Hell Has No Boundary (1982)

Hell Has No Boundary [魔界] (1982)

Starring Derek Yee, Kent Tong Chun-Yip, Leanne Lau Suet-Wah, Yueh Hua, Lo Yuen, Chui Gai-Heung, Si Ming, Teresa Ha Ping, Liu Suk-Yee, Wong Ching-Ho, Chow Kin-Ping, Ng Hong-Sang, Ting Tung, Yat Boon-Chai, Leung Hak-Shun, Ho Pak-Kwong, Fong Ping, Wang Han-Chen

Directed by Richard Yeung Kuen

Expectations: High, that title is awesome!


Hell Has No Boundary has a great title, and it has one hell of a poster, but its grasp of coherency isn’t quite there. The film contains a wealth of memorable imagery, but thanks to its haphazard structure it’s a lot less of a movie than it could have been. I remember feeling a similar feeling after watching Seeding of a Ghost (the only other Richard Yeung Kuen film I’ve seen), so perhaps I just don’t fully connect with his style. I have a suspicion a repeat watch would help the film play better, but that will have to wait. For now, Hell Has No Boundary is an entertaining film that never quite lives up to its potential. That being said, it’s packed with a lot of fun stuff, so fans of Shaw Brothers horror should definitely give it a go.

A loving couple, Cheung (Derek Yee) and May (Leanne Lau Suet-Wah), are out camping on one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands. May hears a voice calling her name when they arrive at their camping spot, and later she has a disturbing dream of a mysterious looking creature and situations of death. When she wakes, the voice calls to her again, and because this is a horror movie she goes to investigate. You know she’s in for something nasty, even before the trademark green light of Hong Kong ghost movies shows itself. This rogue spirit possesses May’s body, coexisting with her own consciousness, and soon it begins to assert itself. As with most ghost movies, the who and why of this particular ghost are eventually explored, providing all kinds of interesting, disgusting twists towards a rather inspired, supernatural-heavy third act.

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Return of the Dead (1979)

Return of the Dead [銷魂玉] (1979)

Starring Ku Feng, Wang Lai, Lau Luk-Wah, Yeung Chi-Hing, Yueh Hua, Chan Wai-Ying, Si Wai, Yuen Sam, Cheng Miu, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Cheung Ching-Fung, Choh Seung-Wan, Tai Kwan-Tak, Chan Shen, Chun Wong, Wong Ching-Ho, Lau Wai-Ling, Shum Lo, Fung Ming, Lui Tat, Wang Han-Chen

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: Moderate. Hopefully it’s as good as The Ghost Story or better.


Li Han-Hsiang followed The Ghost Story with another horror anthology nine months later: Return of the Dead. It is a much more conventional anthology, with a framing story bringing together three stories which would otherwise have no connection. Return of the Dead is also not a sexploitation film (although it does brush up against the genre in a couple of scenes), so overall I imagine it is a much easier to digest film for traditional horror audiences. The only problem is that Return of the Dead just isn’t as good as it ought to be. The stories are all entertaining and engaging, but they lack a bit of oomph to really send them into a territory that inspires love. I liked the film, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that there’s not a lot to hang any sort of recommendation on.

The framing story is relatively light, showing the protagonists of the individual stories explaining how they came to reside in the insane asylum they all call home. The first story is likely to be familiar to horror fans, as it is an adaptation of the time-honored tale, The Monkey’s Paw. Here the paw is a necklace with a charm depicting the three wise monkeys (See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil). Ku Feng and Wang Lai play husband and wife, with their son played by Lau Luk-Wah. Lau works at a local factory, while his parents have a small, but successful fermented tofu business. Ku Feng’s character has adopted the name Wang Zhi-He to help sell his goods, as the real Wang Zhi-He was the man who discovered and popularized bottled, fermented tofu. If you know the story of The Monkey’s Paw, you’ll know what comes next. It is a simple, but effective moral tale, and Li Han-Hsiang adapts it well.

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The Enchanting Ghost (1970)

The Enchanting Ghost [鬼屋麗人] (1970)

Starring Chang Mei-Yao, Yang Li-Hua, Lui Ming, Lam Ban, Lee Hung, Julie Lee Chi-Lun, Sha Lee-Man, Ko Hsiang-Ting, Tsui Fu-Sheng, Tai Leung, Ko Hsiao-Pao, Ng Ho

Directed by Chou Hsu-Chiang

Expectations: Excited, I liked Chou’s The Bride from Hell.


Like last week’s film, The Ghost Story, The Enchanting Ghost falls into the category of Hong Kong horror with only minor elements of what usually defines a horror film. The Enchanting Ghost was also based on a story from Pu Songling’s 18th century collection of ghost stories and other assorted cautionary tales, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio. This particular film is based on the story The Bookworm, for those interested in seeing how differently things play out in the two versions. As with most classic Hong Kong ghost films, your enjoyment of The Enchanting Ghost will depend on having properly set expectations for a slower pace and light supernatural elements. With that in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed The Enchanting Ghost from start to finish. It is a finely crafted film that definitely makes you wait for the ghostly happenings, but the journey towards them is also largely charming and entertaining.

