Stephen reviews: Animal Treasure Island (1971)

Animal Treasure Island [どうぶつ宝島 Doubutsu Takarajima] (1971)
AKA Jolly Joker

Starring Minori Matsushima, Asao Koike, Eiko Masuyama, Fusako Amachi, Jouji Yanami

Directed by Hiroshi Ikeda


This film is pretty much what it says: an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Treasure Island with lots of animals in it. The only human characters are the main character Jim, his baby brother Baboo, and a girl named Kathy who shows up about halfway through the movie. The rest of the cast are anthropomorphic animals of all kinds, and the film is full of all the swashbuckling seafaring adventure that you would expect of a pirate story.

I’ve never read the novel it was based upon, but I did look over a summary of the plot for comparison. It seems that Animal Treasure Island is a very loose adaptation. The basic premise is pretty much the only thing the two stories have in common. A boy named Jim with large dreams of exploring the ocean lucks upon a pirate treasure map and the money to finish his own homemade boat. So he sets off with his mouse pal Glan and his baby brother in tow, running afoul of pirates lead by a pig named Captain Silver.

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The Spiritual Boxer (1975)

The Spiritual Boxer [神打] (1975)
AKA Naked Fists of Terror, Fists from the Spirit World

Starring Wong Yu, Lin Chen-Chi, Kong Yeung, Shut Chung-Tin, Fung Hak-On, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ng Hong-Sang, Ngaai Fei, Chan Shen, Teresa Ha Ping, Chan Mei-Hua, Wong Ching-Ho, Keung Hon, Lee Sau-Kei, Shum Lo, Tin Ching, Chen Kuan-Tai, Ti Lung, Wilson Tong, Ho Kei-Cheong

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Expectations: High.


The Spiritual Boxer marks the directorial debut of one of the most influential figures in all of martial arts movie history: Lau Kar-Leung. Along with frequent partner Tang Chia, Lau began work at the Shaw studio choreographing Shaw’s first color martial arts film: Temple of the Red Lotus — a job they secured after pioneering Hong Kong’s first wirework in the Great Wall film The Jade Bow. Over the next 10 years, Lau’s collaborations with Chang Cheh resulted in a slew of iconic and lasting martial arts films that defined the genre. Lau’s goal throughout his film work was to bring more true-to-life representations of martial arts to the screen, and this ambition eventually led to Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle of films. These films represented the closest Lau had come to realizing his dreams, and his strong, definite ideas led to a falling out with Chang Cheh during the filming of Disciples of Shaolin (though I’ve also seen it cited as being during Marco Polo, which Lau is not credited on). Producer Mona Fong then invited Lau Kar-Leung to return from Chang’s Film Co. in Taiwan to direct a movie of his own at the Shaw Brothers Studio in Hong Kong. Obviously, he took the offer and The Spiritual Boxer was the result.

The film begins near the end of the Qing dynasty with an intro showcasing the history of the “spiritual boxer,” a martial artist who could become invincible to all weapons after being infused with spirits of legend. Chen Kuan-Tai and Ti Lung make wonderful cameos as the spiritual boxers showing off their skills to the Empress Dowager Cixi, but the film isn’t about them, or this time, or even a spiritual boxer of the same ilk; it’s actually about a young apprentice, Hsiao Chien (Wong Yu), who travels the land with Master Chi Keung (Kong Yeung) performing spiritual boxing rituals. What their audiences don’t know is that they are just performers trying to earn a living from the reputation of the spiritual boxers, and when this trickery doesn’t go as planned it leads to much of the film’s conflict & comedy.

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Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Starring Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent, Karen Mok, Ewen Bremner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sammo Hung, Violet Pan Ying-Zi, Daniel Wu, Kengo Watanabe, Maggie Q, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Rob Schneider, John Cleese, Will Forte, Kathy Bates, Robert Fyfe, Ian McNeice, David Ryall, Roger Hammond, Adam Godley

Directed by Frank Coraci

Expectations: Low, but it has Jackie and an Arnold cameo, so…


I haven’t seen the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days since I was a kid, but my initial feeling was that it didn’t seem like something that lends itself to Jackie Chan. But this new version isn’t so much a remake as it is a complete fantasy/steampunk re-imagining with Jackie Chan’s style in mind from the genesis. A new sub-plot focuses on bringing Jackie’s talents to the forefront, and while it definitely isn’t the most inspired story line, it’s more than enough to entertain and justify the stunts and fights we all look for in a Jackie movie. Fans of the novel and the classic, Oscar-winning film will likely be disappointed by this re-telling, but I feel like fans of Jackie might really enjoy themselves if they click with the film’s comedic style (which probably skews a bit younger than Jackie’s other US films). I know I did, and to be honest I was expecting a total stinker!

