The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung (1977)

The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung [乾隆下江南] (1977)

Starring Lau Wing, Wong Yu, Lee Kwan, Chiang Nan, Cheng Miu, Wang Han-Chen, Yueh Hua, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chen Ping, Kam Ting-Hsun, Wang Sha, Aai Dung-Gwa, San Shu-Wa, Wong Ching-Ho, Chan Shen, Ng Hong-Sang

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: High. I really liked the first film.


The first film in this series, Emperor Chien Lung, introduced us to an emperor bored with his rigid, dependable life in the Imperial palace. He longed for adventure and the knowledge of how his subjects lived, so he disguised himself and embarked on a journey across his lands. Along the way, he helped those in need and stopped more than a few crimes perpetrated by officials in his name. It’s a nice setup for an episodic film, and the first film left me hungry for more adventures with Emperor Chien Lung. The sequel delivers (although the first film actually tells more adventurous tales), but it does so in many unexpected ways that build the character in different directions. The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung was the first sequel (of four) to Shaw’s highest grossing film of 1976, and I’m in for some real fun if the others are anywhere near as good as this one.

Taking over for director Wong Fung is one of Shaw’s most well-respected directors, Li Han-Hsiang. He directed all the sequels, and judging from his work on The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung it’s possible that he saw the first film as more of a test run for his series, and not an actual “first film” that he was making follow-ups to. The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung begins before Chien Lung is born, showing us how his father, Prince Yong (Yueh Hua), met his mother, Stable Maid Li Jia (Chen Ping), and eventually how Chien Lung became the favored grandson of the long-reigning Kangxi Emperor (Yeung Chi-Hing). The star of the first film, Lau Wing, doesn’t even appear until over 20 minutes into the film! Chien Lung’s sidekick, Zhou Ri-Qing (Wong Yu), fares even worse, only appearing in the final act of the film. To be honest, I can’t recall exactly how they met in the first film, but here we again see them meet for the first time. Things like this are what leads me to believe the Li wasn’t looking back on Wong’s film when making his.

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Back Alley Princess (1973)

BackAlleyPrincess+1973-4-bBack Alley Princess [馬路小英雄] (1973)

Starring Polly Kuan, Samuel Hui Koon-Kit, Lau Wing, Angela Mao, Lee Kwan, Tien Feng, Wang Lai, Tong Ching, Carter Wong, Wu Jia-Xiang, Han Ying-Chieh, Fung Ngai, Huang Chung-Hsin

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Hmm?

onehalfstar


Back Alley Princess feels like one of those movies that was popular in its day, but it’s hard for a modern viewer to see exactly why. It’s an odd mix of a light comedic tone, heavy drama involving a prostitution ring, and some martial arts action… none of which are of quality enough to stand on their own. Ordinarily a multi-genre film like this might have a story that strings it all together, but in the case of Back Alley Princess that didn’t seem to be too high of a priority (which is somewhat odd, because Lo Wei generally packs a lot of story twists and turns into his scripts).

What Back Alley Princess is full off is a whole lot of working-class strife. Chili Boy (Polly Kuan) — AKA Hot Pepper Kid in some translations — and Embroidered Pillow (Samuel Hui) are a team of con-men doing whatever they can to make a few bucks and survive on the streets of Hong Kong. This leads them to meet up with the martial arts troupe of Teacher Chiang (Tien Feng), who agrees to join up with Chili and Embroidered Pillow in the interest of making more money. But this isn’t really the foundation of a story, as the film’s main concern is seemingly to endear Chili Boy to the audience so Lo Wei can drive the point home how important family and community are to the individual.

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A Man Called Tiger (1973)

AManCalledTiger_1A Man Called Tiger [冷面虎] (1973)
AKA The Man Called Tiger

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Okada Kawai, Maria Yi Yi, James Tin Jun, Minakaze Yuko, Kasahara Reiko, Tien Feng, Kuro Mitsuo, Lee Kwan, Kam Shan, Han Ying-Chieh, Lo Wei

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: I hope have much hope for this, but I’m open to it.

twohalfstar


A Man Called Tiger is one of those old movies that you’ll either respect or hate. Its story is rather convoluted for something that should be fairly easy to convey in a martial arts picture: a man, in this case Jimmy Wang Yu, attempts to uncover the specifics of his father’s murder. But since this is a Lo Wei film, and from his Shaw Brothers wuxias I know he loved a good twisting plot, he has filled the film with other characters all searching for their daddies too. I’m not even exaggerating when I say there are no less than three fathers being searched for, and I’m not entirely sure that there wasn’t a fourth. All this crammed into a slim 76 minutes, too.

At least, that’s what I thought initially. I bought the film as part of Shout Factory’s Jimmy Wang Yu Collection, but prior to that being released I had also hunted down a VCD of the film. Completely unbeknownst to me, the VCD contained the full Hong Kong release version of the film, running 100 minutes. I queued it up in hopes that the missing 24 minutes would flesh out the missing father plots, and tie up some of those loose threads. The film definitely makes more sense at its full length, but it’s much slower, and one of the characters still appears without any explanation. Seriously, she first appears when she picks up Wang Yu as he is fleeing from a group of bad guys, and they clearly know one another. A few minutes later, she’s naked in a hotel bed declaring her love for Wang Yu. I don’t know who she is, but I think she was looking for her father.

