Rush Hour (1998)

rushhour_1Starring Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Tzi Ma, Ken Leung, Elizabeth Peña, Mark Rolston, Rex Linn, Julia Hsu, Chris Penn, Philip Baker Hall, John Hawkes

Directed by Brett Ratner

Expectations: Interested to revisit it.

threestar


And so begins my descent into madness — I mean, the American films of Jackie Chan. While I have always been happy that Jackie achieved global success, his transition to Hollywood definitely leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality filmmaking. For newcomers to his work, I suppose the flashes of fearless stunts and athleticism are welcome and shocking additions to the American action film, but to anyone who’s seen one of his Hong Kong films, it’s hard not to be somewhat disappointed with the watered-down Jackie Chan present in Rush Hour. That being said, Rush Hour is just about exactly what a “Jackie Chan comes to Hollywood” movie should be, providing the audience with an ample amount of action and lighthearted comedy.

Jackie Chan has often said that Hong Kong directors know action and American directors know story. Rush Hour isn’t the best showcase of this “knowledge of story” that Jackie speaks of, but there is a fundamental difference in the way Hollywood films are structured that is in evidence. If you look at a movie like Mr. Nice Guy, it’s easy to see how the story was built up around the action set-pieces in a way to string them together as seamlessly as possible. Lots of Hong Kong films feel similarly (but Jackie is wrong, there are plenty of Hong Kong directors who understand story!), whereas Rush Hour is clearly set up with the story as its foundation and the action arising where it can. It’s kind of a subtle distinction in Rush Hour, as the story is pretty thin. It’s a key difference, though, and consequently there aren’t any huge, extended action scenes in Rush Hour.

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Prison of the Dead (2000)

prisonofthedead_1Prison of the Dead (2000)
AKA Castle of the Dead, The Game

Starring Patrick Flood, Jeff Peterson, Sam Page, Kim Ryan, Alicia Arden, Michael Guerin, Debra Mayer

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Prison of the Dead is a horrifically bad movie by traditional standards, but for B-Movie fans who venture into this early 2000s era, it should satisfy quite nicely. The potential for a great horror movie is hidden beneath the surface of the film’s low budget, and while that’s a bit frustrating, DeCoteau delivers with what he has at his disposal. This is the kind of movie that rewards the hardened B-Movie fan who has sat through hundreds of hours of drek, because with that kind of context behind it, Prison of the Dead is the cream that rises to the top.

A group of friends are traveling to view the body of Calvin, their recently deceased mutual friend from college. They haven’t all been together since the good ol’ days, back when they’d all investigate paranormal sites and myths, so their reunion is both exciting and bittersweet. And it’s about to get worse, because Calvin’s body isn’t in a normal mortuary, it’s in a castle built on top of a prison used by hardcore Puritans to imprison witches! You might think that’s no big deal, but one of the group has brought along a Ouija board to contact the lingering spirits. Within seconds of bridging the gap between worlds, a lion statue cries blood into the ground which then seeps through the earth and onto the corpses of the Puritan executioners.

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Young Lovers on Flying Wheels (1974)

youngloversonflyingwheels_2Young Lovers on Flying Wheels [電單車] (1974)

Starring Ti Lung, Rainbow Ching Ho-Wai, Helen Ko, Chin Chun, Chiang Nan, Dean Shek Tin, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lam Fai-Wong, Wong Ching, Lee Man-Tai, Lau Mei-Fung, Gam Lau, Wong Chi-Keung, Ho Pak-Kwong

Directed by Ti Lung

Expectations: Moderate. The title is fun and intriguing.

twohalfstar


Within mere seconds, Young Lovers on Flying Wheels has shown us both young lovers on the beach —  Song Da (Ti Lung) and Ye Wei (Helen Ko) — and a bunch of young riders zipping around on the flying wheels of their motorcycles. The tone is immediately light and a bit strange, as Ti Lung is wriggling on the sand to avoid Helen Ko’s kisses and eventually runs away and jumps into the ocean. OK, then! The title led me to believe this might be a motorcycle-themed delinquent youth romance picture to go along with the many films of Chang Cheh (and David Chiang’s The Drug Addict). It’s technically closer to those than any other Shaw films, but it lacks the hard-hitting drama necessary to pull that type of movie off. Ti Lung’s directorial debut is more of an action comedy with a moral, although without the drama the moral isn’t nearly as potent as it could have been.

