The Ghost Lovers (1974)

The Ghost Lovers [艷女還魂] (1974)
AKA A Woman with Half Soul

Starring Li Ching, Lam Wai-Tiu, Kim Mu-Yeong, Joo Yong, Chan Mei-Hua, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Wong Ching-Ho, James Ma Chim-Si, Hung Sing-Chung, Fung Ging-Man

Directed by Shin Sang-Ok

Expectations: Moderate.


A title like The Ghost Lovers signals a horror film with a softer edge, and this is definitely the case. It’s not so much a horror film as it is a supernatural drama, although there are lots of good scares and frightful images peppered through the film. I expected this to be the case so I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t ready for how the film would twist the traditional ghost narrative into something unique. The film begins rather straightforward, but as the tragedy of the situations deepen the whole thing sort of flips in on itself. It’s hard to describe without spoiling it, and maybe even drawing attention to this point will diminish its power a bit, but it worked on me and hopefully it’ll work on you, too.

Song Lian-Hua (Li Ching) lies deathly ill in her bed, surrounded by her wet nurse and her family. Song has been betrothed to Han Shi-Long (Lam Wai-Tiu) since they were children, but they haven’t seen each other since. Han’s father was once governor of their town, but was forced to flee after his name was illegitimately slandered and they lost everything. With Song’s condition worsening, they send for Han to visit Song before she dies, but when the messenger returns he says that Han set out two days prior and should have already arrived! Promptly thereafter, Song Lian-Hua dies and it would seem that these star-crossed lovers were doomed to never meet (and Li Ching never to utter a single line in a film she stars in!)

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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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Finger of Doom (1972)

FingerofDoom_1Finger of Doom [太陰指] (1972)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Chin Han, Chen Feng-Chen, Hung Sing-Chung, Park Ji-Hyeon, Yeung Chi-Hing, Tung Li, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Shum Lo, Lan Wei-Lieh

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Fairly high.

threestar


Finger of Doom gets points for being different. The film has all the usual trappings of the wuxia genre, but it is actually defined by the elements that make it closer to a horror film. While there have been many horror-themed swordplay films throughout the years, I’m not quite sure how many there were around this time, so Finger of Doom could be one of the first to blend the two genres. In any case, this aspect makes Finger of Doom unique and well-worth a look for any Shaw fan on the hunt for something a little different than the standard wuxia story.

Finger of Doom opens as the Four Heroes of Dragon Hill are tricked into an audience with an errant kung fu master, Kung Suen Mao Neong. Kung quickly subdues the heroes with a flick of her wrist that unleashes her Finger of Doom technique, or in layman’s terms: a small metal spike driven into the base of the victim’s neck. It causes the victim excruciating pain, but after taking a dose of Kung’s antidote the victim is left with no pain or fear of death. Oh, but they’re also under Kung’s control! They effectively become her zombie bodyguards, carrying Kung around in her red wooden coffin during the daytime to shield her from the sun. The kung fu is strong with this one indeed.

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The Rescue (1971)

The Rescue-1971The Rescue [血酒天牢] (1971)

Starring Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Goo Man-Chung, Fang Mian, Ling Ling, Bolo Yeung, Chan Shen, Gam Kei-Chu, Hung Sing-Chung, Yau Ming, Tang Ti, Lee Wan-Chung, Chen Feng-Chen

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful.

threestar


In 1279 AD, the Mongols invaded China and formed the Yuan Dynasty. Minister Wen Tien Hsiang led his army to resist, but was captured and imprisoned. The Emperor of Yuan asked him to surrender, but he refused and was finally sentenced. While he was in jail, he wrote a “Song of Uprightness” to show his loyalty and this song later inspired the Chinese people to rise up against any foreign invaders.

This picture tells the story of how some patriots fought desperately to get the song out of the dungeons…

So begins The Rescue, and if that isn’t a humdinger of a setup I don’t know what is. But in a lot of ways, The Rescue is the definition of a minor Shaw Brothers film: it’s short (79½ minutes), it’s fun, but it’s not exceptionally great. Don’t let that stop you, though, as The Rescue has a lot of entertainment under its hood. I don’t think any martial arts fan can argue with a movie that features Bolo Yeung ripping a prison cell door off of the wall and using it as a weapon to defend himself and kill multiple attackers.

