Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent, Karen Mok, Ewen Bremner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sammo Hung, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Daniel Wu, Kengo Watanabe, Maggie Q, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Will Forte, Kathy Bates, Robert Fyfe, Ian McNeice, David Ryall, Roger Hammond, Adam Godley

Directed by Frank Coraci

Expectations: Low, but it has Jackie and an Arnold cameo, so…


I haven’t seen the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days since I was a kid, but my initial feeling was that it didn’t seem like something that lends itself to Jackie Chan. But this new version isn’t so much a remake as it is a complete fantasy/steampunk re-imagining with Jackie Chan’s style in mind from the genesis. A new sub-plot focuses on bringing Jackie’s talents to the forefront, and while it definitely isn’t the most inspired story line, it’s more than enough to entertain and justify the stunts and fights we all look for in a Jackie movie. Fans of the novel and the classic, Oscar-winning film will likely be disappointed by this re-telling, but I feel like fans of Jackie might really enjoy themselves if they click with the film’s comedic style (which probably skews a bit younger than Jackie’s other US films). I know I did, and to be honest I was expecting a total stinker!

Passepartout (Jackie Chan) robs a precious Jade Buddha from the Bank of England and is in need of shelter. He finds it with Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), an inventor with a rich, creative mind for science. Fogg lacks much life experience “outside the lab,” though, rarely venturing from his home. One of the few places he frequents is the Royal Academy of Science, where he’s regularly laughed at and thought of as an eccentric thinker who lacks the practicality to be useful to the field of science. In a bid to rid themselves of him, the head of the academy, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), bets Fogg that his calculation of being able to circumnavigate the world in 80 days is incorrect. The stakes are immense: if Fogg wins, he becomes head of the academy, but if he loses he must give up inventing for the rest of his life. Oh, and a bunch of henchmen are in pursuit of Jackie and his Jade Buddha the whole time, further complicating their travels.

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The Jade Faced Assassin (1971)

JadeFacedAssassin+1971-38-bThe Jade Faced Assassin [玉面俠] (1971)
AKA And the Twain Shall Meet

Starring Lily Ho Li Li, Kao Yuen, Ku Feng, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Irene Chen Yi-Ling, Essie Lin Chia, Chai No, Yen Chun

Directed by Yen Chun

Expectations: Moderate. The Iron Buddha was a lot of fun.

twohalfstar


The Jade Faced Assassin is a movie that knows exactly what it is. It doesn’t try to pretend like it’s an action film, it instead trades solely in wuxia betrayals and convoluted story beats. The Jade Faced Assassin is wuxia in the old tradition, except where a lot of those older films were clumsily told and altogether boring, The Jade Faced Assassin is pretty fun if you dig what it’s selling. That could probably be said for most movies, but I feel it’s especially true when we’re dealing with old school wuxia and a Western audience. You simply must know what you’re getting yourself into.

Anyway, The Jade Faced Assassin tells a pretty standard tale of martial intrigue, this time involving yet another stolen martial arts manual and a pair of infant twins separated and raised by competing clans. Our hero, Lily Ho, was cared for by the heroic Ku Feng, but he was assaulted and injured badly in the bandit infested “Happy Town.” The bandits raised Lily Ho as their own, teaching her every technique they knew, trying to create something of an über bandit. But their plan backfires as she’s simply not cut out for the bandit lifestyle, so when she’s of age she leaves in search of vengeance for her murdered parents. Along the way she meets up with a number of colorful characters (as is to be expected in a wuxia film), and has a rollicking, fun adventure.

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Swordswomen Three (1970)

Swordswomen Three [江湖三女俠] (1970)

Starring Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi, Lo Lieh, Chang Yi, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Wong Chung-Shun, Fang Mian, Liu Wai, Yeung Chi Hing, Lee Wan Chung, Tsang Choh-Lam, Hao Li-Jen, Suen Lam, Lee Siu-Chung

Directed by Shen Chiang

Expectations: High. The Winged Tiger was super fun.