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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 Fearless Hyena (1979)

fearlesshyena_1The Fearless Hyena [笑拳怪招] (1979)
AKA Crazy Monkey, Revenge of the Dragon, Superfighter 3, The Shadowman

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Yen Shi-Kwan, Lee Kwan, Chan Wai-Lau, Cheng Fu-Hung, Ma Cheung, Wong Chi-Sang, Wong Yiu, Eagle Han Ying, Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi, Dean Shek Tin

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: High.

threehalfstar


The Fearless Hyena was chronologically the next movie that Jackie Chan made after the smash hit Drunken Master. Jackie left the Lo Wei studio a struggling performer and returned a mega-star, Hong Kong’s latest screen obsession. This gave him a good amount of room to bargain with Lo Wei, and even though the stubborn Lo didn’t like relinquishing control, after some cajoling he allowed Jackie to direct his first film, also the final film of Jackie’s original contract with Lo Wei.

The Fearless Hyena follows the same basic structure as Jackie’s Seasonal films, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. The film opens with the requisite “bad guy killing a good guy” scene that serves as a reminder that there is a plot, even though the first hour of the film largely avoids actively engaging it. But like Drunken Master, The Fearless Hyena has enough going for it that the lack of a strong narrative is only a minor issue. I’m hesitant to even call it an issue, as the film works fine as is. What holds everything together are the amazing, tightly choreographed, hilarious fights. They aren’t up to Drunken Master standards, but they’re quite impressive.

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Spiritual Kung Fu (1978)

Spiritual-Kung-Fu-001Spiritual Kung Fu [拳精] (1978)
AKA Karate Ghostbuster

Starring Jackie Chan, James Tin Jun, Mo Man-Sau, Li Tong-Chun, Lee Kwan, Dean Shek Tin, Ko Keung, Lee Hoi-Lung, Lee Man-Tai, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Ching

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Lo Wei’s Spiritual Kung Fu may have been released to the public just a month and a half after Drunken Master blew up the Hong Kong box office, but it was made well-before as an answer to Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Chen Chi-Hwa’s kung fu comedy starring Jackie Chan. After many requests from Jackie to allow him to include comedy in his films, Lo Wei finally relented and let Jackie and Chen make Half a Loaf of Kung Fu. But upon seeing the finished film, Lo was furious and he shelved the film (until 1980). He didn’t find it funny at all, and he made Spiritual Kung Fu in order to show Jackie what a real kung fu comedy should be like. Spiritual Kung Fu lucked out being released after Drunken Master, because at that point the public craved anything Jackie Chan. It gave this film box office receipts that came close to equaling those of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, and which also bested many Shaw Brothers films destined to be memorable classics (such as The Five Venoms & Crippled Avengers).

So I suppose knowing all that, the big question about Spiritual Kung Fu hangs around its comedy. Is it funny? Do the laughs feel similar to the kung fu comedy of the two Jackie Chan/Yuen Woo-Ping collaborations? The answer is a resounding NO! There’s a reason why Lo Wei wasn’t known as a comedy director. The first half of the film goes hard into Lo’s idea of comedy, with things like Jackie stuffing random animals down his pants (including a snake that finds “a nice, dark place to call home,” if you know what I mean!), punishments that include writing calligraphy with a gigantic brush, a mischievous ghost that farts in a monk’s face, and Jackie pissing on the ghosts as they shrink and try to hide in a corner. You get the idea; the comedy is really low-brow. It’s kind of interesting to watch because you never know what’s coming next, but it’s a stretch to call it funny. That being said, I can imagine children getting more laughs out of it than I did, but there are better films to get your children laughing.

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The Big Boss (1971)

thebigboss_3The Big Boss [唐山大兄] (1971)
AKA Fists of Fury

Starring Bruce Lee, Maria Yi Yi, James Tin Jun, Nora Miao, Lee Kwan, Han Ying-Chieh, Lau Wing, Gam Saan, Chan Chue, Ma La Lene

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: I’m so excited.

threehalfstar


In case you’ve forgotten: Bruce Lee is badass. I’ve been eagerly awaiting re-watching this film for review, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s always been a favorite of mine, and seeing it within the context of the Shaw films released around it gave it a whole new spin. Maybe it’s not the best martial arts film if you hold it up against later genre entries, but Bruce’s charisma is more than enough to entertain and for its era this is pretty great stuff.

Like watching the later, Lo Wei-directed Jackie Chan films, watching The Big Boss after having seen Lo’s Shaw Brothers films was a new experience. I’ve always thought the film was somewhat slow, especially in its first hour, but now I know this is par for the Lo Wei course. He’s much more about metered plotting than blasting out action, and The Big Boss is a great example of this. And honestly, it’s a very well-paced film during this section if you relax a bit from your Bruce Lee bloodlust. He’s gonna kick the shit out of plenty of dudes, just hold your horses.

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