The Naval Commandos (1977)

The Naval Commandos [海軍突擊隊] (1977)

Starring Lau Wing, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Alexander Fu Sheng, Shih Szu, Ti Lung, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chiang Sheng, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Lu Feng, An Ping, Woo Kei, Shan Mao, Lee Sau-Kei, Chu Jing, Kwok San-Hing, Lam Fai-Wong, David Tang Wei

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Pao Hsueh-Li, Wu Ma, and Liu Wei-Bin)

Expectations: Pretty high.


The Naval Commandos was one of the last movies Chang Cheh made in Taiwan before returning to the Shaw studio in Hong Kong. It was produced in cooperation with Taiwan’s Central Film Company, and like 7-Man Army, the Taiwanese military assisted with the filming by providing vehicles and other tools of war to make the film realistic. This is evident throughout the film, but it is the most prominent during the film’s introduction and frame story. It depicts a training exercise simulating the many pieces involved in a successful beachfront invasion (similar to the D-Day invasion shown in Saving Private Ryan or The Big Red One). It works beautifully to set the stage for the wartime action drama to follow, as well as serving as a large-scale display of power for the Taiwanese military.

This introduction is great, and it perfectly frames the film, but the film’s primary story is far more interesting. Many years prior during the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the Chinese Navy was less advanced, the Japanese cruiser Izumo (referenced as Izuma in the subtitles) was docked in Japanese-controlled Shanghai in preparation for further attack on China. The Chinese Navy had nothing that could stand up to the Izumo in direct battle, so it is decided that a small group of men aboard a torpedo boat will try to perform a sneak attack disguised as a fishing boat. Getting there is not so easy, though, as there is a huge field of mines to be crossed and Japanese patrols to elude. It is a valiant plan in theory, but unfortunately it is derailed before it even has a chance of success. The men arrive in Shanghai, undeterred and focused on finding a new method of sinking the Izumo.

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Shaolin Temple (1976)

Shaolin Temple [少林寺] (1976)
AKA Death Chamber

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Wai Wang, David Chiang, Ti Lung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Yueh Hua, Wong Chung, Lau Wing, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Li Yi-Min, Shih Szu, Ku Wen-Chung, Shan Mao, Chiang Sheng, Ku Feng, Lu Feng, Wong Ching, Tsai Hung, Chiang Nan, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Lee Sau-Kei, Liu Wai, Hao Li-Jen

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Another Shaolin Cycle film. Yes, I’m still expecting greatness.


Shaolin Temple isn’t Chang Cheh’s last Shaolin film, but it is the last in his Shaolin Cycle that began with 1974’s Heroes Two. His later Shaolin films with the Venom Mob actors may relate in some ways, but I consider them separately from the Shaolin Cycle films. Anyway, Shaolin Temple is a great finale to Chang’s non-linear series with a habit of contradicting itself and re-telling different versions of the same story. Shaolin Temple showcases something that has been talked about in just about every film, but has yet to be shown in its full glory: the Shaolin Temple itself. In classic Chang Cheh fashion, it’s also not a typical martial arts film; it’s one that puts the Shaolin Temple and its teachings at the forefront of the film, above character development and even plot. If you’ve seen all the previous entries, this isn’t a big deal, but newcomers might be a little lost with the sheer amount of characters in the film.

Shaolin Temple is basically a prequel to Five Shaolin Masters and Heroes Two/Men from the Monastery/The Shaolin Avengers (and while we’re building shaky Shaw Shaolin timelines, Lau Kar-Leung’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin would come directly before Shaolin Temple). It also re-tells/re-imagines certain aspects that would tie into those films, so it’s not the type of prequel that completely works. That doesn’t matter in this case, though, as these are folk tales just waiting to be re-imagined and re-told as the teller sees fit. In any case, the film opens with Hung Hsi-Kuan (here played by Wang Wai), Fang Shih-Yu/Fong Sai-Yuk (Alexender Fu Sheng), and Hu Huei-Chien (Chi Kuan-Chun) kneeling outside the Shaolin Temple in hopes of being accepted for training in the martial arts. The Grand Master (Ku Wen-Chung) decides that after five days of kneeling, the men are dedicated enough to withstand the hardships of Shaolin training. What ultimately sways him is his feeling that if he does not teach them, the very survival of the Shaolin martial arts might hang in the balance. They enter the temple, and it begins a new era of the temple training outsiders to aid their resistance against the oppressive Qing government.

