Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975)

Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold [女金剛鬥狂龍女] (1975)

Starring Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens, Tanny Tien Ni, Norman Fell, Albert Popwell, Caro Kenyatta, Chan Shen, John Cheung Ng-Long, Christopher Hunt, Lin Chen-Chi, Lau Luk-Wah, Eddy Donno, Bobby Canavarro

Directed by Chuck Bail

Expectations: Moderate.


Like just about every American movie set in Hong Kong, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold opens on a busy harbor full of junks and other ramshackle boats, scored with overtly “Oriental” music. The rest of the movie is also filled with all kinds of cliches and obvious story beats. Despite this, the movie rises above its trappings and manages to be quite an entertaining film. It exists in a gray area where the traditional American action film intersects with the Blaxploitation and kung fu genres, but only in the film’s incredible, lengthy finale does it ever really embrace any of those roots in a completely satisfying way. And it might just be my love of Hong Kong talking, but Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold is better than the original, which I watched last week in preparation for this review.

The film’s story is probably its weakest element. Matthew Johnson (Albert Popwell) and Melvin Johnson (Caro Kenyatta) attempt to buy some product from drug lord Soo Da Chen (Chan Shen). Chen wants to do the deal behind the back of the big, bad Dragon Lady (Stella Stevens), who controls the illicit trade in the region, in a bid to undermine her power and potentially take over. Dragon Lady is too smart to let this happen, so she assaults the boat where the deal is happening, taking Matthew and Melvin hostage. Enter Cleopatra Jones, sent to Hong Kong to rescue them, and maybe take down the drug ring in the process. I honestly don’t remember if that was part of her assignment. In any case, that’s the whole plot; the rest of the movie just continues down that path, dealing with some obstacles that arise as Cleopatra makes her way through the Hong Kong underworld.

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Supermen Against the Amazons (1975)

Supermen Against the Amazons [三超人與女霸王, Superuomini, Superdonne, Superbotte] (1975)
AKA Super Stooges vs. the Wonder Women, Barbarian Revenge, Return of the Barbarian Women, Amazons and Supermen, Amazons against Superman

Starring Aldo Canti, Marc Hannibal, Yueh Hua, Malisa Longo, Aldo Bufi Landi, Magda Konopka, Genie Woods, Kirsten Gille, Riccardo Pizzuti, Lynne Moody, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Giacomo Rizzo

Directed by Alfonso Brescia

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


Out of all the Shaw Brothers co-productions I’ve seen, Supermen Against the Amazons is the one that exhibits the least amount of Shaw influence. It was shot entirely in Italy, with only a pair of Shaw actors in supporting roles. It feels much more like the Shaw Studio lent out some actors instead of actually co-producing the film. Regardless of this, Supermen Against the Amazons is a movie that defies you not to have a good time with it. I’ve never been a fan of Italian comedies, but when one presents me with a man using the wind power of his burp to hold back attackers, I can only laugh and roll with whatever the movie decides to dish out. Supermen Against the Amazons is a decidedly weird slice of cinema, but for B-Movie fans it’s weirdly delicious.

The story isn’t one that makes a lot of sense, and to be honest I didn’t follow it too closely. The gist is that the Amazon women are terrorizing the local villages, kidnapping people and looking to kill their immortal fire-wielding deity Dharma. I have no clue why the Amazons are doing this, but since the film opens with a lengthy ritual where the fittest Amazon warrior is crowned queen of the tribe, I’ll assume it’s something to do with the new regime. Meet the new boss, more hellbent on local conquest than the old boss!

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This Time I’ll Make You Rich (1974)

This Time I’ll Make You Rich [Questa volta ti faccio ricco!, 財星高照] (1974)

Starring Antonio Sabato, Brad Harris, Karin Schubert, George Wang Chueh, Danny Lee, Gianni Rizzo, Lam Yi-Wa, Ko Hung, Tony Ching Siu-Tung

Directed by Gianfranco Parolini

Expectations: Low. I almost skipped this, but what the hell.