Shortly after the beach shenanigans, Song Da and Yu Wei need to catch the bus back to town. They aren’t quick enough to make the big bus, and when the mini-bus comes around there just isn’t enough room for them both. Yu isn’t the kind of girl who likes to be kept waiting, so when a group of motorcyclists stop to help, she hops on the back of one of their bikes and rides off without Song Da. She’s a selfish girlfriend, pushing Song Da out of his comfort zone and influencing him negatively. Song Da is a dreamy, somewhat dense character, naive and looking for guidance. Watching Yu drive off with the motorcycle dudes, he dreams of one day having his own bike, and this dream quickly consumes him completely.

Continue reading Young Lovers on Flying Wheels (1974) →

Supermen Against the Orient (1974)

supermenagainsttheorient_1Supermen Against the Orient [Crash! Che botte… strippo strappo stroppio, 四王一后] (1974)
AKA Three Supermen Vs The Orient, Three Fantastic Supermen in the Orient

Starring Robert Malcolm, Antonio Cantafora, Salvatore Borghese, Lo Lieh, Shih Szu, Tung Lam, Alberto Farnese, Jacques Dufilho, Isabella Biagini, Kong Ling, Lau Wai-Ling, Yeung Chi-Hing, Chan Ho

Directed by Bitto Albertini (with an uncredited assist from Kuei Chi-Hung)

Expectations: Super low.

onestar


No one expects to like every movie they watch, but I generally enjoy most Shaw Brothers films, even the ones that don’t really capture me. I have enough affection for the studio, its stars, and its production style to get me through a boring film. For better or worse, that’s how it is. So it’s surprising when I run into one that I pretty much hate. To be fair, there are some things that I liked about this co-production with Italy’s INDIEF, but overall Supermen Against the Orient has to be one of the worst Shaw films I’ve seen. At least it’s only barely a Shaw Brothers movie, which is partly why it didn’t play well for me.

In 1967, Gianfranco Parolini directed The Three Fantastic Supermen, and it was so popular that it spawned an entire franchise. I’ve heard of them, but this is the first I’ve seen. From what I can tell, it’s a loose series, swapping out characters and actors regularly, but there is a core framework that remains constant. Similar to James Bond, our main character is an FBI Agent who is sent to far-off exotic locales to thwart some kind of devious behavior. Along the way he teams up with a pair of well-meaning thieves who possess bulletproof super suits, and together they all save the day from the bad guys. This vague description of the formula can also serve as a plot description for Supermen Against the Orient, since none of the specifics about the villains or what they’re doing actually matter. There’s a drug deal and some kidnapped people, but I couldn’t tell you much else about why everything was happening.

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Beanstalk (1994)

beanstalk_8Starring J.D. Daniels, Amy Stoch, Margot Kidder, Patrick Renna, Richard Moll, Richard Paul, Stuart Pankin, Cathy McAuley, Cindy Sorenson, David Naughton, Dominique Adler

Directed by Michael Davis

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


As you might have figured out by the title, Beanstalk is Moonbeam’s attempt at adapting the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. The story is one that just about everyone is familiar with, but Beanstalk does a great job of keeping the basics and updating the story in a lot of fun and entertaining ways. Beanstalk does away with the antiquated setup of Jack trading his cow for a handful of magic beans, replacing it with a cross between Back to the Future‘s Doc Brown and the mega-hit from the year before: Jurassic Park. A cryptozoologist (played with reckless glee by Margot Kidder!) runs a dig site somewhere in the desert, and she unearths a bunch of huge beans and a giant skull. This might be the site of Jack’s original beanstalk, but other minor details later in the film suggest that Jack’s tale was merely one of a few beanstalk scalings over the years.

