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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Lady of the Law (1975)

Lady of the Law [女捕快] (1975)

Starring Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Chang Pei-Shan, Dean Shek Tin, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chan Shen, Tung Lam, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Ying Ying, Ma Lee-Sha, Tung Choi-Bo, Cheng Lui, Chiang Tao, Law Hon, Li Min-Lang

Directed by Shen Chiang & Stanley Siu Wing

Expectations: Moderate.


Like last week’s All Men Are Brothers, Lady of the Law was a film that was completed (or at least mostly completed) a few years prior to its release in 1975. For various reasons, the Shaw studio had lots of movies sitting around in various states of completion. Some saw feature release (like Lady of the Law), others were kept as shorts and released together as anthology films (such as Haunted Tales), while many others were simply left unfinished, never to be seen again. According to some magazine scans available on the ever-resourceful Cool Ass Cinema website, it appears that Lady of the Law was initially shot in 1971. It is my assumption that it began life under director Shen Chiang, with Stanley Siu Wing later coming around and finishing it up for release. I don’t know this for sure, but I’ve heard similar stories on other movies (like Curse of Evil) so there’s definitely some precedent.

Unlike a lot of movies with behind-the-scenes drama, Lady of the Law is an absolutely thrilling film packed to the brim with wuxia entertainment and excitement. Literally just a day or so before I watched this movie, I was thinking to myself how I hadn’t seen a Shaw Brothers wuxia in a while, and how much I missed them (since they kind of stopped making them during these years I’m going through now). And then BAM! in comes Lady of the Law to rock my world and remind me just how much I love these wonderful wuxias of the Shaw Brothers. Shen Chiang crafted a couple of great ones, like The Winged Tiger and Heroes of Sung, but honestly I think Lady of the Law is his best film.

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Virgins of the Seven Seas (1974)

VirginsoftheSevenSeas_1Virgins of the Seven Seas [洋妓, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen] (1974)
AKA The Bod Squad, Enter the Seven Virgins, Foreign Prostitutes

Starring Sonja Jeannine, Diana Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Yueh Hua, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Li Min-Lang, Kong Yeung, Wang Han-Chen, Law Hon, Chan Lap-Ban, Chu Yau-Ko, Sai Gwa-Pau, Aai Dung-Gwa

Directed by Ernst Hofbauer & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Low. I’m expecting something trashy.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


In addition to being the year of newfound freedom, 1974 was the year that the Shaw Brothers invested heavily in partnering up with other international studios to co-produce films. They had done a few films like this scattered throughout the years (their first being the 1961 comedy The Three Ladies of Hong Kong, produced with Toho), but there were seven co-productions in 1974 alone! I imagine they had hopes of reaching new markets with these films, perhaps in an attempt to replicate what Golden Harvest & Warner Bros. had done with Enter the Dragon. Virgins of the Seven Seas is the second Shaw co-production I’ve seen, and it also holds the distinction of being the trashiest Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen yet. And to be honest, I don’t know that I expect any future film to unseat it!

The film features a simple tale of human trafficking and revenge, but mostly it features a lot of nudity. These poor actresses spend almost the entire film topless, tied up or having simulated attempted rapes inflicted upon them; I can’t imagine it was a great filmmaking experience for them. But these are the sacrifices you have to make when filming a movie about five German women kidnapped by pirates who learn kung fu and take revenge on their captors. The film is not shy about being as trashy as it wants to be, but I must admit that the nearly non-stop nudity does give the film a quality of reality that it would not otherwise have. Is it gratuitous? Of course, but because of the gratuity and the relentless aggression of the villains, the women’s fear and vulnerability never left my mind. The film is an exploitation sex comedy with kung fu, so it’s about as far from a message movie as you can get, but regardless it made me reckon with the horrors of human trafficking and the the victims of the sex trade in a heightened, visceral manner.

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The Master of Kung Fu (1973)

masterofkungfu_3The Master of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻] (1973)
AKA Death Kick, Shaolin Death Kicks, Wong Fei-Hung

Starring Ku Feng, Chen Ping, Lam Wai-Tiu, Hui Siu-Hung, Wang Hsieh, Wong Hon, Chan Shen, Law Hon, Shi Lu-Kai, Yuan Man-Tzu

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Wong Fei-Hung! I’m stoked.

threestar


Wong Fei-Hung films will always hold a special place in my heart. In the late ’90s, when I was first getting into Hong Kong films and digging past the US releases of Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop, my friends introduced me to Once Upon a Time in China and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master films. To hold The Master of Kung Fu up to these lofty standards is not fair, so purge those memories of Jet Li’s Shadowless Kick and Jackie’s drunk antics and let’s get down to business. Although, I will say that if I were to compare them, The Master of Kung Fu is much more inline with Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China, to the point that it could have been an influence on the later film.

