Village of Tigers (1974)

villageoftigers_4Village of Tigers [惡虎村] (1974)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shu Pei-Pei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Tung Lam, Wang Hsieh, Tang Ti, Chan Shen, Ng Wai, Tung Li, Tong Tin-Hei, Chan Ho, Lan Wei-Lieh, Wan Chung-Shan

Directed by Griffin Yueh Feng & Wong Ping

Expectations: Moderate, but I generally like Griffin Yueh Feng’s work.

twohalfstar


My chronological review series of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films enters 1974 not with a bang but a whimper. Well, whimper is probably a little strong. Village of Tigers is relatively entertaining, but a 79-minute movie should never feel as long as this one does. Its problems are myriad, its intrigue is slight; it’s the kind of wuxia to see when you’ve exhausted a lot of the better options. The finale is of markedly better quality than the rest of the movie, but even this is not enough to save this rather sedate wuxia from mediocrity.

The story’s lack of focus is one of its major issues, and I could easily describe most of the movie in an attempt to provide even a quick summary. Basically, the titular Village of Tigers is the home to a huge group of bandits who like to go around and pillage. On this particular day, they’re concerned with bumping off the Sword of the Southern Sky, Luo Hong-Xun (Yueh Hua). Meanwhile, Bao Ying Hua (Karen Yip Leng-Chi) is on her way to Wild Date Peak for her grandma’s birthday party, and 9th Miss (Shu Pei-Pei), Bao’s cousin, has discovered that her brother Ba Jie (Tung Li) is in league with the bandits holed up at the Village of Tigers.

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Wrath of the Sword (1970)

wrathofthesword_1Wrath of the Sword [怒劍狂刀] (1970)

Starring Tang Ching, Shu Pei-Pei, Sek Kin, Chiang Nan, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Yip Ching, Lan Wei-Lieh, Wu Ma

Directed by Wu Ma

Expectations: Fairly high.

twostar


I had high hopes that Wrath of the Sword would be some kind of unsung hidden gem of martial arts cinema. Instead, as the film went on it only became more apparent why Wrath of the Sword wasn’t well known. It’s not a horrible movie — it does entertain — but it has little in the way of originality or flair. Wrath of the Sword simply exists, and for martial arts fans these days, when hundreds upon hundreds of films are readily available, that is definitely not enough. Evidently it wasn’t enough in 1970 either, though, as the film tanked at the box office. Placed into context against the Shaw catalog, Wrath of the Sword came out in-between Vengeance! and The Twelve Gold Medallions, a place that no film would want to be, let alone a mediocre one.

As you might guess, Wrath of the Sword tells an uninspired story told better in many similar wuxia films. The film opens with the massacre of the Bai family, but one descendant remains: Bai Ying (Shu Pei-Pei), and she’s out for vengeance. For unexplained reasons a mysterious swordsman, Yu Qing-Hua (Tang Ching), seems intent on helping Bai Ying on her mission, but as he points out to her, she doesn’t even know who her enemies are. Good thing those evil bastards aren’t shy at all, ambushing Bai Ying whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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The Imperial Swordsman (1972)

imperialswordsman_1The Imperial Swordsman [大內高手] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Chuen Yuen, Yue Wai, Cheng Miu, Tung Li, Lee Wan-Chung, Tang Ti, Wong Chung-Shun, Liu Wai, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Kam Kong, Woo Wai, Siu Wa, Ma Ying, Tong Tin-Hei

Directed by Lin Fu-Ti

Expectations: High.

threestar


The Imperial Swordsman is a seriously ambitious film, one that reaches so high that it would be almost impossible to achieve what it sets out to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Shaws saw this film as something of a test run for more ambitious FX-filled films that would follow in its wake. As such, it showcases some excellent and beautiful model work that helps to broaden the scale of the film immensely, setting the scene with grand fortresses built atop mountain cliffs that tower above deep, flowing rivers.