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Six Assassins (1971)

SixAssassins+1971-1-bSix Assassins [六刺客] (1971)

Starring Ling Yun, Ha Faan, James Nam Gung-Fan, Go Ming, Lily Li Li-Li, Siu Wa, Tong Tin-Hei, Chai No, Cheung Ging-Boh, Yau Lung, Yun Il-Bong, Chan Shen, Hung Sing-Chung, Suen Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Fang Mian

Directed by Cheng Chang Ho

Expectations: Moderate. Cheng Chang Ho’s last movie was pretty fun.

threestar


Before I start watching one of these Shaw films that I know nothing about, I will usually watch a few seconds here and there throughout the movie to give myself an idea of what I’m about to sit through. It might seem like an odd practice, but I’ve found that doing this allows me to get a handle on my expectations, allowing me to take in the film without the high hopes that the fun titles might inspire. For Six Assassins it worked beautifully, because when I did this I saw deep, saturated colors and a lot of grand sets and costumes. This instantly reminded me of the Shaw Brothers films from the 1960s, and my expectations for the film plummeted. So when I watched the movie and I found out that it was actually really fun and not like those movies at all, I was even more enthusiastic about watching it than I would’ve been normally.

Six Assassins takes a little while to get going, as it throws a lot of dense storytelling at you immediately after the opening credits. But it boils down to this: the emperor’s brother is a royal asshole. He kills the lord of a peaceful part of the country, hoping to annex the lands and thus control the people who live there. But those people don’t take too kindly to that, so they enlist the help of the famed swordsman Mu Jun-Jie (Ling Yun). Mu drafts a small group of assassins to help him in his goal, and thus the tale of Six Assassins takes its shape.

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The Heroic Ones (1970)

The Heroic Ones [十三太保] (1970)
AKA 13 Fighters, Shaolin Masters, Thirteen Princes

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Chan Sing, Chin Han, Pao Chia-Wen, Lo Wai, James Nam Gung-Fan, Lau Gong, Sung Tuan, Wong Pau-Gei, Wang Kuang-Yu, Chan Chuen, Lau Kar Wing, Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Hung Sing-Chung, Lan Wei-Lieh, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Lee Hoi-Lung, Bolo Yeung-Tze

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. It’s Chang Cheh, and it warranted a US Blu-ray release, it’s gotta be good.


And here I am again, checking out a Chang Cheh movie and being completely blown away. At this point in the Shaw Brothers series, I feel like I know what’s coming my way, and I expected The Heroic Ones to be another take on the traditional swordplay genre by Chang Cheh. Instead it proved to be a historical epic, and completely unlike any previous film in the series. If there’s one thing to be learned from this, it’s that I should never expect a Chang Cheh film to be simply “another take on” whatever genre I suppose the film to be by the rather uninformative box art.

The film’s plot is complicated, but never hard to understand. It is hard to quickly explain, though, concerning itself more with the relationships between brothers than focusing on the actual beats of the plot. Ku Feng is a barbarian king who has 13 princes (seemingly gathered from varying places, not actual sons) and he finds himself up against a bad group of rebels who have taken over the Imperial capital city of Chang’an. The rebel general (played by a bald Bolo Yeung) stands guard at the gate, but 13th Brother (David Chiang) takes him out in a fun battle resembling the classic “David vs. Goliath” struggle. Bolo looks menacing with his head shaved, and he reminds me of Abobo from the video game Double Dragon. This is perhaps not a coincidence, as the other Abobo-like character in Double Dragon, Bolo, supposedly gets his name from Bolo Yeung’s character in Enter the Dragon, named… wait for it… Bolo. Anyway, this fight with Bolo is perhaps the film’s best moment of choreography, but its greatest moment of action is still yet to come.

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