All Men Are Brothers (1975)

All Men Are Brothers [蕩寇誌] (1975)
AKA Seven Soldiers of Kung Fu, Seven Blows of the Dragon II, Seven Kung Fu Assassins

Starring David Chiang, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Wong Chung, Danny Lee, Wang Kuang-Yu, Yue Fung, Ti Lung, Chu Mu, Tin Ching, Tung Lam, Chen Feng-Chen, Bolo Yeung, Lau Gong, Wong Ching, Chang Yang, Betty Chung, Ku Feng, Tetsuro Tamba, Chin Feng, Chen Wo-Fu, Michael Chan Wai-Man, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan

Directed by Chang Cheh & Wu Ma

Expectations: Super high! A sequel to one of my all-time favorite Shaw films? Yes, please!


The Water Margin is one of my all-time favorite Shaw Brothers films (along with all of Shaw’s other films based on the classic Chinese novel —  Delightful Forest, Pursuit, and to a lesser extent The Amorous Lotus Pan and Chang’s segment in Trilogy of Swordsmanship), so All Men Are Brothers had a lot to live up to. The key to my immense affection for each film lies in how they all carry their own style and are therefore able to stand on their own in companionship with the other films, like the 108 Liang Shan bandits themselves. All Men Are Brothers is another very welcome addition to this lineup, taking its own path along the way to dramatizing a section of the illustrious book.

All of the previous films dealt with chapters from either the beginning or the middle of the book, but All Men Are Brothers seeks to tell the end of the tale. It takes material mostly from Chapters 90–100 (out of 100 total chapters), which deal with the redemption of the outlaws through their struggle to defeat the rebellious Fang La and his generals. A couple of flashbacks tell earlier tales to provide some character depth, and the film opens with Yan Qing’s procurement of the bandits’ pardon from the emperor (which is detailed in Chapter 81), but the film is mostly concerned with bringing everything to a close.

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Five Tough Guys (1974)

fivetoughguys_1Five Tough Guys [五大漢] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Hellcats

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Wai Wang, Shut Chung-Tin, Fan Mei-Sheng, Wong Chung, Ku Feng, Lily Ho Li-Li, Ling Yun, Omae Hitoshi, Tung Lam, Cheng Miu, Wong Ching, Yeung Chi-Hing, Kong Yeung, Yeung Chak-Lam, Cheng Kang-Yeh

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Low, but the title is fun.

twohalfstar


There is an abundance of promise in Five Tough Guys. A dense, unique script from the illustrious Ni Kuang deals with the changing times when guns supplanted the years of training and expertise of kung fu masters. A group of excellent actors fill the roles, with superstar Chen Kuan-Tai heading up the cast, Ku Feng as the main antagonist, and Fan Mei-Sheng’s best role since The Water Margin. And the fights are choreographed by the experienced and notable pair of Lau Kar-Wing (brother of Lau Kar-Leung) and Huang Pei-Chih (brother of Tang Chia). The elements for a great film are clearly here, but unfortunately director Pao Hsueh-Li fails to bring them together into a cohesive package.

Like many of Ni Kuang’s scripts from this era, Five Tough Guys is based in part on Chinese history. The story is set during the early days of the Republic of China (around 1915), centered around General Tsai Song-Po (Ling Yun) and his rebellion against General Yuan Shikai. Yuan was the first formal president of the Republic of China, but at the time depicted in the film he was also attempting to restore monarchy to China by naming himself Emperor. He would eventually do this, which led to the National Protection War, but these events don’t occur during the course of Five Tough Guys. The film is just focused on the flight of General Tsai through enemy territory so that he can forward the rebellion’s cause.

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Spirit of the Raped (1976)

spiritoftheraped_1Spirit of the Raped [索命] (1976)

Starring Liu Wu-Chi, Tung Lam, Wong Yu, Wong Chung, Wang Hsieh, Teresa Ha Ping, Tin Ching, Lau Wai-Ling, Chan Lap-Ban, Lam Wai-Tiu

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Kuei Chih-Hung! I hope it’s great.

threehalfstar


Spirit of the Raped couldn’t be a more perfect contrast to last week’s Shaw film, Night of the Devil Bride. The two films share a ton of broad similarities, but where Devil Bride was disappointing and unfocused, Spirit of the Raped made good on all of its promises and puts the sympathetic character front and center to heighten our emotional engagement. Not that movies can’t experiment with their object of focus, it’s just that some films need a certain something to stand on their own. In any case, Spirit of the Raped is a great film from Kuei Chih-Hung, and one that foreshadows the gooey, gross-out territory he would later explore and define in Bewitched and The Boxer’s Omen.

Liu Miao-Li (Liu Wu-Chi) and Chen Liang (Lam Wai-Tiu) are a young couple riding in the back of a minibus. They’re excited to be married soon, and Liu has just informed Chen that they’re also expecting a child! Their whole lives are ahead of them, until just a few minutes later when a trio of thugs rob the minibus. One of the criminals (Wong Chung) finds a stash of money the couple were trying to hide, so he kills Chen with a heartless blow to his neck. Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of Liu’s horrendous misfortune.

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The Drug Addict (1974)

drugaddict_1The Drug Addict [吸毒者] (1974)
AKA The Drug Addicts

Starring Ti Lung, Wong Chung, Louise Lee Si-Kei, Paul Chun Pui, Lo Dik, Chiang Tao, Lee Hoi-Sang, Fung Ngai, Ling Fung, Tang Tak-Cheung

Directed by David Chiang

Expectations: I’m curious to see how David Chiang is as a director.

threestar


1974 was a year of newfound freedom for the biggest stars in the Shaw stable. Chang Cheh established Chang’s Film Co. in Taiwan, and coinciding with that he gave his biggest stars a shot at directing their own films. The Drug Addict was David Chiang’s debut in the director’s chair, but if you didn’t know it, you might think he already had a number of films under his belt. It has its issues, but it largely overcomes them by delivering effective and engaging drama. Chiang went on to direct another 14 films over the next 21 years, so I think it’s safe to say that directing fit well with his personality.