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The New Shaolin Boxers (1976)

The New Shaolin Boxers [蔡李佛小子] (1976)
AKA The Choy Lay Fat Kid, Demon Fists of Kung Fu, Grand Master of Kung Fu, Grand Master of Death, Silly Kid

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Jenny Tseng, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Lo Dik, Leung Kar-Yan, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Chan Wai-Lau, Shan Mao, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung, Wong Yiu, Wu Hsiao-Hui, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Wong Fei, Lee Ying, Wong Cheong-Chi

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Excited for another Shaolin Cycle movie.


The New Shaolin Boxers is something of an anomaly in Chang Cheh’s informal Shaolin Cycle. It most resembles Disciples of Shaolin, with both films featuring a resonant dramatic core about practitioners of Shaolin martial arts far down the lineage from the folk heroes who survived the burning of the Shaolin temple. The New Shaolin Boxers isn’t nearly as effective or finely crafted as Disciples of Shaolin, but I must admit that it is a film that is growing in stature the more I think about it. The key to this blossoming love is how Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang wrote the film to reflect the dual nature of its featured martial art: Choy Li Fut.

Choy Li Fut is an interesting branch of kung fu developed by Chan Heung in the 1800s. He combined two of the five main Southern styles, Choy Gar and Li Gar, with Fut Gar (also known as Buddhist Fist, itself a combination of Choy Gar and Hung Gar), resulting in a well-rounded system that enriches all aspects of the artist’s life. Philosophy and similar non-physical teachings are not unique to Choy Li Fut, but it is my understanding that it is more of a focus here than elsewhere. The film opens with Fu Sheng demonstrating Choy Li Fut, while the narrator tells us of its history and the art’s lineage to contextualizes the movie’s timeline. After this intro, though, the film seems to dive into a standard martial plot without a lot of thought or care paid to representing Choy Li Fut. In thinking this, I was quite wrong; the teachings of Choy Li Fut influence every aspect of the film and its plot.

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The Shaolin Avengers (1976)

The Shaolin Avengers [方世玉與胡惠乾] (1976)
AKA Fong Sai-Yuk and Wu Wai-Kin (literal translation), Incredible Kung Fu Brothers

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Lung Fei, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Shan Mao, Leung Kar-Yan, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Chan Wai-Lau, Tsai Hung, Lo Dik, Ma Chi-Chun, Weng Hsiao-Hu, Ricky Cheng Tien-Chi

Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)

Expectations: Pumped for more Shaolin.


The greatness of The Shaolin Avengers lies in its structure. The film opens with its finale, fading in and out into flashbacks that show how our heroes and villains all came to this particular battle. It could have been told in chronological order and the audience would have similarly understood the characters’ journey to the finale, but introducing us first to the final struggle colors the flashbacks in ways that chronological order could not. It may be called The Shaolin Avengers, but I found the structure to remove a lot of the tension inherent in a traditional revenge story. Instead, I pondered the nature of life, how small moments remind you of people or places, and how important preparation is to success. You don’t simply wake up bad ass, you must be dedicated and willing to endure hardship so that you can emerge a better, streamlined version of yourself.

The Shaolin Avengers re-tells the stories of Fang Shih-Yu AKA Fong Sai-Yuk (Alexander Fu Sheng) and Hu Huei-Chien AKA Wu Wai-Kin (Chi Kuan-Chun), as previously seen in Men from the Monastery. It removes Hung Shi-Kuan’s character altogether, which allows for more time devoted to the early days of Fang before he sought training at the Shaolin Temple. In Men from the Monastery, there is a slight mention of Fang’s mother bathing him in rice wine, but here in The Shaolin Avengers we see the circumstances that led to this, as well as the hardship involved with the bathing itself. Hu Huei-Chien’s story is virtually unchanged, though, and in comparing scenes — such as the death of Hu’s father in the gambling house — they might have even used the same script (or very close to the same script) for these scenes. The main difference is that now the two characters’ stories are fully intertwined and dramatically complete, instead of the disjointed, episodic quality that Men from the Monastery has. So you could say that The Shaolin Avengers is essentially a remake of Men from the Monastery, but I hesitate to write that because it seems reductive to classify The Shaolin Avengers as a mere remake.

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The New Game of Death (1975)

The New Game of Death [新死亡遊戲] (1975)
AKA Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death, Goodbye, Bruce Lee

Starring Bruce Li (Ho Tsung-Tao), Lung Fei, Mang Ping, Wei Hung-Sheng, Wang Ching-Ping, Tsai Hung, Shan Mao, Lee Keung, Shih Yin-Yin, Wong Hoi, Ma Cheung, Kuslai, Sandus, Ronald Brown, Johnny Floyd

Directed by Lin Bing

Expectations: Low, but I do like some good Bruceploitation.