This Time I’ll Make You Rich is one strange movie. I expect no less from Italian comedies of the ’70s (which I’m not fond of), but this one seemed especially odd. A few months ago I reviewed Supermen Against the Orient, and while that one was weird, it also had a fair amount of Shaw charm to hold my interest. This Time I’ll Make You Rich doesn’t really have anything in it that resembles a Shaw film. Shaw actors are present: Danny Lee is around and there are a number of smaller roles/cameos for character actors like Lam Yi-Wa, Wong Ching and Pang Pang. Even Ching Siu-Tung shows up for a bit (making me wonder if he choreographed the uncredited action). But simply casting Shaw actors and using them effectively are two very different things, and in This Time I’ll Make You Rich the Chinese actors are there more to mine Chinese stereotypes for jokes than to do anything else.

The film opens with Italian-American Joe Esposito (Antonio Sabato) flying a plane dropping money stamped with the word “Spaghetti.” He then skydives to the ground, and upon landing he gets into a van that says “Cheng Cheng Spaghetti” on the side. This is all an advertising scheme for his fledgling Hong Kong spaghetti business, and you might be inclined to think that said fledgling spaghetti business would figure into the story, but you’d be dead wrong. In fact, we never hear of it again, and the skydiving stunt is merely there to introduce us to the extravagant methods that Joe will go to in order to make money (and potentially get rich).

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Shatter (1974)

shatter_1Shatter [奪命刺客] (1974)
AKA Call Him Mr. Shatter

Starring Stuart Whitman, Ti Lung, Lily Li Li-Li, Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Yemi Goodman Ajibade, Ko Hung, Keung Hon, James Ma Chim-Si, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lau Nga-Ying, Huang Pei-Chih, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Michael Carreras (who took over from Monte Hellman), with some help from Chang Cheh

Expectations: Low, but it has Ti Lung so…

onehalfstar


If you’ve ever wondered why the great Ti Lung never really made it big outside of Asia, look no further than the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Films co-production Shatter! I went into this movie assuming that Ti Lung played a character named Shatter, and that he was so named because his fists were so powerful they shattered the bones of his opponents. But no! Shatter is just some boring white dude (Stuart Whitman) who doesn’t really do anything to justify naming a movie after him. The filmmakers do their best in the editing to make Whitman look like Ti Lung’s equal in the fist fights, but the illusion was not convincing. The film flopped hard at the box office, as well, cutting the three-film contract between Shaw and Hammer short at two.

Shatter begins the film in East Africa, where he assassinates a top general with a gun concealed inside a camera (and fired by taking a picture). Shatter flees to Hong Kong to receive his payment for the job, but when he meets with his contact, Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), Hans gives him the runaround and refuses to pay him. This is where the plot kind of lost me. Chinese assassins are trying to kill Shatter, but I don’t know how they fit it exactly. Peter Cushing (in his final appearance for Hammer) and some goons show up to intimidate/beat up Shatter for some reason, and this is where Ti Lung and Lily Li enter the story. They take Shatter in to help him recuperate, and then magically Lily Li is deeply in love with him and Ti Lung is ready to risk his life for Shatter’s cause (which as far as I could tell was just to get paid). I don’t really understand why any of that happens, but it does.

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Supermen Against the Orient (1974)

supermenagainsttheorient_1Supermen Against the Orient [Crash! Che botte… strippo strappo stroppio, 四王一后] (1974)
AKA Three Supermen Vs The Orient, Three Fantastic Supermen in the Orient

Starring Robert Malcolm, Antonio Cantafora, Salvatore Borghese, Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Tung Lam, Alberto Farnese, Jacques Dufilho, Isabella Biagini, Kong Ling, Lau Wai-Ling, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chan Ho

Directed by Bitto Albertini (with an uncredited assist from Kuei Chi-Hung)

Expectations: Super low.

onestar


No one expects to like every movie they watch, but I generally enjoy most Shaw Brothers films, even the ones that don’t really capture me. I have enough affection for the studio, its stars, and its production style to get me through a boring film. For better or worse, that’s how it is. So it’s surprising when I run into one that I pretty much hate. To be fair, there are some things that I liked about this co-production with Italy’s INDIEF, but overall Supermen Against the Orient has to be one of the worst Shaw films I’ve seen. At least it’s only barely a Shaw Brothers movie, which is partly why it didn’t play well for me.

