found a dead body. The end of the scene connects us to a time years prior, where, now in full color, we are shown the film’s title and a sequence full of slow motion and sheer fabric. The woman at the center of this scene is Lady Chun (Betty Pei Ti), a madam who rules her profitable brothel with a figurative iron fist (gotta make that clear in a Shaw Bros film!). This particular day is a fateful one, as Lady Chun receives a newly kidnapped shipment of young girls, one of which is the divinely beautiful Ainu (Lily Ho Li-Li).

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King Boxer (1972)

KingBoxer_1King Boxer [天下第一拳] (1972)
AKA Five Fingers of Death

Starring Lo Lieh, Wang Ping, Wong Gam-Fung, Tien Feng, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Yau Lung, Chen Feng-Chen, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Chiu Hung, Someno Yukio, Yeung Chak-Lam, Hung Sing-Chung, Bolo Yeung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: High.

fourstar


Opening with the sound of an alarm, King Boxer lets you know straight away that it is a film to take notice of. As an advancement of the budding hand-to-hand genre, King Boxer is exactly the film the genre needed at this point in time. It builds on the foundation set by previous films — specifically The Chinese Boxer and Fist of Fury — and takes the genre closer to what it would later become. There’s no secret why this is the film that broke through to America and created a kung fu sensation; it’s an amazingly entertaining and well-made piece of work.

At the heart of the tale is the oft-told story of battling martial arts clans, but in King Boxer it’s the way the story is told that sets it apart. It is both rooted in martial arts traditions and something unique. It takes facets of the traditional kung fu film and orders them in a non-traditional way, resulting in a film that feels familiar, yet is never boring or predictable. It also explores its themes of jealousy, courage and cowardice much more fully than the traditional ’70s martial arts film, making King Boxer fulfilling on multiple levels.

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