Set during the Ming Dynasty, the emperor has learned that one of his own is working with the Mongolians in an attempt to invade China and take over the country. To stop this devious plot, the four imperial swordsmen (played by Shu Pei-Pei, Yue Wai, Lee Wan-Chung & Liu Wai) are deployed to recover evidence of the traitor and bring him to justice while he’s traveling. The Chief Imperial Inspector Yin Shu-Tang (Chuen Yuen) has already been working in the area, so they are to join up with him and thwart the traitor (who is hoping to hideout with his bandit buddies in their mountain fortress).

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The 14 Amazons (1972)

14amazons_1The 14 Amazons [十四女英豪] (1972)

Starring Ivy Ling Po, Lisa Lu, Lily Ho Li-Li, Yueh Hua, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung-Shun, Lo Lieh, Tien Feng, Wang Hsieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Wang Ping, Lau Ng-Kei, Karen Yip Leng-Chi, Li Ching, Tina Chin Fei, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wong Gam-Fung, Betty Ting Pei, Teresa Ha Ping, Chen Yan-Yan, Lin Jing, Bolo Yeung, Goo Man-Chung, James Nam Gung-Fan, Tin Ching, Paul Chun Pui, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheng Miu, Chung Wa

Directed by Cheng Kang

Expectations: Very high. This is one of the greats, right?

fourstar


The 14 Amazons is a true Shaw epic, bringing together a large ensemble cast and a well-known, classic Chinese tale just like The Water Margin had done a few months earlier in 1972. The two films are epics of different proportions, though, and feel almost nothing alike. Where The Water Margin is a small slice of a larger tale (and it feels it), The 14 Amazons feels meatier and more contained (even though it is also part of a larger story). But to compare the two films is wrongheaded, as they complement each other instead of being in competition.

The 14 Amazons is based on the Generals of the Yang family group of stories that have been passed down through Chinese culture since as early as the 11th century. The film specifically tells the story of how the Yang family defended the western Song borders from the invading barbarians from Western Xia. We open on the battlefield as Commander Yang Tsung Pao (Chung Wa) is wounded and cornered without many options. Understanding his fate, he sends two of his generals, Chiao Ting Kuai (Fan Mei-Sheng) & Meng Huai Yuan (Wong Chung-Shun), to travel home to inform his family of his death and to ask for more troops to be sent to the border. They comply against their wishes to stay and help him, and here the film introduces us to the titular female characters.

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The Devil’s Mirror (1972)

devilsmirror_8The Devil’s Mirror [風雷魔鏡] (1972)

Starring Shu Pei-Pei, Lau Dan, Lee Ga-Sai, Wang Hsieh, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Chan Shen, Tong Tin-Hei, Lee Ho, Chai No, Shum Lo, Law Hon, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yau Ming, Lei Lung

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: High. The Avenging Eagle is one of my favorite Shaw films, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of director Sun Chung in this review series.

threehalfstar


The Devil’s Mirror is a wuxia film that takes the supernatural roots of the genre, laces them with a heavy dollop of black magic and goes for broke. It is one of the most fun films I’ve seen yet on my chronological course through the Shaw Bros. martial arts catalog, but yet somehow it was not a success upon its initial release. I guess Hong Kong audiences weren’t ready for disfiguring curses caused by consuming corpse worm pills and an evil witch with a third eye as the main villain. Their loss.

The Devil’s Mirror opens with a large assembly of clans. These clans have pledged to disperse all evil in the land and uphold justice, but there is one major thorn in all of their sides: the Jiuxuan witch and her Bloody Ghouls clan. Many virtuous heroes have gone missing and her ultimate plan is to steal the Wind Magic Mirror and the Thunder Magic Mirror — which, according to their current owner, will cause “rays of cosmic power” when used together — so that she can open the Emperor’s tomb. There she will retrieve the Fish Intestines Sword and the Thousand Years Ganoderma and then no one will be able to defeat her! Now it’s up to couple of wily 20-something kids, Wen Jianfeng (Lau Dan) and Bai Xiaofeng (Shu Pei-Pei) to unravel the witch’s schemes and stop her before it’s too late!

