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!

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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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The Generation Gap (1973)

GenerationGap_1The Generation Gap [叛逆] (1973)
AKA The Traitor

Starring David Chiang, Agnes Chan Mei-Ling, Ti Lung, Lo Dik, Yeung Chi-Hing, Lin Jing, Kong Ling, Johnston Wong Chan-Sin, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Shum Lo, Lee Pang-Fei, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Sau-Kei, Chiang Tao, Wong Pau-Gei, Helen Ko, Alexander Fu Sheng

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate. I never know what to expect with Chang Cheh’s modern films.

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The Generation Gap is another entry into Chang Cheh’s collection of films about the troubled youth of Hong Kong, but this is perhaps his most successful at a dramatic level (at least up to this point chronologically). Does that mean it’s one to watch if you’re interested in dipping your toes into the modern films of Chang Cheh? I guess, although I think your enjoyment of it will directly relate to how much you love you already have for early ’70s Hong Kong film. But whatever, I can’t guess how and why someone else will like this movie, I can only speak for myself. And I liked it quite a lot.

The Generation Gap is about the romance between 21-year-old Ling Xi (David Chiang) and 16-year-old Cindy (Agnes Chan). Their parents both disapprove of the coupling for many reasons, but like all young lovers, they feel like they’ve found the best thing on Earth and their parents are being needlessly protective. The film charts the relationship as it grows and attempts to mature, and as you can imagine there are aspects of it that don’t go as planned (or dreamed) by the two lovebirds.

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Hex (1980)

Hex+1980-2-bHex [] (1980)

Starring Tanny Tien Ni, Wong Yung, Chan Si-Gaai, Shum Lo, Lee Sau-Kei, Hon Gwok-Choi, Yue Tau-Wan, Chan Lap-Ban, Lau Yat-Fan, Wong Ching-Ho, Yau Chui-Ling, Wong Siu-Ming

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High.

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Hong Kong horror films hold a special place in my heart, so it was with uncontainable glee that I started Kuei Chih-Hung’s Hex. But there were two flaws in my basic knowledge of the film that hampered my enjoyment a bit. First, I had assumed it was a black magic film set in the modern era, and second, Hex is way more laid back and reserved compared to some of Kuei’s other films (notably Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen). Knowing these things would have helped get me into the right frame of mind for what is ultimately a Hong Kong version of the French classic Diabolique with a bunch of ghost hauntings and the parade of variously colored bodily fluids normally associated with the Hong Kong horror genre.

The film opens with a first-person camera introducing us to the setting of our film: a mansion owned by the illustrious Chan family. The narrator explains that when hard times fell on the Chans, they were forced to arrange a marriage for their daughter Chan Sau Ying (Tanny Tien Ni). Her new husband, Yeung Chun Yu (Wong Yung), comes to live at the family mansion, but prosperity does not follow. Soon they are down to one servant, and the marriage between Chan and Yeung is equally threadbare. They are locked into it, though, due to the marriage being drawn up under the feudal laws which do not allow for divorce. Chan has become horribly ill, and Yeung takes out all of his aggression on Chan and their servant. He’s an incredibly violent dickhead of a character, which always gets me excited for the tables to turn so that he can get his comeuppance.

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The Deadly Knives (1972)

deadlyknives_2The Deadly Knives [落葉飛刀] (1972)
AKA Fists of Vengeance

Starring Ching Li, Ling Yun, Lily Li Li-Li, Cheng Miu, Chen Yan-Yan, Chan Shen, Dean Shek Tin, Lau Gong, Goo Man-Chung, Chen Feng-Chen, Tang Ti, Lee Ho, Lee Wan-Chung, Lee Sau-Kei

Directed by Chang Il-Ho

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

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The Deadly Knives is about as standard as Shaw Brothers movies come. It has very little to set itself apart, and I doubt I will remember it in a few months. It’s still entertaining and enjoyable, but it’s just another heated revenge movie featuring the Chinese vs. the Japanese in the good ol’ Bruce Lee mold. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but The Deadly Knives is kinda lazy in this way, and at times it almost feels like it knows it and doesn’t care.

The Chinese vs. Japanese struggle in this particular film surrounds a forest and the logging operation that resides there. It is owned by the Yan family, but this particular forest is strategically useful to the Japanese Army. A Japanese businessman named Mr. Ogawa (Cheng Miu) enlists the help of Mr. Guan (Tang Ti), a Chinese man who prefers money over Yan, his Chinese neighbor. Meanwhile, Yan Zi Fei (Ling Yun) and Guan Yue Hua (Ching Li) are returning home from college on the train. They are the offspring of the two Chinese families in the midst of this struggle, but are blissfully unaware as they talk about getting married. All they need is the approval of their families… so… clearly, this isn’t going to work out for them.

