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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Heroes of the Underground (1976)

Heroes of the Underground [丁一山] (1976)

Starring Ling Yun, Ching Li, Meng Yuen-Man, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Wai Wang, Kong Yeung, Liu Wai, Tin Ching, Yeung Chak-Lam, Yeung Chi-Hing, James Ma Chim-Si, Shum Lo

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.


I knew going into Heroes of the Underground that it wasn’t a martial arts movie, but it was still quite a disappointment. I often schedule contextually interesting movies into my chronological series and I penciled this one in based on a couple of factors. For one, it was written by the same team responsible for Come Drink With Me: King Hu and Ting Shan-Hsi (presumably from the late ’60s when they worked at Shaw together). Secondly, I’ve previously reviewed every Pao Hsueh-Li film up to this point in his career, so I might as well hit this one in order while I can. Thirdly, there were a lot of movies released in 1975 that were finished earlier and held back from release, so when I learned Heroes of the Underground was completed in 1973, I thought it might be worth watching along with the others. And finally, it just looked fun; Ching Li on the poster with a machine gun was quite persuasive! Unfortunately, on every one of those points the film is a disappointment.

Heroes of the Underground tells a story of rebellion during the Second Sino-Japanese War when Japan occupied China and oppressed the people. It is a time regularly depicted on film, from dramas to classic kung fu films to modern films like Ip Man. The film’s Chinese title is merely the main character’s name, though, Ding Yi-Shan, and usually this is an indication that the movie is centered around a renowned hero from history or folk legends. I couldn’t find anything that indicated the character was drawn from fact, but I did find a 1943 Lao She novel, Cremation, which shares a few character names, a setting, and a general plotline of resistance to the Japanese occupation.

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Shatter (1974)

shatter_1Shatter [奪命刺客] (1974)
AKA Call Him Mr. Shatter

Starring Stuart Whitman, Ti Lung, Lily Li Li-Li, Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Yemi Goodman Ajibade, Ko Hung, Keung Hon, James Ma Chim-Si, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lau Nga-Ying, Huang Pei-Chih, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Michael Carreras (who took over from Monte Hellman), with some help from Chang Cheh

Expectations: Low, but it has Ti Lung so…

onehalfstar


If you’ve ever wondered why the great Ti Lung never really made it big outside of Asia, look no further than the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Films co-production Shatter! I went into this movie assuming that Ti Lung played a character named Shatter, and that he was so named because his fists were so powerful they shattered the bones of his opponents. But no! Shatter is just some boring white dude (Stuart Whitman) who doesn’t really do anything to justify naming a movie after him. The filmmakers do their best in the editing to make Whitman look like Ti Lung’s equal in the fist fights, but the illusion was not convincing. The film flopped hard at the box office, as well, cutting the three-film contract between Shaw and Hammer short at two.

Shatter begins the film in East Africa, where he assassinates a top general with a gun concealed inside a camera (and fired by taking a picture). Shatter flees to Hong Kong to receive his payment for the job, but when he meets with his contact, Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), Hans gives him the runaround and refuses to pay him. This is where the plot kind of lost me. Chinese assassins are trying to kill Shatter, but I don’t know how they fit it exactly. Peter Cushing (in his final appearance for Hammer) and some goons show up to intimidate/beat up Shatter for some reason, and this is where Ti Lung and Lily Li enter the story. They take Shatter in to help him recuperate, and then magically Lily Li is deeply in love with him and Ti Lung is ready to risk his life for Shatter’s cause (which as far as I could tell was just to get paid). I don’t really understand why any of that happens, but it does.

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

legendof7goldenvampires_1The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires [七金屍] (1974)
AKA The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, Dracula and the 7 Golden Vampires

Starring Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, Shih Szu, Chan Shen, Lau Kar-Wing, Huang Pei-Chih, John Forbes-Robertson, Tino Wong Cheung, James Ma Chim-Si, Wynn Lau Chun-Fai, Ho Kei-Cheong, Wang Han-Chen, Lau Wai-Ling, Robert Hanna

Directed by Roy Ward Baker (with an uncredited assist from Chang Cheh)

Expectations: Been looking forward to revisiting this for a while now.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


What a difference a few years makes. When I first reviewed The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Silver Emulsion was only six months old, I had never seen a Hammer horror or a David Chiang film, I had no idea who Shih Szu or Chan Shen was, and I definitely couldn’t recognize Lau Kar-Wing on sight. If I remember right, my main takeaway was that it was OK, but nothing special, and that I wanted to watch some actual Hammer films. This initial reaction is a great example of why I set out about reviewing the Shaw films chronologically.

Taken as a single film, it’s true, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires isn’t anything all that special. It is a watered-down Shaw film, mixed with watered-down Hammer elements, and I can understand it not resonating with staunch fans of either studio. But within the context of the Shaw output of the time, along with an understanding and appreciation of the Gothic Hammer feeling, the mixture adds up to one very fun, fast-paced film filled with thrills. I only see my love for this film growing with each successive viewing.

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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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