While Swordswomen Three starts off with a lot of promise, it never successfully tells a compelling story or delivers the action thrills you’re expecting. This was Shen Chiang’s third film (and second martial arts film), but it’s riddled with all kinds of horrible storytelling and editing, making portions of the story nearly unintelligible. I’m somewhat prone to missing things in movies if I’m not entirely engaged, but there was one section of this movie that I literally rewound about five times and still didn’t have a clear understanding of what happened. The only answer is that it’s just poorly made, and in this specific case, it was mostly the editing that confused me.

Swordwomen Three tries to tell the story of two battling martial arts clans, one with the title of the Number One Clan from a recent tournament held every decade, and the other led by an upstart Lo Lieh who will stop at nothing to take the title from the other clan. He doesn’t want to wait till the next tournament because he doesn’t need to, he’ll just murder the other clan and everyone will obviously know he’s the best. Standing in his way, though, are the three swordswomen sisters of the title (played by Essie Lin Chia, Shen Yi and Violet Pan Ying-Zi). Also on the side of good is Chang Yi, the son of the master of the leading martial clan, and friend to the swordswomen.

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The One-Armed Swordsman (1967)

The One Armed Swordsman [獨臂刀] (1967)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Tien Feng, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Yeung Chi Hing, Tang Ti, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Sai-Git, Cheung Pooi-Saan, Ku Feng, Tang Chia, Lau Kar-Leung

Directed by Chang Cheh


OK, Chang Cheh just threw down the motherfuckin’ gauntlet! Every Shaw Brothers release up to this point is null and void, this is where the shit gets real. Taking a massive leap forward from his previous film, Trail of the Broken Blade, The One-Armed Swordsman comes off as not only a genre-defining masterpiece, but a career defining move by Chang Cheh. The loose threads of his later style glimpsed briefly in Trail of the Broken Blade are brought out here in their full glory, removing every last element of Chinese opera and replacing it with straight up badass iconic imagery and scenes.

Jimmy Wang Yu plays Fang Kang, the son of a servant who died defending his master Qi Ru Feng. Qi takes the boy in and raises him as a student of the sword, but he is looked down upon by his fellow students and Qi’s daughter. They confront him in the snowy field outside the school, one thing leads to another, and Fang’s arm is quickly reddening the snow. Distraught, he runs into the night, only to collapse into the boat of a country maiden who nurses him back to health.

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Mini-Review: The Magnificent Trio (1966)

The Magnificent Trio [邊城三俠] (1966)

Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Cheng Lui, Chin Ping, Margaret Tu Chuan, Fanny Fan Lai, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Lui Ming, Chen Hung Lieh, Tien Feng, Lee Wan Chung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: Moderate.


Only the second martial arts film directed by Chang Cheh (the first being the lost black and white film Tiger Boy), The Magnificent Trio delivers glimpses of many traits that would carry Chang directly to the top within the Shaw Brothers studio. Don’t go in expecting copious bloodletting though, as what’s here is all fairly minor compared to what came later. Even still, The Magnificent Trio is a mostly engaging martial drama about a group of oppressed farmers that kidnap the daughter of the county magistrate. They are aided by a hero returning home from war (Jimmy Wang Yu) and eventually by two more (Lo Lieh & Cheng Lui) in their struggle for equality among the fields.

Together with The Knight of Knights, The Magnificent Trio explores the heroic bloodshed and brotherly bonds of combat that would become staples of Cheng Cheh’s later, more popular works. The Magnificent Trio is one of the better of these early Shaw efforts thanks to this and Chang’s solid direction. Even with only a couple of previous films under his belt, Chang shows that he has a firm grasp on how to shoot action sequences, letting the choreography play out in front of a well-placed moving camera. The editing works hand-in-hand with the camera, highlighting the action in all the right places. The first forty minutes are a little dry, but it gets a lot more fun after that, as Jimmy Wang Yu surrenders himself which allows for some fun rescue action.

Genre fans will definitely want to check this one out, but newcomers will be better served by a later, more exciting Chang Cheh film.




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