Brotherhood (1976)

Brotherhood [江湖子弟] (1976)

Starring Lau Wing, Woo Gam, Lily Li Li-Li, Wang Hsieh, Shut Chung-Tin, Chiang Tao, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Leung Seung-Wan, Fung Ging-Man, Yeung Chak-Lam, Keung Hon, Ngaai Fei, Shum Lo, Liu Wai, Lee Sau-Kei, San Kuai, Hao Li-Jen, Wong Ching-Ho, Ku Kuan-Chung, Bobby Canavarro, Yuen Biao

Directed by Hua Shan

Expectations: Excited to finally see a Hua Shan movie that isn’t Super Inframan.


Brotherhood is a great piece of entertainment, but as a cohesive film it’s a little less successful. It tells a story of Liao (Lau Wing), a man who becomes part of a powerful Hong Kong triad, but long stretches of the movie leave this character by the wayside to focus on the triad itself and the politics within. It shifts its focus so seamlessly that I honestly didn’t notice until it had been at least 15 minutes, but once the realization hit it was hard to ignore. The movie works its way back around to Liao, but the two stories aren’t intertwined well enough. When we rejoin Liao, he’s also evolved into a different type of person. I would have preferred to see the evolution, although with tons of movies that already do this, perhaps I should just enjoy Brotherhood for cutting out the middleman. In any case, I had some troubles with the film (that might be resolved with a re-watch), but none of them really hinder the film’s constant, high-value entertainment.

Liao Da-Jiang is a petty criminal pulling robberies with a group of three other guys. We enter the movie mid-jewelry heist, and unbeknownst to the criminals it is to be a pivotal moment in their lives. Liao is older than your typical juvenile delinquent, so Brotherhood felt like it could be the next step from that sub-genre of Hong Kong crime films. We can assume that Liao’s poor choices as a teenager led him to this moment, but as an adult the consequences are more lasting and serious. The twists and double crosses come fast and brutal in Brotherhood, and they eventually lead Liao to join the San He Tang triad. The triad is also experiencing a time of huge change, with its own share of brutal double crosses. The plot follows these two threads in fairly obvious ways, but as I mentioned, Brotherhood is always highly entertaining thanks to a couple of factors (namely the well-rounded cast, the harsh brutality of the violence, and the action choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan).

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Black List (1972)

U89u7doBlack List [黑名單] (1972)
AKA Ninja Terminator, Ninja Heat, Ninja Blacklist

Starring Chan Sing, Henry Yu Yung, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Si Ming, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Fong Yau, San Kuai, Gai Yuen, James Yi Lui, Lee Man-Tai

Directed by John Law Ma

Expectations: Moderate.

twostar


Black List has the distinction of being one of the top 10 grossing films of 1972 in Hong Kong, but I had a hard time seeing why it would have been so popular. To think that this mediocre film did better than many of the Shaw films, even exceptionally good ones, is hard to fathom. Black List does have a somewhat ahead-of-its-time gritty vibe thanks to the location shooting, something that virtually none of the Shaw films of the era have, so maybe that helped. Golden Harvest was also becoming highly successful around this time by utilizing similar, location-based filming methods. I imagine Chan Sing was something of a big star at the time as well, as he had featured in many Shaw films by this point and had starred in fellow top 10 film The Good and the Bad in the same year.

Black List has one of those ultra-simple storylines that is setup within the opening minute or so. We see Zhao Ying-Long (Chan Sing) released from prison, and his brother Zhao Ying-Hu (Henry Yu Yung) is outside the gates awaiting his arrival. After an embrace, Ying-Hu hands Ying-Long a piece of paper and tells him that over the last six years he has uncovered the men responsible for framing him and sending him to prison. Ying-Long vows to kill every last one of the sons of bitches on his “black list,” and that’s about 95% of the story in the film.

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Drunken Master (1978)

drunkenmaster_2Drunken Master [醉拳] (1978)
AKA Drunken Monkey in the Tiger’s Eyes, Drunk Monkey

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Hwang Jang-Lee, Lam Kau, Linda Lin Ying, Dean Shek Tin, Chiang Kam, Max Lee Chiu-Jun, Yuen Shun-Yi, Fung Ging-Man, Tino Wong Cheung, San Kuai, Hsu Hsia

Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

Expectations: High.

fourstar


To set the scene: Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Jackie Chan’s first big hit, was released in March of 1978 and sent a shock wave through the Hong Kong martial arts film world. It became one of the most successful Hong Kong films of all time, out-grossing even the mega-popular Bruce Lee films. A mere seven months later came Drunken Master, the second of Jackie’s collaborations with director/choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, and it did 2½ times as much as Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow did at the Hong Kong box office. Boom! Not only was Drunken Master a mega-hit, it solidified Jackie Chan as a major player in Hong Kong film, it made drunken-style kung fu “a thing” in movies, and it further expanded the kung fu comedy genre that Yuen and Jackie had officially kicked off with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Drunken Master is one of the hallmarks of ’70s kung fu cinema, and with good reason. It’s amazing.

The one aspect that’s lacking in Drunken Master is the story, but it is a testament to the strength of every other aspect that even though this flaw is very noticeable, it never detracts from the experience. In many ways, it’s kind of a re-hash of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, starting with a mountaintop fight scene where Hwang Jang-Lee takes on a fighter and mercilessly kills him with his amazing leg work. But instead of being a negative point, the re-hash is actually more of a distillation. Drunken Master takes everything that worked perfectly in Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and perfects it even more, leaving out all the rest. Which, honestly, is that film’s relatively average kung fu revenge plot. “Who needs it?” they must have said, and I agree.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Ten Tigers of Shaolin (1978)

Ten Tigers of Shaolin [少林十虎] (1978)

Starring Bruce Leung, Jason Pai Piao, Lau Hok-Nin, Han Kwok-Choi, Larry Lee Gam-Kwan, Michelle Yim, Wong Yuen-San, San Kuai, Charlie Chan Yiu-Lam, Kong Do

Directed by Ngai Hoi-Fung


Still reeling from the high of Gallants, I felt inspired enough to take a look at another of Bruce Leung’s earlier films. Ten Tigers of Shaolin tells a fictional tale involving the legendary real life kung fu superteam, The Ten Tigers of Kwangtung. Many fans may already be familiar with the Shaw Brothers film depicting their legendary heroics, titled — well, Ten Tigers of Kwangtung. Despite the latter being the more polished film, I felt it to be needlessly confusing and bogged down by unnecessary plot twists which only seemed to slow the film’s pacing down to a crawl at times. The super low-budget Ten Tigers of Shaolin however takes a refreshingly different approach. Like many of its 1970s independent-studio-produced brethren, TToS uses a simple, hashed-together plot as an excuse to showcase an absolute shit-rain of kung fu fights. Most of which are actually pretty good.

At first I thought this was going to be a Wong Fei-Hung film since the movie opens with the iconic theme music, which is also sprinkled pretty liberally throughout. It was only after I heard a couple of choice selections from John Williams’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind soundtrack in this film that I quickly realized that this is just another one of those old kung fu movies that throw pretty much any random piece of movie music into the mix, copyright rules be damned.

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