Passepartout (Jackie Chan) robs a precious Jade Buddha from the Bank of England and is in need of shelter. He finds it with Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), an inventor with a rich, creative mind for science. Fogg lacks much life experience “outside the lab,” though, rarely venturing from his home. One of the few places he frequents is the Royal Academy of Science, where he’s regularly laughed at and thought of as an eccentric thinker who lacks the practicality to be useful to the field of science. In a bid to rid themselves of him, the head of the academy, Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent), bets Fogg that his calculation of being able to circumnavigate the world in 80 days is incorrect. The stakes are immense: if Fogg wins, he becomes head of the academy, but if he loses he must give up inventing for the rest of his life. Oh, and a bunch of henchmen are in pursuit of Jackie and his Jade Buddha the whole time, further complicating their travels.

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Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975)

Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold [女金剛鬥狂龍女] (1975)

Starring Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens, Tanny Tien Ni, Norman Fell, Albert Popwell, Caro Kenyatta, Chan Shen, John Cheung Ng-Long, Christopher Hunt, Lin Chen-Chi, Lau Luk-Wah, Eddy Donno, Bobby Canavarro

Directed by Chuck Bail

Expectations: Moderate.


Like just about every American movie set in Hong Kong, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold opens on a busy harbor full of junks and other ramshackle boats, scored with overtly “Oriental” music. The rest of the movie is also filled with all kinds of cliches and obvious story beats. Despite this, the movie rises above its trappings and manages to be quite an entertaining film. It exists in a gray area where the traditional American action film intersects with the Blaxploitation and kung fu genres, but only in the film’s incredible, lengthy finale does it ever really embrace any of those roots in a completely satisfying way. And it might just be my love of Hong Kong talking, but Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold is better than the original, which I watched last week in preparation for this review.

The film’s story is probably its weakest element. Matthew Johnson (Albert Popwell) and Melvin Johnson (Caro Kenyatta) attempt to buy some product from drug lord Soo Da Chen (Chan Shen). Chen wants to do the deal behind the back of the big, bad Dragon Lady (Stella Stevens), who controls the illicit trade in the region, in a bid to undermine her power and potentially take over. Dragon Lady is too smart to let this happen, so she assaults the boat where the deal is happening, taking Matthew and Melvin hostage. Enter Cleopatra Jones, sent to Hong Kong to rescue them, and maybe take down the drug ring in the process. I honestly don’t remember if that was part of her assignment. In any case, that’s the whole plot; the rest of the movie just continues down that path, dealing with some obstacles that arise as Cleopatra makes her way through the Hong Kong underworld.

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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 Fantastic Magic Baby (1975)

The Fantastic Magic Baby [紅孩兒] (1975)

Starring Ting Wa-Chung, Lau Chung-Chun, Chiang Tao, Cheung Chuen-Lai, Woo Gam, Tsai Hung, Fung Hak-On, Ku Kwan, Teng Jue-Jen, Chen I-Ho, Yeung Fui-Yuk, Chao Li-Chuan, Siu Wong-Lung, Lee Lung-Yam, Phillip Kwok Chun-Fung

Directed by Chang Cheh

Expectations: High. Chang Cheh and Journey to the West!


In a career full of intriguing and entertaining films, Chang Cheh’s The Fantastic Magic Baby is one of his most interesting and unique. On the surface, it is an adaptation of a story from the Chinese classic Journey to the West, but it quickly reveals itself to be much more than that. Like Chang’s Shaolin Cycle films, The Fantastic Magic Baby honors and preserves the legacy of a Chinese tradition, showcasing the beautiful movements of the Peking Opera as only a Chang Cheh film could.

For those unfamiliar with Journey to the West, the basics are all present in the film. The Monk Tripitaka (Teng Jue-Jen) is traveling to retrieve sacred Buddhist scriptures from India with his companions Sun Wukong the Monkey King (Lau Chung-Chun), Bajie AKA Pigsy (Chen I-Ho) and Sha Seng AKA Sandy (Yeung Fui-Yuk). Demons and other devious entities catch wind of their travels and seek to imprison them in order to eat the monk’s flesh, which can supposedly prolong their lives 1,000 years. In this particular story, it is Princess Iron Fan (Woo Gam) and the Ox Demon King (Chiang Tao) who desire the monk’s flesh. They send their son Red Boy (Ting Wa-Chung) — the fantastic magic baby of the title — to capture Tripitaka for their pleasure. Red Boy is perfect for the mission because he has recently mastered the Three Types of True Fire, which are so powerful that not even the Monkey King can withstand them.
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