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 Condemned (1976)

The Condemned [死囚] (1976)

Starring David Chiang, Tsai Hung, Lily Li Li-Li, Ku Feng, Woo Gam, Pai Ying, Kong Yeung, Chan Shen, Yuen Sam, Wong Ching, Shum Lo, Lee Hoi-Sang

Directed by David Chiang

Expectations: Moderate.


At first, The Condemned seems like it will be another in a long line of martial arts films where a hero comes to town and vanquishes the area’s marauding bandits. That is essentially what ends up happening, but the road there is far different than just about any other Shaw film I can think of. Ni Kuang has crafted yet another excellent script, and director David Chiang translates it to the screen quite effectively. It offers a rare starring role to one of my beloved supporting actors, Tsai Hung, and the interplay he has with David Chiang is thrilling to watch. Thanks to all of this, The Condemned is a real hidden gem of a film waiting for a new audience to rediscover it.

Feng Dagang (Tsai Hung) is a righteous martial artist who has been sent by his master to help Mr. Xue (Yuen Sam) with an especially nasty group of bandits. These guys rape, pillage and cause all sorts of mayhem at will, so it will be quite a task to defeat them. Mr. Xue is saddened that only the student has arrived to aid him, and he’s disheartened that Feng will remedy the problem sufficiently. But when the bandits attack Mr. Xue’s home, Feng proves himself to be a stalwart and capable fighter. The only problem is that when the police arrive, the situation looks as if Feng has been the perpetrator of all the death and violence in the Xue home.

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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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The Fantastic Magic Baby (1975)

The Fantastic Magic Baby [紅孩兒] (1975)

Starring Ting Wa-Chung, Lau Chung-Chun, Chiang Tao, Cheung Chuen-Lai, Woo Gam, Tsai Hung, Fung Hak-On, Ku Kwan, Teng Jue-Jen, Chen I-Ho, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Chao Li-Chuan, Siu Wong-Lung, Lee Lung-Yam, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. Chang Cheh and Journey to the West!


In a career full of intriguing and entertaining films, Chang Cheh’s The Fantastic Magic Baby is one of his most interesting and unique. On the surface, it is an adaptation of a story from the Chinese classic Journey to the West, but it quickly reveals itself to be much more than that. Like Chang’s Shaolin Cycle films, The Fantastic Magic Baby honors and preserves the legacy of a Chinese tradition, showcasing the beautiful movements of the Peking Opera as only a Chang Cheh film could.

For those unfamiliar with Journey to the West, the basics are all present in the film. The Monk Tripitaka (Teng Jue-Jen) is traveling to retrieve sacred Buddhist scriptures from India with his companions Sun Wukong the Monkey King (Lau Chung-Chun), Bajie AKA Pigsy (Chen I-Ho) and Sha Seng AKA Sandy (Yeung Fui-Yuk). Demons and other devious entities catch wind of their travels and seek to imprison them in order to eat the monk’s flesh, which can supposedly prolong their lives 1,000 years. In this particular story, it is Princess Iron Fan (Woo Gam) and the Ox Demon King (Chiang Tao) who desire the monk’s flesh. They send their son Red Boy (Ting Wa-Chung) — the fantastic magic baby of the title — to capture Tripitaka for their pleasure. Red Boy is perfect for the mission because he has recently mastered the Three Types of True Fire, which are so powerful that not even the Monkey King can withstand them.
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Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

fiveshaolinmasters_1Five Shaolin Masters [少林五祖] (1974)
AKA Five Masters of Death

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Mang Fei, Leung Kar-Yan, Fung Hak-On, Tsai Hung, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Chiang Tao, Li Chen-Piao, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui, Lo Dik, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: The highest. Chang’s Shaolin Cycle is dope.

threehalfstar


Like Heroes Two and Men from the Monastery, Five Shaolin Masters tells a tale about refugees from the burning of the Shaolin Temple. Hung Hsi-Kuan and Fong Sai-Yuk ended up in Kwangtung in the south of China, but the heroes of Five Shaolin Masters fled north to Central China. Structurally, the film also takes a page from Shaolin Martial Arts in that our five heroes must train tirelessly to defeat seemingly invincible enemies. And like this suggests, Five Shaolin Masters ends up feeling like a blended version of all of Chang Cheh’s previous Shaolin Cycle films.

Due to this repetition of themes and structure, Five Shaolin Masters does not reach the heights of either Heroes Two or Shaolin Martial Arts, though it does come close thanks to power of the action. The complexity and dynamism of the choreography by Lau Kar-Leung and his brother Lau Kar-Wing bring the film’s relentless action to brilliant life, culminating in the five stunning, concurrent fights that make up the film’s finale. This is pure martial bliss, and I can’t imagine a martial arts film fan not getting a huge jolt of enthusiasm from this lengthy section of the film, if not the whole thing.

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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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The Big Fellow (1973)

TheBigFellow_1The Big Fellow [龍虎地頭蛇] (1973)

Starring Charles Heung, Suen Ga-Lam, Chen Ming-Li, Tsai Hung, Cliff Ching Ching, Hsu Tian-De, Leung Fung, Lam Chung, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Ching Kau-Lung, Lee Yung-Wai

Directed by Wu Min-Hsiung

Expectations: None. I guess I expect the fellow to be big, but beyond that…

twostar


1973 was a great year for Hong Kong films, but that’s no thanks to The Big Fellow. It’s not that it’s especially bad, it’s just incredibly generic. There is absolutely no attempt to develop the main character; he is merely a dude that knows kung fu who wants a job. That’s literally all we ever know about this guy! They don’t develop the other people either, but for a main character I thought it was quite a feat to go through 90 minutes and still only know the one thing you learn about the guy in the first minute. To say The Big Fellow isn’t intellectually stimulating is a major understatement. The film exists purely to guide this shapeless character through a series of fights, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing in a kung fu movie, it’s hard to sit through 90 minutes of that when the choreography is less than stellar.

There is a story here, though, it’s not much of one, but it is present. Basically, our hero gets a job on the docks and he angers the triad guys there, so they frame him for murder. Pretty standard stuff. It also rips off The Big Boss a bit by having a big boss orchestrating everything that must be defeated at the end. The major difference is that the big boss here is present throughout nearly the entire film. The film also seems to be titled after him, but when you plug the film title’s Chinese characters into the always completely accurate Google Translate it comes out as Dragon and Tiger Snakes. I’m gonna guess the English title was mistranslated/specifically changed to emulate The Big Boss.

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