In 1967, Gianfranco Parolini directed The Three Fantastic Supermen, and it was so popular that it spawned an entire franchise. I’ve heard of them, but this is the first I’ve seen. From what I can tell, it’s a loose series, swapping out characters and actors regularly, but there is a core framework that remains constant. Similar to James Bond, our main character is an FBI Agent who is sent to far-off exotic locales to thwart some kind of devious behavior. Along the way he teams up with a pair of well-meaning thieves who possess bulletproof super suits, and together they all save the day from the bad guys. This vague description of the formula can also serve as a plot description for Supermen Against the Orient, since none of the specifics about the villains or what they’re doing actually matter. There’s a drug deal and some kidnapped people, but I couldn’t tell you much else about why everything was happening.

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

legendof7goldenvampires_1The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires [七金屍] (1974)
AKA The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, Dracula and the 7 Golden Vampires

Starring Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, Shih Szu, Chan Shen, Lau Kar-Wing, Huang Pei-Chih, John Forbes-Robertson, Tino Wong Cheung, James Ma Chim-Si, Wynn Lau Chun-Fai, Ho Kei-Cheong, Wang Han-Chen, Lau Wai-Ling, Robert Hanna

Directed by Roy Ward Baker (with an uncredited assist from Chang Cheh)

Expectations: Been looking forward to revisiting this for a while now.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


What a difference a few years makes. When I first reviewed The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Silver Emulsion was only six months old, I had never seen a Hammer horror or a David Chiang film, I had no idea who Shih Szu or Chan Shen was, and I definitely couldn’t recognize Lau Kar-Wing on sight. If I remember right, my main takeaway was that it was OK, but nothing special, and that I wanted to watch some actual Hammer films. This initial reaction is a great example of why I set out about reviewing the Shaw films chronologically.

Taken as a single film, it’s true, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires isn’t anything all that special. It is a watered-down Shaw film, mixed with watered-down Hammer elements, and I can understand it not resonating with staunch fans of either studio. But within the context of the Shaw output of the time, along with an understanding and appreciation of the Gothic Hammer feeling, the mixture adds up to one very fun, fast-paced film filled with thrills. I only see my love for this film growing with each successive viewing.

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Virgins of the Seven Seas (1974)

VirginsoftheSevenSeas_1Virgins of the Seven Seas [洋妓, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen] (1974)
AKA The Bod Squad, Enter the Seven Virgins, Foreign Prostitutes

Starring Sonja Jeannine, Diana Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Yueh Hua, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Li Min-Lang, Kong Yeung, Wang Han-Chen, Law Hon, Chan Lap-Ban, Chu Yau-Ko, Sai Gwa-Pau, Aai Dung-Gwa

Directed by Ernst Hofbauer & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Low. I’m expecting something trashy.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


In addition to being the year of newfound freedom, 1974 was the year that the Shaw Brothers invested heavily in partnering up with other international studios to co-produce films. They had done a few films like this scattered throughout the years (their first being the 1961 comedy The Three Ladies of Hong Kong, produced with Toho), but there were seven co-productions in 1974 alone! I imagine they had hopes of reaching new markets with these films, perhaps in an attempt to replicate what Golden Harvest & Warner Bros. had done with Enter the Dragon. Virgins of the Seven Seas is the second Shaw co-production I’ve seen, and it also holds the distinction of being the trashiest Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen yet. And to be honest, I don’t know that I expect any future film to unseat it!

The film features a simple tale of human trafficking and revenge, but mostly it features a lot of nudity. These poor actresses spend almost the entire film topless, tied up or having simulated attempted rapes inflicted upon them; I can’t imagine it was a great filmmaking experience for them. But these are the sacrifices you have to make when filming a movie about five German women kidnapped by pirates who learn kung fu and take revenge on their captors. The film is not shy about being as trashy as it wants to be, but I must admit that the nearly non-stop nudity does give the film a quality of reality that it would not otherwise have. Is it gratuitous? Of course, but because of the gratuity and the relentless aggression of the villains, the women’s fear and vulnerability never left my mind. The film is an exploitation sex comedy with kung fu, so it’s about as far from a message movie as you can get, but regardless it made me reckon with the horrors of human trafficking and the the victims of the sex trade in a heightened, visceral manner.

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