Bruce Lee and I (1976)

Bruce Lee and I [李小龍與我] (1976)
AKA Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights, Bruce Lee: His Last Days, I Love You, Bruce Lee

Starring Betty Ting Pei, Danny Lee, Wang Sha, Tony Liu Chun-Ku, James Nam Gung-Fan, Wong Man, Ku Wen-Chung, Lee Pang-Fei, Lee Sau-Kei, Wong San, Gam Dai, Pang Pang, Ling Hon, Kong San

Directed by John Law Ma

Expectations: Low.


The Bruceploitation genre is one that consistently surprises, offering as many unique ideas as it does scenes of “Bruce picking his successor” or footage from his funeral. I had heard that Bruce Lee and I was an especially exploitative look at Bruce Lee’s final days through the eyes of his mistress Betty Ting Pei (who plays herself here). In part, this is true; the film opens with a wild sex scene between Bruce and Betty, with Bruce taking regular breaks to smoke pot or take pills from the bedside table. It’s a whirlwind of bodies and drugs, and in the movie it directly leads to his death. Later the film contradicts this — and perhaps that’s the point — but it’s by far the most memorable thing about the movie, so viewers are likely to come away remembering the very thing the film was trying to dispute.

Bruce Lee’s death was sudden and the exact cause of death has always been up for debate. It was officially ruled a “death by misadventure,” which only led to further speculation on the part of his adoring and growing fan base. Bruce died at the home of Betty Ting Pei, which was initially covered up by Lee’s family who wanted to preserve Bruce’s image in the media. Did Bruce and Betty have an affair or were they just good friends? Who knows, and more importantly does it even matter? Despite the salacious opening that basically fuels the legend, Betty Ting Pei’s participation in this film suggests that it’s an attempt to tell her side of the story so we might understand the bond and friendship that she shared with Bruce Lee.

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Iron Bodyguard (1973)

IronBodyguard_1Iron Bodyguard [大刀王五] (1973)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Yueh Hua, Danny Lee, Lily Li Li-Li, Lo Dik, Tung Lam, Chiang Tao, Chiang Nan, Betty Pei Ti, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Ku Wen-Chung, Dean Shek Tin

Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High.

threestar


Iron Bodyguard has all the pieces in place for a stellar martial arts drama like The Blood Brothers or The Boxer from Shantung, but instead we get a somewhat disjointed, start/stop flow that hinders much of any momentum that the film should contain. This leads me to consider that Pao Hsueh-Li was probably the primary director on set, but as usual with these suppositions of mine, I don’t actually have any evidence to back it up. There is a line in Chang Cheh’s memoir about how he would generally direct the more epic films, while the credited co-director would handle the smaller-scale works.

Chang specifically cites The Boxer from Shantung and Man of Iron working like this, so it’s not a complete stretch to think that may be the case here with a duo like The Pirate and Iron Bodyguard. There’s also the fact that in his memoir Chang talks a lot about always wanting to move forward artistically with every film, while Iron Bodyguard features a style that Chang Cheh was using a lot in his 1971 films. It’s also possible that both directors worked on it, as this film also bears the “Jointly Directed” credit like The Pirate did, and there are some suitably epic moments throughout this one. Who knows, but I do enjoy trying to figure it out the best I can.

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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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Call to Arms (1973)

CalltoArms+1973-47-bCall to Arms [盜兵符] (1973)

Starring Chung Wa, Ha Faan, Cheung Ban, Wang Hsieh, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ku Wen-Chung, Teresa Ha Ping, Tung Li, Bolo Yeung, Cheng Miu, Lee Wan-Chung, Shum Lo, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Ho Wan-Tai, Tong Tin-Hei, Liu Wai

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: Moderately high. Shen Chiang usually delivers something entertaining.

twohalfstar


Right before I started Call to Arms, I pulled up its page on the HKMDB. I often do this with these mid-tier Shaw Brothers films, as it helps me keep more accurate notes about the characters and actors. Anyway, when I did this I caught a glimpse of the film’s poster, which is about as exciting as a page of text from a history textbook. It’s not exactly the type of marketing I expect a martial arts film to have, and it was my first clue that Call to Arms would be a different type of Shaw film.

It’s a good thing that I had this clue going into the film, otherwise I might have been quite disappointed with what I got. Call to Arms is much more of a historical epic than it is a martial arts action picture, and it’s within this distinction that the film ends up being sorta mediocre. The story, while dense and filled with intrigue, isn’t the most interesting and it’s also fairly hard to follow. Thankfully, the fights are fun and exciting, but they aren’t fun or exciting enough to make up for the story. I would like to note that fans of Chinese history, who come to the film with a better understanding of the country’s warring states period, will more than likely get more out of the story than I did.

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