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Master with Cracked Fingers (1979)

masterwithcrackedfingers_1Master with Cracked Fingers [刁手怪招] (1979)
AKA The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Simon Yuen Siu-Tin, Kwan Yung-Moon, Chiang Kam, Tien Feng, Shu Pei-Pei, Chen Hung-Lieh, Dean Shek Tin, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam, Tiu Yun-Ban, Cheung Sek-Aau

Directed by Gam Yam

Expectations: Curious.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


Master with Cracked Fingers really has no place in the spotlight along with Jackie Chan’s proper films, but I thought it would be worth a look for a couple of reasons. It was a film always readily available during Jackie’s late-’90s period of high fame in the US, so there’s bound to be thousands of copies out there littering thrift store shelves. I also kicked off my Jackie Chan series with his first starring role, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung, and since that’s the movie that’s getting cannibalized to make this one, I thought it would be an interesting endeavor to see how it was butchered, and perhaps if the added scenes made it better or worse. I enjoyed that film for what it was, but there was definitely room for improvement.

The changes made for Master with Cracked Fingers are interesting, and they are clearly made in the effort of transforming an early-’70s serious kung fu movie into a late-’70s kung fu comedy. In this way, the two films seen side by side are something of a quick and dirty history lesson on just how much the genre had changed over the eight years in-between the two releases. Now, instead of Jackie’s character merely practicing kung fu on his own or with his sister, he is trained by Simon Yuen himself! This is facilitated by a few added scenes at the beginning, with Jackie as a child of about eight or nine years old. Too poor to afford proper kung fu lessons, he enlists the help of an old beggar who promptly asks Jackie to meet him in the forest in the middle of the night. And what does he ask Jackie to do once he gets there? Take off all his clothes and jump into a burlap sack full of snakes and other scary critters, of course! Yikes!

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The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung (1973)

cub tiger 150 dpiThe Cub Tiger from Kwangtung [廣東小老虎] (1973)
AKA Little Tiger from Kwantung, Little Tiger of Canton, Master with Cracked Fingers, Snake Fist Fighter, Ten Fingers of Death, Marvellous Fists

Starring Jackie Chan, Chen Hung Lieh, Shu Pei-Pei, Tien Feng, Hon Gwok-Choi, Ma Chien-Tang, Kwan Chung, Tai San, Hui Gam

Directed by Ngai Hoi-Fung

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


So it begins. The long-awaited and exciting chronological review series of the films of Jackie Chan. Words cannot express how excited I am to finally do this, as Jackie Chan is simply one of the most important film figures to me as an audience member. He is single-handedly responsible for my Hong Kong movie obsession, stemming directly from the US release of Rumble in the Bronx, and his love and homage to Buster Keaton through his own crazy stunts led me to discover silent films and delve deep into classic cinema during my teenage years. I simply wouldn’t be the same person without Jackie Chan films (and Uncle Jasper’s friendship and well-established HK movie collection), so the series is loaded with a lot of emotion for me.

But much of that emotion will have to be held back until later films, as it took this Jacky a while to develop into the Jackie we know and love today. The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung was his first starring role, but it had something of a strange release. Filmed in 1971 when Jackie was a tender, stubble-faced 17-year-old, but held for release until 1973, The Cub Tiger from Kwangtung did not light the world on fire. In fact, its release in 1973 was supposedly so small and limited that many never saw it and it is regarded as one of the rarer Jackie Chan films. After he became a sensation in the late ’70s, the film was re-cut with brand new, non-Jackie footage to create the “new” film, Master with Cracked Fingers, and that’s the version most Chan fans have likely seen of the film. God knows it’s been on too many budget-priced Jackie collections to count. But this review is for the original release version, unearthed and released to DVD a few years back in absolutely horrific print quality. Good thing I cut my teeth on equally dodgy HK bootlegs!

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