The Cape Town Affair (1967)

The_Cape_Town_Affair-256914667-largeStarring James Brolin, Jacqueline Bisset, Claire Trevor, Bob Courtney, John Whiteley, Gordon Mulholland

Directed by Robert D. Webb

Expectations: None.

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The Cape Town Affair is a beat-by-beat remake of Sam Fuller’s wonderful noir thriller Pickup on South Street, and it’s just painful as all hell to get through. But this is a bad movie unlike any bad movie I’ve ever seen. Remakes are always tricky business when the original is a well-loved film, but the choices here are truly strange. Based on the film’s opening credits, you might be persuaded into thinking that Sam Fuller had actually been involved with this remake, but that was not the case. No, Fuller’s screenwriting credit comes by way of his original script, which was used here almost word for word.

Pickup on South Street is a late-period noir film, and it carries with it a style of hard-edged dialogue that usually typifies the genre. Within the confines of the original film it works; the actors inhabit their characters fully and deliver the lines with conviction and passion. Not so much with The Cape Town Affair. The actors in the remake feel like they’re just passing the time until the catering truck arrives with only mildly interesting food. The once-edgy dialogue now seems out of place in 1960s Cape Town; it’s as if all the film’s characters were scooped up from 1950s New York and dropped into 1960s Cape Town without any knowledge or self-awareness. It’s such a strange thing to watch and try to make sense of. I can understand why you’d want to use Fuller’s original dialogue because it’s often bristlin’ with great wit, but to ignore the passage of time and place is a glaring oversight.

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Purple Darts (1969)

purpledarts_3Purple Darts [紫金鏢] (1969)

Starring Wang Ling, Tung Li, Ou Wei, Cho Kin, Li Kuan-Chang, Lee Fung, Cheung Sai-Sai, Chow Siu-Hing, Tai Leung, Cheung Ching-Fung

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Fairly low.

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It’s a shame that Purple Darts is one of the Shaw Brothers films that never received a DVD release from Celestial, because it’s a great wuxia full of fun characters and tense fights. Its story isn’t always the slickest, the characters’ motivations are usually somewhat cloudy and unexplained, there are “important” things that ultimately mean nothing, and the choreography leaves a lot to be desired, but Purple Darts finds ways to make those discrepancies fly away like a slick wuxia hero. It’s by far the best film I’ve seen from Pan Lei, and I’m sad that his final martial arts film for the Shaw Brothers, 1971’s The Merciful Sword, is currently MIA. Maybe it’ll eventually turn up like Purple Darts.

Like many Shaw martial arts films from the 1960s, Purple Darts opens with an infant in peril. Her parents are under assault from four villainous figures of the martial world: Bai Feng the Butcher, Lu Dachao the Bull Demon, Gu Miaozhen the Seducer, and Wang Yizhou The Wind Waving Scholar. Together they seek the Great Mystery Scriptures, a kung fu manual with unexplained power and importance. The infant’s mother manages to smuggle her out through a hidden tunnel, and an old man takes the baby in. Cue the credits! And now, just as in a good majority of these ’60s wuxias, the credits end and the infant is now a 20-something adult in search of vengeance for the crimes against her parents!

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A Thousand Year Old Fox (1969)

thousandyearsfox_2A Thousand Year Old Fox [천년호] (1969)
AKA Thousand Years Old Fox

Starring Shin Young-Kyun, Kim Ji-Su, Kim Hye-Jeong, Kim Nan-Yeong, Kang Kye-Shik, Lee Ki-Young

Directed by Shin Sang-Ok

Expectations: Pretty high.

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The Korean Film Archive calls A Thousand Year Old Fox, “The pinnacle of 1960s cinematic horror, which successfully experiments with the ingenious combination of fantasy, action, and melodrama.” I don’t have any real knowledge of the late ’60s in South Korea, so I can’t comment on the film being at the pinnacle of the country’s horror genre, but I can say that the rest of the description is apt. But it’s probably fair to assume that this was an impressive film in its day, because on the strength of this film — and presumably director Shin Sang-Ok’s reputation as “one of the greatest Korean producer-directors of his era” — A Thousand Year Old Fox was picked up for Hong Kong distribution by the Shaw Brothers, and Shin was contracted to make a few films directly for the studio. A Thousand Year Old Fox wasn’t released in Hong Kong until 1971, but it failed to catch on there, making just shy of HK$300,000 in a year where the number one film, The Big Boss, made over HK$3 million.

A Thousand Year-Old Fox tells a love-triangle story about General Kim (Shin Young-Kyun), who has just returned to his country after two years of defending the borders from bandits, Queen Jinseong (Kim Hye-Jeong), who only has eyes for the general, and the general’s loving wife, Yeo-hwa (Kim Ji-Su), who is eagerly awaiting her husband’s return. The queen seduces the general, keeping him at the palace and delaying his reunion with his wife and child. Meanwhile, the queen sends her guards to banish Yeo-hwa from the kingdom, and while traveling a group of bandits ambush Yeo-hwa’s party. The bandits stomp Yeo-hwa’s infant to death, but she uses this moment to make her escape. She runs as fast as she can through the forest and the fields, only to fall into a small lake and drown before the bandits catch up to her. But this is no ordinary body of water, it’s one inhabited by a bodyless fox spirit. The fox draws strength from Yeo-hwa’s heightened emotions and strong desire for revenge and is able to inhabit her body. And you thought it was a complicated situation when it was just a simple three-human love triangle!

