The Protectors (1975)

The Protectors [鏢旗飛揚] (1975)

Starring Lo Lieh, Chang Pei-Shan, Wang Hsieh, Yeung Oi-Wa, Lee Sau-Kei, Chan Shen, Dean Shek Tin, Wong Ching, Chan Chuen, Wong Ching-Ho, Wu Chi-Chin

Directed by Wu Ma

Expectations: Moderate.


As with quite a few of the films Shaw released in 1975, The Protectors was shot in 1971 and held back from release. The reasoning for this is up for anyone’s best guess, especially since it tells a complete, satisfying story with vibrant characters despite only running 62 minutes. Instead of making random speculations, I should focus on what’s here, and besides, The Protectors actually benefits from the extreme, barely feature-length brevity. It cooks the film down to its bare essentials, and since it’s a solid piece of work, it excels at entertaining in a way that only a good Shaw Brothers wuxia can.

The Eagle Escorts are known throughout the land as the security bureau to hire if you want to be sure your gold or silver arrives safely at its destination. The founder is aged and confined to his chair, but the company continues to thrive thanks to the skilled swords of Ling Xiao (Lo Lieh) and Guan Wang Long (Chang Pei-Shan). After another successful mission (that left tons of bandits dead on the trail), Ling and Guan return to headquarters. At the gate, welcoming them home, is Fang Yan Er (Yeung Oi-Wa), the object of Guan’s affection. She does not reciprocate these feelings, though, instead she is kind of infatuated with Ling. From his reaction, this is not the first time Guan has felt jilted, and this resentment is near the point of explosion.

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The Bloody Escape (1975)

The Bloody Escape [逃亡] (1975)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Shih Szu, Wai Wang, Wu Chi-Chin, Chiang Tao, Chan Shen, Li Min-Lang, Yeung Chi-Hing, Pao Chia-Wen, Wong Ching-Ho, Lei Lung, Chen Wo-Fu

Directed by Sun Chung (and Chang Cheh to some degree)

Expectations: High.


The Bloody Escape was one of the many films released in 1975 that had actually sat around unfinished for a while. Some magazine scans on Cool Ass Cinema show that the film started shooting as a solo directing gig for Chang Cheh, but from another scan in a post on the Kung Fu Fandom message board we can see that Sun Chung was cited as a joint director from the beginning of the project. For some reason the film wasn’t finished at that time, though, leaving Sun Chung to finish it up for its eventual release in 1975. The film’s on-screen credits list Sun Chung as the sole director, but all the online databases and even Chang Cheh’s memoir list Chang as the film’s co-director (and co-writer). How much of the film is Sun Chung and how much is Chang Cheh is something we may never know, but in terms of feel The Bloody Escape definitely doesn’t give off the usual vibe of a Chang Cheh film.

What it does feel like is a variation on what is probably Sun Chung’s most well-known film, The Avenging Eagle… three years before that film came out! So I suppose it’s actually the other way around, but I imagine almost everyone watching Shaw films nowadays came to the films in the “incorrect order.” In any case, The Avenging Eagle is one of the best Shaw Brothers films out there, bearing a wonderful story and script by Ni Kuang, so an earlier, lesser version of that film starring Chen Kuan-Tai is quite the find among the many nooks and crannies of the Shaw catalog.

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The Taxi Driver (1975)

The Taxi Driver [的士大佬] (1975)

Starring David Chiang, Wong Chung, Lin Chen-Chi, Shut Chung-Tin, Yeung Chak-Lam, Wu Chi-Chin, Terry Lau Wai-Yue, Tung Lam, Shum Lo, Wong Ching-Ho, Lai Man, Helen Ko, Dana, Lee Pang-Fei

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate.


Pao Hsueh-Li was a protege of Chang Cheh, but his films often just feel like lesser versions of something Chang Cheh would’ve made. The Taxi Driver is different. It’s the first of Pao’s films to really get under my skin, and it gives me hope that his films going forward might carry a similar style and artistic slant. The film’s focus on then-modern social problems does make it feel somewhat related to Chang’s delinquent youth pictures, but since the characters in The Taxi Driver are adults it’s more evolved. It’s actually a lot closer in tone to Kuei Chih-Hung’s The Tea House and Big Brother Cheng, and it also includes a few dangerous real-life stunts, heralding the coming waves of Hong Kong stars that would define themselves with their insane stunts.