The Drug Addict opens in a slum filled with fiending junkies and filth. Tseng Chien (Wong Chung) is a drug dealer delivering a package when a distraught and strung-out Kuan Cheng-Chun (Ti Lung) asks him to lend him some dope so he can get a fix. When asking doesn’t win Tseng over, Kuan turns to more violent methods. It’s nothing savage or with any real malicious intent behind it, his actions are driven by the intense desire to get a fix at any cost. Even when Tseng calls Kuan less than human and a dog, Kuan merely agrees, hoping that he might agree his way into Tseng’s generosity. Instead, the struggle represents the final straw that pushes Tseng into acting on his misgivings about his profession, so he takes Kuan by force, locks him in a room Man with the Golden Arm-style, and helps him get his life back as a martial arts instructor.

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The Savage Five (1974)

savagefive_12The Savage Five [五虎將] (1974)
AKA The Savage 5

Starring David Chiang, Ti Lung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Danny Lee, Wong Chung, Wai Wang, Wong Ching, Chiang Tao, Wong Bing-Bing, Lo Dik, Wang Kuang-Yu, Norman Chu Siu-Keung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. Chang Cheh!

threehalfstar


The Savage Five is yet another in a large group of fantastic films from director Chang Cheh. Contrary to last week’s film, Heroes Two, The Savage Five is not a film focused on kung fu. Martial arts are present and integral to the story, but those looking for unforgettable hand-to-hand battles will be better served by other films (such as Heroes Two!). The Savage Five works instead because it is intense and emotional, presenting an engaging story with compelling characters brought to life through exceptionally well-acted performances. It’s a small-scale film, but it is quite well-executed and all the more potent for its movement away from the style of Chang Cheh’s epics.

The story is something of a variation on The Seven Samurai, if the bandits never left the town, and the heroes had to rise from the ranks of the townspeople. This is oversimplifying it, but it’s probably the quickest way to describe the film’s dynamics. But The Savage Five takes shape through its characters and how they interact with each other, so while the story may be somewhat familiar in broad strokes, it is far more interesting and less derivative than my description may sound.

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Police Force (1973)

PoliceForce_1Police Force [警察] (1973)

Starring Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Alexander Fu Sheng, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Wang Kuang-Yu, Wong Shu-Tong, Tung Lam, Fung Hak-On

Directed by Chang Cheh & Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun

Expectations: Moderate.

twohalfstar


It’s never nice when a film pulls a bait-and-switch, but Police Force is one such film. It’s possible that I was an accomplice in this, though, because as soon as I saw Alexander Fu Sheng kicking ass in a karate tournament I got so revved up that anything short of a kung fu barn-burner might have disappointed. But Police Force is only an action film some of the time, and even then a fair portion of the action is more gun-based police stuff than straight kung fu.

Fu Sheng plays a karate master (or a “Karate Kid” as the villain calls him 🙂 ) who is inexplicably singled out by Kao Tu (Wang Kuang-Yu), a petty robber, as a good mark for a job. Really, dude? You just watched Fu Sheng annihilate the competition at the karate tournament, and then decide to target him? OK, whatever! Sometime later, Kao Tu and his buddy assault Fu Sheng and his girlfriend (Lily Li) on a mountain, but Fu Sheng manages to kill one of them before Kao Tu does him in. Fu Sheng’s death fuels Lily Li and Wong Chung’s movie-long search for his killer, but as a viewer it felt deeper than that. Within these 15 minutes of screentime, Fu Sheng is so electric that his charm and energy leaps off the screen with incredible force. This was his first substantial role and he absolutely kills it. There’s no way to watch this movie and not think that he HAS to star in future films. Star power is something that certain people just have, and Fu Sheng has it in spades.

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The Delinquent (1973)

TheDelinquent_1The Delinquent [憤怒青年] (1973)
AKA Street Gangs of Hong Kong, East-Side Story, Crime Traps

Starring Wong Chung, Lily Li Li-Li, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lo Dik, Dean Shek Tin, Betty Pei Ti, Tung Lam, Fung Hak-On, Danny Chow Yun-Gin, Yen Shi-Kwan, Tino Wong Cheung, Wang Kuang-Yu

Directed by Chang Cheh & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: As a fan of both directors, I’m really curious to see what this joint work is like.

twohalfstar


The Delinquent opens by symbolically introducing the audience to our lead character, John Sum (Wong Chung), in a series of shots where he bursts through plywood paintings representative of the societal woes he struggles against. First, a rural village, which I took to represent tradition and perhaps the ways of his parents. Then it’s a modern high-rise apartment building, a seedy street scene depicting gambling and prostitution, and a final image that we cannot see. John is fed up with it all, including the unknown… he’s The Delinquent! So to have gotten all of that out of the opening moments of the credit sequence, and then spend most of the first half of the movie going over those same points, I was a bit bored and disappointed.

The story in The Delinquent is sparse, amounting to your general “young man lured into a gang” stuff. John is a delivery boy for a small restaurant, but he’s clearly not very motivated. His father attempts to drive some work ethic into him, but it’s no use. John feels like he’s better than his current situation, but with no drive to make anything happen for himself, he’s stuck in a poor, urban life with no hope of escape. The triad takes an interest in John, but not for his strong kung fu skills or his “can’t do” attitude. No, they’ve set their sights on stealing a bunch of stuff from the warehouse where his father works as the watchman, and they think they can influence John to join the dark side with women and money.

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