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The Enchanted Chamber (1968)

EnchantedChamber+1968-1-bThe Enchanted Chamber [狐俠] (1968)

Starring Margaret Hsing Hui, Chin Feng, Lily Li Li-Li, Lee Kwan, Goo Man-Chung, Pang Pang, Tung Li, Chiu Sam-Yin, Fang Mian

Directed by Hsih Chun

Expectations: High, for some reason. Probably because I couldn’t see this one for a long time and now its mystique is all built up.

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Wuxia films always contain some supernatural elements, but The Enchanted Chamber is a true supernatural wuxia. Powers and the spirit world inform nearly every scene in the film, creating a fantastically entertaining film that is a hybrid of wuxia, spooky horror and a tale of star-crossed lovers. Thinking about the other Shaw films from 1968, The Enchanted Chamber also feels quite unique in this regard, flawlessly blending genres together where other films of this era have a rough time presenting one genre as well.

Based on a tale from the classic Chinese collection Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, The Enchanted Chamber opens by introducing us to Chiang Wen-Tsui (Margaret Hsing Hui), a trickster fox fairy. We watch as she thwarts an adulterous couple mid-coitus, and a few minutes later she sings a wonderful song while providing pears for some hungry children in town. It would appear that she is to be our main character, but about 20 minutes in, the film takes a hard turn away from her story. While she does return to play a very important role in the film, her introduction also serves double duty by introducing us to the type of world we’re dealing with. This is a world where mischievous fairies are very much a real thing, and if someone says their house is haunted, you better not stick around.

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Downhill They Ride (1966)

DownhillTheyRide+1966-4-bDownhill They Ride [山賊] (1966)
AKA The Highjackers

Starring Pat Ting Hung, Paul Chang Chung, Wong Chung-Shun, Man Ling, Ou Wei, Wang Hsieh, Paul Wei Ping-Ao, Zhang De-Liang, Shum Lo, Ma Ying, Got Siu-Bo

Directed by Pan Lei

Expectations: Low.

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First things first: I was led to believe that Downhill They Ride was an early martial arts film from the Shaw studio, but instead it’s more of a drama with a lot of horses and guns. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make for some twisted expectations. On top of that, it is the first film in my small effort to mop-up some early, previously unavailable martial arts titles for my “I’m never going to finish this” chronological Shaw Brothers review series, so there’s part of me that wished I knew what it was beforehand so I could have just moved on to the next film.

Downhill They Ride may boast a screenplay from martial arts maestro King Hu, but this carries none of the usual gravitas or intense drama typical of his films. Perhaps it was on the page and director Pan Lei didn’t translate it, but I’m more of the mind that King Hu was simply still honing his skills. But considering that Downhill They Ride released only two months prior to Hu’s landmark martial arts film Come Drink With Me, that probably isn’t the case either. Whatever the truth is, I’d say that fans of King Hu’s work should definitely view this film as a stepping stone instead of a lost gem.

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The Great Silence (1968)

greatsilence_6The Great Silence [Il grande silenzio] (1968)
AKA The Big Silence

Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Klaus Kinski, Frank Wolff, Luigi Pistilli, Vonetta McGee, Mario Brega, Carlo D’Angelo, Marisa Merlini

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Expectations: Low.

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The Great Silence must be pretty high on the list of the bleakest films in existence. So if you’re not going to be OK with a movie that doesn’t contain a single shred of hope, optimism or happiness, then The Great Silence is one to avoid. But for those willing to take the plunge into this snow-covered land of darkness ruled by ruthless bounty killers and their greed, then you are in for one of the greatest Italian westerns of all time.

The Great Silence opens by introducing us to Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gunman who lives by a strict code of only firing on a man in self-defense. He is a good man living in a cutthroat world, but his quickness on the draw and his code allow him to stay within the bounds of the law. On the other side of the proverbial coin is Loco (Klaus Kinski), a bounty killer who will kill anyone, anywhere without a second thought… as long as there’s a reward to be collected. He is an evil man, but like Silence he is also technically operating within the confines of the law. The film inevitably puts these two men against one another, but to describe the film in such simple terms makes it sound a lot more average and unremarkable than it actually is.

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A Few Thoughts on Doctor Who: Season 1 (1963/1964)

doctorwho_1I finished the first season of Doctor Who the other day, and while I knew I’d be a fan after just one episode, now my love for the show is firmly entrenched. It’s a unique take on the sci-fi TV show, specifically because it’s more focused on serial-style adventure thrills than truly thought-provoking science fiction (although there is a bit of that, too). I love how the show’s basic premise allows the writers to dream up literally ANYTHING and it’s a plausible setting for the next story. This lends the show an unpredictable nature that makes it really special.

But while it is unpredictable in that regard, the stories themselves do become rather predictable after you’ve seen a few. There’s always some contrived reason why the group can’t just jump in the Tardis and leave danger behind, and over the course of the story it’s not wrong to expect at least one member of the group to get kidnapped (and subsequently rescued). These can easily be seen as faults or examples of lazy writing, but in a weird way these obvious plot points endeared themselves to me over time and I found myself looking forward to seeing how the show would deliver the goods each time.

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