The Taxi Driver is Chen Guang (David Chiang), a good man working hard to stay afloat in modern Hong Kong. He rents a room in a house owned by an older woman, and he’s saving up to marry Heung Lai Ching (Lin Chen-Chi). His job dictates that he’s out a lot of the time, though, ferrying various types of people in all manner of situations around the town. The film does a great job of setting up the struggle of the taxi driver’s job, illustrating how the driving is the easy part and that it’s more about dealing with the odd personalities in need of a ride.

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The Flying Guillotine (1975)

The Flying Guillotine [血滴子] (1975)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Ku Feng, Wai Wang, Kong Yeung, Liu Wu-Chi, Ai Ti, Wong Yu, Lam Wai-Tiu, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Liu Wai, Lee Sau-Kei, Lee Pang-Fei, Man Man, Wu Chi-Chin, Lei Lung, Lin Wen-Wei, Wai Pak

Directed by Ho Meng-Hua

Expectations: High. Flying Guillotines!


Every one is familiar with the Jimmy Wang Yu classic Master of the Flying Guillotine, but before that film cemented itself into kung fu history, there was Ho Meng-Hua’s The Flying Guillotine. It was Ho’s film that introduced the weapon to the modern martial arts film, and by nature of its story, it also serves as an origin story for the weapon. The flying guillotine was a real weapon used during the Qing Dynasty under the rule of the Yongzheng Emperor (1722–1735). This is roughly the same timeframe that Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films inhabit, although no one knows exactly when the burning of the Shaolin Temple occurred (and there are multiple conflicting stories of various Shaolin temples burning, too!). Anyway, the flying guillotine was apparently a real thing, as crazy as that sounds.

The Flying Guillotine begins in the chamber of the emperor (Kong Yeung), who finds himself desiring a pair of advisors killed off without a lot of hullabaloo. He gives this task to Chief Xin Kang (Ku Feng), who sets about devising a way to assassinate the men quickly and accurately from such a range that no one can identify the killer. While walking down the street and contemplating the job, Xin Kang takes special interest in a man performing with a Diabolo (a Chinese Yo-Yo consisting of a wooden object spun and thrown with a rope). Inspiration strikes and the flying guillotine is born! The emperor loves the weapon so much that he then asks Xin Kang to form a 12-person strike team proficient in the usage of the flying guillotine.

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Men from the Monastery (1974)

MenfromtheMonastery_1Men from the Monastery [少林子弟] (1974)
AKA Disciples of Death, Dragon’s Teeth

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Alexander Fu Sheng, Chi Kuan-Chun, Chiang Tao, Lo Dik, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Wu Hsueh-Yan, Wong Ching, Fung Ngai, Wu Chi-Chin, Fung Hak-On

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, I like this one.

threehalfstar


Men from the Monastery was the second film in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle, and it serves as both prequel and sequel to Heroes Two. The story is broken up into segments like an anthology film, except it’s more like being fed pieces of the narrative in chunks that eventually add up to something. The first two segments occur prior to the events of Heroes Two, while the third and forth segments act as the continuation of the combined stories of both films. It’s a structure unique to Men from the Monastery (at least up to this point chronologically), and while I’d generally prefer a standard narrative, it works very well here, especially with the events of Heroes Two fresh in my mind.

