Emperor Chien Lung (1976)

Emperor Chien Lung [乾隆皇奇遇記] (1976)

Starring Lau Wing, Wong Yu, Tin Ching, Shut Chung-Tin, Shum Lo, Chiang Nan, Cheng Miu, Kong Yeung, Lam Fung, Teresa Ha Ping, Chan Shen, Cheng Kwun-Min, Shih Ping-Ping, Mi Lan, Lun Ga-Chun, Cheung Chi-Hung, Wang Han-Chen, Pang Pang, Lee Pang-Fei, Wong Ching-Ho, Chu Siu-Boh, Ching Si

Directed by Wong Fung

Expectations: I don’t know what to expect, honestly.


Emperor Chien Lung to my chronological lineup of Shaw Brothers films for a few reasons. For one, I knew it had some limited martial arts content, and that it starred Lau Wing and Wong Yu. Secondly, it was the top grossing Shaw Brothers film of 1976 and it spawned multiple sequels (which might have more martial content than this one). It was also directed by Wong Fung, who intrigued me with his film Rivals of Kung Fu and his legacy with the original Kwan Tak-Hing Wong Fei-Hung series. Thankfully, my curiosity was well-placed, and Emperor Chien Lung is a fantastically fun and well-crafted film.

Emperor Chien Lung is absolutely sick and tired of the sheltered life of an emperor. He is fed the same foods and dressed in the same clothes every day, and literally every aspect of his life is governed by tradition and routine. One day, he hears a tale of how Emperor Tang Ming-Huang disguised himself as a commoner and mingled amongst his people. Chien Lung decides to do this as well, and his adventures outside the palace are what makes up the bulk of the film. It bears an anthology feel, with each tale wrapped up tight before proceeded ahead with the next one. Chien Lung learns things along the way, and he even picks up a sidekick, Chau Yi Qing (Wong Yu), but nearly everything else is self-contained within each story.

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The Sexy Killer (1976)

The Sexy Killer [毒后秘史] (1976)
AKA The Drug Connection

Starring Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Si Wai, Wang Hsieh, Angela Yu Chien, Tin Ching, Chan Shen, Lee Pang-Fei, Yeung Chak-Lam, Lam Fung, Lau Kwok-Shing, Tung Lam, Kong Yeung, Lin Wen-Wei, Mi Lan, Lam Yi-Wa

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: Pretty high.


Expectations can be a film’s worst enemy at times. In the case of The Sexy Killer, I went in thinking about how I had enjoyed the exploitative Shaw films I’d seen in the last few years, as well as how much I liked Sun Chung’s earlier films in my Shaw series (not to mention The Avenging Eagle). But The Sexy Killer was not strong enough to stand up to this kind of pressure. It disappointed me at nearly every turn, only redeeming itself with a great third act (but still a marginal film overall). I may like The Sexy Killer more on a re-watch, but I feel like I’d reach for The Kiss of Death or something from Kuei Chih-Hung’s filmography before I willfully sat down with this one again.

The Sexy Killer begins strong, though. We open in a rock ‘n’ roll club, where teens dance the night away to saxophone-infused atonal jams. One of these dancers is Gao Wanjing (Mi Lan), but she is really here for a more deviant reason: She’s looking to score some heroin to quiet her addictive yearnings. When the dealer comes around she agrees to “do anything” for her fix, and before we know it, the police are investigating the scene where her unconscious body has been found. Her sister, Gao Wanfei (Chen Ping), has come with the cops and she can hardly contain her rage when she sees her sister in such a sorry state. Gao Wanfei is sick of police bureaucracy and their slowness in cleaning up the city, so she vows to do some cleaning of her own.

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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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The Taxi Driver (1975)

The Taxi Driver [的士大佬] (1975)

Starring David Chiang, Wong Chung, Lin Chen-Chi, Shut Chung-Tin, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wu Chi-Chin, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Tung Lam, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, Lai Man, Helen Ko, Dana, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate.


Pao Hsueh-Li was a protege of Chang Cheh, but his films often just feel like lesser versions of something Chang Cheh would’ve made. The Taxi Driver is different. It’s the first of Pao’s films to really get under my skin, and it gives me hope that his films going forward might carry a similar style and artistic slant. The film’s focus on then-modern social problems does make it feel somewhat related to Chang’s delinquent youth pictures, but since the characters in The Taxi Driver are adults it’s more evolved. It’s actually a lot closer in tone to Kuei Chih-Hung’s The Tea House and Big Brother Cheng, and it also includes a few dangerous real-life stunts, heralding the coming waves of Hong Kong stars that would define themselves with their insane stunts.

