Virgins of the Seven Seas (1974)

VirginsoftheSevenSeas_1Virgins of the Seven Seas [洋妓, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen] (1974)
AKA The Bod Squad, Enter the Seven Virgins, Foreign Prostitutes

Starring Sonja Jeannine, Diana Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Yueh Hua, Lau Wai-Ling, Wang Hsieh, Helen Ko, Li Min-Lang, Kong Yeung, Wang Han-Chen, Law Hon, Chan Lap-Ban, Chu Yau-Ko, Sai Gwa-Pau, Aai Dung-Gwa

Directed by Ernst Hofbauer & Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: Low. I’m expecting something trashy.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


In addition to being the year of newfound freedom, 1974 was the first year the Shaw Brothers partnered up with some other international studios to co-produce films. I imagine they did so in hopes of reaching new markets, perhaps in an attempt to replicate what Golden Harvest & Warner Bros. had done with Enter the Dragon. Virgins of the Seven Seas was the first of these Shaw co-productions to be released, and it also holds the distinction of being the trashiest Shaw Brothers film I’ve seen yet. And to be honest, I don’t know that I expect any future film to unseat it!

The film features a simple tale of human trafficking and revenge, but mostly it features a lot of nudity. These poor actresses spend almost the entire film topless, tied up or having simulated attempted rapes inflicted upon them; I can’t imagine it was a great filmmaking experience for them. But these are the sacrifices you have to make when filming a movie about five German women kidnapped by pirates who learn kung fu and take revenge on their captors. The film is not shy about being as trashy as it wants to be, but I must admit that the nearly non-stop nudity does give the film a quality of reality that it would not otherwise have. Is it gratuitous? Of course, but because of the gratuity and the relentless aggression of the villains, the women’s fear and vulnerability never left my mind. The film is an exploitation sex comedy with kung fu, so it’s about as far from a message movie as you can get, but regardless it made me reckon with the horrors of human trafficking and the the victims of the sex trade in a heightened, visceral manner.

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Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

RumbleintheBronx_1Rumble in the Bronx [紅番區] (1995)

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Bill Tung, Francoise Yip, Marc Akerstream, Garvin Cross, Morgan Lam, Ailen Sit Chun-Wai, Kris Lord, Yueh Hua, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Carrie Cain-Sparks

Directed by Stanley Tong

Expectations: Very high!

All things considered:
threestar

Just the action:
fourstar


If I had to point to a single movie that changed my life, it’s without a doubt Rumble in the Bronx. While I had seen some Bruce Lee films as a kid, Rumble in the Bronx was my first real taste of the Hong Kong movie. Even in its somewhat watered-down form as released in the US, the film completely and utterly destroyed my brain. I became immediately obsessed with Jackie Chan, to the point of not being able to watch American action films for years because they didn’t have the reckless, dangerous, “real-life” quality to the action that typifies the Hong Kong films of the ’80s and ’90s. This obsession even led me to dig deep into classic films, researching the work of Buster Keaton (a major influence on Jackie), which would eventually evolve all the way to me starting up this very blog as a way to express my unique and eclectic taste in film.

Roughly 20 years has passed by now, and re-watching Rumble in the Bronx for the first time in at least 10 years has given me a new understanding of the film (especially after reviewing my way up through Jackie’s filmography). I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed, or that it failed to live up to my personal legacy with it, but it definitely has its issues. I experienced a similar feeling when I reviewed Police Story III: Supercop, and within the films’ shared creative team the reasons for this emerge.

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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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Iron Bodyguard (1973)

IronBodyguard_1Iron Bodyguard [大刀王五] (1973)

Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Yueh Hua, Danny Lee, Lily Li Li-Li, Lo Dik, Tung Lam, Chiang Tao, Chiang Nan, Betty Pei Ti, Ricky Hui Koon-Ying, Ku Wen-Chung, Dean Shek Tin

Directed by Chang Cheh & Pao Hsueh-Li

Expectations: High.

threestar


Iron Bodyguard has all the pieces in place for a stellar martial arts drama like The Blood Brothers or The Boxer from Shantung, but instead we get a somewhat disjointed, start/stop flow that hinders much of any momentum that the film should contain. This leads me to consider that Pao Hsueh-Li was probably the primary director on set, but as usual with these suppositions of mine, I don’t actually have any evidence to back it up. There is a line in Chang Cheh’s memoir about how he would generally direct the more epic films, while the credited co-director would handle the smaller-scale works.

Chang specifically cites The Boxer from Shantung and Man of Iron working like this, so it’s not a complete stretch to think that may be the case here with a duo like The Pirate and Iron Bodyguard. There’s also the fact that in his memoir Chang talks a lot about always wanting to move forward artistically with every film, while Iron Bodyguard features a style that Chang Cheh was using a lot in his 1971 films. It’s also possible that both directors worked on it, as this film also bears the “Jointly Directed” credit like The Pirate did, and there are some suitably epic moments throughout this one. Who knows, but I do enjoy trying to figure it out the best I can.