We begin with Fang Shih Yu (Alexander Fu Sheng) while he is still a student at the Shaolin temple. Within a few minutes, he’s challenging the “Wooden Men Alley” to prove that he has the skills to leave. At this point, Chang Cheh also subtly introduces us to Shaolin’s perennial villains: Wu Dang (better known in the Western world as Wu Tang) and Pai Mei, the White Eyebrow Priest (who only appears in shadow for a moment). Flashes of Fang’s wooden-man trial and his subsequent battle on poles are shown in Heroes Two when we first meet him, but it’s great fun to see these sequences play out as full scenes. It’s almost like Chang Cheh originally had a three-hour cut of Heroes Two and decided to split it up into two complimenting films. I honestly think this may have been the case, as there are possibly some other indicators of this (such as Chi Kuan-Chun’s inclusion in the Hung Fist intro to Heroes Two). So feel free to add “out-of-order, chapter-based films” and “splitting a long film in two” to the list of things Tarantino co-opted from the Chang Cheh playbook. 🙂

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The Shadow Boxer (1974)

shadowboxer_1The Shadow Boxer [太極拳] (1974)

Starring Chen Wo-Fu, Shih Szu, David Chung Gam-Gwai, Wai Wang, Cheng Miu, Yeung Chi-Hing, Cheung Pak-Ling, Wang Kuang-Yu, Shum Lo, Yeung Chak-Lam, Chan Shen, Wu Chi-Chin, Lei Lung, Pao Chia-Wen, Li Min-Lang

Directed by Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: Moderate. I don’t know much about it.

twohalfstar


Director Pao Hsueh-Li was one of Chang Cheh’s trusted proteges, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when The Shadow Boxer opened with a short intro detailing the philosophy of Tai Chi and showcasing the art form as performed by noted master Cheng Tin Hung (who was also the film’s technical advisor). It’s not a full-fledged short film like the one that opens Heroes Two, but it serves the same purpose in grounding the feature in a sense of martial reality. But where Heroes Two follows this up with a story that is enhanced and informed by our newfound knowledge of Hung Gar, The Shadow Boxer isn’t as successful at doing the same with Tai Chi.

Like a lot of Pao’s films, there are many elements in play that would be suitable for a Chang Cheh film; they just don’t come together in a way that brings about the deep emotions and excitement that Chang Cheh was capable of. I have hopes that as I delve deeper into the Shaw catalog Pao will eventually prove himself a capable director all his own, but for now, his films mostly feel like lesser Chang Cheh movies with unrealized potential. Pao does utilize something unique in The Shadow Boxer, though. It’s a kind of “fake slo-mo” that’s just regular footage slowed down. This might sound dumb, but it’s really effective. It’s slow, but without the grace of traditional slow motion, so there is an extra brutality to the strikes in these highlighted moments.

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Heroes Two (1974)

HeroesTwo_1Heroes Two [方世玉與洪熙官] (1974)
AKA Kung Fu Invaders, Blood Brothers, Bloody Fists, Temple of the Dragon, Fang Shih Yu and Hung Hsi Kuan

Starring Alexander Fu Sheng, Chen Kuan-Tai, Fong Sam, Bruce Tong Yim-Chaan, Chu Mu, Wong Ching, Fung Ngai, Fung Hak-On, Chiang Nan, Wu Chi-Chin

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High, I really like this one.

fourstar


Out of context, Heroes Two seems just like any number of kung fu films that followed in its wake. This is how I first experienced it a few years ago, viewing it after my old cohort Uncle Jasper wrote a review. In the intervening years, I’ve worked my way back around to the film chronologically, and now Heroes Two plays as it should: as a complete revelation to the genre. It’s a call to arms, a new type of kung fu film that would go on to influence and define the genre for many years to come.

Heroes Two originally played with a short intro film called Three Styles of Hung School’s Kung Fu, also replicated on the DVD/Blu-ray for your viewing pleasure. It’s a great little film, showcasing the raw skill and solo talents of the stars of Heroes Two, as well as Chi Kuan-Chun who joins them in the follow-up film Men from the Monastery. Not only does this short film announce the feature’s commitment to presenting actual kung fu on-screen, it also signals that Heroes Two is a special film, bringing something new and unique to the audience. Imagine seeing Heroes Two without ever having seen the multitude of traditional kung fu films that followed it! The feature was a great success, too, ranking #12 among all Hong Kong films at the local box office, with only four other martial arts films ranking higher (Five Shaolin Masters, The Virgin Mart, The Tea House, and Chinatown Capers… if you’re wondering).

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