Project A (1983)

projecta_9Project A [A計劃] (1983)
AKA Super Fighter, Pirate Patrol, Mark of the Dragon

Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Wong Man-Ying, Dick Wei, Tai Bo, Mars, Kwan Hoi-San, Lau Hak-Suen, Wong Wai, Lee Hoi-Sang, Hon Yee-Sang

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Super high. I haven’t seen this in forever, and I remember it as one of my favorites.

threehalfstar


While there were a few great Jackie Chan movies before Project A, this film marks the beginning of the true “Jackie Chan-style” Jackie Chan movies. Jackie’s movies are known for featuring incredible stunts & amazing fight choreography tied together with a fun, comedic bow, but none of the films prior to Project A truly exhibit this in the way that later films have made us expect it from him. So, even if it was just an OK movie, Project A would be notable. But it’s not “just OK,” it’s a load of fun with some of the most impressive stunts you’ll ever see.

It’s the early 1900s or so, and pirates are a constant threat off the coast of Hong Kong. The coast guard has been unable to capture the pirates, and their efforts have cost the police force much of their budget. On the eve of the coast guard’s full-scale assault on the pirates, the rapscallions blow up their ships. Somehow these wretched pirates must be stopped! It’s a fun premise, and it allows Jackie, Sammo and Yuen Biao tons of opportunities to shine. The setting is unique and makes the film feel fresh and very different from other Hong Kong films.

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Stephen reviews: The Five Star Stories (1989)

geroi_pjati_planetThe Five Star Stories [ファイブスター物語] (1989)

Starring Ryo Horikawa, Maria Kawamura, Hideyuki Tanaka, Norio Wakamoto, Ichiro Nagai, Kazuhiko Inoue, Rei Sakuma, Run Sasaki

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


The Five Star Stories starts off with a brief description of the Joker Galaxy, which contains only four stars, making it the smallest galaxy I’ve ever heard of. So why does the title talk about five stars? No idea. The four stars we do get to hear about have the rather unusual names of Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. I suppose the film takes place in one of these solar systems, but I can’t remember if it bothered to say which one. Maybe it even takes place on that mysterious fifth star. This confusing description of the galaxy actually mirrors the film which is also bizarre, mismatched, and very incomplete.

Clearly a highly condensed adaptation of a longer work, Five Star Stories suffers the usual problems of these types of films, but magnifies the problem by also being very short. Even a full two hours or more can leave adaptations such as Fist of the North Star or Dagger of Kamui feeling like half the story was left out. Five Star Stories is only one hour long, and it is nowhere near enough time to do the original story justice. What’s left is a confusing hodgepodge of poorly explained events told with an air of epic mythology.

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Curse II: The Bite (1989)

thecurse2_1Curse II: The Bite (1989)
AKA The Bite, Blood Biter

Starring Jill Schoelen, J. Eddie Peck, Jamie Farr, Bo Svenson, Savina Gersak, Marianne Muellerleile, Sydney Lassick, Terrence Evans, Shiri Appleby

Directed by Frederico Prosperi

Expectations: None. Hopefully it’s more fun than the unrelated first one.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Curse II: The Bite isn’t a horror movie bursting with originality, but it is bursting with a lot of fun and great FX work, and in a low-budget horror movie that ends up counting for a lot. For the most part it is a slow-burn horror film, but it’s one that rewards its viewers steadily leading up the incredible, exciting finale absolutely chock full of fantastic FX work from Screaming Mad George. It’s really surprising to see such plentiful FX work in a low-budget film, and it goes to show you that if you get a trained professional to provide practical FX you can have a kick-ass horror movie without breaking the bank. Let’s bring back that trend in horror films!

Curse II begins on an ominous note: a pair of radiation-suited employees of the Yellow Sands Nuclear Test Site in the Arizona desert pick up a snake with a pair of snake-gettin’ tongs. Hmm, maybe The Bite sub-title refers to a snakebite! But if you don’t figure it out from that initial scene, during the credits we’re treated to snakes, snakes and more snakes. But not just snakes doing the usual slithering around and flicking their tongues in and out. These snakes are climbing up the chain-link fence surrounding the test site. Some of them just hang there on the fence, too, perhaps because they’re resting, but probably because they were just climbing up the fence to have a better vantage point from which to plot their nefarious plans.

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The Curse (1987)

thecurse_9The Curse (1987)
AKA The Farm

Starring Wil Wheaton, Claude Akins, Malcolm Danare, Cooper Huckabee, John Schneider, Amy Wheaton, Steve Carlisle, Kathleen Jordon Gregory, Hope North, Steve Davis

Directed by David Keith

Expectations: For some reason I’m really stoked about this one.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
onehalfstar


The Curse puts a few different horror movie premises together and expects them to play nice, but instead they just kinda sit apart from one another and refuse to jell. On one hand, it presents itself as a small town paranoia-based ’50s throwback film. A crazed man with a nasty boil on his face is taken away by the police while screaming, “It’s in the water!” He nervously watches out the window as they drive away from his home, as everyone in the neighborhood waters their lawn, or washes their car, or drinks from the hose… etc.