Technically speaking, The New Game of Death isn’t a Shaw Brothers movie, and it really shouldn’t be a part of my review series. The Shaw Brothers picked up various films for distribution on occasion, so this is probably what happened with The New Game of Death, although I can’t find any real info to support that. In any case, it was the only film produced by the Yu-Yun Film Co., somewhere along the line Shaw Brothers got the rights to the film, and then when Celestial Pictures remastered the Shaw catalog and released them on Region 3 DVDs they gave The New Game of Death the same treatment. Given this circumstantial chance to check out an early Bruceploitation film in its raw, original form — it was edited and released in the US as Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death — I just had to take it.

The New Game of Death opens with Bruce Li playing himself (I think), picnicking with his fiance and practicing martial arts. A film producer approaches him and asks him to help complete Bruce Lee’s unfinished film The Game of Death. Bruce Li doesn’t know if he should do it because it’ll postpone his marriage, but of course he accepts, and it doesn’t matter anyway because once the movie-within-a-movie starts, we never go back to this frame story. Once he agrees, the producer sits him down to screen the film they have so far… which oddly stars Bruce Li instead of Bruce Lee, and is apparently complete! Logic has never been Bruceploitation’s strong suit. 🙂

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Well of Doom (1974)

WellofDoom_1Well of Doom [吃人井] (1974)

Starring Wang Ping, Chang Chi-Yu, Sally Chen Sha-Li, Sit Hon, Wong Yung, Pao Chin, Wong Yu, Shan Mao, Kong Yeung, Yuen Sam, Richard Tung Chin-Hu

Directed by Ting Shan-Hsi

Expectations: High. The title is very intriguing.

threestar


Well of Doom has all the ingredients for a tense thriller, but it actively avoids fully engaging them in the ways that other films have accustomed viewers to. This could have easily been a Shaw Brothers, period-set version of Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, and for a time I thought it was headed in that direction. Instead, Well of Doom is something far more varied and interesting, especially in how it has its characters play so much against expectations. The premise of the film is one we’ve seen before, but director Ting Shan-Hsi handles it in a unique way for Well of Doom.

The film opens by introducing us to a poor family living in the mountains of Taiwan. None of them particularly enjoy their hard life away from civilization, but they make do. An old monk, the previous owner of the home, told the father that he would one day return and give the father a large sum of money. That was about six years ago, with no sign of the monk. The father refuses to move away because of this, even though Da-Niu (Sally Chen Sha-Li), one of his three adult daughters, needs ongoing medical attention to deal with her childlike mental capacity. The eldest, Er-Niu (Chang Chi-Yu), is levelheaded and resigned to her life of seclusion and solitude, but her sister San-Niu (Wang Ping) longs for a husband above everything else. One day the father goes to town to buy some supplies, and unbeknownst to him the bandits Copper Head Eight (Sit Hon) and Iron Gun Six (Wong Yung) are traveling through the mountains with their apprentice, One Hundred (Pao Chin).

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Flight Man (1973)

flightman_1Flight Man [馬蘭飛人] (1973)
AKA The Ma Lan Flying Man, The Daredevil

Starring Wong Yung, Ivy Ling Po, Shan Mao, Yee Yuen, Tien Yeh, Ling Yin, Sit Hon, Yuen Sam, Tong Chi-Wai, Wu Fei-Song, Yu Lung, Tsai Hung, Tien Shun, Cheng Fu-Hung

Directed by Ting Shan-Hsi

Expectations: None, but I like Ivy Ling Po and look forward to her.

twohalfstar


On one hand, Flight Man is pure fantasy. As the title suggests, there is a man who can fly (in the traditional wuxia sense), but on the other hand, Flight Man presents itself like it’s telling a true story, complete with extensive title cards detailing the back story and the exact locations of the events. I suppose this makes Flight Man something of a realistic fiction tale with mild fantasy overtones. This seems relatively simple, but the fantasy elements (which are basically limited to the flying) don’t really come up much or even matter to the overall story. It would have been a more effective movie played straight, although I definitely wouldn’t have been as intrigued by it had it stayed realistic. I guess I just have a hard time coming to terms with not being able to understand why the film is the way it is.

Flight Man opens in Wu Lung Village, where an old, traveling medicine seller has come to the dojo to peddle his wares. For some reason, a kid plays a trick on him by drugging his tea with a dead frog. Everyone laughs at the old man, but the joke’s on them! The old man spits out the tea they thought he drank, retrieves the frog, eviscerates it and eats it raw. Then our hero, Yang Ah-Bao (Wong Yung), and a bunch of martial arts students come to kick him out of the dojo, but the old dude flies out of their reach onto the rooftop. Yang Ah-Bao is so taken with the feat that he demands to be taught or else he’ll “smash his brain” (after which he bashes his head into a tree trunk). Cut to: Main titles where the old man trains Yang Ah-Bao and his buddies.

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