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Payment in Blood (1973)

PaymentinBlood_1Payment in Blood [血証] (1973)

Starring Yueh Hua, Liu Wu-Chi, Lau Dan, Tung Lam, Fang Mian, Chiang Tao, Chan Shen, Li Min-Lang, Lin Wen-Wei, Ku Wen-Chung, Lam Fung, Luk Chuen, Chin Chun, Sai Gwa-Pau

Directed by Kuei Chih-Hung

Expectations: High. I love Kuei Chih-Hung.

threehalfstar


Payment in Blood is one hell of a revenge film, unfortunately it’s also extremely rare and the only known-to-exist version is from a German-dubbed VHS without subtitles. Kuei Chih-Hung is quite the dynamic visual filmmaker, though, which makes the experience visceral and engaging even without understanding a single word of dialogue. It helps to have a general idea of how revenge films work, but seriously just about everything you need to know about the movie is communicated visually, so there’s little lost in this less-than-ideal experience. I will say that watching the film in German is somewhat odd, and it also seems like they changed the score to music less conducive to creating the familiar Shaw Brothers feel. But whatever, I’ll take it over never seeing the film!

The film opens at night, with a car chasing a man and trying to run him down. Meanwhile Yueh Hua is leaving his job, but as he is about to get into his car he sees the villain’s car run over the man multiple times. A villain willing to do this isn’t the kind to leave any witnesses, so naturally he turns his attention to Yueh Hua. Before the villain can kill Yueh, the cops shows up and scare him off. Yueh is then placed into some kind of lazy witness protection where a few cops tag along with him and hang out at his house. But since this is a movie, the cops are ineffectual at thwarting the criminals, and Yueh and his family are subjected to all kinds of horrific events.

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The Villains (1973)

villains_1The Villains [土匪] (1973)

Starring Yueh Hua, Shih Szu, Chen Hung-Lieh, Cheng Miu, Chin Feng, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Pang-Fei, Chan Shen, Betty Pei Ti, Wong Ching-Ho

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: High.

threestar


I went into Chor Yuen’s The Villains without knowing whether it fit within the purview of my Shaw Brothers martial arts series or not, but I decided to give it a go anyway based on my affection for Chor Yuen’s previous films and that Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan were listed as Action Directors on HKMDB. That same HKMDB listing also cites the film’s genre as action, but I had heard that it was actually more of a drama. Turns out it’s a bit of both, but drama is definitely the dominant genre. The action is merely there for flavor and color; it is not the focus in any way.

The film opens at a train station where Fang Zheng (Yueh Hua) is to pick up his cousin, Lin Xiao Hong (Shih Szu). Lin is coming to stay with Fang’s family after the death of her parents, even though there has been much turmoil and strife between the two sides of the family. And little does she know, she’s stepping into a hotbed of Fang household drama, too, where Master Fang (Cheng Miu) supports his delinquent, gambling son Fang Feng (Chen Hung-Lieh) and is somewhat ashamed of his honorable son Fang Zheng.

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The Lizard (1972)

thelizard_1The Lizard [壁虎] (1972)

Starring Yueh Hua, Connie Chan Po-Chu, Lo Lieh, Yeung Chi-Hing, Goo Man-Chung, Lydia Shum, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Chan Ho, Ou-Yang Sha-Fei, Wu Ma, Choi Yuen-Ping, Ma Chien-Tang, Chung Wa

Directed by Chor Yuen

Expectations: Moderate.

threestar


Director Chor Yuen’s previous film in this review series was the multi-genre masterpiece Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, and with The Lizard he applies the same principles to different genres. The Lizard is a simple film on the surface, but once it gets rolling it reveals itself as a fairly dense hybrid film, mainly mashing kung fu together with comedy. There were Shaw Bros martial arts films that had some laughs prior to this, but none that go directly for the laughs throughout like The Lizard. So, at least in terms of the Shaw output, this is most likely the first attempt at a true kung fu comedy.

For this alone, The Lizard is notable and actually kind of subversive for its day; as Chang Cheh was pushing the martial arts genre forward into dramatic, male-dominated bashers with each subsequent film, Chor Yuen dared to go in a completely different direction. The Lizard takes a well-worn wuxia storyline (the tale of a Robin Hood-like masked figure) and transports it to the modern era. Chor Yuen then adds a couple tablespoons of romance, a pinch of thriller, a dollop of the casino film (actually outright stealing the ability to accurately hear dice rolling from The Casino‘s main character, who was also played by Yueh Hua), and a few sprinkles of wuxia so that his characters can leap around the wonderfully constructed Shaw Bros. sets.

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