Anyway, Jack (J.D. Daniels) is helping his mother (Missy from Bill & Ted, Amy Stoch!) pay the overdue rent payment by taking a load of antiques to sell. A bully (Patrick Renna) starts screwing with his box of treasures, throwing one into the street. The money these antiques will bring is very important to Jack and his mother, so he runs out into the street to catch the porcelain dog before it smashes on the asphalt. He catches it, but the cryptozoologist happens to be driving by and almost hits him with her motor home. A crate full of the giant beans flies off in the ruckus, and because Jack is a scheming whiz kid always looking for his next big idea, he decides to take the crate home in hopes that it contains something valuable or useful.

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Mr. Nice Guy (1997)

mrniceguy_2Mr. Nice Guy [一個好人] (1997)
AKA No More Mr. Nice Guy, Mister Cool, Nice Guy, SuperChef

Starring Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Miki Lee Ting-Yee, Karen McLymont, Vince Poletto, Barry Otto, Peter Houghton, David No, Judy Green, Jonathan Isgar, Sammo Hung, Emil Chow Wah-Kin

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to revisit it.

threestar


Mr. Nice Guy was the first brand new Jackie Chan film to be released while I was a fan. I often find that films (or albums) with this distinction hold a special place in my heart, as they struck me right at the genesis of my fandom and I was in a prime mindset to receive them. Mr. Nice Guy never did much for me, though, outside of a couple of the action scenes. Regardless, I was eager to revisit the film, both as a Jackie Chan vehicle and as one of Sammo Hung’s last films before his 19-year directing hiatus (which ended with this year’s The Bodyguard). Mr. Nice Guy is a fairly weak film when judged on traditional merits, but as an internationally appealing Hong Kong production, it’s an overwhelmingly fun, unsung gem.

Traditionally speaking, the main strike against Mr. Nice Guy is its story. It’s so thin that it’s something of a miracle that the whole thing doesn’t crumble into an incoherent mess. It’s more of a set-up than a true story, but as much as this hinders the film, it also allows the action to flourish. There are lots of fun chases, fight scenes, and athletic Jackie Chan stunts… perhaps more than in any Jackie film since Rumble in the Bronx. It feels like Jackie was finally back to full strength after his broken-ankle setback on Rumble, and the amount of classic Jackie action in Mr. Nice Guy benefits greatly from this. So in a way, the thin story is actually one of the film’s biggest strengths that lays the groundwork for the action to build on top of.

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The Virgin Mart (1974)

virginmart_1bThe Virgin Mart [販賣人口] (1974)
AKA When the Kung Fu Hero Strikes

Starring Wong Yuen-San, Betty Ting Pei, Sek Kin, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Eddy Ko Hung, Woo Gam

Directed by Kao Pao-Shu

Expectations: Pretty high, based on my previous love of Kao Pao-Shu’s Lady with a Sword.

twostar


I had one recurring thought throughout The Virgin Mart: “What a weird movie.” Hong Kong filmmakers love to mix genres and tones, and that’s something I love about the country’s films, but it just didn’t work for me in The Virgin Mart. The film blasts off with searing rock ‘n’ roll and a montage of neon lights and pretty girls. This emotional wave of fun night life imagery is quickly challenged by the introduction of Lin Ying (Woo Gam) and Mao Song (Eddy Ko Hung), a prostitute and her pimp, still within the opening montage. As we make our way into the film proper, it becomes apparent that this is also going to be an over-the-top comedy at times. Huh. OK. Perhaps something is lost in translation, but when they strap an unwilling woman onto a Qing dynasty metal sex chair called “The Joy Rider,” and play it for laughs, I just can’t go along with it.

The Virgin Mart is also largely without a distinct plotline. After the intro montage we meet a bunch of new characters, including a few that are actually important and integral to the film and its world, such as the big boss Qiang Han (Sek Kin), another prostitute Mei Ji (Betty Ting Pei), and the film’s hero Kang Tai (Wong Yuen-San). We see how the prostitution operation lures unsuspecting young girls to Hong Kong, we see the pimps battling a rival group’s men, but there’s hardly any narrative to hold these disparate bits together. Kang Tai is the man they target as a fall guy for their organization, but after he’s introduced early — stating that all he wants to do is “Just fight” — he’s absent from the film for quite a while.

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