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Black Magic (1975)

BlackMagic_1Black Magic [降頭] (1975)

Starring Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Tanny Tien Ni, Goo Man-Chung, Lee Sau-Kei, Yueh Hua, Chen Ping, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High! I love black magic movies and this is basically where they all started!

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If only I had seen this a few years ago, I know I would have enjoyed it even more. As it is, Black Magic is a fun black magic romp, but it’s hard not to think of later films that go so far over the top that you forget just where the top was in the aftermath. But that’s no fault of Black Magic itself, and any self-respecting fan of black magic films owes it to themselves to check out the film that spawned countless imitators and an entire sub-genre of Hong Kong horror films.

Black Magic was written by notable Shaw scribe Ni Kuang, and within just the first few minutes his script sets out the basic formula for just about every black magic movie I’ve ever seen. A woman visits a black magic practitioner named Sha Jianmai (played expertly by Ku Feng), seeking revenge against her man who is cheating on her. She asks for a death curse on both her former sweetheart and his mistress, and Sha Jianmai is more than happy to oblige. Adulterous love (or as the opening text calls it “Excessive Sex”) is something that does not pay off in black magic movies. But after the spell has been wrought, a local practitioner of good magic is brought in to investigate the couple’s deaths. He looks about, says a few chants, and before you know it Sha Jianmai is slicing his tongue with a blade and pasting paper wards all over the walls of his shack, his blood smeared all over them.

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The Shadow Whip (1971)

Ying-zi-shen-bian_f4c81832The Shadow Whip [影子神鞭] (1971)

Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Tien Feng, Ku Feng, Lee Kwan, Wang Hsieh, Lee Sau Kei, Lo Wei, Go Ming, Lee Ka-Ting, Hao Li-Jen, Tsang Choh-Lam

Directed by Lo Wei

Expectations: Moderately high.

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It was with a heavy heart that I sat down to watch Lo Wei’s The Shadow Whip, as this was the final Shaw Brothers martial arts film starring Cheng Pei Pei. Cheng was one of the genre’s first breakout stars, kick-starting the 1960s martial arts film revolution in King Hu’s Come Drink With Me. Her stoic portrayal of Golden Swallow in that film earned her a plethora of quality film roles at the Shaw studio, so The Shadow Whip truly marks the end of an era. The Shadow Whip‘s contemporaries were inching towards the types of films that would fill the company’s future, but this feels like a film rooted in the past (as is to be expected from Lo Wei). No matter the emotions that surrounded this viewing of The Shadow Whip, it’s a fun film, chock full of fights and intrigue.

The Shadow Whip opens on snowy vistas — a rare occurrence in a Shaw film — and they’re stunning. We zero in on a small caravan, traversing the road to town in search of spices and supplies for their inn. A man on a wagon sings us this journey’s tale, lending the film a light tone. This is shattered when a group of three men on horseback (known in the film’s martial world as “The Serial Trio”) ride through the caravan and attack the singing man for being in their way. Later, when everyone arrives in town, the caravan leader wants revenge, but the Serial Trio has met up with a handsome swordsman played by Yueh Hua, and the intrigue has already begun to take shape.

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The Anonymous Heroes (1971)

AnonymousHeroes+1971-1-bThe Anonymous Heroes [無名英雄] (1971)

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Ching Li, Ku Feng, Cheng Miu, Tang Ti, Yeung Chi Hing, Wong Ching Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Lee Wan Chung, Lee Sau Kei, Chan Sing, Cheng Lui

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate.

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One might expect illustrious director Chang Cheh to follow-up his incredible film The Duel with another thrilling tale of heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but The Anon — OK, you got me. Yes, The Anonymous Heroes is yet another Chang Cheh film centered around heroic brotherhood and bloodshed, but this one is unlike anything he had directed previous, I promise! The themes may be similar, and huge Chang Cheh fans can probably guess the ending without seeing a frame of film, but The Anonymous Heroes is completely worth your time as it’s a hybrid of many different genres. Here we have gunplay, martial arts, heists, general action, comedy… it’s pretty close to everything Chang Cheh had done in his previous films, all rolled into one! What a value!

David Chiang and Ti Lung play a pair of brothers who don’t do a whole lot with their lives. Ti Lung spends his days stealing and gambling (with the help of Ching Li, a female friend), and is prone to bouts of anger. David Chiang enjoys stealing from the rich soldiers in town, and then spreading the wealth around by supporting the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners. One day, they attract the interest of a revolutionary, played by Ku Feng, who asks if they would help him to steal 3,000 rifles and 280,000 rounds of ammo from the soldiers. Since they have nothing better to do and it sounds fun, the brothers and Ching Li agree to help Ku Feng with the insane task of pulling off the heist.

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