The Master of Kung Fu begins with a New Year’s celebration, complete with a lion dance competition. The students of Wong Fei-Hung (Ku Feng) are clearly the better team, but Wong’s cousin Mai Gen (Chan Shen) tricks them into a fight, making Wong’s students lose the dance and forcing Wong to apologize publicly to Mai Gen. This might seem like kind of a petty move on the part of Mai Gen, but he does have a purpose.

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The Black Tavern (1972)

TheBlackTavern_1The Black Tavern [黑店] (1972)

Starring Shih Szu, Tung Li, Ku Feng, Kong Ling, Kwok Chuk-Hing, Barry Chan, Yeung Chi-Hing, Dean Shek Tin, Wang Hsieh, Yue Fung, Situ Lin, Law Hon, Lee Ho, Wu Ma, Yau Ming

Directed by Teddy Yip Wing-Cho

Expectations: Fairly high.

fourstar


I can’t say that I’ve seen any other martial arts film with a structure quite like The Black Tavern, and that’s exactly why you should see the film as clueless as possible if you want to get the maximum amount of enjoyment out of it. Even knowing that the structure is something unique is probably tipping the film’s hand too much, but it would be hard to write a review without mentioning the very thing that makes it such a notable film. So if you’re a martial arts fan looking for a great under-the-radar gem, stop reading, track down The Black Tavern, and enjoy!

The film begins with its credits over shots of patrons sitting at tables in a small tavern. There’s no sound other than the music, so the diners’ calls for pots of wine or plates of beef noodles are left for us to imagine. Sound enters the picture via a song sung by a beggar monk who ambles around the room, presumably hoping for the charity of others. The tavern’s patrons don’t look too hospitable, though, and largely ignore him. But when the song’s lyrics begin to weave a tale of how the monk happened to see a traveling official’s trunk full of amazing treasures, and how easy it would be to rob this man, the unsavory characters in the restaurant begin to take notice. A pair of bandits leave to find this easy mark, and thus begins one of the great martial arts films of the era.

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The Devil’s Mirror (1972)

devilsmirror_8The Devil’s Mirror [風雷魔鏡] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Lau Dan, Lee Ga-Sai, Wang Hsieh, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Ho, Chai No, Shum Lo, Law Hon, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Lei Lung

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. The Avenging Eagle is one of my favorite Shaw films, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of director Sun Chung in this review series.

threehalfstar


The Devil’s Mirror is a wuxia film that takes the supernatural roots of the genre, laces them with a heavy dollop of black magic and goes for broke. It is one of the most fun films I’ve seen yet on my chronological course through the Shaw Bros. martial arts catalog, but yet somehow it was not a success upon its initial release. I guess Hong Kong audiences weren’t ready for disfiguring curses caused by consuming corpse worm pills and an evil witch with a third eye as the main villain. Their loss.

The Devil’s Mirror opens with a large assembly of clans. These clans have pledged to disperse all evil in the land and uphold justice, but there is one major thorn in all of their sides: the Jiuxuan witch and her Bloody Ghouls clan. Many virtuous heroes have gone missing and her ultimate plan is to steal the Wind Magic Mirror and the Thunder Magic Mirror — which, according to their current owner, will cause “rays of cosmic power” when used together — so that she can open the Emperor’s tomb. There she will retrieve the Fish Intestines Sword and the Thousand Years Ganoderma and then no one will be able to defeat her! Now it’s up to couple of wily 20-something kids, Wen Jianfeng (Lau Dan) and Bai Xiaofeng (Shu Pei-Pei) to unravel the witch’s schemes and stop her before it’s too late!

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The Long Chase (1971)

thelongchase_7The Long Chase [俠士行] (1971)

Starring Yueh Hua, Lo Lieh, Li Ching, Pang Pang, Wang Hsieh, Chiu Hung, Tong Tin-Hei, Law Hon, Chuen Yuen, Lee Siu-Chung, Wong Ching-Ho, Cliff Lok Kam Tung, Someno Yukio, Man Lei

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: Low.

threehalfstar


The Long Chase offers a different take on the heroic brotherhood stories that populate many other Shaw Brothers films, and it comes as a welcome variation. I don’t know that everyone would be as enthusiastic about this one as I am, but it must have hit me on the right day, as it was start-to-finish entertainment. The film opens at night, as the Prime Minister and his envoy are about to travel through town. Unbeknownst to the guards and their leader (Lo Lieh), a sneaky swordsman dressed all in black sneaks around the town in order to assassinate the Prime Minister. He crawls through ditches in seemingly plain sight of the guards, but I guess his movements were so good that they were imperceptible to the guards. That, or guards are just woefully incompetent in films. Probably that.

As a side note, these ditches that the assassin (Yueh Hua) crawls through are most likely the ditches dug in the sets for the cameras to capture low angles of the streets and whatever action is occurring on them. After so many of these films, the sets become fairly familiar and it seems as if I’ve seen every angle and viewpoint, so it’s always nice to see a new piece, especially one with a technical background such as this.

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