The Taxi Driver is Chen Guang (David Chiang), a good man working hard to stay afloat in modern Hong Kong. He rents a room in a house owned by an older woman, and he’s saving up to marry Heung Lai Ching (Lin Chen-Chi). His job dictates that he’s out a lot of the time, though, ferrying various types of people in all manner of situations around the town. The film does a great job of setting up the struggle of the taxi driver’s job, illustrating how the driving is the easy part and that it’s more about dealing with the odd personalities in need of a ride.

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The Gambling Syndicate (1975)

The Gambling Syndicate [惡霸] (1975)

Starring Danny Lee, Woo Gam, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Lo Lieh, Chiang Nan, Wong Ching, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Chang Tseng-Chai

Expectations: High. I loved The Casino, so I’m eager to see what Chang Tseng-Chai has up his sleeve for this one.


Chang Tseng-Chai’s previous gambling film, The Casino, was a gambling drama with a dash of action. The Gambling Syndicate completely flips the equation and delivers an action film with a flavoring of gambling drama. Which film you prefer will be up to the type of movies you like, but each film has its own strengths and weaknesses. Regardless, they are both relentlessly entertaining and full of life.

The Gambling Syndicate begins by introducing us to the film’s casino and the villains who run it. We work through multiple levels of hierarchy in a short amount of time, and for the first 15 minutes or so it really feels like the film will live up to its title by focusing entirely on the villains. But there the film brings in the heroes, and never really returns to explore the syndicate further. This is one of the few strikes against the film, but in a film as quick-moving and fun as The Gambling Syndicate, this kind of flaw doesn’t really amount to much.

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The Flying Guillotine (1975)

The Flying Guillotine [血滴子] (1975)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Ku Feng, Wai Wang, Kong Yeung, Liu Wu-Chi, Ai Ti, Wong Yu, Lam Wai-Tiu, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Liu Wai, Lee Sau-Kei, Lee Pang-Fei, Man Man, Wu Chi-Chin, Lei Lung, Lin Wen-Wei, Wai Pak

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High. Flying Guillotines!


Every one is familiar with the Jimmy Wang Yu classic Master of the Flying Guillotine, but before that film cemented itself into kung fu history, there was Ho Meng-Hua’s The Flying Guillotine. It was Ho’s film that introduced the weapon to the modern martial arts film, and by nature of its story, it also serves as an origin story for the weapon. The flying guillotine was a real weapon used during the Qing Dynasty under the rule of the Yongzheng Emperor (1722–1735). This is roughly the same timeframe that Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films inhabit, although no one knows exactly when the burning of the Shaolin Temple occurred (and there are multiple conflicting stories of various Shaolin temples burning, too!). Anyway, the flying guillotine was apparently a real thing, as crazy as that sounds.

The Flying Guillotine begins in the chamber of the emperor (Kong Yeung), who finds himself desiring a pair of advisors killed off without a lot of hullabaloo. He gives this task to Chief Xin Kang (Ku Feng), who sets about devising a way to assassinate the men quickly and accurately from such a range that no one can identify the killer. While walking down the street and contemplating the job, Xin Kang takes special interest in a man performing with a Diabolo (a Chinese Yo-Yo consisting of a wooden object spun and thrown with a rope). Inspiration strikes and the flying guillotine is born! The emperor loves the weapon so much that he then asks Xin Kang to form a 12-person strike team proficient in the usage of the flying guillotine.

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The Tea House (1974)

teahouse_1The Tea House [成記茶樓] (1974)
AKA The Teahouse

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Yeung Chi-Hing, Wong Yu, Fung Ging-Man, Lee Pang-Fei, Chung Chan-Chi, Lam Wai-Tiu, Lam Siu, Lee Sau-Kei, Cheung Chok-Chow, Liu Wu-Chi, Pang Pang, Shum Lo, Tung Lam, Wong Ching-Ho, Cheng Kang, Fan Mei-Sheng, Bruce Le

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High!

threestar


Chen Kuan-Tai was a firmly established martial arts star when The Tea House was released, but it was his calm, powerful performance as Big Brother Cheng that cemented his status as a well-respected actor. The film was so popular — it reached #9 at the 1974 Hong Kong Box Office — that a sequel was made the following year titled after Chen’s character. Given the ending of The Tea House, I’m really excited to see where the sequel takes Big Brother Cheng. But to get back to The Tea House: it’s an interesting film, unlike really anything I’ve seen from the Shaw Studio.

The Tea House opens with a long tracking shot through the titular Cheng Chi Tea House, showing us what “normal” looks like at the establishment before unleashing the drama that will continually disrupt business throughout the film. But it’s not so much a movie that depends on its plot; it’s more concerned with commenting on the then-current state of juvenile delinquency and the justice system’s inability to properly deal with the problem. I’ve seen many Shaw films deal with delinquency, but The Tea House engages the problem in a complete unique and fresh manner. The film has a tendency to be episodic and not completely cohesive, but what holds it together is this thematic focus on how the film’s various groups handle punishment.

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