Curse of Evil (1982)

curseofevil_1Curse of Evil [邪咒] (1982)

Starring Tai Liang-Chun, Ngaai Fei, Lily Li Li-Li, Lau Nga-Lai, Yau Chui-Ling, Eric Chan Ga-Kei, Wang Lai, Leung Tin, Angelina Lo Yuen-Yen, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Siu-Kwan, Jason Pai Piao

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: The poster is great and I love Kuei Chih-Hung, so I have high hopes.

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There is a lot to like about Curse of Evil and its twisted family dynamic and ultra-gooey FX work. Unfortunately, the film is pretty hard to penetrate as the story is muddled and the characters are hard to keep track of. For instance there are a couple of pairs of siblings, but they both dress in the same clothes. I wasn’t really familiar with most of the actresses either, so as much as I feel dumb to say it, they all kinda ran together. But honestly, the writing of the individual characters isn’t strong enough to distinguish them from one another, so that’s really the main concern.

The story is one that requires an in-depth explanation of the past to make sense, and since this one’s only 78 minutes long, that means Curse of Evil opens with a big ol’ info dump. There was once a wealthy family, the House of Shi, but tragedy struck and bandits killed 13 members of the family. Their bodies were thrown into the mansion’s dry well and ever since then the remaining family members (only a mother and her infant son) have been cursed by the angered Dragon King. We pick up the film 20 years later, as Madam Shi is celebrating her 50th birthday. But, y’know there’s that Dragon King curse, so her son, now 20 years old, dies, along with his wife. This leaves their two daughters to be raised by Madam Shi. At this point the film jumps another 15 years, when the daughters are about 20-ish. Phew.

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Friends (1974)

Friends_1Friends [朋友] (1974)

Starring David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Yung-Git, Lo Dik, Matsuoka Minoru, Wai Wang, Helen Ko, Danny Chow Yuen-Kin, Chen Wo-Fu, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wang Kuang-Yu

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: I’m really excited for this one. I’ve really come to love these deliquent youth movies of Chang Cheh’s.

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From a quick glance over Chang Cheh’s filmography, Friends seems to be his final modern-day delinquent youth action drama. And wouldn’t you know it… it feels like it! There is a positive energy running through Friends that isn’t in the other films. Friends notably starts with a scene set years after the main section of the film, when the titular friends are gathered together and reminiscing over their wild, youthful days gone by. They are all successful in their various fields, and can now look back on their earlier struggles and laugh at their absurdity. Chang’s previous youth films were all steeped in angst and an inability to fit in with society in one way or another, so to open Friends showing that these characters have already achieved this goal of assimilating successfully into society (and seemingly doing so without compromising their dreams) immediately announces a different type of film than his other films in the genre.

The film then cuts back in time an indiscriminate number of years, to when the group was just a bunch of unmotivated friends stuck in entry-level jobs. Hua Heng (David Chiang) dreams of being an artist, but for now he has a job painting a mural on the side of the Seiko building. Hua’s girlfriend, Gao Xin (Lily Li Li-Li), is a bar girl deep in debt to her employer, and at risk for turning to prostitution to pay him back. The others work as delivery boys, mechanics, and other similar jobs, but there is one outlier.

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Rivals of Kung Fu (1974)

RivalsofKungFu_1Rivals of Kung Fu [黃飛鴻義取丁財炮] (1974)

Starring Shut Chung-Tin, Sek Kin, Lily Li Li-Li, James Ma Chim-Si, Bruce Le, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Sharon Yeung Pan-Pan, Cheng Miu, Kam Kwok-Leung, Kong Ling, Chan Shen, Lin Wen-Wei, Tong Chung-San, Keung Hon

Directed by Wong Fung

Expectations: Low. The title sounds good, but I’m wary.

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Rivals of Kung Fu feels like a film that could have been made a few years earlier, especially in terms of how it focuses on story over action. Not that Shaw films of 1974 don’t have good stories, but Rivals of Kung Fu exhibits a unique quality that sets itself apart from just about every Shaw film I’ve seen. It is a cause-and-effect story that slowly moves forward on small details and slight misunderstandings, telling of a rivalry between your favorite Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung (Shut Chung-Tin) and nearby school leader Master Shen Chiu Kung (Sek Kin). It’s very deliberate and purposeful, and I don’t think it’s something that will appeal to everyone. There’s no action whatsoever until a little over 30 minutes in, and after that extended sequence, there’s not a lot that would fall under the traditional umbrella of what we think of when we think “action movie.”