Lang Yu Zhu (Yang Li-Hua, playing against gender as a male) is a scholar whose entire existence is consumed by his affection for learning and books. He doesn’t do much else, based in part on his particular love for a real-life poem by Emperor Zhenzong titled Quanxueshi (劝学诗). The poem is a love letter to studying, expressing that study can bring such things as fortunes, good harvests, and beautiful women. When we meet Lang, he is lovingly reciting these lines of the poem, and in a few short minutes he is given the chance to test the poem’s theories. Lang’s uncle covets his home, so he arranges with an official to seize it from Lang under the auspices of repaying the debt left by Lang’s father when he passed. Whether this debt is legitimate or not, Lang is thrown out into the street with nowhere to call home, so he decides to take up residence in the town’s derelict haunted house.

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The Ghost Story (1979)

The Ghost Story [鬼叫春] (1979)

Starring Yueh Hua, Woo Gam, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Lisa Chiao Chiao, Wong Ching-Ho, Kara Hui, Lam Yeung-Yeung, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Lee Kwan, Ng Hong-Sang, Yeung Chi-Hing, Fung Ging-Man, Wang Han-Chen, Ku Wen-Chung, Tin Hoi-Fung

Directed by Li Han-Hsiang

Expectations: Curious, but not sure.


The Ghost Story is a sort of anthology film, but the way it’s told the second story is meant to represent the reincarnations of the characters from the first, and the leads are played by the same actors (Woo Gam & Yueh Hua). Some secondary actors reappear in similar roles, as well. But since there are two distinct segments and a framing story of a grandpa telling stories to a rapt audience, I suppose it’s as much of an anthology film as anything else. The stories here are adapted from Pu Songling’s ever-popular short story collection, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, first published in 1740. The bulk of the film is based on one of the most popular tales, The Painted Skin, while the first story is a bit harder to pin down.

There are 491 stories in the full version, but most English editions are whittled down to somewhere around 100 stories. The book I have has a story titled Making Animals that contains some elements present in the first segment of The Ghost Story, but other than that I was unable to identify the specific story being adapted. A six-volume, complete English translation was finished a few years ago by Sidney L. Sondergard, so perhaps one day I’ll figure it out. For now, though, we’ll have to be satisfied not knowing or assuming that Li wrote a new story around elements of Making Animals. Anyway, once he tells the kids to go to bed, our narrator begins a tale that occurred sometime during the reign of Empress Wu of the Tang dynasty. It is the story of Hua’s Inn, run by three sisters, and how a group of tired soldiers sought refuge there.

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Top 10 1976–1977 Shaw Brothers Martial Arts Films

1976 and 1977 were wonderful years for the Shaw Brothers studio, filled with an abundance of great films that made narrowing this list to 10 a challenging proposition. Wuxias, largely following the patterns set by the films of King Hu and Chang Cheh, had fallen out of favor by the early ’70s, but Chor Yuen’s 1976 film Killer Clans — and the many that followed it — injected new life and new ideas into a faded genre. Chor’s unique re-focusing of the genre towards literary adaptations and tales showcasing mental fortitude over purely physical abilities made him a driving force in the industry, and the next monumental figure in the history of the wuxia genre. Meanwhile, Lau Kar-Leung released his next two films during these years, pushing the realistic kung fu seen in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films to new heights. During this period, Chang Cheh was also forced to reckon with the fact that he was no longer the driving force of Hong Kong action filmmaking, as his time in Taiwan came to a close.

These years also saw the rise of other Hong Kong cinema luminaries outside of the Shaw system. Sammo Hung’s first directorial effort, The Iron-Fisted Monk, was a huge hit, Richard Ng became a star with both the #1 & #2 film of 1977 (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress & Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All!), and the Hui Brothers continued their blockbuster dominance with 1976’s The Private Eyes. Jackie Chan was also on the verge of superstardom with the looming release of Yuen Woo-Ping’s Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow a few months into 1978, but during 1976–1977 he was still making a string of films for Lo Wei. Other non-Shaw fan favorites released during these years include: The 18 Bronzemen, One-Armed Boxer Vs The Flying Guillotine (Master of the Flying Guillotine), The Secret Rivals, The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious, The Invincible Armour, Snuff-Bottle Connection, Broken Oath, and many, many more. With this introduction, I hope to paint a brief picture of these years in Hong Kong cinema, both to refresh memories or to spur new fans to dive deeper. 🙂

As usual, I’ve included links to iTunes/Amazon/DDDHouse for easy access if you’re looking to get the films. The availability is current as of the posting of this list. eBay is always a good option, as well, if my links don’t turn up any results. If you’re interested in what’s below the cut and you don’t want to troll through my review archive, I have ranked lists on Letterboxd for every year I’ve finished in the Shaw Brothers Chronological review series. You can find 1976 here and 1977 here.

OK, OK, let’s get to the list!