After this opening, the film shifts gears to the story of a small family farm owned by Nathan Crane (Claude Akins). Nathan is a strict religious man who berates his wife, Frances (Kathleen Jordon Gregory), for every little thing she does wrong. She’s actually doing a great job taking care of the house and the kids, Nathan’s just an overbearing asshole with the Lord on his side (in his mind). Here The Curse becomes something of a religious-based horror film, with Nathan seeing the family’s misfortune and hardships as a curse brought onto them by his wife’s behavior.

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Winners and Sinners (1983)

WinnersandSinners+1983-255-bWinners and Sinners [奇謀妙計五福星] (1983)
AKA Five Lucky Stars

Starring Sammo Hung, Richard Ng, Stanley Fung Sui-Fan, John Shum Kin-Fun, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin, Cherie Chung Cho-Hung, Jackie Chan, Cecilia Yip Tung, James Tin Jun, Pat Ha Man-Jik, Tai Bo, Lam Ching-Ying, John Cheung Ng-Long, Fung Hak-On, Yuen Biao

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: High. Can’t remember if I ever saw this one or not.

threehalfstar


Winners and Sinners is a film that could easily be disappointing for someone expecting a true Jackie/Sammo movie like their later collaborations. This is much more of an ensemble movie, and Jackie is but a minor supporting character that happens to have a couple of outstanding action sequences. But this isn’t cause for alarm; Winners and Sinners is a clear winner of a movie.

Winners and Sinners isn’t the type of movie where each moment adheres to a strict plot, instead it’s more concerned with being as funny and engaging as possible. The film opens by introducing us to the main characters one-by-one, each one attempting some kind of thievery and getting caught by the police. In prison the five cons strike up a fast friendship and open up a cleaning company when they are released. It sounds kinda boring and uninteresting just listing the plot details, and it really doesn’t evoke the sense of raw fun that is on display in every moment of the film.

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Fearless Hyena Part II (1983)

fearlesshyena2_1Fearless Hyena Part II [龍騰虎躍] (1983)
AKA Superfighter 2

Starring Jackie Chan, Austin Wai Tin-Chi, Yen Shi-Kwan, Kwan Yung-Moon, James Tin Jun, Chan Wai-Lau, Hon Gwok-Choi, Dean Shek Tin, Ma Cheung, Peng Kong, Wong Chi-Sang, Pearl Lin Yin-Zhu

Directed by Chan Chuen

Expectations: Pretty much none.

twostar


There’s no doubt that the circumstances under which Fearless Hyena II was made are exploitative, but who said exploitation wasn’t fun? Sure, it re-uses scenes from Spiritual Kung Fu and The Fearless Hyena, it has Jackie body doubles, and it has a plot that jumps around in order to make sure that Jackie “I Just Left Lo Wei’s Company to make Good Movies” Chan doesn’t need to be in every scene. It has all of these “problems” and more. But in terms of the bad movies that Jackie made with Lo Wei, Fearless Hyena II is surprisingly one of more entertaining ones. With things like jungle spike traps and two-character team-up attacks, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.

The story is surprisingly deep, original and heartfelt your standard kung fu movie plot: The Heaven and Earth Devils, two dudes with evil beards and hairdos, are attempting to eradicate the Ching family’s 6-8 Magic kung fu style from existence. Only two Ching brothers and their two sons remain of the family, and even after they have been in hiding for over 15 years, the Heaven and Earth Devils have remained stalwart in their villainous quest. These are some seriously evil dudes. Well, to be fair to the Heaven Devil (the always awesome Yen Shi-Kwan), does say that he’s taking out the Ching brothers to avenge his father’s death. So maybe they’re actually the “good” guys. After all, we can’t judge people solely by their evil eyebrows — sorry, I meant to say maybe-evil-maybe-good-who-can-really-know-the-content-of-a-man’s-soul-from-an-eyebrow eyebrows.

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Stephen reviews: Appleseed (1988)

appoavAppleseed [アップルシード] (1988)

Starring Masako Katsuki, Yoshisada Sakaguchi, Toshiko Sawada, Toshio Furukawa, Nobou Iwamoto, Mayumi Sho

Directed by Kazuyoshi Katayama


Masamune Shirow didn’t only make Ghost in the Shell, he also created the less well-known Appleseed. There have been a host of films made for this franchise as well, but most of them have been relatively recent. This first attempt is the only version from the twentieth century, and it handily proves just why Appleseed is less well-known than Ghost in the Shell.

Firstly, I should point out that 1988’s version of Appleseed is rather low-budget. The animation feels much more like an early ’80s anime rather than a late ’80s one. It’s low-detail and low-frame rate. This isn’t to bash the film — I don’t judge a production by how much money someone shoved at it — but with the sleek, shiny Ghost in the Shell as the face of Masamune Shirow’s work it’s easy to expect similar production values from Appleseed as well. That, however, would be a mistake.

The real problems of Appleseed have more to do with its clumsy plot than its clumsy animation. I remember being rather disappointed with the original manga as well, so it might be something to do with the source material, but it is undeniable that Appleseed‘s first film adaptation has some serious flaws in its execution.

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