The key to understanding this difference lies in the film’s writer/director, Wong Fung. By this point in his career, Wong had been active in the Hong Kong film industry for nearly 25 years. Many of those years were spent as a screenwriter on over 100 films, with around 40 of these scripts for the original Wong Fei-Hung film series starring Kwan Tak-Hing. Wong Fung directed a few of the later films in that series, as well! I haven’t seen any of those films, but it’s probably not a dangerous stretch to say that Rivals of Kung Fu is probably a stylistic continuation of the series. Also of note: Sek Kin seems to have been the villain in most, if not all, of those Wong Fei-Hung films, so his presence as the villain in Rivals of Kung Fu here is significant.

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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.

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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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Police Force (1973)

PoliceForce_1Police Force [警察] (1973)

Starring Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Alexander Fu Sheng, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Shu-Tong, Tung Lam, Fung Hak-On

Directed by Chang Cheh & Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun

Expectations: Moderate.

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It’s never nice when a film pulls a bait-and-switch, but Police Force is one such film. It’s possible that I was an accomplice in this, though, because as soon as I saw Alexander Fu Sheng kicking ass in a karate tournament I got so revved up that anything short of a kung fu barn-burner might have disappointed. But Police Force is only an action film some of the time, and even then a fair portion of the action is more gun-based police stuff than straight kung fu.

Fu Sheng plays a karate master (or a “Karate Kid” as the villain calls him 🙂 ) who is inexplicably singled out by Kao Tu (Wang Kuang-Yu), a petty robber, as a good mark for a job. Really, dude? You just watched Fu Sheng annihilate the competition at the karate tournament, and then decide to target him? OK, whatever! Sometime later, Kao Tu and his buddy assault Fu Sheng and his girlfriend (Lily Li) on a mountain, but Fu Sheng manages to kill one of them before Kao Tu does him in. Fu Sheng’s death fuels Lily Li and Wong Chung’s movie-long search for his killer, but as a viewer it felt deeper than that. Within these 15 minutes of screentime, Fu Sheng is so electric that his charm and energy leaps off the screen with incredible force. This was his first substantial role and he absolutely kills it. There’s no way to watch this movie and not think that he HAS to star in future films. Star power is something that certain people just have, and Fu Sheng has it in spades.

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The Bastard (1973)

TheBastard_1The Bastard [小雜種] (1973)

Starring Chung Wa, Lily Li Li-Li, Kiu Lam, Cheng Miu, Lau Dan, Cheng Lui, Chan Chan-Kong, Lee Ho, Wu Chi-Chin, Chan Shen, Yeung Chi-Hing, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Chan Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Hopeful.

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Judging by the opening minutes of The Bastard, you’d think it was going to be a fight heavy film. But just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, nor should you judge a movie on its first few minutes. The Bastard might begin with a brief, wuxia-tinged fight, but it is neither an action-heavy film or a wuxia film. It’s closer to a comedy-drama, and I must admit that I was disappointed, but it is a Chor Yuen film so even in disappointment it’s still a pretty good movie.

The context of this opening fight is important: it represents the completion of our lead character’s martial arts training with his master who raised him from birth. Our hero (Chung Wa) was found as a baby on the temple steps, so he has no idea of his parentage or even his name. In fact, we don’t even know his name; the only thing he’s ever called in the film is “Little Bastard,” a moniker bestowed upon him by the first man he meets on his quest for identity.

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The Delinquent (1973)

TheDelinquent_1The Delinquent [憤怒青年] (1973)
AKA Street Gangs of Hong Kong, East-Side Story, Crime Traps

Starring Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lo Dik, Dean Shek Tin, Betty Pei Ti, Tung Lam, Fung Hak-On, Danny Chow Yun-Gin, Yen Shi-Kwan, Tino Wong Cheung, Wang Kuang-Yu

Directed by Chang Cheh & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: As a fan of both directors, I’m really curious to see what this joint work is like.

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The Delinquent opens by symbolically introducing the audience to our lead character, John Sum (Wong Chung), in a series of shots where he bursts through plywood paintings representative of the societal woes he struggles against. First, a rural village, which I took to represent tradition and perhaps the ways of his parents. Then it’s a modern high-rise apartment building, a seedy street scene depicting gambling and prostitution, and a final image that we cannot see. John is fed up with it all, including the unknown… he’s The Delinquent! So to have gotten all of that out of the opening moments of the credit sequence, and then spend most of the first half of the movie going over those same points, I was a bit bored and disappointed.

The story in The Delinquent is sparse, amounting to your general “young man lured into a gang” stuff. John is a delivery boy for a small restaurant, but he’s clearly not very motivated. His father attempts to drive some work ethic into him, but it’s no use. John feels like he’s better than his current situation, but with no drive to make anything happen for himself, he’s stuck in a poor, urban life with no hope of escape. The triad takes an interest in John, but not for his strong kung fu skills or his “can’t do” attitude. No, they’ve set their sights on stealing a bunch of stuff from the warehouse where his father works as the watchman, and they think they can influence John to join the dark side with women and money.

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