#10 Judgement of an Assassin (1977)
Directed by Sun Chung
Reviewed August 10, 2018

Judgement of an Assassin was Sun Chung’s first wuxia since 1972’s The Devil’s Mirror, a film I absolutely adore. Sun’s return exists in a middle ground between the brooding darkness of Chor Yuen and the comic book sensibilities of Chang Cheh’s The Brave Archer, delivering fun and exciting choreography in a wonderful package. It feels like an underseen film, and that should definitely not be the case. With its near-perfect combo of entertaining action and a beautifully structured story, this is a movie that all Shaw Brothers fans should see.

Judgement of an Assassin is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay, and keep your fingers crossed that Celestial may release the film digitally sometime in the future.

#9 The Shaolin Avengers (1976)
Directed by Chang Cheh (with Wu Ma)
Reviewed December 8, 2017

The Shaolin Avengers is top-notch Shaolin Cycle; a fantastic movie that cohesively combines the stories of Fang Shih-Yu and Hu Huei-Chien into one thrilling, entertaining package. Its greatness lies in its structure; the film opens with its finale, fading in and out into flashbacks that show how our heroes and villains all came to this particular battle. The structure removes a lot of the tension inherent in a traditional revenge story, but this is the point. Instead, I pondered the nature of life, how small moments remind you of people or places, and how important preparation is to success. The Shaolin Avengers is a film of pure entertainment that builds up more of the Shaolin mythology of the earlier films, or in other words, it’s every thing I could want out of a Shaolin Cycle film.

On disc, The Shaolin Avengers is currently only available on an out-of-print Region 3 DVD or VCD. Check Amazon or eBay. Digitally it is available for rental/purchase at iTunes, Amazon Prime, and other top digital platforms.

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Winner Takes All! (1977)

Winner Takes All! [面懵心精] (1977)
AKA 泥鰍吃猛龍

Starring Richard Ng, Lok Shut, Rosalind Chan Yee-Hing, Tang Ching, Dean Shek Tin, Max Lee Chiu-Chun, To Siu-Ming, Addy Sung Gam-Loi, Lee Hoi-Sang, Ho Pak-Kwong, Karl Maka, Guy Lai Ying-Chau, Hon Kwok-Choi, Sammo Hung, Yue Tau-Wan, Peter Chan Lung, Hsiao Ho

Directed by Karl Maka

Expectations: Excited, but I don’t really know what to expect.


Winner Takes All! was independently produced, but it is the final film of 1977 that I’m covering as part of my chronological Shaw Brothers series. I chose to review it because it was widely successful in 1977, reaching #2 at the Hong Kong Box Office, incorporating comedy and kung fu in a way that would soon sweep the Hong Kong industry with the 1978 release of Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. Upon watching Winner Takes All!, though, I realized that its place in Hong Kong cinema history is far greater than simply “doing well at the box office,” as it represents another step in the dominance of Cantonese cinema in the wake of Michael Hui’s successes. In the three years prior to this (1974–1976), a Michael Hui-directed movie — all starring himself and his brothers — dominated the top spot of the Hong Kong box office. Hui would again top the charts in 1978 with The Contract, but he did not release a film in 1977.

Richard Ng is one of Hong Kong’s most famous and recognizable comedians. I’ve seen him in so many movies, it almost feels like he’s always been around. He apparently started on the Hui Brothers TV show in the early ’70s, and received his first major film role in Michael Hui’s 1976 smash-hit The Private Eyes. 1977 was the year Ng was cemented into Hong Kong cinema history, though, as he starred in both the #1 film (John Woo’s The Pilferer’s Progress AKA Money Crazy) and the #2 film, Karl Maka’s Winner Takes All. Like this film, all of Michael Hui’s films were filmed in Cantonese, and along with Chor Yuen’s mega-hits The House of 72 Tenants (1973) and Hong Kong 73 (1974), they were the impetus for the industry to shift towards the Cantonese language. In addition, Hui’s directorial debut, 1974’s Games Gamblers Play, essentially saved Golden Harvest from bankruptcy and paved the way for comedy’s rise as a dominant genre in Hong Kong cinema, both coupled with kung fu and not.

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The Silver Emulsion Podcast: Ep. 97 – Drunken Master II

This week on the Silver Emulsion Podcast, Stephen and I are talking about one of the greatest kung fu films of all time, the one and only Drunken Master II. Directed by the legendary Lau Kar-Leung and starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui and Ti Lung, this is what movies are all about! Listen and enjoy! 🙂

Watch Drunken Master II along with us on Blu-ray, DVD or Amazon Instant Video!

Also: the show is on iTunes! So if you feel like subscribing there, or rating/reviewing the show, feel free to share your thoughts!

Music Notes

Intro:

  • Tsukasa Masuko – In-Game
    • From the NES game T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage (VGMPF)

Outro:

  • Jackie Chan – The Drunken Master (Cantonese Version)

If you’ve got feedback, throw it into the comments below or email it to me via the contact page! We’ll include it in a future show!

The podcast is embedded directly below this, or you can go directly to Podbean (or use their app) to listen. If you want to subscribe, paste http://silveremulsion.podbean.com/feed/ into whatever reader you’re using.

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